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Ten. August 28, 2015

Posted by The Typist in 504ever, 8-29, Federal Flood, Flood, ghosts, je me souviens, New Orleans, postdiluvian, Shield of Beauty, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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Again.

Three years August and the storms are being named like epic ships, a doom upon our shore, and I think of the levees still leaking and of the flood-walls patched with paper mache, our Potemkin defenses are not ready and we are not ready and the Big One is out there, invisible, a mighty wind, waiting for us. Someone empties a pistol into the night and I think of Jessica and Chanel and Helen and Dinerral as I watch the MPs in their Humvees roll by like armored ghosts. I think of the streets running into blocks running into miles of houses houses houses houses houses empty eyed with plywood doors and ragged lawns. And I think I’ll have another drink and light another cigarette and then another drink and then–I stop thinking. That is when this thought comes into my head. It is a compulsion, like biting ones nails until they smart and bleed, this thought that what we blog may not be our Genesis but an Apocalypse, the history of the end. And yet we stay because to live here is to walk through wrack and ruin counting the flowers in the weeds and discover you are not alone, everywhere there are people smiling, people with crumpled souls and rough stomachs, suffering what you are suffering, worse than you are suffering, suffering beyond your imagining and all for the sake of this place, because they see this city as you do, because they are the figures in the frame that make the landscape. A terrible beauty spills out of their eyes like tears and bathes the city in light.

~ Fini ~

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Ghosts of the Flood August 29, 2014

Posted by The Typist in A Fiction, Corps of Engineers, Fargo, Federal Flood, Flood, FYYFF, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, memoir, postdiluvian, Shield of Beauty, The Dead, The Narrative, The Typist, We Are Not OK.
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” . . . so many, / I had not thought death had undone so many . . . ”
The Wasteland, T.S. Eliot

Sometimes I feel them, my wife told me, their spirits, as I’m driving down the street. All that suffering, she explains, all those people. As if 300 years of yellow fever and the lash, the lynchings and gansta gun battles weren’t enough to populate a parallel city of spirits in this place where tombs are mansions and burials a celebration, the Flood came.

Now there is a brooding presence even in the bright of day, looming over us all like a storm-bent house on the verge of collapse. These empty shells of former lives that line so many streets are a daily reminder of the vast catastrophe; the windows staring lifelessly at broken sidewalks, the facades washed pale and colorless. Each still bears the esoteric marks of the searchers that mimic the scratching on tombs in the old cemeteries, some the dreaded number at the bottom that totals up the lost.

The tally marked beneath the cross now rises to 1577, a crowed like that described by Eliot. I imagine not a host but solitary figures, the ghosts we know from childhood stories. In their newness to death, I picture them wandering as curious as children in the house of an aged aunt, getting underfoot and touching what they should not, interrupting and making unwelcome mischief. The brush of their passing is still strong enough to reach out and touch a good Catholic girl from North Dakota, one as innocent of the spiritualist shadows cast by every flickering candle flame before a New Orleans saint’s statue as a Midwesterner could possibly be.

Even the most rationale and disinclined among us imagine ghosts in a city this old, where the steamy air is a tangible presence on the skin and lights flash erratically in the night through the stirrings of the thick, tangled foliage, where the old houses creak and groan as they settle into the soft earth like old men lowering themselves into a chair. Once I wished to experience that touch of the other, a product of reading too much fantastic fiction. One of the signature scenes in film for me is John Cassavettes as a modern Prospero in The Tempest, standing in his urban tower and saying, “Show me the magic.” For him, the sky erupts in lightening. I would sometime catch myself whispering those words, but they were simply blown away by the night wind.

Then one bright August afternoon I was sitting in my idling car in my driveway in Fargo, North Dakota. At just before five o’clock that 29th of August a string of Carnival beads which hung from my rearview mirror–black and gold beads interspersed with black voodoo figures­–suddenly burst. It seemed strange at the time that they would break as the car sat still, would break at the bottom and not at the top where they routinely rubbed against the mirror post, where the string was tied off, the knot weakening the line. It was not the way that I, as a sailor with some idea of how a line will wear, would expect them to break.

Perhaps the beads slid about at the end of the string as I drove around, causing the string to wear through at the bottom, so that it was inevitable that is where they would break first, given enough corners turned, sufficient applications of the accelerator and brake. The timing of just before five o’clock on that Monday in August of 2005 was just a coincidence, the inevitable laws of physics unfolding without regard for the observer and his sense of time.

Be careful what you wish for is the lesson we learned in a dozen fairy tales. The longed for touch of the other, and the tide that washed me up on the shores of my personal Ithaca, into this house on Toulouse Street in the only place I have ever thought of as home, came with a terrible price: both are tainted with graveyard dust. I would undo it all in instant, if I only knew how.

I’ve written this post before–or ones very like it, that tell this story of the broken beads–and then deleted them. It seems just too strange and personal a tale to share with just any aimless visitor wandering the Internet. What will people think? I ask myself in a voice that sounds vaguely like my mother’s. What if some future employer Googles up this article? worries the husband with a mortgage and two children to raise. I don’t expect them to understand.

Unless you learned from the maid that cleaned your family home that crossing two matchsticks in front of a statue of the Virgin Mary and sprinkling them with salt would bring rain, unless you believed that a piece of candy found on the ground could be made safe to eat by making the sign of the cross over it, if people did not come in the night and scratch odd marks on certain tombs on the grounds where your family is buried; if these were not part of your earliest experience, then my tale of the broken beads sounds like the product of an overworked imagination, something like Scrooge’s undigested bit of beef, a spot of mustard.

There is a spectre over New Orleans. As the August anniversary slipped away, I thought the grim, invisible cloud that hung over the city would begin to drift away. Instead, as the weeks passed, I was increasingly convinced: everyone in New Orleans was haunted. You could see it in people’s eyes, in the way they walked, hear it in the words they spoke, or the ones they wrote online as they spoke about their lingering pain. It was a spirit as much inside as out, the ghost in the machine that haunted our every step.

Then came the Monday Night Football game. I thought about the curse of the Superdome, the one that suggests destruction of the Girod Street Cemetery has cursed the ground and all who play there. Was the spirit of the people in the Dome that night just the charm needed to lay that particular haunting to rest, to break that curse? The morning after the strut in people’s step, the lilt of their voices told me that perhaps, just perhaps a healing had begun. We were not a city in need of an exorcism: we were the exorcism.

The ghost of the Flood is now a part of who we are. Ultimately it doesn’t matter if it is ectoplasm or the synchronized firing of a million neurons in ways science does not yet understand. In the end we have to come to term with it. This is something that we as Orleanians, the people who live next to our dead in their exclusive farbourgs of marble and white-washed stone, should be able to do.

We need to honor these dead and respect them, not with the weight of Confucian ancestor worship but in the simple spirit of the pre-Confucian Japanese who venerated odd stones, in the ways inherent in our own Latin roots mingled with the traditions of Africa, where the community of saints and the loa of Africa intersect. We don’t need an exorcism. We need a conjuration, a ritual that calls up the ghosts and honors them, that welcomes them in the way the way the devotees of Vodoun welcome the possession of the loa.

Perhaps next August 29, we should all tie a brown cord on some pillar or post of the house at just the point where we have carefully painted over the water stain. Just above that, we should mark in dust of ground gypsum the rescue symbol that is now as much a part of our selves and our city as the sign of the cross. We will do this to tell whoever is listening—Our Father, Oshun, Mother of God, ghosts of the Flood—we remember. We have suffered, and we will never forget the Flood and those who did not come through. We are the people who came through and came back. We remember the lost. We remember you. Je me souviens.

When we accept and embrace this spirit, perhaps the haunting will end once and for all, will not be a permanent pall over the city, a fearful sound in the night like a howling in the wires, or an unpleasant knotting in the stomach as we pass an abandoned house. It will cease when it becomes instead like the glinting of the sun on white-washed stone above the neat green grass of the cemeteries, just another comfortable part of who we are.

First posted Oct. 5, 2006 on Wet Bank Guide.

Shelton Alexander: When the Levees Broke March 20, 2010

Posted by The Typist in 504, 8-29, Federal Flood, Flood, je me souviens, levee, New Orleans, NOLA, Sinn Fein, We Are Not OK.
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I posted a clean but abbreviated version of this video a long time ago, but it was deleted from You Tube. I’ve found this bad quality version but it includes Shelton Alexander’s interview and the entire speech.

The original post, with the new video follows:

Ground truth has a face. It is Shelton Alexander’s.

I told you I would be here.
It was important that I came.

Damn.o

In the South October 30, 2009

Posted by The Typist in Flood, ghosts, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Remember, Toulouse Street.
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A tale of old men and the sea, of old men and the south, of old men everywhere from Salmon Rushdie courtesy of The New Yorker online. To share the last lines is not really a spoiler, when the opening lines clearly prefigure the end. And it is the getting there from the first to the last that is the joy of this.

The observance of Halloween, that has become just another excuse to turn over the season aisles for new merchandise masks the deeper, darker meanings of the date our pagan friends call Samhain and which is tied to what our Mexican neighbors call the Day of the Dead. I have no fun plans for this weekend so I find myself contemplating the more serious associations of All Hallow’s Eve and All Saints Day. I don’t intend to be a killjoy because you have a costume and are bound for Frenchman Street and I am not. I probably spend more time than most people thinking about these issues, more time Remembering, so maybe its a good thing to grasp this spoke of the wheel a bit more firmly and with purpose.

So, to share the true spirit of this weekend here is brief excerpt of a wonderful story on Floods, Death and Ghosts, things which people in New Orleans know like no others. It is the tale of two old men that culminates in the Tsunami of 2004. What is remembered lives.

Senior did not like the Japanese word everyone used to name the waters of death. To him the waves were Death itself and needed no other name. Death had come to his city, had come a-harvesting and had taken Junior and many strangers away. In the aftermath of the waves, there grew up all around him, like a forest, the noises and actions that inevitably follow on calamity—the good behavior of the kind, the bad behavior of the desperate and the powerful, the surging aimless crowds. He was lost in the forest of the aftermath and saw nothing except the empty veranda next to his own and, in the lane below, the girls with the lowered heads. News came that D’Mello was among the lost. D’Mello, too, was gone. Perhaps he was not dead. Perhaps he had simply gone home, at last, to his storied city of Mumbai, on the country’s other coast, that city which was neither of the north nor of the south but a frontierville, the greatest, most wondrous, and most dreadful of all such places, the megalopolis of the borderlands, the place of in-between. Or, on the other hand, perhaps D’Mello had drowned and Death, swallowing him, had denied his body the Christian dignity of a grave.

He, Senior, was the one who had asked for death. Yet Death had left him alive, had taken so many others, had taken even Junior and D’Mello, but left him untouched. The world was meaningless. There was no meaning to be found in it, he thought. The texts were empty and his eyes were blind. Perhaps he said some of this aloud. He may even have shouted it out. The girls in the lane below were looking up at him, and the green birds in the golden-shower tree were disturbed. Then, all of a sudden, he imagined that across the way, on the empty adjacent veranda, he saw a shadow move. He had cried out, “Why not me?,” and in response a shadow had flickered where Junior used to stand. Death and life were just adjacent verandas. Senior stood on one of them as he always had, and on the other, continuing their tradition of many years, was Junior, his shadow, his namesake, arguing.

Rain Street October 13, 2009

Posted by The Typist in Flood, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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The first rule of driving in the rain, I taught my daughter, is never trust a puddle you don’t know. On the pothole-pocked topography of New Orleans’ streets, crevassed and treacherous as a summer glacier, that sheen of water may hide one of the tire swallowers, one of the axle breakers.

My children grew up in a dry climate, the upper plains of the Midwest, where ten inches might fall in a good year and half that as snow. Here we have built pumps to move an inch of rain the first hour and a half-inch an hour after that, and still its floods. And when the streets run like streams the gaping craters fill with water and look like simple puddles, suitable for innocent stomping and splashing. Drive through the wrong one and you will find yourself waiting in the rain for a tow truck, your car aft end in the air like a sinking ship.

The last few weeks we have all been relieved that the hurricane season is evaporating into nothing but at the same time we have suffered through unseasonable heat waves, angry Comanche Indian Summer days of 104 degree heat indexes. The only relief has come from brief “cold” fronts that bring brief relief (my God, it’s 68 this morning!) but also monsoon volume rains, pouring for hours without interruption, the kind that floods and laps at the steps of houses (or worse, creeps into what we call “basements” down here) and sends everyone scurrying to move their cars to the neutral ground. No mater how capacious the pumps we build or how often we clean our storm drains of debris, we cannot escape the fact that much of the city is reclaimed marsh and sits at least a few inches if not a few feet below sea level.

(If anyone suggests the entire city is 10 or 15 feet below sea level, offer to take them out and show them the spot where that is true. Then push them down the bank into the bottom of the drainage canal. I have maps saved somewhere of these spots. I’ll come and help.)

Here on Toulouse Street we are at the intersection of a high point of the Metairie ridge and the end of the railroad bed that paralleled the old Carondelet Canal. Our streets are clear and glistening black with the rain, full of leaves and magnolia cones but free of running water outside of the gutters; not so our surrounding neighborhood. My sister was coming home the other night and could not get into her building (itself on the edge of Bayou St. John at Esplanade Avenue but not quite on the Esplanade Ridge. She tried to find a path along the bayou ridge that would lead us to our house or her son’s in the same general neighborhood but the streets were impassible.

Last week I dropped by daughter’s car at a neighborhood garage and walked back in the steady rain and stopped to marvel at a tiny urban wetland on Hennessey Street, a long narrow lagoon at one edge of the street edged with tall cattails and other water plants that must have migrated to this comfortable spot from the park a few blocks away. I expected to see ducks paddling out of the cover at any moment.

I still marvel at the rain here, especially after decades spent first on the East Coast during a long drought, and then on the edge of the land once called the Great American Desert, the High Plains that run from Texas and surrounding states straight up to the Dakotas. Now that I am back on the hurricane coast it seems Odd to me that in a place where the gray loads of rain roll in from the Gulf as regular as trains and discharge their wet cargo that there is no Rain Street, no Thunder Road or Cloud Boulevard to intersect with Flood Street.

After our long monsoon the ground is saturated and any rain will run into the streets and down to the canals, and if the canals fill and the pumps won’t keep up into cars and houses. I wonder at the ground beneath, so full of water. When I was a boy my father and his handy man built a fence. On the second set of a post hole digger they would hit water, a little dark mirror at the bottom of the black and gray tunnel. Into this they set four-by-four pieces of cypress. Those posts of wood from the tree that grows submerged in the swamps here rotted away by the time I was grown.

After the flood that followed Katrina water stood waist or head high over the streets for weeks and the ground turned to something not quite solid. Hidden beneath the waters the complex matrix of wires and pipes that make a city possible began to shift and collapse, the old iron main lines surrendering to rust. Now some fantastic fraction–a third or more–of the city’s purified water vanishes into the ground every day. And so the ground grows more waterlogged.

I remember the Loma Prieta earthquake, when the shaking turned the Marina District ground to liquid and a neighborhood found itself afloat on its footings and the buildings came crashing down. Here the ground is never dry or still, the entire city sliding in a slow tremor-less movement down into the sea. There is no rattling of dishes or shattering of windows, just the slow breakup of the blacktop like the crust of moving lava, the brightly mortared zigzags in the sides of old masonry buildings held together with metal rods, the wheel and ankle gobbling sink holes that appear overnight.

There is one of these holes just up from my house, where a divot of the lawn at the curb has collapsed into a hole that vanishes under the street. Neighbors steal traffic cones and stick them in the hole but over time they just vanish, as if something down at the bottom resented the interference. Whatever it is, perhaps its hopes to eat what it catches like a trap door spider.

There are several tremendous ones at the edge of downtown that I routinely step around going into and out of work, one a tiny hole the diameter of a water meter cover opening into a much larger cavity, another mysterious worm hole in the street at the corner of O’Keefe and Union that vanishes under the sidewalk like the one by my house. I step gingerly around these when I pass, never knowing when the unsupported concrete will suddenly give way. Today the pothole killer, the truck with the elephantine trunk that vomits tar and rocks into the potholes must have come and filled in the one on Union, but I know it will be back. They always come back. As persistent as guerrillas the water is slowly winning.

And now it is raining again. I warned my daughter by phone not to run off across town after school for fear she might not be able to get back or worse drive into an underpass with water as high as her car roof. A half dozen cars did that at Carrollton and I-10, and I now the other best route along Jeff Davis will fill with great sheets of water where the Palmetto Canal crosses. When the streets start to fill there’s no good way through the center of town, the old swamp where the ridges where we live and the high ground along the river once drained.

As I pull the garbage can out in the unremitting drizzle and listen to the water chuckling down the gutter I think again about Rain Street, and realize why there is none here. In New Orleans, some days every street is Rain Street, when the water comes in sheets from the sky and overflows the roads. I’m just glad I don’t live on Flood.

Requiem August 27, 2009

Posted by The Typist in 504, 8-29, Federal Flood, Flood, je me souviens, levee, Sinn Fein, Toulouse Street.
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I remember where I was when I first heard this song, on an NPR broadcast. The NPR archive reminds me it was Sept. 14, 2005. I was driving through South Fargo to pick my daughter up at junior high school. I had to pull over. I was late.

This video contains disturbing images of the dead. Here on Toulouse Street, as on the Wet Bank Guide, above all we Remember them:

…”Our Father, Oshun, Mother of God, ghosts of the Flood—we remember. We have suffered, and we will never forget the Flood and those who did not come through. We are the people who came through and came back. We remember the lost. We remember you. Je me souviens.”

I got a nasty-gram from You Tube, noting that I have posted something with content owned by Koch Entertainment. I sent Eliza Gilkyson, who wrote and performed the song Requiem, via MySpace asking if she might call off the hounds for a few days, at least until the anniversary is past.

Update:I just heard back from Eliza Gilkyson via My Space mail. She says it is lovely, and not to worry about Koch. Thank you, m’am.

Nothin’ Federal Happened Here January 9, 2009

Posted by The Typist in 8-29, Federal Flood, Flood, je me souviens, levee, New Orleans, Ninth Ward, NOLA, Sinn Fein, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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“Nothin’ Federal happened here.”
— Herbert Gettridge, in the PBS Frontline
documentary “The Old Man and the Storm”

Yes, Mr. Gettridge, something Federal did happen. Not the relief we were promised, not the levees we were promised. Just what we call the Federal Flood.

It has been a long time since I wanted to cry. There were times, late at night sitting in the basement of a house in Fargo, N.D. with my family asleep, times past midnight when I knew I had to get up and go to work the next day and still I could not tear myself away from what I read about my home town and the compulsion to write about it, and I could not help myself.

Those timesfeel so distant and delirious as to seem not like memory but instead like dreams remembered, something that hints at the remnants of another lifetime lived, separate from this one. Sometimes it is like the experience of someone else. Maybe it is something I read once, or saw in a movie, a disaster film like “The Day After” with characters walking the ruins of an American city. Or maybe that sense of distance and delirium is not a disturbance but a kind of healing.

I haven’t see The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, those moments in the final scene that leaves New Orleans theaters in tears. If you are reading this and have seen that movie and do not understand what I am talking about, why people might cry at scenes of the inundation of New Orleans, then you must see this: The Old Man and the Storm.

This PBS Frontline episode was worth waiting three years for. It is the single best thing done since 8-29 on the subject of New Orleans and the Federal Flood, and every American should watch it. It captures the whole story, both the broad sweep of the failure of government and the details of a single man and his family, the mote like a tear in the eye of Mr. Gettridge and the great, splintery beam in the eye of the nation that left him alone to rebuild his house.

At the end, the interviewer/narrator June Cross, asks Mr. Gettridge “if you had to do it over again, would you do it?”

The aged man who rebuilt his house alone in the Ninth Ward, against odds that would break most men, looks away from the interviewer and the camera. The last we see of him is looking down, and away, and shaking his head.

“I’m kind of skeptical about that now. Once upon a time I could
answer that question in a split second for you. I can’t do that no more.”

I don’t want to just ask America to watch this show, I want to grab it by the hair and hold its head before the television and make the country watch the story of his man and his family, make them watch that final moment.

Two years ago I wrote these words, tonight they still ring true.

If we want a city that resembles the one of memory and desire, perhaps it is best if we are left to ourselves to build it. Give me enough people like [this]… and I believe we can do it: ourselves alone; Sinn Fein, as Ashley says. Going it alone, without fair compensation from the government for the damage they caused, will be painful. Some will try and not make it, risk everything to return and rebuild or reopen, only to loose everything. If we must go it alone, this will certainly be a smaller city, and some will leave ruined and broken by the effort. Whether we are recalled as heroes or fools only history will tell, but I think know the measure of those who have chosen to come home and try. There is no finer place to be an American today than in their company.

An afterthought: If June Cross does not win the Pulitzer and the Peabody for this, then those awards are not worth a bucket of warm shit.

Sinn Fein.

Good Morning, America, How Are You June 19, 2008

Posted by The Typist in 504, 8-29, Corps of Engineers, Federal Flood, Flood, flooding, home, levee, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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GULFPORT, Ill. – Juli Parks didn’t worry when water began creeping up the levee that shields this town of about 750 from the Mississippi River — not even when volunteers began piling on sandbags. ..
Then on Tuesday, the worst happened: The levee burst and Gulfport was submerged in 10 feet of water. Only 28 property owners were insured against the damage…
It is unclear what, if anything, the uninsured Parks would get in government disaster relief. “We’re hoping to rebuild, but it depends what FEMA says and how much we get,” said Parks, who is staying with her husband in a horse trailer…

The rest is here.

A horse trailer: that is where Juli Parks and her husband are staying.

What will it be like to live in a horse trailer for a year. Or two. Or three? Better perhaps than to live in a FEMA trailer and learn too late you have been poisoned, that your children will suffer the rest of their lives.

What our brothers and sisters in Iowa are discovering is the hard truth learned in New Orleans. The levees will not protect you. The government will not save you. What you have still to learn I will get to in a moment. For now, know this: you are on your own.

I blame George Bush.

Wait, stop, don’t hit that comment button yet. Bush didn’t dynamite the levees or destroy their homes. Still, he is the top man in the political establishment that spun the story of New Orleans into a myth with no basis in reality, the ugly story on cable news and AM radio that said what happened in New Orleans couldn’t happen to real Americans. It was “those people” and their corrupt ways that flooded New Orleans. It was the stupidity of people who would choose to live in the shadow of a levee and feel safe.

What happened in New Orleans had nothing to do with you, they were told. Move on. Listen, we have a war to win and we can’t get bin Laden unless you go shopping. Who knows how many more blond high school girls might disappear in suspicious circumstances if you don’t convert to digital cable and get that iPhone. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

It was all a lie.

And now the people who, almost three years after the Federal Flood, chose to live in the shadow of a Federal levee without flood insurance are learning the truth the hard way. You will lose everything, and the government will give you little or nothing. Maybe you will get your own Road Home program that offers half the replacement cost of a house. Perhaps the mortgage holder will lie to you and insist you have to sign that money over (you don’t really have to but they will lie to you as they lied to us, just as your insurance company lied to you when it said you were covered.) You will be left with a piece of land you can’t afford to build on.

When you try to rebuild you anyway will find the cost of construction materials has doubled and tripled since 8-29. Your insurance will increase five-fold. You will have to bear alone the full cost of rebuilding every thing around you. Your grocery bill will double to pay for the new store. Your utility company will gouge you to pay for what they lost in the flood. They will sell off the current power contracts while the power’s out and when it comes back on, the rates will have tripled. Your children’s schools will go without books for a year, if they have schools at all.

You will be told you will be better off if you move away from your home and leave it behind, to go somewhere else. Perhaps it won’t matter. The last place I lived people changed houses like they bought shoes. People cheerfully uprooted themselves to follow careers or just for a change. America has become a rootless people. Perhaps you won’t care.

Or are you more like us? Did you grandfather or great grandfather first break that earth? Did he found a town, its first bank or oldest church? Do you feel an irresistible compulsion to stay? My family has lived in Louisiana for almost 300 years. I am not going anywhere. If you follow in our footsteps, you need to forget everything you’ve heard about New Orleans, and look hard at us, at the real story of what happened here 8-29- and all the days since, because ours is the life ahead of you.

You will have to max out your credit cards, empty your savings accounts and 401ks, and still it will not be enough. You will have to cram your family into a tiny travel trailer and live there for years, even if it is slowly poisoning you. You will need to go to work all day, and come home and rebuild you house yourself all night. If you hire contractors, many will be the same predators who descended on us. They will take what money you have, and disappear. You will go back into your trailer, and you will weep in front of your children.

And still I think many of you will rebuild.

I think those of you who live in the houses or on the farms your parents or grandparents built, in the towns founded by your families generations ago, will insist on rebuilding just as we have. Somehow you will survive it all. I have a tremendous respect for the American people. They have come in the tens of thousands and still come to give of their time and effort to help us rebuild. Many of you who flooded are of that stock, are perhaps people who came to Chalmette or the Ninth Ward to guy homes or hammer up drywall.

If I sound discouraging I do not mean to. I just want you to open your eyes and see what the people of New Orleans have lived. I want everyone in American who sympathizes with you today to understand the truth. What happened in New Orleans can happen to you, and any suggestion that what happened here was unique or the fault of the victims is a lie. Not an exaggeration, or a distortion, or “spin”: a lie. It can happen to you. Perhaps because it has happened to the good people of Iowa and the other Mississippi River states people in America will wake up.

I hope that now they will realize that the country is full of levees that could fail at any moment, bridges like the one in Minnesota that could collapse. They need to know that the government the ruling political classes have worked at gutting and making ineffective for the last 30 years cannot help you, not in its current form or with its current leadership (not just one party or the other: Reaganomics and Clinton Bubblenomics have both gutted our ability to do anything as a nation). Everyone in this nation needs to know that tomorrow it could happen to them if something is not done, and what it will mean to them when it happens.

I have hope for New Orleans. For a long time, I had lost hope for America. I wrote these words many times in the last several years: the American experiment is over, and the results are in. It failed. Part of me does not want to believe that in spite of all of the hard evidence around me living in a city still half a ruin three years later. I want to find the fire that made me take a job that paid nothing as a journalist, the spirit that left me in awe when I walked the halls of Congress because I worked there. I want to remember what it was like to believe in a perfectible world, in something as big as a continent worth fighting for. I believe in New Orleans, and will fight for it, but I don’t know if it is enough.

I want to believe that the people of Iowa and Illinois will make common cause with the people of Louisiana and Mississippi, will insist that things change, will demand that the United States once again be about its people, will be a nation and not just an economy: of the people, by the people, for the people, never to perish from the earth.

People in the Midwest with flooded out lives have no time to think of this right now, but the eyes of the nation are upon them. Those of us who have walked that path must tell this story, must demand on their behalf and for all of us–even as we reach out to help our brothers and sisters in the baptism of the flood–that the levees must not fail again somewhere else, that the slow motion, disaster-without-end lived in New Orleans and the whole hurricane coast from Cameron to Gulfport should not be repeated there or anywhere.

Oh, The Water June 15, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Corps of Engineers, Flood, flooding, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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After the last post, I just want to say that everyone in New Orleans is concerned for the people of Iowa, just as they were for the people of Myanmar and the people of Tabasco, Mexico. Just because idiots seize on every catastrophe to dust off the old political whore mongering over Katrina has nothing to do with our sympathy for you, or the gratitude we feel for every Iowan and other American volunteer who has come down her to rebuild.

We are all of us, the people of the river and of the coast, at some time baptized in the waters of the flood. That immersion is no relief from the travails of this life. Instead it is like a plague out of the old book. But it promises we will come out after different, better and stronger.

I come back to this song written by Eliza Gilkyson after the Christmas tsunami of 2005 again and again, since I first heard it in September of 2005. This is the only on-line version I know of.

As I read about Iowa, I was irresistably drawn to hear it again.

This time it is for you: Requiem, by Eliza Gilkyson.

Where Shall We Put The Pyramid? June 3, 2008

Posted by The Typist in 504, Flood, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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“If there’s anything more important than my ego around, I want it caught and shot now”
– Zaphod Beeblebrox, the two-headed President of the Galaxy, in The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy

Could the financially strapped City of New Orleans really afford this? It looks like the work of an administration led by someone with plans for future office, or could it simply be that Mayor C. Ray Nagin’ ego is so monumental that we have to waste money on a slick brochure like this even as real recovery projects languish?

Perhaps it’s Dr. of Recoverology Edward “Bicycle Pants” Blakey, Executive Director — Office of Recovery and Development Administration who thought we needed this helpful reminder of how damn good they are at protecting us from collapsing cranes.

And it’s Our Recovery in Process, the cover helpfully explains to us, lest there be any confusion. Of course that could mean the Mayor and Blakey’s recovery, now couldn’t it. Perhaps we are all supposed to just bask in the sunny glow from the pate of our own Amenhotep. It certainly has nothing to do with me, those donations made in my children’s and nephew’s name to the mayor’s reelection or that contract for crane disaster recovery services. I swear.

Oh, wait, on the back it explains that we are ONE New Orleans. That must be what that Our Recovery stuff is about. Never mind. Under the ONE New Orleans logo (like that fluer de lis in the big O) is says “Rethink * Renew * Revive”. Very punchy. It is so inspiring that I”m going to add my own “re” word to it. Recycle. As in this particular waste of highly glossy paper. Come to think of it, it’s probably too glossy to recycle, so perhaps it will just have to be one more contribution to rebuilding the wetlands in Gentilly, one truck load of crap at a time.

Oh, and there’s a helpful map on the back should you find yourself feeling lost on the rocky road to recovery, oh! There’s no mention of the citizen-led recovery meetings that took up so much of 2006. It seems the only things that happened that year were Nagin’s establishment of the Office of Recovery Management and the upgrade of the city’s bond rating from junk. Not a very busy year for recovery, I guess. I think most of the activist-bloggers like Bart, Micheal and Karen spent most of that year basking in the sun of Jamaica smoking ganja. Or was that the mayor? I don’t know. Perhaps if I got on some medication I could recover my short-term memory and the will to give a fuck. In 2008 they were much busier. This past February the city established a pool of 50 approved architecture and engineering firms and released 61 projects from PDU (whatever or wherever that is). And now, months later in June 2008, they began Public Outreach on Recovery, producing this lovely brochure so we could actually identify these projects since you might not notice while driving buy them.

I still like mine better.

A Tale of God’s Will May 3, 2008

Posted by The Typist in 504, 8-29, Federal Flood, Flood, Jazz Fest, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Today Terence Blanchard led his quintet, with faces as solemn as morticians’, in a joyful noise together with a backing orchestral group selections of his A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina). It was an Odd moment for Jazz Fest (and so perhaps our favorite here on Toulouse Street). I saw two tributes so far, one for Willie “Tee” and Earl Turbington and a show featuring young students of Alvin Batiste. Both were joyful celebrations of the musicians honored, music interspersed with stories and spoken word tributes. They were perfectly in the tradition of a city where, once we have buried the deceased, the parade begins.

Blanchard’s recital this afternoon was of another character altogether. It was more like the full funeral package, with all of the the sadness and solemnity of the service and the recession from the church and march to the cemetery. The Reverend-esque Blanchard spoke of the deceased and offered an excellent homily.There was his tale of boat rescuers, of people being taken out told to be quiet so the people left behind that trip might not hear them, told to cover their children’s eyes as they passed through an area full of dead bodies, introduced the piece “Funeral Dirge”.

His homily was on the importance of Lee’s film, When The Levees Broke. He told the tale of his mother asked by Spike Lee to let him film her first return to her ruined home, of how he warned her what having a full film crew following her might mean at such a difficult and delicate moment, of how proud he was that she insisted. People, his mother told him, need to know what happened down here. This led into the piece “Dear Mom”.

When they were not playing, Blanchard and his group were as serious as their subject, and as the music they composed. It seemed fitting for the piece of music a friend of mine told me before the show was the one he would put on when he felt compelled to escape his home on the sliver by the river to drive around Gentilly, sometimes checking on homes he had gutted to see if any have made progress. When he does this, he said, he will sometimes bawl like a baby.

At the first orchestral passage, Blanchard reached up to his face and wiped with his fingers just beneath his glasses as if to wipe away tears, a motion I last saw on a jazz stage at a Red Cross benefit in Fargo, N.D., after New Orleans trumpeter Marc Braud spoke of recovering his instrument as the rest of that band played “Do You Know What It Means”.

The audience I could see (and I was rapt and could not turn my head away from the stage) were just as transported. The WWOZ DJ who sat in front of me was not the outgoing, crowd-working celebrity I had seen in the tent and up on stage announcing the rest of the day, but sat solemn as a sphinx. The other stage announcer, a man in a red t-shirt and dreadlocks, sat at the foot of the stage looking not at the musicians but stared straight ahead into some private place. A woman came and sat beside him and put her arm around him.

As Blanchard spoke and the musicians played, the rain that had held off all day finally broke in torrents, as if the music had moved not just a few thousands in this tent on this day but had seized the hearts of the heavenly host and moved them to tears as well as they considered the Odd mix of pain and beauty that is God’s Will.

It was also, as I promised Friday, a time of joy. As the band wailed through the beautiful Ashe and the straight ahead jazz numbers that ended the concert, the orchestra musicians who had sat at attention in their best, serious concert poses, began to be transported by the music as well. The first violin began to show a shy smile, and to bob her head in time as members of the audience around me did. An incredulous cello in a John Brown beard divided his attention between an incredible bass solo and watching the drummer. When Blanchard called on the audience to help him by taking of the chant “This is a tale of God’s will” from the album’s opening cut, we were all transported without moving to the Gospel Tent and the moment of redemption many of us had come for arrived at last.

As I had hoped, Blanchard’s quintet had drowned the bitch in beauty and flooded the streets with tears of joy.


Also, don’t miss the podcast interview which Blanchard’s team (he mentioned bringing in his personal sound man and tour manager to run the boards) had put up the very same evening.

N.B. Fixed numerous typos. Must not try to post when dead tired and trying to rush out the door to the Fairgrounds. Thanks G.P.

Last update: here’s another camera video of an excerpt of Ashe’.

Update 5-12-09 Based on a notice from You Tube that the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra objected to these small, low-fidelity excerpts I shot with my $100 Cannon from 100 feet away, I’m removing the video. In fact, I’m going to go back and edit out references crediting the LPO with participation in this performance and will simply refer to them as “the orchestra”.

The Shepherds and the Wolves April 9, 2008

Posted by The Typist in 504, 8-29, Flood, Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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Last night we took a woman and her daughter to dinner at Liuzza’s and to Brocatos, people my wife knew in North Dakota who came here on a Lutheran Church mission to work on homes in St. Bernard Parish for the St. Bernard Project. The church that hosted them was an Evangelical Lutheran Church led by a pastor who himself lived through the disastrous flood of Grand Forks, N.D. and who willingly took on to rebuild a church and congregation here in Lakeview.

What happened here, my wife told her friend, had reaffirmed her faith in organized religion: so many religious volunteers have come and done so much work. I wanted to disagree, but I bit my tongue. It is not organized religion that is rebuilding our community, and most certainly not the church my family professes, the Roman Catholic Church.

My own growing distaste for that institution (not its people, mind you; certainly not all of the clergy) was firmly cemented when It joined the pantheon of clannish hate cults, jumping up to their too-tight clerical collars into the Gays Aren’t People campaign of the last few election cycles. My loathing was made stronger watching the local hierarchy decide without explanation which parishes would live and which would die in the post-Federal Flood city, especially the painful episodes of St. Augustine’s and St. Francis Cabrini. the “cathedral of the lakefront“.

One simple fact to know about The Church, or any church: where parishes returned, congregations followed. Where pulpits were left empty and the churches left filled with the rotting remains of vestments and missals, people were slow to return if they came back at all.

Witness the miraculous recovery of the Vietnamese-American community of New Orleans East, an area like most of those east of the Industrial Canal lade completely to waste. Led by Father Vien Thé Nguyen, Our Lady Queen of Vietnam first sheltered those who stayed for the storm then led the recovery of their community.

Or look at Lakeview. Fr. Paul Watkins, the parochial vicar (associate pastor) of St. Dominic Catholic Church in there , told Brian Denser of WTUL’s Community Gumbo in 2007: “we have spearheaded the recovery…everywhere the priests were allowed to return those neighborhoods have come back. The parishes that were closed…the neighborhoods are all exceptionally grim.”

Now, take a drive in the area around Parish Avenue where Cabrini Church once stood to you can understand what other areas of the city looked like, say, two years ago.

Today the Archdiocese of New Orleans will announce the closure of additional parishes. These are not those drowned by the failure of the federal levees. Take for example Our Lady of Good Counsel on Louisiana Avenue in Uptown new Orleans. Accomplished local novelist (and blogger) Poppy Z. Brite distributed a statement that tells us the story of the church where she was just baptized into the Catholic faith this past Easter:

This 114-year-old church ministers to 450 families, including a large number of elderly and disabled parishioners who do not have the ability to travel to another church. Both OLGC and another historic Uptown church, St. Henry’s (which is 152 years old and ministers to 300 families) are to be closed in April. Our Lady of Good Counsel was one of the first Catholic churches to reopen in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Since then, we have repaired the
minor wind damage we sustained in the storm, doubled the size of our congregation, and made great progress toward paying off our debt to the archdiocese. Our congregation ministers to the local poor through the St. Vincent de Paul Society and other organizations, and we hold a popular St. Joseph’s altar each March 19, where the saint is honored and the public is fed.

Our Lady of Good Counsel is architecturally significant, with a magnificent high altar, remarkable stained glass windows, a working pipe organ, and other details that would make it part of a standard church tour in any European city. Under the archdiocese’s current
ruling, this beautiful and sacred building will be sold off to the highest bidder and could even be torn down. Only in New Orleans do we have so many unseen treasures, and only in New Orleans, it seems, are we so ready to throw them away.

An arch diocese, indeed.

Here is the beautiful building the Archdiocese intends to sell off to the highest bidder. Given the building type , unless another faith’s congregation takes it over it will be demolished. I wish the same fate on those who would demolish this as others wish on the Taliban who demolished the great cliff Buddhas. The two groups differ only in degree, not kind.

In the aftermath of the attempts to destroy the nation’s oldest African-American Catholic congregation and the demolition of Cabrini Church, I’m near speechless. What more can I say about Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes and his arch-henchman Fr. William Maestri? Having dropped the F-bomb more times this week than I have in all the months and years since 8-29, I think this time insteadd I’ll just quote (but not profess) the words of a simple carpenter whose teachings Hughes and Maestri once swore to profess: Forgive them. They know now what they do.

As these new centurions of the Roman Catholic Church draw out the last nail, wagering perhaps over what the auction price will be, it is important we remember this: Our city is being rebuilt by in a very large part by individual volunteers who understand, who have internalized an important part of the message of Jesus: to help the downtrodden, the afflicted and oppressed. They come not at the direction of men with great offices in Rome or opulent television studios in the suburbs of the south. They come because of their personal commitment to live out the charge laid on them twenty centuries ago:

And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.

The Catholic Church, an anchor of this Franco-Iberian founded city, is just another institution that betrays us, just as government–the city, the state, and the central government–have betrayed us. Each of these looked on our suffering and saw an opportunity for profit and advancement. Tomorrow the NOLA Bloggers will bury our good friend Ashley Morris, and we will remember one thing he leaves behind, his own charge to people not his disciples but certainly his comrades: Sinn Fein, Ourselves Alone. The Church’s actions today remind us that the institutions we have trusted are now run not by shepherds but by wolves. We can only save ourselves by our own actions and in spite of them.

Sinn Fein, New Orleans. And thank you, Claudia and all of the volunteers of all faiths (and none) who have come and helped to rebuild our city. May you hold Hughes and Maestri in your prayers and beg for them mercy and forgiveness, for I should give them neither.

No Hunting, Fishing, Trapping March 28, 2008

Posted by The Typist in 504, CBD, Dancing Bear, Flood, New Orleans, NOLA, oddities, Toulouse Street, Uncategorized.
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posted.jpg

How odd to find a Posted sign in the middle of downtown, on a building on the corner of South Rampart and Perdido Streets. No hunting, fishing or trapping? Once not too long ago fishing might have been an issue, when this building sat at the southernmost advance of the lake waters if someone had perhaps broken in and set themselves up for a nap with a cane pole on the balcony, but not now, not today.

I am not even sure how many people who live in town know what to make of a Posted sign. It put me in mind of the 10 years I spent in the upper Midwest, part of if in the small town of Detroit Lakes (the Waveland of the North, as I used to call it: a sleepy town of 3,000 that exploded to as many as 30,000 people at the peak of the summer lake season). Perhaps the owner is an avid sportsman, who knows what it means to find such a sign on a fence line on a country road: No Trespassing. Here in New Orleans, we tend to favor the simpler and more direct message: Keep Out, Bad Dog.

On this day it was served as a reminder that at about this place in August of 2005, the water stopped and went no further, that this was the edge of the watery wild.

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That Bright Moment February 24, 2008

Posted by The Typist in 504, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, Flood, flooding, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, postdiluvian, quotes, Rebirth, Recovery, Remember, Sinn Fein, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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YOU ARE TRAPPED IN THAT BRIGHT MOMENT
WHERE YOU LEARNED YOUR DOOM
— Samuel R. Delaney in City of a Thousand Suns

Trapped not as you might think, given the juxtaposition of the word doom; trapped instead in the complex web of postdiluvian New Orleans in the way light is said to be trapped by a cut and polished gem, refracted by the complex play of facets until made into a flashing thing of beauty: that is how I try to live with what was once the shadow of The Flood, the rafts of ghosts it unleashed.

I have not finished Delaney’s novella trilogy Fall of the Towers, so I am not certain how the moment described by that recurring line will play out, the mass, simultaneous discovery by an entire society that a key assumption about their lives–that there was an enemy beyond the barrier; that they were at war–was a complex fiction constructed by their ruling class.

I am not certain how something terribly similar will play out here in New Orleans, among people who’s fundamental assumptions have been washed away: that the basic infrastructure of our lives is built well enough that we will not die of living upon it; that our government will rise up to protect and succor us at a moment of great peril; that if we pay our bills to the insurance company they will help make us whole. How do we live when all of the illusions that underpin life in modern America are suddenly swept away.

Some will drift into cynicism: all governments are corrupt, all big corporations dishonest: what did you expect? Nothing to be done. There is a certain beauty when that sardonic surrender is contrasted with the insistent evidence of hope, with the irrational and irresistible persistence that is one of the hallmarks of life, prominently displayed here in New Orleans like flowers erupting on a cooled lava flow. For evidence I offer the rush by Orleanians to embrace the dark and complex Waiting for Godot this year.

Complete cynicism in its modern sense is the fate I want to avoid for fear we become the new Dog Philosophers, mindless of our personal or civic obligations from a misplaced belief that the world is beyond redemption. I started down that road once on the blog I once kept called Wet Bank Guide. For a time the anger there over the Federal Flood and all that followed was palpable, the anger that once led me to ask if it were possible to renounce my citizenship in the United States of America and become a resident alien in the only country I wish to recognize: New Orleans. Over time, I transmuted that ugly funk into something else, a celebration of what I believe it means to be “trapped in that bright moment”. At what I thought the high point of that transformation, I put Wet Bank Guide to bed.

Now I try instead to celebrate the found moments of odd or profound beauty that come out of All That: the moments of simple, quiet pleasure and ecstatic, public joy that mark life in postdiluvian New Orleans, the surest signs that what we are building here is indeed New Orleans, heedless of the violent transfiguration of our landscape, the vast swaths of ruin that still blanket the Gentilly and the East, the last exits on the road to the modern Land of Nod.

I cannot entirely surrender that anger, not while I have this public forum and a handful of readers I might influence. There is too much to be done to realize the potential that arises out of that bright moment when we learned our doom. What the citizen journalists of the blogosphere call the ground truth must continue to be told in pieces like the one below, Crazy Like a Fox, until we have — like Saint Patrick — driven the snakes out of paradise.

Until that work is accomplished there is still a life to be lived here. For all of the constant struggle and the occasional horror of that life there are still the moments that flash out like shinning from shook foil, as Gerald Manley Hopkins put it. Our world is charged with the grandeur not of God precisely but of who we are, of how we live: every bar of music and snatch of song that puts a lilt in our step I never saw on the streets of Washington or Fargo; every sloppy po-boy unrolled from its waxy wrapper like an Egyptian treasure, that sustains us as much by the thought of which neighborhood joint it came from and by the sight of it laying there like a woman in dishabille, as we are as by the smell and the taste of it; the peculiar site lines of a city built to conform to the zaftig geography of the river’s crescent and our slow descent into the ocean. All of these flash out of the cold, hard moment when we rediscovered who we are, flash out with a beauty that should settle the question once and for all: why do we choose to live here having learned our doom?

For Orleanians, as I believe it will unfold for Delaney’s characters, living in that bright moment is not an end but a beginning, not so much a scar but like a smudge of transient ash on the forehead that reminds us of who we are, that helps us to rediscover for ourselves who we are and where we live.

The quote that eventually came to rest prominently at the top of Wet Bank Guide was from the jazz and performance artist Sun Ran: Its After the End of the World, Don’t You Know That Yet? For Sun Ra, it was a profound renunciation of the ugly history of what it meant to be Black in late 20th Century America. It was not the presumed despair of some character in a Left Behind novel (I can’t bring myself to read those Christian tracts, but I can imagine what that world is like, borrowed no doubt in large measure from works like Stephen King’s The Stand).

Instead Sun Ra’s aphorism calls us to a celebration of the realization that we have been unshackled from the conventional, from so much of our history and attachment. Perhaps I can help all those around me who still cling to the past, to the ugliest parts of the long story what makes us who we are; I hope I can push them to recognize that those shackles lie about their feet and no longer bind them, that they have been freed by that bright moment in which we knew our doom to become something at once old and new: not the city bequeathed to us like a curse by our ancestors who held or felt the lash but instead the city of memory and of dreams, the city that lives in our hearts.

Queen of Denial? February 9, 2008

Posted by The Typist in 504, Carnival, Debrisville, Flood, flooding, French Quarter, home, Hurricane Katrina, Jazz Fest, je me souviens, Katrina, levee, Mardi Gras, New Orleans, NOLA, parade, Rebirth, Recovery, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Hollywood Reporter columnist Ray Richmond came to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, wandered Bourbon Street and its immediate environs like a good tourist–noting the drunken hordes, the breast obsession, and the beads, all of the touchstones of a Tourist at Mardi Gras. His blog notes that he did venture out of the Quarter and into The Ruins, fand found “a watterlogged [sic] ghost town pockmarked with wide swaths of untouched damage. Meanwhile, those who dared stick it out — or more likely, had no choice — are forced to live in flimsy FEMA trailer housing where their homes once stood.”

His reaction to this odd (to him) juxtaposition was to wonder at the boosterism of the city fathers in promoting Carnival, and the commitment of the costumed locals to have their day even in the middle of Year Three of the postdeluvian era.

The local and national media don’t really talk about this stuff anymore, as Hurricane Katrina is yesterday’s crisis. It’s also far better for tourism and for the city’s tenuous self-esteem to promote the fact that New Orleans’ self-gratifying, anything-goes character is back in full. “New Orleans Hotels at 90% Capacity — and Counting!” exulted one headline. The only hurricane you seem to hear about anymore is the one that’s served in a glass (dark rum, pineapple juice, splash of grenadine). It’s all something of a facade, of course, but that’s spin marketing for ya. There’s simply not as much to be gained from peddling the slogan, New Orleans: Merely a Shell of What We Once Were.

“….We can all sleep better knowing that New Orleans is once again safe for the rowdy and the inebriated, the naked and the perverse. For a city that’s still struggling to crawl out from under the lingering devastation of Hell and high water, it now finds itself drowning in denial, which rapidly has become the most powerful of opiates for these huddled, thinned-out masses.”

Ray, we are not merely a shell of what we once were, even if half of the city’s buildings are. Carnival is not denial; for us it is life. The picture of the man dressed as a soiled baby president is part of (or a dedicated hanger on to) the Krewe of Saint Anne, one of the groups dedicated to elaborate costuming in Mardi Gras. The people who worked half the year on fantastic costumes in spite of the state of our city are no different than my wife soldiering through celebrating Christmas while her mother died. To suggest Mardi Gras is inappropriate would be tantamount to suggesting that commerce in New York be suspended for a few years because of 9-11. If that were to happen, what would be left of the city? Would what remains even be New York? The same is true for New Orleans: to cease to be ourselves would be to surrender, and we have not, will not give up.

For people like the Krewe of St. Anne and all of those you saw following them, Mardi Gras is not a denial but instead a celebration of who we are, of why we live here. It was an affirmation that we do live here, that we will live here, come hell or high water or both, in the way we have for close to three centuries. We not only had Mardi Gras this year, we had it last year, and we had it in 2006 — six months after the Federal Flood, when half of the city had no running water or telephones. We costumed and paraded and partied.

We’re glad the tourists are back, even the vomiting hordes of Spring Break in Hell types. We need their business. We need your business, and that of your readers. Tourism remains a top industry. We want you to come for Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest, and we want you to take time out from those celebrations to see the rest of the city, the real city that stands in hollow, gray ruin not a mile from the Fairgrounds where Jazz Fest plays. We want America to know the one thing your story missed. We stand in ruin because we have been left to our own devices to rebuild. The money is all gone down the rat hole, parceled out to pay for fabulous no-bid contracts to Haliburton and their ilk for debris clean up and other tasks that followed the storm and flood. The money meant to help rebuild is tied up in Byzantine federal red tape. Little has actually reached the people who live here. And still they come home, maxing out their credit cards and cashing out their retirement and one-by-one rebuilding their houses and lives. We are doing it on our own because we just. Sinn Fein, baby.

They come home because they have tried life elsewhere in America when they had no choice but to leave, and they chose to come home. The come back because there is no place for a Krewe of St. Anne’s in Houston or Dallas or Atlanta or Memphis. They come home not for Bourbon Street but for the joie de vivre of the entire city, for the way of life which Bourbon Street caricatures for the tourists. The come because we have built a culture here over 300 years which is different than what the rest of America has, a life visitors don’t understand but are drawn to, which they come and sample with envy. A person may still be waiting — two-and-a-half years later — for a final insurance settlement or a check from the Road Home program, living in a camper trailer beside a home they are trying to rebuild themselves after a long day’s work elsewhere. They may be tired and beaten down, but they will have Carnival.

This is not denial. This is who we are. This is why you came, why the hordes on Bourbon Street came. This is why the floats rolled and the marching crews walked. They city may lay still half in ruin, but New Orleans is back because New Orleans is a people and a way of life. We have risked everything and spent every penny we have to be here because we will not let that way of life vanish from the earth, cannot imagine spending a life elsewhere, a life different from this.

See you at Jazz Fest.

The Last Mardi Gras February 4, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Carnival, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, Flood, flooding, French Quarter, ghosts, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, Mardi Gras, Mardi Gras Indians, New Orleans, NOLA, parade, Rebirth, Recovery, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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As I did last year, I’m going to just re-post a piece I wrote in the fall of 2005 on Flood Street – Dispatches from an Imaginary Disaster, and then for Carnival 2006 and 2007 on Wet Bank Guide called The Last Mardi Gras.

If I don’t see you at St. Anne’s or on Frenchman, I’ll see you on the other side. As I once heard a Mardi Gras Indian chief say on WWOZ one Monday night in the long ago, “don’t be fallin’ outta yo’ house with no needle and thread in yo’ hand.”

The Last Mardi Gras

In this city, people talk incessantly of past pleasures and of those to come, even as they regard the meal or the drink or the parade in front of them. We live in a stream of memory as dark and deep and powerful as the river. Memory’s currents clutch at us and steer our lives, must be compensated for just as the ferry pilots must at every crossing, must be feared less they take us down into an eddy from which no body returns.

Some of my earliest memories are of Mardi Gras. I remember as a child of perhaps five seeing Indians dancing at the corner that might have been Galvez and Canal as we drove to my great aunts’ on Royal Street. Later that day or perhaps a year before or after, I can clearly recall watching Rex passing down Canal from atop my father’s shoulders. Half a life later, my girlfriend and I slouched outside a hall in Arabi in the lost hours before dawn on the night of MoM’s Ball, and a famous photographer took our picture. I’ve never seen this photograph, but I will go to my grave easier knowing that years from now, on a wall or in a book, someone will see us in our motley glory, dissolute and unrepentant and utterly glorious in the moment. They will see us and say: this is what Mardi Gras was like back then.

Twenty years separate those moments, and another twenty separate that MoM’s Ball from the first postdiluvian Carnival. For all that span of years and a century before, Mardi Gras has been as reliable as high water. No one really needed to tell me there would be a Mardi Gras this year as there has been every year in my living memory, and as I am certain there will be a Mardi Gras when no one remembers what it meant to sit on the lawn of the Wildlife and Fisheries building of a certain winter Tuesday. No disaster leaving behind life more complex than the cockroach could prevent it.

Just as certain, at some point of during Tuesday;s twilight people will begin to talk of about last Mardi Gras, and of the Mardi Gras to come with the certainty of the sanctified they are most certainly not. The last time in living memory Carnival was interrupted was during World War II. Frankly, I don’t understand why. The soldiers and sailors on leave wandering Perdido Street drunkly in search of women wouldn’t have been harmed by the tableaux of paper maiche floats lit by the dripping oil burners of the flambeau. Carnival was probably canceled by somebody from the wrong side of Canal Street, whose father before him decided Storyville had to be closed to protect the doughboys of World War One from dissipation. There always a Do-Good Daddy looking to tone the city down.

I don’t think anyone with the city in their heart understood the cancellations, but I’m sure those generations accepted those losses the way we accept the closing of a favorite restaurant: by finding a new and equally good one to sit in and eat and drink and discuss the loss of the old favorite, remembering what we ate on such a date and with whom. Until, of course, we discuss where the owner or the cook of the failed place is expected to return, and start to anticipate the day we will sit at that as yet unset table, and remember what we ate on such a date and with whom.

Of course there will be a Mardi Gras. I might need to ask which krewes would roll on what nights, to inquire of friends where the MoM’s Ball might be. But no one needed to tell me that Mardi Gras would happen, especially the one hidden inside private parties in bars or in courtyards, punctuated by forays out into the streets to parade. The year the police went on strike and the parades all fled to the suburbs and the Mardi Gras of the hoteliers and the airlines was canceled, we dutifully assembled at the Wildlife and Fisheries Building on Fat Tuesday.

Suspicious National Guardsmen and out-of-state troopers warily regarded the ragged parade of the early intoxicated, smelling of burnt leaves and breakfast screwdrivers, dressed in ways only the part-time preachers among them could have imagined, and then only in a place warmer than the city in February. We were not about to let a simple thing like a police strike spoil the party. Several among us dressed as the National Guard in uniforms from the surplus stores in Gentilly, armed with perfect replica rifles by Mattel. When we went to buy wine and beer at the Walgreen’s on Canal, and our friends burst into the door yelling “secure the beer cooler,” clerks fell to the floor in fright, fearing perhaps that the Guard had had enough, and were about to shut down carnival.

I fled the city a few years later, and did not return for Mardi Gras once for almost two decades. The few Mardi Gras that followed the police strike were colored by my reasons for leaving the city, memories rent by heartache and drowned in drink. Those last few years did not yield the stories I would tell my children if they fed me too much wine at some holiday dinner years from now. For many years, the police strike was the Last Mardi Gras. My children, a boy ten and a girl fourteen, grew up knowing Mardi Gras through the Disney film fairy tale filter of the stories I dared to tell them, from the magazine that came with the king cake from Ma Mere every year, in the music I played them from Twelfth Night until the day. We ate jambalaya and king cake, and donned masks and beads to dance wildly to Mardi Gras Vol. 1 in front of the large plate glass window of our home in a small Midwestern town. Neighbors across the street peered through their curtains intermittently at the scene, but no one ever worked up the courage to ask us what we were doing.

I have taken my family to New Orleans. The kids had sneezed powdered sugar all over each other at the Cafe du Monde, fondled baby alligators on flat boats out of Barataria, had learned to eat seafood and gumbo and jambalaya, had even wandered with me through Storyland in City Park. I took them to the exhibit at the Cabildo to learn about Mardi Gras. It’s a wonderful set piece but, like a high school health film on sex, it is not quite the same as the actual experience.

So we piled onto an airplane bound for New Orleans the year before the Flood, and went to Mardi Gras. I took them to St. Charles and Napoleon, and my son waved his deftly caught spear with complete abandon. My daughter was bashful about begging trinkets from strangers in a strange land, until I flung myself stone cold sober on my knees in the middle of the Avenue and begged as loudly as I could for a female horse posse rider to give me a purple, green and gold flower for my daughter on her first Mardi Gras. After that, she got the idea. No pretty girl on St. Charles Avenue should go home without her weight in beads. She only needed to ask.

We stood for hours all weekend, parade after parade, never tiring of it, interrupted only by a friend’s party Endymion party on Saturday night. After Endymion, I left them with Ma Mere and set out after midnight to return to the MoM’s ball for the first time in two decades. MoM’s had always been one of my favorite things about Mardi Gras, a gathering of all who chose to live in the fabric of Mardi Gras and not just inhabit a costume for a few hours, a party only the resolutely dissolute can enjoy, or survive. MoM’s is what I hope Saturday night in Hell will be like, should I find myself stuck there between planes. But thousands in a shed did not hold up to the memories of hundreds in a hall in Arabi decades before. I don’t know if I will return to MoM’s, preferring this one true memory of carnival’s past. And then I can say well, I don’t go anymore, you know, but back when…

I agonized for weeks and months before we went: should I take the children to the Quarter on Mardi Gras Day, or back to St. Charles? As I child, I spent most Mardi Gras at my great aunt’s apartment on Royal Street, now the Hove’ Parfumier. I decided they should have a glimpse of the secret heart of Mardi Gras, or as least as much as they could handle. So we rose up early on the day, donned our costumes, and boarded a cab bound for Frenchman Street. We waited endlessly across from the R-Bar for St. Anne’s, not knowing those marchers had chosen another route. Facing a rebellion, we took off and made our own way up Royal, stopping to sit a moment on Tante Gert and Sadie’s stoop, making Canal just in time for Zulu.

After Rex, I left them in my sister’s care for the endless truck floats, and retired to friend’s places in the Quarter. I stopped briefly in the Abbey, a place that had never been the same since Betz sold it. Instead of the usual motley crew of bikers or transvestites or other folk I had often encountered on past trips home, I found it full of drunken twenty somethings who looked frighteningly like the crowd I remember from my own days, as if the Abbey were haunted for the night by the spirits of the place of my memories. I bought a round of snakebites for a familiar seeming couple and then the currents swept me back to Frenchman Street, a mad Green Man second lining with a huge palm tree totem given to me be someone who knew just how to complete my costume.

Now I have a new last Mardi Gras. We are coming back to the city to stay, to march again and again, so that there is no longer a Last Mardi Gras, just the last Mardi Gras. I will march until my time is done, and then I will borrow a ritual from St. Anne’s, in this city of borrowed rituals. I will have my children scatter what remains of me into the river on Fat Tuesday. For me, it will be the Last Mardi Gras. For them, it will simply be a moment from last Mardi Gras. They will say a few words, shed a tear, and then all of us will be swept away by the currents. They will turn away from the river, while nearby a drunken trumpeter will perhaps blow a few bars of Oh Didn’t He Ramble, and I will march in their hearts back into the Quarter once more.

When the levee breaks January 31, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Corps of Engineers, Flood, flooding, levee, New Orleans, NOLA, Sinn Fein, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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See those dots and shaded areas? If you live there, you need to know this: there is no act of incomptence or malice for which the Corps of Engineers can be held liable should your levees (or dikes or whatever you choose to call them) fail. Thousands may die, and hundreds of billions of dollars of damage may be done, and the fault can clearly be that of the Corps, but you have no recourse.

You may think it was just some fluke of indolent and corrupt New Orleans. Think again. Locals basically mowed the grass on those levees, that’s all. Those levees and floodwals were a clear Federal responsibility. And they were not up to the required design specification. Not even close. Are your levees up to standard?

If not (and you won’t really know until you have to start cutting that hole in your attic to escape from drowning), then based on our experience I suggest you begin to evacuate these areas immediately. If you don’t drown, the best you might get (outside of what flood insurance might pay) is on the order of ten or fifteen cents on the dollar. And nothing should you die. That is what New Orleans has received, and I can’t imagine why you would expect any more.

I know most of you don’t have flood insurance. Louisiana had one of the highest compliance rates in the nation. I didn’t carry flood insurance when I lived in Fargo behind 40-foot high dikes and well below the flood stage of the Red River at its worst case. Do you have flood insurance? Do you have a plan for rebuilding your life out of the proceeds of that insurance and that insurance only? If your house and contents are worth more than $150,000 what then? If you owe more than that, are you ready to continue to pay the mortage on a ruin where you can’t live? Do you have enough life insurance should you drown so your family could make that payment on the hole in the ground that used to be your house after you’ve drowned?

If I were you, I would get that for sale sign up today. Or you can join us in demanding that the Corps of Engineers be held responsible for their clear and admitted negligence and that all of the levees in this country be built to do their job, and that the Corps be held responsible if they are not.

Note: I have resisted falling back on Led Zeppelin for a title or even a quote out for two-and-a-half years, but I just couldn’t avoid or resist this time.

Its a new day January 21, 2008

Posted by The Typist in 8-29, Bloggers, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Flood, home, New Orleans, NOLA, NOLA Blogroll, Odds&Sods, Rebirth, Recovery, Remember, Uncategorized, We Are Not OK.
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Just a note if you’ve wandered in from Wet Bank Guide, as I transition out of that project and on to others, to welcome you to Toulouse Street — Odd Bits of Life in New Orleans. This is a different space, one I originally started as a place to put odd things that didn’t seem to fit on the high tone I had set at WBG. If you scroll down, you’ll find plenty of odd bits of life in NOLA here, and some just plain odd things that just pleased me as I sit here typing on Toulouse Street.

I have updated the once brief blogroll here to incorporate everyone (I think) who is still publishing that was listed at WBG. I’ve I’ve left you off, sorry. I often steal time away to blog late at night or early in the morning when the faculties have sometimes sent themselves to sleep early even as I bask in the glow of the monitor and thoroughly screw up my circadian rhythms, or else are still lying tangled in the mind’s sheets even as the body stands upright and stares intently at the dripping coffee.

New Orleans remains my theme, my obsession almost. That deep connection was always there in me during the 20 years I lived away, in the manner Catholicism is imprinted upon me by growing up in New Orleans and twelve years of Catholic school regardless of professed or practiced faith. New Orleans will still predominate here, but since this is more a blogger’s blog–what I once called (no insult intended) a vanity blog–I feel freer to drop in bits of favorite music, poetry and the just plain weird.

If you’re looking for something more like what Wet Bank Guide had become over time, keep coming. I am not going to stop writing about New Orleans and I will continue to find joy and sorrow worthy of note and a special effort on my part, and will post some of that here. You can also drop by Poems Before Breakfast and find where some of my creative energy has been going lately.

And here, as at Wet Bank Guide, we will always Remember. The events that drove WBG are as imprinted on us as the necessity that any dish in a pot worth having should begin with celery, bell pepper and onion in a sizzling roux. It is still After the End of the World. Don’t you know that yet? My touch stones remain: Je me souviens Remember 8-2; We will never forget. Still, Toulouse Street is more a celebration than a lament. Jim Morrison’s lyric “I love the friends I have gathered together here on this thin raft” is our slogan, even if we are still huddled together here because it is after the end of the world. For us it’s a new day every day, a continual act of will and creation to make again one of the great cities on this earth.

Ok, that’s enough cheerful stuff this early in the morning. We now return you to your regularly unscheduled coverage of my view from Toulouse Street — Odd Bits of Life in New Orleans.

Where I want to be November 19, 2007

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, Flood, flooding, New Orelans, New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Recovery, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Hail Atlantis

Still waiting, still dreaming… November 11, 2007

Posted by The Typist in 504, cryptical envelopment, Debrisville, Flood, flooding, Katrina, New Orelans, New Orleans, Rebirth, Recovery, Sinn Fein, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Since all of the tickets for the Theater of Harlem’s outdoor production of Waiting for Godot were long gone by the time we arrived, we decided not to wait around under the tree at Pratt and Robert E. Lee and debate, but instead withdrew for more drinks, starting back on the porch at Chez Folse and ending at the Circle Bar for Gal Holliday.

I heard (from someone who asked last night) that there would be no Sunday show added as they did last weekend. So tonight instead of seeing Becket’s play, I am–after a prolonged episode of absurdest, existential angst in my friend’s club level seats at the Dome–reduced to watching bits of video.

I had read the script through online during a business trip this week. There is something essential in it to the current experience of so many in New Orleans, the discovery that we are not suffering from post traumatic stress disorder because we are not past the thing but instead in the very midst of it, in a landscape and a plot as bleak and confusing as Beckett’s, on a road of dubious prospects in a landscape swept clear of familiar geography and of hope, no prospect that over a hill or beyond a wood there is something different, something better.

Nothing to be done.

And yet we came in the hundreds last night, into the thousands, turning our back on the well-lit streets of the sliver by the river, forgoing the restaurants of Magazine and the lively nightclubs of Frenchman to try to sit through this difficult work, a comedy as black as the streets were for months in this part of town, as dark as the picture windows remain in so many of the empty brick boxes that line the streets. We came because all of us are so like these characters, lost in a landscape from which familiar references have been erased, clinging to the one thing that keeps us all from dropping over the brink: each other. We know Godot will not save us, that the Pollo’s of the world care not a whit for the outcome.

The careful fictions we have erected like pyramids in this country were all swept away by the flood, were taken from us as cataclysms of the Twentieth Century destroyed the illusions for Beckett’s generation. We have peered into the abyss, an abyss where many waded or swam in desperation and too many drowned, while the newsreaders stood puzzled on dry streets and the relief trucks stopped at the edge of town, waiting for word that it was safe to come, waiting for instructions from Godot. We were not simply ignored or abandoned by America. Instead we tasted the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, and were driven out of the garden of mass marketing, ashamed of our nakedness. We have peered into that abyss and come away filled with uncertainly and angst, equally incapable of trust in god or government. What is left? What reason is there to live here, to live at all?

And still we come home, even as we came to see Godot. The ticket rules changed without announcement, more turned away than admitted, we left the site of the play not confused but affirmed in the life we have found here. We left that open air stage, but we can no more leave this place, this city than these characters can hang themselves: not because we are incapable, but instead because it is beyond our human nature to surrender this life we call New Orleans. Perhaps Godot will come. Just as likely he will not. All we can be certain of us ourselves: Sinn Fein. In the end, however bleak the scene, we will not give up hope.

VLADIMIR:
Well? Shall we go?
ESTRAGON:
Yes, let’s go.

    They do not move.

Deja vodoo over Tabasco November 9, 2007

Posted by The Typist in Dancing Bear, Debrisville, Flood, flooding, Hurricane Katrina, Katrina, New Orelans, New Orleans, Tabasco, Toulouse Street.
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If you know my story of homecoming and how and why it happened, you will understand why this quote from Root Coffee’s blog, talking about the massive flood in Tabasco in Mexico, gives me (and Ray) shivers:

My husband means well when he tells me I should get some sleep and gather strength to keep helping tomorrow; but the anguish eats at me, I can’t feel comfortable, it’s my hometown, my people, the place I grew up in, I can’t just let it go.

You will understand why I will be here tomorrow night, to hear these words:

VLADIMIR:
…So there you are again.
ESTRAGON:
Am I?
VLADIMIR:
I’m glad to see you back. I thought you were gone forever.
ESTRAGON:
Me too.

Meanwhile, donate to Tabasco relief.

And never forget, never surrender. We can all rest in the grave.

New Orleans students take on Corps of Engineers November 7, 2007

Posted by The Typist in 8-29, Corps of Engineers, Debrisville, Flood, flooding, New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Recovery, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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If you have a You Tube account/login, please visit this video’s page and vote for and favorite this video produced by New Orleans school children in support of an 8-29 commission:

Shelton Alexander–When the Levees Broke September 28, 2007

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, Flood, flooding, Hurricane Katrina, Katrina, New Orelans, New Orleans, poem, Poetry, Rebirth, Recovery, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Update: I talked to Shelton via MySpace mail and he has no idea who put this up or why it was taken down. Sorry.

Ground truth has a face. It is Shelton Alexander’s.

I have found a new version. It’s a crappy capture but it’s Alexander’s interview and the entire speech.

I told you I would be here.
It was important that I came.

Damn.o

Remember August 29, 2007

Posted by The Typist in Corps of Engineers, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Flood, flooding, Hurricane Katrina, Katrina, Mid-City, New Orelans, New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Recovery, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Let nothing be forgotten in this place August 11, 2007

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Flood, Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, Uptown, We Are Not OK.
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My son has a friend who lives up on Jackson Avenue. I’ve noticed that the shrine to Vera is gone from its spot on Jackson just south of Magazine. There is some realtor’s sign on the property, and I imagine they didn’t think that the remembrance of a victim of the flood lacked what they call on curb appeal.

By removing that memorial that property should be cursed and should never sell unless the memorial is restored.

Je me souviens.

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This is the memorial as I found it Nov. 1, 2006, when I left a pot of mums. It contained photographs and a memorial/obituary notice about Vera Smith, who died at the corner of Jackson Avenue and Magazine Street on Tuesday, Aug. 31 2005, the victim of a hit-and-run driver during the frantic evacuation of New Orleans after the Flood. Her body lay on the street for days until neighbors built a rough tomb for her from found bricks and buried here (see photo below).

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A Loud Color July 13, 2007

Posted by The Typist in Flood, flooding, New Orleans, Rebirth, Recovery, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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A true New Orleans voice, crying out in the wilderness.

“[If] we dobn’t come back and build it, its going to be worse even than it was before Katrina.”
— Louis Harding iof the Marcus Garvey Center for Economic Development
in the film “A Loud Color” by Brent Joseph

Its after the end of the world May 26, 2007

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, Flood, flooding, Hurricane Katrina, Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, Sun Ra, Toulouse Street.
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It’s after the end of the world.
Don’t you know that yet?

— Sun Ra

No flurries, mate May 5, 2007

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, Flood, flooding, New Orleans, NOLA, Odds&Sods, Toulouse Street.
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While I’ve left behind the land of the blizzard (and my least favorite weather phenomena, snirt), I have to remember how to live in the land of flood.

After wading out of Fort Apache the Bank through calf-deep water, it was smooth sailing home down Orleans Avenue as I circled around the gaping manholes which had blown their covers in the peak of the storm. (Hint: when enough water come out of the main storm drains to blow off the man hole covers, it’s probably too late to move your car to the neutral ground).

Some parts of New Orleans got more rain this afternoon than parts of North Dakota get in a year. The reward for such weather (although its not a requirement) is The Golden Light, that peculiar illumination at sunset that turns the entire world into a transcendent landscape painting by Rembrandt . I don’t think I ever saw this particular quality of light anywhere else in my twenty years away.

Googling golden light turns up attempts by painters and photographers to capture it, but it is for me an indelible New Orleans experience; like Noah’s promise it is a heavenly reminder that after the storm one can walk down a tree shaded by oaks and studded with flowering trees for a drink and dinner, music after.

So, no flurries, mate. Toss a couple of Barbies on the grill and hand me another oil can Foster’s Ale. After the flood, it’s a glorious Friday dusk on Toulouse Street.

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Tootie’s Last Suit April 28, 2007

Posted by The Typist in Carnival, Dancing Bear, Flood, Mardi Gras, Mardi Gras Indians, Mid-City, New Orleans, NOLA, We Are Not OK.
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I so want to see this movie.

The feature-length documentary, TOOTIE’S LAST SUIT explores the complex relationships, rituals, history, and music of New Orleans’ vibrant Mardi Gras Indian culture while telling the story of Allison “Tootie” Montana, former Chief of Yellow Pocahontas Hunters. Celebrated throughout the New Orleans as “the prettiest,” for the beauty and inventiveness of his elaborately beaded Mardi Gras costumes, Tootie Montana masked for 52 years, longer than any other Mardi Gras Indian…

In the aftermath of It All, I had completely forgotten about the St. Joseph’s Night attack of the NOPD on the Indians, and Tootie’s death while testifying to the City Council about it. This sounds like a film that should be run until the print gives out in New Orleans. At the same time, given all the city’s troubles, I hope that this culture does not vanish into the camera’s lense.

The end of the world April 21, 2007

Posted by The Typist in Corps of Engineers, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, Flood, home, Katrina, Mid-City, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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“This is the end, beautiful friend, the end.”
–Jim Morrison
endoftheworld.jpg
World’s End Marina, 2006
At world’s end, I want to be among friends. If we can’t save New Orrleans, the so-called developed world is at its end. I am in the right place at the wrong time, and I can’t imagine being anywhere else.

Flowers for Vera November 1, 2006

Posted by The Typist in Citizen Journalism, Corps of Engineers, Flood, Garden District, Hurricane Katrina, Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, Uptown, We Are Not OK.
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vera1.jpg

Above is the memorial to Vera Smith, who died at the corner of Jackson Avenue and Magazine Street on Tuesday, Aug. 31 2005, the victim of a hit-and-run driver during the frantic evacuation of New Orleans after the Flood. Her body lay on the street for days until neighbors built a rough tomb for her from found bricks and buried here (see photo below). If you happen to stop by soon and the mums are still there, please water them.

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Ok, we’re rolling. It’s . . . August 29th . . . October 29, 2006

Posted by The Typist in Flood, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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“Good morning, it’s Sunday August 29th . . .”

The voice of the person I believe is recording engineer Jim Gaines speaks these words at the start of the first cut of Michael Perlitch’s Keyboard Tales, an obscure 1972 Atlantic Recording alt/art record. I surmise it is the engineer as someone clearly Perlitch answers, and it is a solo work.

I pulled this LP out after rereading this post on Wet Bank Guide, to digitize the vinyl and burn myself a CD copy. I also pulled out Electric Ladyland, after a comment post of most of the lyrics of 1983/Moon Turn the Tides in response to Traveling Mermaid’s announcment that her Katrina-centric blog will be largely superceded by one that will not mention The Event.

The Mermaid will be missed, but if her new blog continues her posts that had nothing directly to do with the deluge, the links to art, to music, to musings on her journey through our watery world at the edge of America, then we won’t lose that voice and the iconic Mermaid of the year of the flood will remain in our memories of the past months.

This post is running astray like a ship lured toward the rocks by a vision that just might, possibly might, be a woman with the tail of a fish. I meant to write about the minor bit of synchronicity at the start of Perlitch’s recording. We are all living in the endlessly echoing concentric ripples of the Flood. I put on a record, and hear a voice say “It’s . . . August 29” and once again the entire web trembles and glistens with the brackish splatter of the last year.

I don’t desire to escape the web as Charlotte does, but then I am not a survivor. I don’t labor carrying that tremendous stone up the endless steps my every waking moment. As terrible as the Flood was, for me it was like the satori in a painful slap of the Grand Master, an awakening. Even as I find myself drifting in and out of the pervasive dark cloud that hangs over the city and all its residents, I hear this date spoken on Perlitch’s record and suddenly, there is the flash of light that reveals another strand.

For me, the web is the tangle of strings of unimaginable composition–something like pure energy–that I find in the writings of Carlos Castaneda and in books about theoritical physics, strands of simultaneous light and substance. A voice speaking that date by cosmic accident on a cutout LP is just another thread in the tapestry that had hung behind my entire life, the backdrop I only truly begin to see in the light of that first episode of Flood-born synchronicity August before last, a moment that opened up a set of possibilities that before had been nothing but conjecture or idle day dream, a moment like that when I read (in the same year this record was released) Thomas Pynchon’s suggestion in Gravity’s Rainbow that paranoia might be “the leading edge of awareness that everything is connected”.

For tonight, I am content to listen to Captain Zanzibar.

Har vast ye wanderers on my
Galleon Bound
Toward uncharted waters
Strong winds fill the sails as we
Wander Around
To the far side of the deep blue sea
Is my island and its waiting for me
On my blue sky ocean
On my blue sky ocean
On my blue sky ocean