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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.

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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.

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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levees.jpg

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.

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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remember.jpg

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.

barbieq.jpg

Last Haul September 5, 2006

Posted by The Typist in Citizen Journalism, Corps of Engineers, flooding, Hurricane Katrina, Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, We Are Not OK.
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Remember August 27, 2006

Posted by The Typist in Corps of Engineers, flooding, Hurricane Katrina, Katrina, Mid-City, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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A sign as flimsy as the Corps’ levees August 16, 2006

Posted by The Typist in Citizen Journalism, Corps of Engineers, flooding, New Orleans, NOLA, Uncategorized.
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Sign at Corps of Engineers 17th Street Canal Site
Courtesy of
Habitat for Urbanity I posted about this at Wet Bank Guide already, but not the actual photo. I’m dumbstruck.