jump to navigation

Le mal du pays October 19, 2014

Posted by The Typist in A Fiction, cryptical envelopment, home, Murder, New Orleans, The Dead, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
add a comment

‘Le mal du pays.’ It’s French. Usually its translated as ‘homesickness’ or ‘melancholy.’ If you put a finer point on it, it’s more like ‘a groundless sadness called forth in a person’s heart by a pastoral landscape.’ It’s a hard expression to translate accurately. — Haruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukiru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgramage

Homesickness. Home sickness. Home. Sickness. “…they are the figures in the frame that make the landscape.” There is nothing pastoral about the Upper Ninth Ward. Taking the shortcut to Poland down Galvez to avoid the no left turn signs, the Musician’s Village is just a few blocks over but you don’t see the pretty stick-and-Tyvek houses. You see the aging wood-frame shotguns sagging with and into the ground, come to a stop at Poland across from a scrap yard filled with rusty anchors.

A man gunned down in the middle of a street in the Lower 9th Ward Friday night has been identified by the Orleans Parish coroner’s office. Malik Braddy, 18, of New Orleans was killed shortly after 10 p.m. in the 1600 block of Lizardi Street.

When I come to post here the dashboard shows statistics for most viewed posts and pages. The leaders are always the list of victims I started several years ago, and have semi-abandoned. (Somehow I have to find time to finish 2013 before 2014 is over). Melvin Labranch III.

Once upon a time downtown in the nine, what it don’t mind dyin’ Sworn to a life of crime, was a youngin’ standing only 5’5, big money on his mind Clothes ain’t wrinkled with his hand on the iron, shot six times Shot six times, ran in from of my mom (dear lord) — Downtown, Kidd Kidd

People come looking for Labranch, the subject of the R&B style hip hop elegy by his cousin, who elsewhere in the song sings “somebody done killed my brother, now I gotta get back/let ’em know cause a nigga gotta feel that/Sitting shotgun with the shotgun: when you hear the shots come, nigga don’t run.” The song is a hit of sorts, which is I guess what drives the traffic: the celebration of a child “sworn to a life of crime” and someone “riddin on those niggas” looking for revenge.

Guess this is the game we chose to play Crazy how it’s always been the same.

Has it? Has it always been this way when I was growing up on the Lakefront just off Robert E. Lee Boulevard, and the Times-Picayune and States-Item just didn’t bother with dead black me? I don’t think so. There is nothing pastoral about the Upper Ninth Ward, but there is a terrible sadness. There is as I suggested above, a home sickness, the old style proud of the working class–black and white–that was once settled with fists that has metastasized into a violence most Americans only read about in the paper, stories of some far away country, and then only the body count of the American soldiers, not the million and a half Arabs dead for what? Killing random people because they live in the wrong ward of the planet just for revenge. A friend went ballistic on Facebook after attending a memorial for the man everyone in her hood in the upper nine knew as Sappy. She was mostly going after the hipsters in the same bar looking for food but avoiding any contact with the largely black crowd at the memorial, black except for her and her partner. She grew up in San Diego in poverty to match any sad story from the Ninth Ward, but chooses New Orleans. She lives there, running a small business with her partner while both work part time, and make themselves a part of their stretch of St. Claude. What is sad about Sappy is not the hipsters gathered in a tight, white knot at the other end of the bar is that he was a country kid from Mississippi who also chose New Orleans, made a living as a minimum wage worker at Rally’s. When he was gunned down over some stupid argument in the parking lot of Church’s Chicken on St. Claude he asked the woman who drew the gun, “Are you going to shoot me?” She did. Was his tone of voice confrontational, the braggadocio that is part of a life in that part of town, or was he incredulous that some dumb argument could turn so quickly to a gun? I like to imagine the latter, but either way it doesn’t matter. The man born Derrick Christmas is cold in the ground. It was not his first brush with senseless violence. He was the victim of a vicious beatdown in a bathroom with Harrah’s for brushing a man’s shoulder. To chose to live in New Orleans is to chose to live with the body count, to walk back to your car in the relative safety of the Marigny like a soldier on patrol, every sense hyper-alert, suddenly sober as the adrenaline prepares you for the man passing on the street who might be a road side bomb waiting to go off. To chose to live in the Ninth Ward is to put your plastic piece down on the Monopoly block where many go directly to jail, do not pass home and collect $200. No real hope going in, less coming out. And too many do not pass home but go directly to the cemetery. How to live in this city when every morning I go to the blog to grab the day’s Odd Words to post and see my statistics, the numbers next to the list of the dead. Sometimes they leave comments, as I ask, the way people leave plastic flowers, bottles of a favorite rum, a faded picture in the spot where another one fell. I don’t need to open the newspaper to be reminded that I live in a city at war with itself. How to live in this city? When my daughter came back from a semester in Amsterdam there was a seminar they were all required to take on readjustment to one’s home culture. I only had a week of jet lag, and a second week frantically finishing a paper and a manuscript for the courses I took there. It was only then that the culture shock began to sink in. I met an old friend for drinks and after walking back to her house to sit on the patio on Conti Street. When I left, she insisted there was no way I was walking alone through the quarter the nine blocks to Buffa’s, or standing on the corner of Esplanade and Rampart waiting for the last 93 bus to take me home. She shoved money in my hands and walked me up to the corner for a cab. It wasn’t safe, she insisted, to walk nine blocks through my town, although I count myself a street-wise former quarter rat, keep to the well-lit, no-parking side of the street. Too many robberies, and the latest craze, senseless beatdowns. 14786415702_24147f966b_o How many died while I was wandering Europe? I could consult my local newspaper’s helpful online Murders page. Does your hometown newspaper have a Murders page? How to live in this city? Those who know me know I have sworn a blood oath to New Orleans as serious and final as any gang initiation, and yet I find I can’t stop asking this question. I know a woman alone could not walk the dark streets of Rome or Barcelona as I did, but I wandered lost and enchanted in the Barri Gòtic looking for the familiar square that had become my landmark, from which I could easily find my way out of the maze and back to my hostel. Now I am home and am told I dare not walk Burgundy or Dauphine nine blocks to get a burger. “A groundless sadness called forth in a person’s heart by a pastoral landscape.” Were I to look back at my pictures, the view from the castle in the Tyrol of northern Italy, the vistas of Granada from atop the Alhambra, my memories of Lorca’s beloved vega (and that was le mal du pays, but not homesickness but rather the pain of leaving, of going home to the place I love); in those visions it is not a groundless sadness in the pastoral landscape. It is a sadness born not of homesickness but home sickness, a culture shock the two women returning from the castle to San Diego will never know. It is a deep sadness, born of blood, like the Deep Song of the gypsies of southern Spain, the black and terrible angel or familiar demon of Duende that lives deep in the gut, born of love and suffering. Le mal du pays.

Advertisements

Remember August 29, 2013

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Debrisville, Federal Flood, geo-memoir, ghosts, home, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, levee, New Orleans, NOLA, Sinn Fein, The Dead, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
2 comments

I am not sure when I made this graphic. Friends in the core group of NOLA Bloggers who came together after the storm were talking about draping the blogs in black back in ’06 or ’07. I thought this was just simpler. And strangely, it never occurred to me to post it today until this morning until someone I just met a few months ago made it their avatar on Facebook.

I supposed I knew at some deep level the anniversary was coming. I still get email from the Rising Tide conference that core group of bloggers spawned years ago, which continues even without a lot of its founders who have moved on, and that is always on the weekend before or after. Still, Katrina–what we came to call the Federal Flood–was not in my mind. I have other worries: a son struggling in his first days of college, an ill mother, a play I want to mount, troubled friends and lovers, a complicated life.

The story goes on: the new levee authority sues the oil companies, the levees such as they are, are as fixed as they’re going to get, the giant gap along Marconi Drive at the Orleans Canal pumping station included. The blighted houses remain, some with their fading residue of rescue marks. The new pumps as the canals will or will not work when the time comes, and the evidence of tests is mixed at best.

As busy as I am I can’t help but feel that I dishonor the ghosts I made a commitment to years ago. I think of the folder of bloated bodies I collected via news photographer friends, lost with my last computer. I think of the abandoned homes I still see in Gentilly, “[t]hese empty shells of former lives that line so many streets … the windows staring lifelessly at broken sidewalks, the facades washed pale and colorless.”

I spent my crisis day this week, the day I made a cocktail at 3:15 p.m.to steady myself for all of the news of that day, going out with a friend to eat sushi and see Jon Cleary and drink a little too much for a weeknight. Lest you think me irresponsible I did all I could to board and shore up the catastrophes of that day, and then went out to escape it for a few hours in pleasant company. It’s how we do. Before I went out I had to go sell some things from the house we bought when I uprooted my family and brought them here to the heart of a disaster zone. I sold some pots and trellises to the Michelle Kimble, a pre-eminent preservationist both before and after the storm, and we talked about a lot of things. The storm never came up. After she left I looked at some tile art my ex-wife had bought laying on the floor for this weekend’s sale, including one of St. Francis Cabrini church. I left it there for the sale.

With all my current problems and work perhaps I have reached the point I wrote about long ago before I abandoned the Katrina-blog Wet Bank Guide. ” If history and the city consumes us all one-by-one but the city lives on, that perhaps what was always intended, why we were all lured home. In the end, perhaps [Thomas] Pynchon has given us the model to surviving It’s After the End of the World. If history has gone too wrong for any one of us to stop what is happening around us, maybe it is better to amble down a shady street in New Orleans without a particular thought in my head except the distant sound of what might be [Tyrone] Slothrop’s harmonica, to disappear into the random noise in the signal.”

An Odd Fellow’s Memorial Day May 25, 2009

Posted by The Typist in 8-29, Federal Flood, home, Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, Remember.
Tags: ,
7 comments

I was born in 1957 and so I am reckoned one of the last of the baby boomers, that generation borne by the parents who went through World War II. I grew up in a neighborhood full of fathers who had served in World War II, some later in Korea, and frankly I do not remember anyone making much of Memorial Day.

It was the sort of day when the grownups would sit outside, cocktails in hand and laughing; one of the last days before the heat became unbearable, when they could reenact the ritual they knew from the days before air conditioning of sitting out and visiting with the neighbors; a day when the children would run wild up and down the lawn-flanked, oak-shared lanes that ran behind all our houses, as tipsy as our parents on the first days of summer freedom. The fog man might come by in his war surplus jeep pumping God only knows what sort of poison out in a bright, white cloud to keep down the mosquitoes, and the kids would run after him and into the cloud yelling, “the fog man, the fog man”, our small bodies sucking up the DDT while our parents drank bourbon and branch and let us run wild.

Most people’s childhoods must seem an idyllic time looking back from the age of fifty-something but ours seems particularly so as I watch my children grow up without a pack of children on the block and among neighbors who mostly don’t socialize as our parents did. The place we grew up, the upper-middle class suburb of Lake Vista with its cul de sac streets and the shaded sidewalks called lanes that ran behind the houses and up to broad parkways that bisected the neighborhood, was certainly Edenic compared to most every other place I’ve lived.

By the early 1960s it was full of families whose fathers had made something of themselves after the war, professionals and small business men who had done well. These were not people who came home and joined the Veterans of Foreign Wars or the American Legion, the ones who kept their old uniforms and decorations to pull out on Memorial Day to parade down the street. Those were not our fathers: men who after the war were busy trying to finish school or start careers with small children and wives they married so young, who were busily trying to sort out and make something of their life. No one in our neighborhood joined those groups or marched in those parades.

Our father’s did not talk much about the war to us even as we ran through the neighborhood armed with plastic replicas of the very weapons they had carried, acting out the hundreds of old war movies that were a staple of television of the time. We did not much go in for Cowboys and Indians, but preferred to play act the battles of the TV show Combat! For my own father perhaps it was the one experience he told me of, huddled in a beet furrow somewhere in France pinned down by machine gun fire and raked by mortars. He huddled in that furrow, dug small shelves into the mud and lined them with tissue and tore down his Browning Automatic Rifle which had landed in the mud.

He was one of the few survivors of that event, and while he never spoke of it except in outline (and to proudly recount how he cleaned his BAR) I can readily imagine laying there in the dark and the rain, cleaning his weapon while around him most of the young men he had trained with for this day lay dead or dying, some of them perhaps crying out, others fingering the rosaries like the one I still have, the one my mother made for my father to take with him. If to these men Memorial Day was not a time to remember what they went through but to celebrate their survival, to relish friends and family over cocktails on a buggy, summery afternoon I can find no fault in that.

I grew up in an era when the little cardboard bank calendars, the ones with the bank’s name in faux gold leaf and a mercury thermometer in the frame, still listed Confederate Memorial Day (observed on Jefferson Davis’ birthday on June 3rd in most of the South, so soon after the current observance). Perhaps that is a small part of the lack of enthusiasm for the official Memorial Day. And this far toward the equator a Monday in late May is not the first day warm enough for the beach or a big picnic in the park, not by a long shot. If anything, Memorial Day is likely as not to be the first truly miserable day of summer, when the mercury in those little calendar thermometers would first climb above ninety and the breeze in from the lake was as full of water as the pitcher that sat on the patio table and we were just as sweaty.

So come Memorial Day down in New Orleans we might catch the President laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns on the 10 o’clock news as we crawl into bed, stuffed with grilled steak and itchy with bug bites and sleepy from too much beer in the sun, but the reason for the day will largely escape our notice. As the air conditioning whistles us to sleep it might occur to us that summer, at last, has truly arrived, as wet and heavy and ominous as a blizzard turned inside out.

Memorial Day has a new and special significance for me: this is the day I arrived home. In May 2006 I left the children with their grandparents in Fargo, N.D. to be put on a plane later, hitched the boat to the back of the car and started south. Three days later on Memorial Day, 2006 I parked the boat in a marina yard in Mandeville, and made my way across the lake to the small house on Toulouse Street that is now our home. When I sat down to write about it this time last year the real significance of the date finally began to sink in. The first years it was, “oh, this was the week the kids and I got to New Orleans”, but not a day fraught with meaning.

I read those old words (trying to recall how many beers in the sun proceeded that post) and I once again recall that drive as if it were yesterday. It occurs to me that taking a short cut down Polk in Lakeview–over broken streets that already looked like Patton’s Third Army had rolled over them 20 years before the flood, lined three years ago with houses that looked like the combat-broken landscape of the war movies of my childhood–I had missed passing all of the large monuments of the cemeteries.

I can’t quite name them all unless I jump in the car or on the bike and ride up and down City Park Avenue but a few some to mind, the firefighter’s memorial from the days of the old volunteer fire companies and the mounded hill that covers the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks mausoleum in Greenwood, the tall Grecian column just across the street that memorializes I don’t know what (but will have to wander over later and find out), the pharaonic family tomb that squats in a corner of Metairie Cemetery just off of the interstate.

Somewhere behind the perpetually uncared for broken clock that stands at the head of Canal Street in Greenwood Cemetery lies the Hilbert family tomb where my father and brother lay with my mother’s family. Someday when my mother and her sister are not around to question me I will put up a stone that says Folse atop the one that reads Hilbert, but I don’t want to be buried there among the Hilberts. I have no idea what anyone reading this should do with my remains, but that tomb is not the place. It will not be my own tiny monument in that field of raised tombs.

I often spoke of building a raised tomb when I lived in Fargo, anxious that I might just be tossed into the ground like the rest of them, wanting my far off branch of the family to have a proper memorial of the sort someone from New Orleans expects. Now I think: better to be cremated and hope I have friends who survive me who will know what to do with those ashes, the places that were significant enough to me to be fitting. The thought that those friends will know what to do is probably memorial enough, to know I will be remembered.

For now the only personal monuments I care about are the ones I have built here, the Wet Bank Guide and this one, Toulouse Street, and the pieces out of the Wet Bank Guide that make up Carry Me Home. I don’t want to be remembered for myself but rather as just another of the people who came home, that one cross you see in some pictures with a flag planted, or a spray of flowers in the endless fields of green and white that are military cemeteries. I want to be remembered as one of them all, as someone who helped to tell their story.

As we planned for the next Rising Tide conference the other night, the talk turned to how New Orleans has changed, and its people with it. Someone madet he comparison that occurs to me over and over again: that of the people of the Federal Flood to those of the Greatest Generation. Orleanians are thought indolent and silly with our devotion to festival and food above all else but all around me are people who have been through a profound trauma most Americans can barely imagine. They survived the biggest displacement Americans seen since the Civil War, returned to a city more like Europe after the bombardment and battles of WWII than anything ever seen on this continent, have struggled for years (still struggle today) to live here and rebuild.

These are a people who have seen death and devastation, known loss and disappointment that is painful to catalog, suffer from a traumatic stress that is not post traumatic stress because it is not yet over, may never be over for people of the generation of the flood, and still they get up on certain days and march down to the appointed place and eat and drink and dance and are happy. They are at once not that different from my parents sitting out on Memorial Day and at some deep level they are profoundly transformed. As we approach the fourth anniversary of the Hurricane Katrina and the Federal Flood they are people who have pulled themselves up by their bootstraps and made the case for why we should be here. Few people since the days of the pioneers have a stronger claim to a place.

Some will think it irreverent and disrespectful to say this on Memorial Day, even as soldiers patrol in far off lands and on this day sacred to soldiers some may die, but I have said it before and I will say it again. I look at the people around me and all they have been through and all they have accomplished to remake their home and I think: there is no finer place to be an American today than in their company, here in New Orleans.

* Yes, I’ve cribbed this title from last year’s post, but it still seems apt. I will leave it to the burrowing graduate students of New Orleans history, the ones I imagine pouring over our blogs a hundred years from now as our own generation scoured the letters of civil war soldiers, to figure out if I was onto something or just lazy.

Too Loose Street February 20, 2009

Posted by The Typist in 504, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, home, Mid-City, New Orleans, NOLA, parade, Rebirth, Recovery.
Tags: ,
add a comment

Finally, we get to have the party.

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.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
8 comments

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.

A Sense of Security May 30, 2008

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, home, New Orleans, NOLA, oddities, Odds&Sods, Toulouse Street.
Tags: , , , , ,
1 comment so far

Since we seem to be on a run of Silly Sign posts and since Michael Homan got this one up before me (or was it Peter?), here’s another candidate from Bienville Street in Mid-City. This lone survivor of a long gone fence has been standing guard since I arrived home two years ago, all through the gutting and renovation of the house behind it. It has been kept faithfully closed and latched all this time, parked in front of the porch like an old but faithful hound offering at least the loyal pretense of some security.

One thing I like about Mid-City is the overall sense of funky, that ineluctable pinch of file or dash of hot sauce gives everything in New Orleans its savor, the disorderly perfection an organic neighborhood mixing all sorts of people and places with a tendency toward the Odd.

Cherry Blossoms March 29, 2008

Posted by The Typist in 504, art, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, flowers, garden, home, Japan, New Orleans, Toulouse Street, Uncategorized.
Tags: , , , , , , , ,
3 comments

Sleeping under the trees on Yoshino mountain
The spring breeze wearing Cherry blossom petals
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ~ Saigyo

[deep sigh-h-h-h-h-h]

cherryblossomspic.jpg

I deeply love New Orleans and live to see my first azalea or crepe myrtle in bloom, even if it getting too warm too soon by then. When I felt compelled to leave by personal and professional circumstance, I came to live for eight years in Washington, D. C. or thereabouts. The first real community of friends met online (out of the BBS world) was there, some of the finest people I’ve ever met. I spent some years walking the marble corridors of power until my feet gave out and I decided I had the wrong attitude for Washington: I work for my boss, but you other 534 assholes work for me. That is not the path to K Street.

I met my wife Rebecca there at the Warner Theater. I had come stag to see the Neville Brothers, she and her roommate to see the Nighthawks who shared the bill. We met in the smokers lobby buying a beer. Two years later we were married (in North Dakota, not Washington) and our first house together was on 4th Street N.E. Our daughter Killian was born in Washington and spent her first two years of life there.

Some of my fondest memories from that time are of Rebecca and I taking a bottle of wine down to the tidal basin (before the road on the city side was closed by the memorial FDR never wanted), where we could “crank Frank” (Sinatra) on the car stereo behind us, and sit on the grass under the cherry trees and watch the lights come on in the city over the water.

Not a spring has passed since leaving in 1994 when I don’t think wistfully of the cherry blossoms in bloom in Washington.

I nearly bought this next one online (and it wasn’t cheap) but it was already sold. Holiday Innpressionism is not really my style, but the scene was almost irresistible.

cherryblossomspnt.jpg

I think when the crepe myrtles bloom, I will take Rebecca into the park with a bottle of wine and we will crank Frank until the stars and mosquitoes come out.

We now return you to the unending Twilight Zone marathon that is New Orleans.

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.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

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.

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.
Tags: , , ,
1 comment so far

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.

Space is the Place January 18, 2008

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, home, Hurricane Katrina, New Orelans, New Orleans, NOLA, poem, Poetry, quotes, Rebirth, Remember, Sinn Fein, Sun Ra, Toulouse Street, Uncategorized, We Are Not OK.
Tags: , , , , , , ,
2 comments

Space is the Place

“The first thing to do
is to consider time
officially as ended.
We work on the other side
of time”
— Sun Ra

I want to march like Sun-Ra
in glittering alien threads
into an Oakland pool-hall
and declare our intention to embark.

New Orleans, as ruined as the pyramids,
rising up majestic in the air
on howling trombone notes of joy
to launch another crescent in the sky.

The sun will strike us colorblind
once we’re beyond the atmosphere.
We’ll cast the last debris off over Kansas
and shower them a carnival of stars.

Together like stranded astronauts
who’ve exhausted the last of our air,
we’ll lift off the mask at last
and dare to breath together.

We’ll claim our place at last
in the ancient parade of zodiac
where Bayou Andromeda
brushes up against the Milky Way

Cross-posted from Poems Before Breakfast.

Home December 25, 2007

Posted by The Typist in Dancing Bear, home, New Orelans, New Orleans, NOLA, Odds&Sods, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

That people are forced to live elsewhere is not just a shame, it is a crime against the laws of humanity.

One way or another, it’s time to bring everyone Home.

You just gotta have Faith that it can be done.

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.
Tags:
add a comment

“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.

Spiritual Suicide September 5, 2006

Posted by The Typist in home, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
add a comment

To divorce yourself from your roots is spiritual suicide. The expatriate, unless he is really a rather special kind of person, is very unhappy.

— Canadian novelist Robertson Davies

Thanks first to Ashley and then to Ronnie Virgets for this.