Postdiluvian Afternoon Manscape with Bulldozer April 5, 2015Posted by The Typist in Back of Town, Bayou St. John, City Park, Federal Flood, geo-memoir, Hurricane Katrina, levee, Louisiana, postdiluvian, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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This was once bottom land, he says with the practiced eye and assurance of a successful environmental engineer. He is probably right. This recently mown rough at the edge of this former fairway is not far from the ridge of Bayou St. John and less than a mile south of Filmore Avenue, the line your grandfather told you was once the start of the softly indeterminate shore of the lake, the gradual transition from bottom land to open water, before the concrete seawall, the back fill and subdivision, when the land followed the natural contours of water.
Across Harrison Avenue snowy egrets play tag with a bulldozer returning another feral fairway to its appointed state of gracefully sculpted landscaping. They have carefully fenced off the trees they elected to keep just outside their crowns, but they have not bothered to put up runoff barriers along the lagoon. The other trees, the once mature oaks and cypress older than the park, did not fit into the new PGA-caliber design and were themselves bulldozed, cut and chipped into mulch (one hopes), the thicker branches and trunks, the massive root balls hauled off to some dump itself perched at the edge of useful bottom land, to cycle back into muck, the gumbo mud of marginal land that will suck the boot off a man’s foot as if to say: careful where you tread. You do not belong here.
This was all bottom land in flood a decade ago when the lake toppled the less-than-carefully designed levees, the work of a hundred bulldozers sculpting golf and parkways and neighborhoods, the labor of decades, was undone in a few hours. How we clamored to rebuild back then, even as we and the water birds reclaimed the ruins of golf for our own pleasure in spite of the lurking coyotes, after the hired guns had cleared the park of ill-tempered feral hogs washed in from the East, that last failed attempt to fill and subdivide marked by exits to nowhere on the highway out of town.
We follow a well-worn but little used path this beautiful afternoon until we find a shaded spot to plant our beach and Jazz Fest chairs, crack open the cooler filled with rare ales and settle in for a beer tasting. We used to do this in the Couterie Forest, another bit of man-scaping which was once an open field where the local AOR station staged free concerts, but the Couterie has grown crowded since the acres of feral fairway around it have been fenced off for construction of the new golf course, the confluence of FEMA dollars and the investments of men who could not play a PGA caliber game to save their lives but who can afford $150 for a round of eighteen holes, who will crowd the sponsored tents when the golf circus comes to town. (Build it and they will come, they tell themselves).
The FEMA relief we all fought for requires the reconstruction of what was and nothing more, although the men who run the Park have found a loophole big enough to drive a bulldozer through, to try to steal away the local PGA stop via a “public-private partnership,” that popular euphemism for privatizing profit while socializing risk; a great racket if you can get in on it, and our carefully-groomed and well compensated politicians love these sort of arrangements. Without them the contributions would dry up and instead of campaign billboards they would litter the landscape with solicitations for litigation, become just another schmuck lawyer grafting a living off of our ridiculous insurance rates.
In the middle distance is a beautifully bifurcated cypress, rising out of the roots of a clump of dying, non-native palms planted by some long-ago golf architect. The land here takes its revenge slowly but surely, as slowly and certainly as the land upon which we sit and the cypress prospers gradually subsides from bottom land to bottom of the lake. In another hundred years the furor over golf versus a carefully manicured wildness will be settled not in court but simply settled, back into the Back of Town, more wetland than bottom land. The golfers will move north as the water moves back in. Anyone who treads this path along the spoil bank of the artificial lagoon down which this afternoon past three women in a rented canoe, two paddlers and one lounging beneath an orange parasol, will likely find a very different landscape, too boggy to mow and covered in water-loving grasses. The lone cypress in the middle of the field, suited by temperament to flooding, will perhaps have grown into a stand, safe from bulldozers which will have moved on long ago to more certain and stable investments, far from the gulf that will someday reclaim this all, when my imagined stand of cypress will stand as denuded grey ghosts, victims of the relentless salt sea from which we all came and to which all this will return.
Ghosts of the Flood August 29, 2014Posted 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.
Remember August 29, 2013Posted 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.
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.”
Come On Rise Up November 12, 2012Posted by The Typist in Bloggers, Federal Flood, hurricane, Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, Recovery, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Tags: Coney Island, Hurricane Sandy, Long Island, Manhattan, New Jersey, Staten island
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My friend Sam Jasper’s post over at New Orleans Slate Unsolicited Advice to the Northeast in the Aftermath has gone viral in the Northeast. There are now 70 comments and dozens more private emails. Less than 1% of people who actually read a blog post (discounting those who drop in and leave) every leave a comment. You need to go read this wherever you are.
She starts off with a Bruce Springsteen Song Jersey Girl. The Springsteen song I can’t get out of my head is the one the NBC nightly news ran at the end of one of their broadcasts over a montage of the ruins of Sandy, the same song he sang to tens of thousands reduced to sobbing at Jazz Fest 2006: My City of Ruins.
When I could bring myself to watch the news the force fields went up. It is as if you have just had a minor stroke. The brain is empty, the body seems distant and alien, and the television a nightmare half remembered.
I only cried when I heard that song.
Come on, rise up.
You can do it. Your boots are on the pile in front of the house so you will somehow have to manage to lift yourself up by sheer will, above every gospel word Sam has written in her post. Some folks in the affected areas may not fare to badly. The government starting running dump trucks of money into Manhattan after 9-11 to repair utilities and such. Maybe you’ll be lucky, and your utility bill won’t double. Maybe you have stronger elected officials, who won’t stand for a property-and-casualty insurance bill larger than the principle on your mortgage. I hope so.
Come on, rise up.
We felt so abandoned after the Federal Flood a deceased friend adopted the term Sinn Fein, not a reference to modern Irish politics but to the origins of the party but to the translation: Ourselves Alone.
Sinn Fein, baby. But you are not alone. The people of the hurricane coast, who have done all this before in 2005 and again and again before this, stand at your shoulders like the ghosts of every soldier buried in a foreign land. The people of the south are a prayerful people, and right now millions of hands are clasped, a hundred thousand Saints’ candles burning, uncounted joss sticks lit to the Merciful Ones. Trucks are loaded. Checks are written. If you finally figure out what we’ve known down here since Camille in ’69 the mayor of Staten Island has figured out, and you will to, but one way or another help will come. It will come not from the insurance racketeers. It will come unsought from church groups. It will come in trucks from points unknown filled with cleaning supplies. It will come with all I see that remains of the America we were taught, and it will not come from the government. It will come from you neighbors. It will come up from the coast from those who stayed, from those who returned, by the heavenly intervention of the ghosts of the flood.
It will come.
“I pray Lord
with these hands
for the strength Lord
with these hands
for the faith Lord
with these hands
Come on rise up!
Come on rise up!”
Remember August 29, 2012Posted by The Typist in Federal Flood, Fortin Street, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Laughter & Disaster in Postdiluvian New Orleans November 10, 2011Posted by The Typist in books, Federal Flood, Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, novel, Odd Words.
Tags: Faulkner Society, Higher Ground, James Nolan, Words & Music 2011
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Author James Nolan discussing his book Higher Ground.
An Odd Words “Dispatches from the Back” live from the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Society Words & Music Festival
Novelist James Nolan started the official Words & Music Festival opening event New Orleans, Mon Amour with an apology for the late start. “We have our own sense off time” in New Orleans, he explained. “It’s sort of like Mexican mañana but not as urgent.”
The author of a darkly comic new novel about postdiluvian New Orleans, he explained the apparently slow genesis of a book born out of the aftermath of Katrina: “It takes a long time for the human mind to wrap itself around disaster” but says asteady progression of Katrina-themed memoirs and novels are just around the corner. Asked about Dave Eggers’ comment at the Tennessee Williams Festival two years ago that there are a hundred Katrina books waiting to be written, “I think I’ve seen fifty of them in my workshops.”
Nolan insists his is not specifically a Katrina book–the storm that has just ravaged New Orleans in the story is never named–saying, “Katrina is just a setting for this, but it is a human drama, like The Tin Drum which is not about WWI but the lives of the characters in its aftermath. “The real human drama comes aftere the disaster.”
It is at heart a New Orleans story, which has been freely compared to Confederacy of Dunces and after the coffee-spitting funny short reading and character setup that came first that comparison is not far off the mark. “New Orleans is not the [setting] place but also a protagonist. I set out to write one of the great place novels, like Balzac or Thomas Wolfe.”
To help achieve that “genie-soul of a place” sense Walker Percy spoke about he chose to largely portray the setting in the French Quarter through the eyes of the character of Vinnie, who loathes the neighborhood. “The best way to present someplace is throughthe eyes of someone who hates the it.”
Asked by a reviewer to characterize the book, he thought of the iconic logo of the carnival Krewe d’Etat. “I wanted my novel to be like the grinning skull in a motley fool’s cap.” He said the book combines “burlesque and disaster [because] that was the contradiction we were living at the time.”
While disclaiming the imprint of “Katrina novel” the book is propelled by the unikely collision of characters off all classes and neighborhoods, “the magic of the city at that time…the way everyone was thrown together.”
It was difficult to get a novel with the watermark of Katrina on the manuscript published, he said. The manuscript won the festival competition’s novel category several years ago and he immediately got agent but “in New York Katrina is box office poison…in New York anything about 9-11 is considered universal and anything about Katrina is considered regional.
“I’ve come up with a new defintion of regionalism” in publishing: anything that doesn’t happen in New York,” he quipped. The agent sent out the manuscript to a slew of editors “and all of these editors were promptly fired” in a round of New York publishing cutbacks. The book was finally issued by the University of Lafayette Press, its first fiction title, and he praised UofL Press for its commitment to publishing the culture of Louisiana.
I wasn’t going to buy a book this weekend–my slush pile of unreads is just to dangerously steep–but after hearing Nolan read from the opening chapter I followed him back to the booksotre/headquarters of the festival and got a copy for him to sign. If it holds up to that excerpt of the first chapter I think I many end up placing on the honor shelf in the front room right next to Toole’s Dunces.
Rise Up Singing August 29, 2011Posted by The Typist in 504, Federal Flood, FYYFF, Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. Dancing on this day because we must.
Here on Toulouse Street, We Remember with all the joy that is New Orleans.
Remember August 29, 2011Posted by The Typist in 504, 504ever, 8-29, Corps of Engineers, Federal Flood, FYYFF, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, Katrina, levee, New Orleans, NOLA, postdiluvian, Remember.
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This image is (c) 2006 by Mark A.Folse and free for all non-commercial use and posting on all blogs. Please circulate widely.
Lucky August 28, 2011Posted by The Typist in 504, cryptical envelopment, Federal Flood, Hurricane Katrina, NOLA, The Narrative, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Tags: W, Waiting for Godot
Survivor guilt is a peculiar condition. I am one of a small handful of avid New Orleans partisans who lost nothing in 2005 except our minds. Two of us moved home, the third completed his interrupted relocation to New Orleans. To this day I ask myself (as every man who has not served does as he scatters popcorn on the floor watching an old war movie): what if I was there? What would I have done? Would I be equal to the task.
If I knew the answer to the question I would have grabbed Ray by the lapels and slammed him to the wall until I could tell him, and I expect he would have done the same. The third of us died never knowing the answer. I think of Ray gutting house after house in the miserable heat, of Ashley always in the front rank banging his spear against his shield, taunting our enemies. Did Ashley die in part because of that lingering doubt, the drive to prove himself not just the equal but of the first rank? Did they do this because of that survivor guilt, because (as Ray once explained eloquently) we were not at Bastogne?
What did you ever do? I was once asked in anger. Did you gut a house? Did you volunteer for habitat? All you did was write, she said, and that’s true: all I did was write, vaporous words that amount to what? Perhaps that is why I am haunted by this video, why I was heart-broken when the original poster took it down from You Tube (and perhaps some copyright holder will be on my case in the morning, demanding I do the same).
I missed the production of Waiting for Godot in the Gentilly Lakefront in 2006, unable to drag a collection of friends away from drinks in the back yard in time to get in, and I have been disappointed about that every since. What better place to watch Godot than in the Ninth Ward or in the brown fields of broken Gentilly, but perhaps there was a healing in that evening I missed, people too busy lingering as we will over cocktails to be on time. I look back and I understand it was better that way, ending up at the Circle Bar listening to Gal Holiday instead of experiencing the existential angst of Godot on a flooded lot.
On good days Radiohead’s Lucky runs through my head. Those are the good days. I feel my luck could change. Its gonna be a glorious day.
Still, I am haunted by this video. When I was searching for another post on Wet Bank Guide I was reminded it was gone from the Internet, and I went searching, finally finding the entire Beckett on Film version in slices online, finding the complete set on Amazon and spending a hundred dollars I don’t have to order it, spending more money on an online service that let me scrape this off to edit down to what is for me the essential speech, the question I will spend the rest of my life answering.
Was I sleeping while the other ones suffered?
In all that what truth will there be?
The air is full of our cries.
Requiem August 28, 2011Posted by The Typist in 8-29, Federal Flood, ghosts, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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In the dark night of our soul Your shattered dreamers Make them whole O! Mother Mary find us where we’ve fallen out of grace Lead us to a higher place/Mary…
I almost didn’t republish this video I first put up last year on Aug. 28.
This week I was on WWNO and Susan Larson asked me to read a few lines she had selected from the book Carry Me Home, which first appeared as a blog post Ghosts of the Flood on Wet Bank Guide.
“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.”
Today there is a second line down Rampart to celebrate the opening of the new Healing Center in the Bywater. My son isn’t interested in going so I guess I’m going to miss it. It is time for us to look around and notice that our troubles are now often of our own making, the same curse of class and the lash that has troubled us for generations. Some days I wonder if we are no more capable of of overcoming ourselves than the Balkans, that we are too long practiced in our judgements by race and place. I have to hope not, to think that in every generation we here in the city grow a little better.
“We are the ones who came through and came back”, back to wrack and ruin, taxes and Entergy bills that would break a weaker people. We are the ones who did not flee to Metairie and Chalmette or to the East. My neighbors are the strongest people in America, and all I can think of is sitting on my stoop all the days of Jazz Fest and yes, there were tourists but there were many of us as well, those who could afford a ticket and the artists listening like me from across the fence hoping to see a bit of jewelry, and those hawing water at days end to pay the water bill, all milling about on Fortin Street in the joy and excitement of the moment.
Tomorrow is a solemn day, and I am going to post this piece because from the earliest days of the Wet Bank Guide, from the speculation on the dead through the first posts of All Saints Day 2005, all of my posts about those events have centered on one theme: Remember. Je me souviens. But simply to post this without recognizing it is only half the story is false. It is funereal in a way that does not fit New Orleans. Before this long weekend of remembrance is over, it is time to kick the dust of the grave from off our shoes and remember the city as it was, the way we would make it again. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust, if the women don’t get you then the liquor must, bass drum going one, two, one two three four and fast military tattoo of the unmuffled snare and at last the first trumpet notes of Oh, Didn’t He Ramble.
I think I will post that later today. For now, it’s Eliza Gilkyson’s Requiem which I first heard on NPR in early Fall of 2005, a song written for the victims of the Christmas Tsunami but which someone at NPR wisely picked up again after the Federal Flood. The audio on this is poor. You can hear the song still on NPR if you prefer, as this video contains disturbing images of the dead. I remember that moment clearly, driving down 16th Street South in Fargo to pick up my daughter at junior high. Before the song ended I had to pull over to the side of the road. I was late.
Remember 8-29 August 29, 2010Posted by The Typist in 504, 8-29, Federal Flood, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, levee, New Orleans, NOLA, postdiluvian, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Requiem August 27, 2010Posted by The Typist in 504, 8-29, Federal Flood, Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, postdiluvian, Remember, the dead, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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In the dark night of our soul Your shattered dreamers Make them whole O! Mother Mary find us where we’ve fallen out of grace Lead us to a higher place/Mary…
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 because I could not see. 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:
…”[All] 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.”
Thank you to songwriter and singer Eliza Gilkyson (who sings in duet with her daughter on this piece). When You Tube sent me a nasty gram about me stealing someone’s audio, I wrote to her and she intervened to allow it to remain. Thank you and apologies to all of the photographers who’ve worked I’ve liberated for this.
Odd Words August 26, 2010Posted by The Typist in 504, 8-29, books, Hurricane Katrina, literature, New Orleans, NOLA, Odd Words, Poetry, postdiluvian, Toulouse Street.
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Its been frantic this week of “vacation” and I won’t go into the gruesome details except to say that in spite of everything else we are ready for tonight’s book launch of A Howling in the Wires at Mimi’s in the Marigny, 2601 Royal Street, in the upstairs bar from 7 until. Open to the public. Books aren’t in stores yet but we will begin to deal with that Friday. The vast staff of the Gallatin & Toulouse Press publishing empire had to put down one’s dog while the other got their daugter settled in college.
If you can’t make it, check your New Orleans Indie book stores, visit our website or Alibris.com. Just please don’t go to Amazon, where I haven’t had time to take the book down. We will loose two cents on every book we sell on Amazon, minus shipping, because as best I can figure the written terms don’t agree precisely with the practices. (i.e., I will not be reimbursed my shipping cost to Amazon. And they take more than 50%. Fuck ’em. I’m going to cancel my pre-order for Treme and close my account. Hopefully the book will disappear from there and I will beat Amazon with the club of Alibris.com and IndieBooks.com (shop local) every chance I get.
Harumph. Rant over. The summer doldrums are behind us (a dangerous cliche in New Orleans) and things are starting to pick up again this weekend.
§ Not specifically a literary event but this weekend is the annual Rising Tide conference. I’ve been too busy with the book to be involved much but would not miss Maitri Erwin’s Treme discussion panel for the world, which will involve two of the writers for the series, Eric Overmyer and Lollis Eric Elie. And I am pretty sure a third writer will be in audience if he can exuent his conflict in time for that panel, because he told us so the other night. Featured speaker is Mac McClelland, human rights corrrespondent for Mother Jones magazine, and there will be panels on the environment, crime and of course levees, which is how all this got started. And Tom Lowenberg of Octavia wlll be there again selling books and media featuring New Orleans and the panelists. It’s hard to get away without an armful every year. While your browsing, don’t forget to pick up a copy of ↑ A ↑ Howling ↑ In ↑ The ↑ Wires ↑ while you’re there. A number of contributors will be on hand to autograph it.
§ Dave Brinks and Megan Burns are keeping 17 Poets! dark for our book launch (bless ’em) but planning a big celebration of the fifth year of our recovery Sunday, Aug 29 at 5 pm at the Goldmine Saloon, called the All-Hands-On-Deck Poetry, Art, and Music Fundraiser. Featuring music by Rockin’ Dopsie, Jr and the Zydeco Twisters with special guest Cyrill Nevill, poetry, multi-media performances and a silent auction including work by George Rodrigue. All Proceeds will benefit the nonprofit: Protectourcoastline.org $15.00 Donation at Door.
§ I feel bad because I know Paul Benton reads the blog and is a fine poet, but I’m probably going to be at Brink’s thing (since he was going to reopen on the 26th and stayed dark in deference to our book launch, but Paul is the brave soul who took the slot on 8-29. As if poetry weren’t evidence enough of madness.
§ There will be a ONE BLOCK Block Party in the 500 Block of Caffin Street from 4 pm – 7 pm celebrating the book ONE BLOCK, photographs by Dave Anderson, essay by Chris Rose, a powerful portrait of post-Katrina New Orleans as seen through the prism of a single city block whose residents are attempting to rebuild their homes. There will be performances by Rebirth Brass Band and Little Freddie King, a photography exhibition by One Block residents and local artists Chaundra McCormick and Keith Calhoun, and special guests and Octavia will be selling books. (If they are at Rising Tide and this event and their own in-house singing, I think there must be capes and tights involved here somehow)
§ There are a slew of other Katrina and the Flood related books signings, etc. going on this weekend so I’m reduced to a bullet list.:
- I’m not going to diss Dave Eggers even though he’s scheduled up against our book launch, so: The author discusses and reads from Zeitoun. 7 p.m. Thursday. Tulane University, McAlister Auditorium. Still plenty of time when that’s over to get to Mimi’s, Dave.
- Josh Neufeld – A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge – paperback release at Octavia Books, 2-4 p.m. If you haven’t gotten this one yet, there’s no excuse now its out in paperback. If you’re not at Rising Tide getting a copy, hie yourself over to Octavia.
- Garden District Books hosts three events. First: John Biguenet and other contributors discuss and sign their book Before During and After, Saturday 8-28 1-3 pm
- Also at GDB Rebeca Antoine, (Toulouse Street favorite) Barb Johnson and Niyi Osundare discuss and sign their book Voices Rising 2 Tuesday 8-31 5:30-7:30
- At the same time on Tuesday at GDB Cynthia Hogue and Rebecca Ross discuss and sign their book When The Water Came: Evacuees of Hurricane Katrina.
- And even though I need to get myself over to Megan and Dave’s event at the Goldmine, I don’t know how I can miss Remembering Katrina: A Commemorative Poetry Reading – Yusef Komunyakaa and seven other poets present a reading. 3:30 p.m. Sunday. Tulane University, Lavin-Bernick University Center, McAlister Drive. I mean, Yusef Komunyakaa man. And of course the feature will probably read last.
I think after this weekend going back to work will be relaxing. My plan to diminish the pile of books at my beside at leisure has instead grown it by a couple, and I think I’ve managed few chapters. Maybe next year.
A Howling in the Wires August 9, 2010Posted by The Typist in 504, 8-29, Debrisville, Federal Flood, FYYFF, Gallatin & Toulouse Press, Hurricane Katrina, literature, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
Tags: A Howling in the Wires, Gallatin & Toulouse Press
Gallatin & Toulouse Press announces the publication of A Howling in the Wires: An Anthology of Writings from Postdiluvian New Orleans. This collection combines the vivid post-Katrina experiences captured by internet-based “bloggers” from New Orleans–individuals who don’t think of themselves as writers but who were writing powerfully in the months after 8-29–with the work of traditional writers. Some of those, like novelist Dedra Johnson and poet Robin Kemp, share their most immediate reactions from their own blogs. The book deliberately blurs the line between formats and focuses on cataloging some of the best-written and most powerful reactions of the people who experienced Katrina.
Editors Sam Jasper and Mark Folse are writers who turned to the Internet to chronicle their own experiences and reactions to Katrina and found in the months after 8-29 they were part of a larger community sharing the public and very private events of the period. The book will be published late August, 2010. A launch party and reading is scheduled for Thursday, Aug. 26 at 8 p.m. upstairs at Mimi’s in the Marigny.
Contributors include cookbook author and travel-and-sailing writer Troy Gilbert, poet Valentine Pierce, Professor Jerry Ward of Dillard University and poet/playwright Raymond “Moose” Jackson together with the work of bloggers who are by day engineers, teachers, geologists, computer programmers, bankers, and social workers but in their spare time writers of talent whose only prior outlet has been their Internet-based blogs. These works were edited minimally for basic spelling and grammar, mistakes easily made writing first hand accounts created under great duress, in an attempt to preserve the original “howl” of people who experienced these events first hand.
Editor Sam Jasper’s preface explains: “When we started this project, our goal was to find some of the best words that were howling in those wires once the wind stopped and the levees broke. We read through hundreds of thousands of words for weeks. Sometimes the pain in those words re-opened wounds we thought had healed. Sometimes the words gave us insight into another person’s experience and we were astonished by the nakedness, the vulnerability, the ferocity and often the defiance being expressed so soon after the event. Naked and raw and very, very public.”
“These voices, oblivious to each other and miles apart, sing in pitch perfect harmony—a phenomenon only possible where truth is absolute. Stunned courageous but always in motion, the Every Man and Every Woman of these Gulf Coast narrations and poems lean blindly towards recovery and redemption just as they struggle to comprehend the enormity of what has happened to them. Here you will find no analysis ad nauseum, no academic dissections, no punditry or pretension. Just ordinary folks caught up under extraordinary circumstances, telling their stories in real time, absolutely in the moment—in grief, in anger, and—most miraculously—in good humor. If you only ever read one post-Katrina related book, and if you think you can handle for that book to be an unapologetically unfiltered and dead honest journey back into those dark days and months after the storm, this thin volume is all you will need.”
— Louis Maistros, author of The Sound of Building Coffins
“A powerful and immediate look at post-Katrina New Orleans. Sam Jasper and Mark Folse have done a great service to America by compiling these early writings from the storm.”
— Stephen Elliot, editor of TheRumpus.Net and author of The Adderall Diaries and Happy Baby.
“There are no better guides to post flood New Orleans than the bloggers who emerged here during the immediate wake of the levee breaks. What’s particularly remarkable about these writers is that none hew to the snarky, cynical, superficial style found on most blogs–instead there is an enormous passion for New Orleans, real anger at its injustices and much needed rebukes to the received wisdom surrounding this moment of man made disaster.”
— Ethan Brown, author of Shake the Devil Off and Fat Cat, 50 Cent, and the Rise of the Hip Hop Hustle0072
“From Greg Peters’s prophetic warnings before the levees failures, to Jerry Ward’s abandonment of romance, to the rhythms of Sandra Grace Johnson’s arrest, to Mark Folse’s lifetime of Mardi Gras memories (pre- and post-dilluvian), the pieces in this book form a powerful chronicle of those terrible days when New Orleanians looked around and decided that, more painful than any of these things, would be the failure to move forward.” .
— Lolis Eric Elie is is the producer for Faubourg Treme: the Untold Story of Black New Orleans and a staff writer for the HBO Series Treme
Gallatin & Toulouse Press is a new endeavor, publishing the work of emerging New Orleans writers to a wider audience. This is the first in a planned series collecting short, Internet-published works chronicling the storm and flood collectively known as Katrina and the recovery of the city of New Orleans.
A Howling in the Wires: An Anthology of Writings from Postdiluvian New Orleans, Paperback: 160 Pages, Gallatin & Toulouse Press, ISBN 9780615388793. Inquiries to: firstname.lastname@example.org. (504) 324-6551 Available direct from the publisher Aug. 20, 2010.
You can pre-order here. Please shop local or direct. Amazon charges a ruinous discount to small publishers and we make only pennies on a sale there. Patronize your local bookstores or order directly from Gallatin & Toulouse Press.
The Last Day June 22, 2010Posted by The Typist in 504, 8-29, Hurricane Katrina, Toulouse Street.
Tags: David Simon, Still Life With Soup Can, Treme
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I used to read the blog Still Life with Soup Can long ago. At some point she took it private, which is fine. Some people write for themselves or a small circle of friends, and wish to keep it in that circle. I right for myself and the tiny audience of voices in my head, and chose to hang it out like a line of laundry. To each their own.
I have been contributing a bit and commenting a lot at the Back of Town blog on the subject of David Simon and company’s HBO Series Treme, and one of the regular contributors and founders sent me a link this this post on her blog. The email subject was “this is cool” and contained only a link.
I have a problem with the term bloggers, because it carries some horrible connotations. It is also much too generic, like “periodical”, which would encompass The Weekly World News and the Lewis Laphan-era Harper’s. While there may once have been a Harper’s List which referenced Bat Boy or Faces on Mars in some tongue in cheek way, they are about as far apart as possible.
I read another blogger’s take on Treme here, and felt obliged to comment. I think BatBoy is likely one of his devoted readers and may occasionally comment there as well, unless there is a James Bond marathon on Spike, in which case his entire readership disappears into mom’s basement with a box of PBR and a big bag of Doritos and isn’t seen for days.
Then I read the recommended “cool” post, Still Life’s with Soup Can’s The Last Day.
I think to “this is cool” I would add at least a “wow”. And thank you.
And the colored girls say: FFF FYYFingF January 20, 2010Posted by The Typist in Federal Flood, FYYFF, Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, Sinn Fein, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Tags: David Simon, The Wire, Treme
“[The HBO show Treme’, set in immediate post-Federal Flood New Orleans] wasn’t a bummer. It was more looking at (the setting) and having the same feeling that John Goodman’s character had. ‘There’s something wrong here and it needs to be fixed.’ It didn’t bum me out as much as it made me want to jump up and say, ‘We need to do something for New Orleans. Look at all this wonderful flavor. Look at all these great characters. And why are they still having these problems? I don’t want them having these problems.’”
– Susan Young, a freelance writer based in the San Francisco Bay area whose writing appears in People and Variety, following the critics premiere of the first two episodes.
The NOLA.Com summary of critical reactions by Dave Walker, both on his blog and for the Times-Picayune, gives a capsule on Goodman’s character: [he] plays an Uptown New Orleans college professor who struggles to contain his rage at media misconceptions about post-Katrina levee-failure flooding.”
Hmm. That sounds familiar.
One critic quoted by Walker, Joel Keller of the online TVSquad.com, doesn’t like Goodman’s character much. ““I guess it needed someone to defend New Orleans,” Keller said. “He just seemed kind of out-of-phase with the rest of the cast. I’d like to see what happens as he kind of integrates himself into the rest of what’s going on. Right now, he feels like a totally different story, as opposed to the other stories that are going on.” Others were more kind: “Goodman’s wonderful,” said Ellen Gray, critic for the Philadelphia Daily News
Simon told a small group of bloggers privately last year that his team was writing a character into the show based, at least in part, on Ashley Morris. (We have got to get that boy a Wikipedia page so I don’t have to recap it all here). I am very anxious to see
Ashley’s Goodman’s character. Having a commenter outside of the main story line may seem a bit weird to someone who reviews cable television on the Internet for a site hosted by AOL, but it seemed to work for writers back in the day.
The question I have: does America really want to see a sympathetic portrait of an alternative to the mainstream American culture, that banal plate of airline food served where everyone sits in their tiny little assigned seat reading the same in-flight magazine or watching the same movie, wishing they were in first class? (You do remember airline food, don’t you?) Treme’ gives us “those people”–you remember, the ones from the Convention Center and the Superdome–living in a world just minutes from America where playing bass drum or tuba is honored career choice because the parade season is 40 weeks long, people who don’t just live for the weekend like most Americans anxious to escape their little cubes for the big boxes but a people who live for the parade and the po-boy and if that by chance happens on a Wednesday afternoon well they might be late back to work without a thought.
I am not so sure, but I admire the hell out of David Simon for trying.
A Christmas Story December 18, 2009Posted by The Typist in Federal Flood, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Remember.
Forget Red Ryder BB guns or any of that silly bad Cajun dialects Night Before Xmas stuff we used to read to the kids when they were small. (I still laugh thinking of my sister-in-law in Fargo trying to read that to the kids in her Lake Woebegon accent).
Read this instead, and Remember.
Remember August 29, 2009Posted by The Typist in 8-29, Federal Flood, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, levee, New Orleans, NOLA, Remember, Sinn Fein, We Are Not OK.
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The Tsunami of St. Claude Avenue August 27, 2009Posted by The Typist in 8-29, Federal Flood, Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
It swallowed them whole, then spit them back out
like a snake’s breakfast, the unwanted bits
left to bloat and bleach and wash up at last
on the brown avenues in back of town.
Some hung from trees as their grandfathers did,
strange fruit that sprung up from a poisoned soil.
Separate but equal triumphed at last.
Indiscriminate and leveling death
made them one with the matrons of Lakeview
and left the men of St. Charles Avenue
unmasked at last: lords of misrule
over the ruins of a lost kingdom.
Sax in the City June 19, 2009Posted by The Typist in 8-29, Federal Flood, Hurricane Katrina, Jazz Vipers, New Orleans, NOLA.
Americans will probably continue to use economists’ numbers to measure recovery from the current recession. But as we debate what to do for the millions of homeowners who are “under water” — owing more on their homes than the homes are worth — we could learn from a city that knows a thing or two about being under water. New Orleans can teach us that the life we build with our neighbors deserves at least as much attention as our endless thrust towards newer and bigger.
–Dan Baum, The Way of the Bayou , New York Times
Yeah, you right.
Except, Dan, “the Bayou” to a lot of folks is a place you get to be crossing over to the West Bank and heading down Highway 90: Cajun Country. You’ve been down here long enough to know that, but I guess Big Apple headline writers are too busy rudely shoving people out of the way to snatch their cabs to whisk them to Tavern on the Green for lunch, or some such goofy stereotype.
Hell, forget about Irvin Mayfield running for mayor. I nominate Joe Braun of the Jazz Vipers. He may be the my generation’s equivalent of a trustafarian, but then he doesn’t really need so steal anything. He’d make sure the important things–music, food, the real life down here–were put first. Joe doesn’t strike me as the political type, but he did make a fine speech at Jazz Fest in favor of reopening Charity Hospital “where so many jazz musicians were born”.
And Dan: you can’t honestly say people down here don’t want change. It’s just that we don’t want change on the terms of a lot of carpetbagging architects from up north who only know how to build a movie facade retail “towne”, or bulgy eyed school reformers looking to start the Ayn Rand Charter Academy of Applied Objectivism.
We want the things most people want. We just want them on our own terms because frankly we’ve figured out what everyone else in our neighbor to the north only dreams about: not how to work and get ahead, not how to pay for it all, but how to live. Sure, things change. The Spotted Cat is no more and I hear there’s been some falling out with Bruce the clarinet player and frankly, a band like that needs a clarinet player (paging Dr. Micheal White, paging Dr. Micheal White). But usually that vanished clarinet player or chef just shows up down the street, and life goes on.
So be sure to come back and visit us. Maybe you can stop by Rising Tide IV this August 22nd. We’ll try to have some bagels and “Northern Coffee” for you.
Not just another one, but someone June 5, 2009Posted by The Typist in 8-29, Federal Flood, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Tags: John Dauns
Today one of the closest friends of one of my oldest and dearest friends died. His certificate of death will read cancer but in his story we see he was in part another victim of of Hurricane Katrina and the Federal Flood.
His story as told by Victoria Slind-Flor is here. It says, in part:
John never recovered from Katrina. Every task of daily living was three times more difficult for him. He had constant car trouble, and sometimes had to take his bicycle long distances to any of the stores where he could buy groceries. He began eating only one meal a day, and because shopping was so difficult, his food choices became more and more limited. The first time I saw him post-Katrina, when he came out for a visit, I was appalled as he’d lost so much weight and had such ill-fitting clothing. And he seemed so much more anxious than he’d ever been before. Each time he came out to California, he saw more risks, more dangers, more causes for anxiety in all directions. I’d go out into the garden to water and come back inside finding him sitting in exactly the same rigid and vigilant position he was in when I left. He didn’t sleep well at night when he was here, constantly waking and looking around anxiously.
There is a hidden pattern in this story that perhaps only I see, a revelation that the events of 8-29 were one of the last great events of the 20th century. John was certainly marked all his life by his experiences in World Word II as a child. His life, it seems, was booked marked by great upheavals. Epochs do not end neatly in years which end in zero, and I think the failure of our Twentieth Century engineering and the reaction of our governments, hamstrung by the great, late-century conservative revolution of sabotage by tax cut, all brought us to where we are today. The story of New Orleans is as as much a disaster of the Twentieth Century as the burning of the Hindenburg.
And John, like so many of our oldest citizens, survived but just barely, less well equipped to survive the vicissitudes of life. I am reminded of the friend of my mother’s who died well after 2005 but who’s family marked on her stone “victim of Katrina,” of the story someone told at the Rising Tide conference two years ago of the elderly gentleman who simply gave up trying to rebuild his own home and calmly walked into the river.
If you have been here long enough you will know that part of what I do here is in remembrance of 8-29-05, in remembrance of The Dead. My friend Victoria is a Pagan and tells us herself what she will do come Samhain this year, not too unlike what I sometimes do here: Remember.
Every year at Samhain, it’s my privilege to stand on the top of a mountain under the stars, in the middle of a circle of friends, and call out the names of the Beloved Dead, who have passed from this life during the previous year. This year, John’s will be one of the names I will call. And my friends will slowly dance a circle around me, chanting softly “What is remembered lives” at each name. John, you will always be remembered with love and affection. Thank you for the gift you were to me, and to many others.
Je me souviens.
An Odd Fellow’s Memorial Day May 25, 2009Posted by The Typist in 8-29, Federal Flood, home, Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, Remember.
Tags: Memorial Day, New Orleans cemetery
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.
Carry Me Home book signing Saturday February 13, 2009Posted by The Typist in 504, 8-29, books, Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
Tags: book signing, Carry Me Home, Maple Street Book Shop, Mark Folse
The Maple Street Book Shop will host a signing of Carry Me Home on Saturday, February 14 from 12-2 p.m. Maple Street Book Shop is located as 7523 Maple St. in New Orleans in the Uptown/Carrollton area.
Carry Me Home is available online at Lulu.com and Amazon, but I encourage you to patronize your local bookstores listed on the side of the page.
“It belongs on the bookshelf alongside the other worthy post-Katrina works. [His] heart is absolutely in the right place, and it is that heart — that passion — that the reader will ultimately remember from this book.”
• Voices of New Orleans blog, published by Chin Music Press (publisher of Do You Know (What It Means to Miss New Orleans)
“Mark’s writing is about skill and heart… A blend of reporting, memoir and analysis, Carry Me Home is as immediate as it is reflective. It’s more than a love letter to New Orleans – it’s a survival guide for post-Katrina America. Mark shows how to go through a disaster with your soul intact.”
• Michael Tisserand, author of “Sugarcane Academy” and “The Kingdom of Zydeco”
“Mark Folse is one of the best writers in Louisiana.”
• Greg Peters, Suspect Device cartoonist
I Hate Illinois Nazis December 23, 2008Posted by The Typist in Federal Flood, Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Tags: Algiers, murder, racist, shootings
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The tale of some residents of Algiers setting up a vigilante militia in the days after Katrina, and one member’s boast that shooting black residents was “like hunting pheasants in South Dakota” ,have swept through the blogs and into the Times-Picayune.
The article is poorly titled “Katrina’s Hidden Race War“. I don’t think a handful of shootings qualifies as a race war. And given that the organizers of this were from out-of-state, I think I like my own headline even better.
Given that we are all forced to live with the rumors of what happened at the Dome and Convention Center, which are largely urban legends unsupported by evidence, I am glad this story has finally surfaced. That is not to say that shootings, car jackings, rapes and other assaults did not occur in the city, but not where people had assembled for safety.
You were much more likely to get shot trying to cross the Danziger Bridge that at the Convention Center.
At one level I’m glad this story came out, if only to try to lay to rest the idea that barbaric behavior after the storm was racial.The asshole from the Gretna P.D. who pointed an assault rifle at the head of an acquaintance’s son as they tried to walk across the bridge to their home in Algiers was as much of an out-of-control animal as whoever torched Oakwood and these white racists from Algiers point.
When civil society breaks down two sets of people come to the fore. The most powerful tale is of the altruists, people like the “Cajun Navy” of sportsman from all over Louisiana who arrived unbidded with their duck boats and other shallow water craft and conducted the majority of rescues in the days after.
The other group are the animals who see an opportunity to run amok. These vigilante’s think of themselves in the same glowing terms as those who made heroic rescues and gestures of relief. They are not. They are among the rabble who ran wild and lawless in the streets, and they deserve to be immortalized along with looters of televisions and shoes and the police on both banks who also run amok.
Read New Orleans Slate’s eyewitness account of life on Algiers Point after the storm.
The Ghost of Christmas Future December 18, 2008Posted by The Typist in 504, 8-29, food, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, Katrina, Mid-City, New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Recovery, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK, Xmas, Yule.
Tags: A Christmas Carol
I wrote this little penny dreadful in one furious draft on Monday night, and I have been plinking at it since. I think it probably needs a serious once over with a blue pencil by someone else but Christmas is almost here and I’m not a patient person. Criticisms by comment or email welcome.
This is a work of fiction. Any perceived resemblance to persons living or dead should be discussed with your therapist at your next session.
Finally, this is the sort of thing that happens when you read the early short fiction of P.K. Dick around Christmas, something I don’t recommend. I have since switched to Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather and feel entirely better.
The Ghost of Christmas Future
“Quiet and dark, beside him stood the Phantom, with its outstretched hand. When he roused himself from his thoughtful quest, he fancied from the turn of the hand, and its situation in reference to himself, that the Unseen Eyes were looking at him keenly. It made him shudder, and feel very cold.”
–Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol”
Maria settled into the hard, wooden seat as the antique red streetcar jumped to a start and slowly whirred up to speed, clutching a shopping bag close to her chest. A few rolls of half-used foil wrapping paper stuck out of the package, the odd cut ends flapping a bit in the breeze as the car slowly got up to speed. These cars had once been air conditioned, or so Maria was told, but it had not worked any time she could remember. At least the windows opened, unlike the even older buses that carried her for the last part of her long trip home, those windows long fused shut by neglect and humidity. The December air was a lukewarm bath, not hot like August but not the cool that might come by Carnival if the city was lucky.
As she settled down for her long ride home she glanced out at the brightly-lit high rise buildings that lined the river, then turned her head away. She had spent the day in one of those, scrubbing out toilets and kitchen floors. From a distance at night they looked glamorous, like a city in an old movie. The insides she knew well enough after a dozen years working there as a maid, the apartments did not look so glamorous from down on hands and knees scrubbing.
She peered instead into her package, trying to decide if there was enough paper on the rolls to wrap the cast-offs she had gotten from Mrs. Lafont: toys her employer’s children had outgrown, a beautiful silk scarf in a slightly out of fashion pattern for herself. It would be better than last Christmas, the first after her husband died; coughing up the last of his life with the black mold and stucco dust he had breathed ten and twelve hours a day as a young man demolishing homes after the flood.
Better than last Christmas. She tried to convince herself the children were still so distraught over the loss of their father that the lack of presents that Christmas was a small thing, but she could see it in their eyes as she dressed them for mass on Christmas morning as they stared at the empty corner where her husband had always managed a small, leftover tree on Christmas Eve.. It was just another measure their loss, the first of many days when they would miss his presence.
She lifted up her shoulders and straightened her back as she took in a deep breath, then let it out in a long sigh to settle her mind, looking straight ahead as the car rattled toward the last of the high rises and the first checkpoint. A man in a black uniform with a small automatic pistol hanging at his waist from a shoulder strap stepped into the car, and Maria fished out her papers. It was the first of several times she would need them that evening, and she kept them in the little pocket of her bag ready to hand.
A pair of guards from Bywater Security stood laughing over a cigarette just outside the window at Maria’s seat, but the guard from the Downtown Security District who entered the car was not smiling. He walked slowly down the aisle, glancing casually at everyone’s proffered passes and ID cards. He passed Maria with just a desultory glance, but yanked the papers out of the hands of the young man sitting just behind her. Maria looked straight ahead but could see in her mind the scene unfolding as she had seen it a hundred times before: the guard staring intently at the card, then at the young man, then back at the card; his hand sliding back from its position resting atop the gun and toward the grip, his fingers stroking the metal as if the gun were a small lapdog. She heard him grunt and then shuffle on toward the back of the car. He pulled the stop cord, and the driver released the rear door to let him out.
It was the same at each of the neighborhood security boundaries on her long ride home to the back of town, the private police in their black uniforms manning their check points to see who was coming into their zone. Her grandmother had told her stories about growing up in Chiapas in the days of the rebels, of the soldiers with their machine guns patrolling the streets. Here in New Orleans, her grandmother told her, they mostly left you alone if your papers were OK. Back in Mexico it was not so good. Many young men were killed by the soldiers there, their wives abused. It was so much better, she was so, so lucky to be growing up in America.
She put her ID and pass back into her purse, checking to see that the envelope of cash Mrs. Lafont had given her as a Christmas tip was still safe in the bottom of her bag. Satisfied, she took out a small compact and looked into it instead of at the passing high rises or the river front parks her maid’s pass would never admit her to. In the mirror she saw two men she didn’t notice when she boarded the car, or remember seeing come down the aisle.
One was an older Anglo in a faded t-shirt, some design with a skull and a gun that said Defend, perhaps a retired soldado negro from one of the security districts. . Next to him was another man in a dark hoodie with the top pulled so far up and over his head that she could not see his face. It was so dark under the hood she thought he must be a Black, but she could not be sure. She was amazed the guard had not stopped this odd pair and hauled them off the car for further questioning. Even if the hooded one wasn’t a Black, and you never saw them inside the river front security districts, even if he were also an Anglo, wearing his face covered like that would be all the excuse they would need.
The hooded one turned toward her as she watched them in the mirror, and still she could not see his face in the mirror. She snapped it shut and shuddered as she crossed herself and kissed her thumb, murmuring the last phrases of a Hail Mary under her breath. As she did so the last of the high rises passed them by, and the Old Quarter began. Her grandmother had taken her down to the cathedral when she was a child, before the security districts replaced the old police and instituted the passes. They would sit among the pigeons and tourists and grandmother would tell her of her own girlhood in Mexico, of the cathedral on a square where the boys walked one way and the girls another on a Sunday afternoon, where she had met her grandfather, back in the years before he came to the city to work after the first flood.
She crossed herself again, feeling safer as the three towers of the church passed. She turned her head to watch them go by. In the corner of her eye she saw the seats where the hooded one and his companion had been were empty. The car had not stopped, and no one had gotten off. Her head snapped back to the front. Without looking down her hands fished deep into her bag and she dug out her rosary.
Scrouge did a walk through survey of the house. The dishwasher was whirring away in the dark kitchen, and all of the food put away. He took away the last shreds of wrapping paper from the cat, and tucked away the important looking bits of paper or odd bits of gifts. The Santa presents for the kids were laid out by the dining room fireplace. The cookies were out for the Big Guy (his teenage children had rolled their eyes), and he snagged one off the plate as he passed. His wife and children were all asleep. Christmas Eve was almost done.
He slipped quietly into the room they called the walk through closet, the one closest to their back bedroom on that side of the shotgun house, and took off his dressy Christmas Eve clothes. He pulled on some comfortable jeans and a Defend New Orleans t-shirt, one of almost a dozen he owned emblazoned with some emblem or slogan about saving the city. It was time for one last Christmas tradition.
He would slip out as he had every Christmas Eve since he returned to New Orleans for a late drink with friends at the Holiday Lounge deep in the Bywater. The place was a year-round tribute to Christmas, lit inside entirely by the fat colored bulbs he remembered from the trees of his youth, the walls hung with every sort of imaginable cheap holiday decoration: jolly plastic Santas and snowmen in top hats, rainbow-hued wire reindeer and candy canes, and a large Styrofoam figure of New Orleans holiday icon Mr. Bingle, the little snow man with the ice cream cone hat.
The Holiday was a New Orleans icon, and Scrouge was all about the icons. In the years since the hurricane and flood he had worn his love of New Orleans like a forearm tattoo, prominent and indelible. Since his return to New Orleans his life had been part pilgrimage, making a point of visiting all of the city’s notable spots at least once and his favorites whenever he could. He wrote about these places on an Internet site he had founded dedicated to preserving a small bit of each: an anecdote, a photograph, some scrap like a coaster scanned and saved for ever. That was not tonight’s agenda, but he knew he would likely write something out of tonight’s visit.
He sometimes wondered, sitting at the computer late at night, why he felt compelled to do this. It was more than just the web site, although it made him something of a notable character about town, something like always wearing a hat (which he did), and he relished the attention. Some times when the words would not come and he knew he should go to bed, he would instead sit on his porch smoking wondering: was there something more personal driving this constant comparison of the city he had left in his rear view mirror New Year’s Eve 1986 with the one that was slowly rebuilding itself all around him, the compulsion to stuff as much of the city as he could into his head. He told himself it was research, preparation for doing what he most wanted to do: to write something important about the city, a book immortalizing it against the slow erosion of time or worse the final flood, the one that would erase it for ever.
He peeked in one last time on his wife and then his son before leaving. Tonight shouldn’t be about the damned blog, he thought. He was going to see some of his oldest friends, people he had known since they were in kindergarten, the people after his wife and children he most cared about. Tonight should be about a different kind of remembering. He took the pen and small pad out of his back pocket, and laid it on the kitchen counter, and left.
He set the alarm, locked the door and stepped out on the porch. As he double checked the latch by pulling on the door he heard a “pop-pop-pop” in the distance. It could be fireworks, he told himself. They were illegal in the city, but people started buying them across the river as soon as the stands open and shooting them off at all hours of the day and night.
Or it could be something else: gunshots. The city had been in the middle of some level of crime wave—going from bad to horrible to back to simply bad—for years. He felt safe in his immediate neighborhood but there were vast stretches of the city that were simply dangerous, just as there were enormous areas that looked not much different three years after the hurricane and flood than they did three months after.
He often wondered if it was enough just to be here, to just write about the city, if that would really make a difference for a place at once so wonderful and so wounded. He had tried to do more the first year he was home, but the cross-currents of planning meetings and volunteer projects, and of family and his new job, had nearly drowned him. He had spent almost three and a half years writing almost every night about New Orleans, sharing it with the world. That had to count for something.
As he left the Holiday and walked back to his car up by the river levee something drew him up to the top of the levee to see the city strung out along the river, the lights of downtown in the distance. He lit a cigarette and looked at the city twinkling in the humid air, then up at the clear sky. A middle-aged man had no business being out looking for magic in the Christmas Eve sky at 1 a.m. in a sketchy part of town, but nothing moved except a tow boat. All was calm, and city was bright.
When the figure in the black jeans and hoodie pulled up over its head suddenly appeared next to him, he froze in place. He could not discern a face inside the hood, as if it were covered with a black stocking. He was certainly about to be robbed, and he hoped it would stop with that. But the figure did not pull a gun, or say a word for what was probably a minute but seemed in his adrenaline rush to be an hour.
The figure pointed at first without speaking, the long sleeve of the over sized hooded sweatshirt hiding its hand, in the direction over his shoulder. He turned and saw the city transformed. The low buildings of the Bywater were gone, replaced by what he was sure were a row of high rise apartment buildings of the sort he remembered from his years in Washington, D.C. A red street car like those that ran up and down the riverfront closer to downtown was slowly crawling up Chartres Street.
It had been a typical, warm Christmas night in New Orleans but he was suddenly soaked in sweat under his clothes and shivering as if he were coming down with the flu. The figure just stood there, pointing at the street car stop down the levee. He tried to speak to it but when he opened his mouth only confused bits of words would come out. Finally the figure spoke. “We’re going to ride the car downtown. There is something I need to show you.” Confused and feeling ill, he pulled his jean jacket closed in front and hunched his shoulders and walked unsteadily down the levee.
“How did it happen, Spirit, all of those ugly glass high rises, the private police? Why didn’t we stop them?” Scrouge asked. The empty black hood was silent, its sleeves buried deep in the pullover’s pockets like a robed monk. Scrouge was not sure he had ever seen hands at the end of those overly long sleeves. It set a brisk pace as they walked through the French Quarter. Little had changed here, Scrouge thought, as they passed by knots of laughing people roaming the streets, past restaurants with lines waiting outside, and crowded bars with music blaring.
“It’s quicker this way,” a voice from inside the hood said, clipped and business like, the voice of a policeman urging the crowd to move on.. Nothing to see here, it seemed to announce. “The back-of-town buses don’t run all the way up Canal anymore. They’re not allowed past the checkpoints.” “Checkpoints,” Scrouge repeated as if tasting a new word from a foreign language as he stumbled on a broken bit of sidewalk, trying at once to look around and keep up with his guide.
As they came up to Bourbon Street the crowds were heavier and more boisterous, the sort of scene Scrouge had witnessed on a hundred other weekend or holiday nights. He could hear someone picking Christmas carols on a guitar and singing in a nasal, mid-South accent. The hooded spirit stopped for a moment in front of the busker just as he finished a song, turning his dark hood toward Scrouge. “Merry Christmas, y’all,” the busker said to no one in particular, as if Scrouge and the hoodie were not there. “Giving is the reason for the season,” he shouted to the crowd, nudging his guitar case with the toe of a western boot.
The spirit just stood there, the faceless hole seeming to glower at Scrouge, who dug into his pocket and pulled out a rumpled bill and tossed it in the case. “Ho, ho, ho! Merry Christmas to you, sir,” the busker bellowed. Scrouge looked at the Spirit, who said nothing, then turned to ask the singer where he was from. “Tennessee. I’m just down here working for the holidays,” he said. “The French Quarter Corporation doesn’t pay as well as Disney, but they’re a lot looser about how you look or what you do with your off hours. And who doesn’t want to come to New Orleans, at least once?”
Scrouge started to answer but the hoodie pushed through the crowd to cross Bourbon and Scrouge hurried to follow. He looked up and down Bourbon and it was the same strip of neon lit drinking joints it had always been, crowded with people wearing beads they had bought in t-shirt shops that alternated with the bars for blocks in either direction. Scrouge thought it odd that they all wore badges around their necks. Conventions usually didn’t come in town at Christmas. “They’re tourists, but not conventioneers,” the hooded voice said. “Those are passes from the security district. When the city voted to dissolve the police and let the private security districts take over, the Quarter was closed off to the rest of town, to keep it safe for the visitors.”
“But what about locals who want to come down here? Can’t they come to eat at Galatoire’s or Acme or Oliviers?” Scrouge asked. “Those places closed after the second flood,” the hoodie said and marched on. Scrouge stopped walking “Gone?” he said, his gaze sinking down at the sidewalk. “Second flood?” Everything felt like a dream in which he had shown up in a classroom prepared for the wrong exam. He looked at his hands, as if there was something written there that would explain what was happening, but there were no crib notes. He looked up as if to follow up his question and noticed his guide was almost half a block ahead. He hurried to catch up.
The streets were quieter on the Rampart side of Bourbon, just as Scrouge remembered them, but something was missing. There were no cars lining the curb. There were just a handful of gaudy colored little toy things that looked like a cross between a golf cart and the car George Jetson drove, each plugged into an outlet on a small post with a horses head at the top. The carts were painted on the side like cabs: Condo Conti, Vacance en Dauphine, Burgundy Street Guest Houses. The scene made Scrouge think of exclusive beach resorts of the sort that did not allow cars but gave each guest a buggy to use to get to the beach or the golf course. “Precisely,” the hooded voice said, as if once again reading Scrouge’s mind.
As they passed Burgundy headed toward Rampart Scrouge noticed the wall. At first he thought it was just the commercial building that had once stood between Rampart and Basin, but as they came out onto Rampart he saw it was a high wall that ran up and down where the neutral ground once stood. The river side of Rampart inside the wall was filled with men, but it was not the crowd Scrouge would expect to see on mid-Bourbon around the epicenter of the gay bars. These men looked like the spillover from a lobby of a hotel booked solid with visiting dentists, mixed with packs of boys wearing shirts with fraternity letters on them The women stood apart, on the steps of the houses or hanging out of windows, bare-chested in tiny miniskirts , or in burlesque lingerie, or in nothing more than body paint.
The black uniforms of the security district strolled up and down the street in pairs, stopping to eye the knots of drunken men as they approached the women. The men would stop, made hesitant by the guards’ stare, then the girls would grab them by the arm and lead them laughing down the alleys and into the doorways, and the guards would pass on. The sign on the corner did not read Rampart. It said Storyville. “Got to give the tourists what they want,” the hoodie said, pausing a moment while Scrouge took in the tableaux. Then it grabbed his arm, and started to frog march him toward the wall. “Hey, wait, where are we go… ”. Scrouge’s voice was cut off as they passed through the wall.
They were standing on the lake side of Rampart. The street was brightly lit by high street lamps but deserted. “How the hell did that happen?” Scrouge asked, but the hood just turned briefly toward him then started again to walk toward Basin Street. Scrouge just shook his head like a dog shaking off water, and hurried to catch up. “Are we going to the cemetery?” he asked the dark hood. “Not this one,” the voice inside the hood answered. “There is another. We have to catch a bus first.” It turned left at Basin and started to walk toward Canal Street.
The old housing project still stood on Basin, but it was dark. “Where are the people?” Scrouge asked. “Gone,” the hood answered. “Most could not to come back after the second flood. A lot were drafted into the Army after the riots.” “What riots?” “The government announced after the second flood that any return would be limited by lottery, and that the lottery tickets would be sold,” the hood said. “Most couldn’t afford tickets, and they wanted to come home. When they burned all the trailers in the New Treme resettlement park up by New Roads and rioted in the streets in Houston, a lot of the men were swept up and sent off to fight in the Chindopak.”
“Chindopak?” Scrouge asked, his voice cracking as he stopped dead in the sidewalk. His breathing grew heavy and his chest heaved as his body wrestled somewhere deep inside between anger and panic. “What. Second. Flood. You have to tell me. What the hell happened?” Scrouge labored to speak between gasping breaths, and finally bent over and put his hands on his knees and tried to get his breathing under control. “You have to tell me. Damn you.” The spirit had walked ahead a dozen steps. It stopped and turned. Laughter came out of the dark shell of a hood. “Damn me”. More laughter. “Too late,” it said, something like a chuckle in its voice, if you put a chuckle down the garbage disposal. “You need to worry about your own damnation. I’ll take care of myself.” It held out its sleeve toward Canal. There was a hand, Scrouge noticed this time, black and gaunt like an overcooked turkey wing, a thing of skin and bone. “Come on. We have a bus to catch. I’ll explain while we ride.”
“Yes, they built up the levees,” the spirit explained as it stared out the window , the ancient bus rumbling down a dark and lamp less Canal Street. “In the last big storm they mostly held but the East and St. Bernard were drowned again, and abandoned. One of the new pump stations was overwhelmed and the lakefront was inundated. The core city was saved by the second line levee they built over the old railroad embankment through Mid-City. That’s when they started to build the high-rises, to pull everyone into the high land in the old city’s footprint. No one argued this time.
The bus slowly rumbled down Canal Street empty and surrounded by darkness. “No one knows where the fire started, but it was a dry storm with very little rain, and with several feet of water in the streets of Mid-City this section mostly burned,” the spirit said. Scrouge measured their progress through the dark by noting the intersections where the car stopped, although there was no cross traffic and no one got on or off: first narrow Galvez, then wider Broad and finally the open expanse of Jeff Davis. Here and there in the dark were bright islands of light, illuminating rows of identical white trailers on city blocks covered with white clam shell and surrounded by metal fences. “They built these parks for the workers they need to keep the tourist industry going.”
“I don’t understand. After the flood….” “The first flood,” the spirit corrected him. Scrouge stared straight ahead and through the empty bus for a moment, then down at his hands again and resumed. “After the flood, we all came back. We worked so hard. How could it they let it all happen again?” Scrouge looked not at the hooded spirit but up at the roof of the bus. “How could it happen again? How could it all turn out so wrong? ” sounding like a child who had just been told there would be no Christmas. The hoodie continued to contemplate the dark windows, ignoring Scrouge’s question. The bus rumbled on and Scrouge turned the other way and likewise stared into the darkness that surrounded him.
The bus pulled up to Carrollton, and the driver announced, “Cemeteries. End of the line,” as he set the brake, opened the door and stepped out and lit a cigarette. He headed off toward a portable toilet set on the neutral ground. The hoodie stood up and waited for Scrouge to do the same. He rose up and walked unsteadily down the aisle toward the door, grasping the railings at the stairs until his hands turned white, unwilling to step out. “Out,” the voice behind him said, and its bony hand gave him a push.
He stepped out into the single bright street light that stood over the driver’s toilet and looked into the darkness. Moonlight glinted off the rows of white metal boxes that marched off into the distance on the lakeside of Carrollton. “Why isn’t this trailer park lit up?” Scrouge turned toward the hoodie and asked. “Because it’s not a trailer park,” it answered. “It’s what the driver said: Cemeteries.”
Scrouge walked slowly away from the light and toward the field of white boxes. The play of the darkness and the street lamp had confused his sense of proportion and perspective. The boxes were too small to be trailers. They could only be one thing. “Tombs,” hoodie said. “Government-issue ovens, the trailers they used after the first flood, just scaled down for their new occupants. When this section burned, they turned it into a cemetery.”
Scrouge’s slumped like a cheap suit jacket on a wire hanger.
“When the new pumping stations and the high levees were finished everyone started to feel safe. They grew tired of evacuating for every storm. The first flood faded into a story their parents told, something they never thought could happen to them. All of it faded: all the work their parents did to rebuild the city, the constant battles over decades it took to build the levees and try to put things back. They forgot what it was like when the city flooded the first time.
“They grew complacent, stopped paying attention to what the government did. Or rather, what it didn’t do. Part of it was exhaustion. There parents had fought for decades and were just worn out. They stopped trying. The children didn’t remember because their parents were tired of talking about it, and the memories grew distant and vague, just history but not their history. Like their parents before them everyone just assumed all the work was behind them, that the levees would protect them.
“After the second flood, this is where they put the dead,” the hoodie said, “the people who stayed, the ones who didn’t remember.”
Scrouge turned away from the tombs and looked up dark Carrollton Avenue toward the park. This was his old neighborhood, the last of many he had called home in this city. Everything he remembered, all the old storefronts on the river side: gone. Venezia’s and Brocato’s, the old bar with the red door and the new Spanish place that opened after Katrina, the whole river side of the street was wiped clean. . The old Reuters building was a hulk in the distance. And on the other side the white tombs marched away into the distance until he could not see but only imagine them enveloping his house on Toulouse Street, flowing on until they merged with the old cemeteries he knew: St. Patrick’s, the Mason’s, Odd Fellows, Greenwood.
Scrouge fell on his knees and wept. The bus driver ignored them and climbed back into his bus and drove off. He had seen it before. The spirit stood there watching, silent. Finally, Scrouge looked up. There was a faint shimmer of zodiacal light in the east. Soon the sun would come up. He rose unsteadily to his feet and turned toward the hooded spirit.
“If you are the spirit of a Future Christmas, then it’s not too late, is it?” Scrouge asked, his voice still cracked from his tears. “Isn’t that how this works, just like the old Dickens’ tale? If we don’t stop fighting, and always remember, it doesn’t have to be like this? Isn’t that it? Isn’t that how this works?”
The hooded figure was growing transparent as the sky grew lighter. Scrouge could see the driver’s toilet through the sweatshirt and black jeans. As it slowly faded it echoed his words back to him not as a question: as a statement. It raised its bony hand one last time and pointed at Scrouge. “Don’t stop fighting,” it said, the voice growing fainter as the figure slowly vanished. “Remember…”
Scrouge sprang up in bed, knocking over a tumbler half full of water and the bed side lamp. The back door of the bedroom in the shotgun house was open, and he heard his wife asking, “What was that?” He could smell coffee. He jumped out of the covers and ran around the bed to the back door and stuck his head out. “What’s today?”
His wife gave him a puzzled look. “Merry Christmas?” she said as much a question as a greeting? “Are you okay?”
“It’s not too late!” he whooped as he took three steps in two hops. He ran over and knelt beside his wife and gave her a bear hug. “Not too late for what,” she asked, “to make coffee? I took care of that.” “Mmmmmmm, never mind, Merry Christmas.” He held her silently for a moment. “I’m sorry, I just had a really weird dream.” He let her go, stood up and stretched. “Do I smell coffee?” “Uh, yeah, that’s what we were just talking about. You forgot to make any last night, goofball. I think you had a bit too much Christmas Eve cheer.”
“Yeah, coffee sounds really good right now. Are the kids up?
“No, so try to be quiet.” His children were teenagers, and as likely to sleep in Christmas morning as any other holiday of the year. They had opened their best presents on Christmas Eve, a habit his wife had brought down from the Midwest.
“OK.” He climbed up the steps to the house and tried to walk as quietly as he could over the hardwood floors. Living in these houses was like living in a boat. You could hear everything. He wondered again how entire families had managed to live in half of the double he’s made into a single home. He grabbed some coffee in the kitchen and went out to the front porch, leaving his wife alone in back with her to-do list and her coffee. He slid the latch as silently as he could, and stepped out onto his porch and looked up and down his street. The mostly shotgun houses ran off in both direction as far as he could see, from City Park Avenue up toward Carrollton Avenue, and in his minds eye he could follow the street all the way through the city to the French Quarter.
It’s not too late, he thought as he sat on the stoop and sipped his coffee and took in the warm Christmas morning in New Orleans. “It’s not too late,” he said out loud to a passing cat, one of the dozen semi-feral cats that lived on their street. It came up and he scratched its head. “We just have to remember, and never give up.” Two children from the house on the corner, just moved home from evacuation and who barely remembered this city, rode by on shiny new bicycles, laughing. A neighbor ducked out in her robe for the newspaper, and waved and shouted a Merry Christmas. As he echoed “Merry Christmas” with a broad smile and a wave, over on Canal Street the bells of St. Anthony of Padua began to ring.
Poor, Brown and Dead May 15, 2008Posted by The Typist in Federal Flood, Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Tags: Cyclone Nargis, emergency preparedness, Federal Flood, FEMA, hurricane, Katrina, Myanmar, New Orleans, NOLA
But Americans get lots of warning when a storm threatens, can use their own cars or public transit to escape on efficient, paved evacuation routes, have sturdy homes or tall buildings to protect them from a flood and plenty of food and medical care in the aftermath, said emergency management experts at a hurricane conference in Fort Lauderdale.
Emphasis in this excerpt from a Reuters story on Yahoo is mine. I would like to know who that particular quote is attributable to. Americans, he says. Remind me again why I would want to be part of the same country as this unnamed idiot?
I would personally like to take this asshole and chain him to a roof down here for five days in August. After that, we’ll take him as far out into Mississippi Sound as we can go and have him in water, say, no deeper than his chest. Then we’ll leave him there to wade back to shore. Hopefully he has some sort of medical problem requiring medication, so we can make sure that we can make sure he has to go without it for a few days.
While he’s up there starving and dehydrating, we can discuss the relative impact on disasters of color and poverty versus having a corrupt and incorrupt government. The differences between Myanmar and New Orleans are differences of scale (vast differences but still of scale) and not of kind. I’m sure I could get him to agree regardless of his political views if I offered him a bottle of water on the second or third day.
“Disasters happen, but the underlying poverty makes everything worse,” said Florida emergency management director Craig Fugate.
You got that right, as we say down here. Again, the difference between there and here is one of scale, not kind. New Orleans was The Other, a place culturally and racially alien to the sort of people most likely to be sitting on a panel discussing disaster relief. Maybe they should have asked some folks from the Ninth Ward about those differences. As I wrote a long time ago (Sept. 2, 2005 and yes this is lazy but apt):
…that otherness became our downfall. The poverty left tens of thousands unprepared for the storm’s aftermath. It also made us seem, at first, unimportant to those who could save us. At the end, it left the Northern bureaucrats who arrived on scene so confused and frightened that they recoiled from helping us, as if we were the last leper colony on the planet
They closed the city off, and left the people there to their fate, awaiting troops who could suppress this alien populace, and make it safe for real Americans. They didn’t care why the people of New Orleans were in their situation, any more than they care about the ultimate fate of any other benighted third world country.
We were a people apart, to be treated as they would the angry, hungry people of Port au Prince or Tikrit, should they threaten the supply of oil or the price of coffee–pacified by force if need be, until they could bring us the bottled water of civilization.
The Reuters story quoted above also mention’s Katrina’s death toll of “about 1,500″. Lazy bastards. Let me help you out. There’s this thing called the Internet which has made doing your job much easier than it was back in the day when I had to go to the library to look up stuff like this. Try here to start. I’m sure those couple of thousands of families you excluded aren’t offended at being forgotten. I’m sure you’ll be just as careful in Myanmar to exclude people whose death can’t be clearly proven to have occurred directly as a result of the storm, so as not to be sensational.
Here on Toulouse Street, we’re never going to let the world forget what happened down here.
Remember. 1,723 people died in Katrina. Over 4,000 died as a result of the storm, the flood or the evacuation. Some died in the storm. Most died as the result of the direct neglect or negligence of the central government.
We Will Drown the Bitch in Beauty May 1, 2008Posted by The Typist in 504, 8-29, Dancing Bear, Federal Flood, Hurricane Katrina, Jazz, Jazz Fest, je me souviens, levee, New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Recovery, Remember, Sinn Fein, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Tags: 504, Jazz Fest, LPO, New Orleans, NOLA, Requiem for Katrina, Terence Blanchard, WWOZ Jazz Tent
“I told you I would be here.
It was important that I came.
I’m leaving but I’ll be back again.
Will you be here?”
— Shelton Alexander
Terrence Blanchard. Requiem for Katrina. Tomorrow at Jazz Fest
We will drown the bitch in beauty and flood the city with tears of joy.
Will you be there?
Update: Replacing generic Terence Blanchard YouTube with a camera video shot May 2, 2008 at Jazz Fest, an excerpt from Funeral Dirge from Blanchard’s A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina), featuring Blanchard’s Quintet and the —————- —————— Orchestra.
Update 5-12-09 Based on an objection from the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, I have removed this brief, low-fidelity excerpt which I had posted pursuant to fair usage for comment and criticism. Apparently they don’t appreciate free promotion. I will also remove any references to the LPO from this piece as well.
The Shepherds and the Wolves April 9, 2008Posted by The Typist in 504, 8-29, Flood, Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Archdiocese of New Orleans, Catholic Church, demolition, Our Lady of Good Counsel, Sinn Fein, Taliban, We Are Not OK
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.
The Great Wave March 4, 2008Posted by The Typist in 504, 8-29, art, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Hurricane Katrina, Japan, New Orleans, NOLA, postdiluvian, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Tags: 504, art, Hokusai, Japan, New Orleans, NOLA
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I found this postcard of a picture by Hokusai while in Washington, prompting the following caption-cum-fable for New Orleans..
The foamy fringe is a nest of threatening fingers reaching out to swamp the boats. The mountain is distant, cold capped, oblivious as the gods. The men’s backs are turned to the wave, and bent to the task of rowing. They did not choose the sea; the sea chose them. It is the world they were granted by their ancestors, a way as deeply ingrained in their souls as the salt in their sea-glare furrowed brows. The sea is a mirror of the sky, sometimes placid and other times fierce with wind, and where else shall men live except between the sky and the sea, those promising and pitiless fields of blue? They have heard the tale of tsunami, whole villages swallowed by the sea, places where people no longer beach their boats, coasts given over to ghosts. Still, they rise up with the sun and go down to their own nets. When confronted with the Great Wave, there is nothing to do but row.
This is a repost from long ago, back when visitors number in the high single figures, inspired by taking down the postcard off the wall where it had become buried by other things since summer of 2006. The mood seems apt to me at the moment and it is now my computer desktop and home and work. Tje idea it inspired in 2006 worth repeating for a larger audience now that this is my primary blog.
That Bright Moment February 24, 2008Posted 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.
Tags: 8-29, alternative media expo, City of a Thousand Suns, Fall of the Towers, Federal Flood, land of nod, New Orleans, NOLA, postdiluvian, Remember, Samuel Delaney, Waiting for Godot, We Are Not OK
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, 2008Posted 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: Carnival, Hollywood Reporter, Jazz Fest, Mardi Gras, New Orleans, NOLA, Ray Richmond, Rebirth, Recovery, Remember, 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, 2008Posted 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.
Tags: Carnival, Federal Flood, French Quarter, Frenchman Street, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, Krewe of St. Anne, Mardi Gras, Marigny, memory, MoMs, New Orleans, NOLA, parade, Rebirth, Remember, Rex, Zulu
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.
Space is the Place January 18, 2008Posted 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: New Orleans, NOLA, parade, poem, Poetry, Rebirth, space is the place, Sun Ra
“The first thing to do
is to consider time
officially as ended.
We work on the other side
— 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.
You’re In Bad Hands with Allstate January 8, 2008Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, Hurricane Katrina, New Orelans, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Tags: Allstate, BCS Championship, criminal, football, fraud, Katrina Gulf Coast, Louisiana, New Orleans, racketeer, Sugar Bowl
Welcome to New Orleans, courtesy of the ongoing criminal enterprise that is sponsoring the Sugar Bowl and BCS champsionship game. Watch the lovely pre-game d cememonies, the sanctimonious adds on the diamondtron I endured at last year’s Sugar Bowl. Try to tell yourself, America, that if you’ve been gullible enough to fork over tens of thousands of dollars to Allstate that they won’t cheat you out of any settlement should you dare to file a claim. Good luck with that. Just ask Michael Homan. Here on the Hurricane Coast, we know better.
They have systematically tried to cheat their way out of paying out fair claims to Gulf Coast victims, and made record profits in the year of Katrina. They stand accused of systematically falsified engineering reports to cheat their customers and bilking the Federal government out (that’s you, Mr. and Mrs. You-Think-You’re-In-Good-Hands) out of millions. They have made their business model denial of claims. You pay them; they don’t pay you. They are not businessmen. They are racketeers. They are criminal scum. If you work for Allstate, you are scum. You are no less a predator than the drug dealers in central city.
Next year I propose we dispense with the niceties, and simply have the Medellin Drug Cartel Sugar Bowl.
Better yet, let’s make sure that next year, their is no more Allstate. As I proposed last May:
…consider this: Allstate proudly lists $157 Billion in assets. They’ve already lost one $2.8 million judgement based on one of their fradulent “engineering” reports. We could build a lot of levees and houses with $157 Billion. All we need is an attorney general with some balls…
Deja vodoo over Tabasco November 9, 2007Posted by The Typist in Dancing Bear, Debrisville, Flood, flooding, Hurricane Katrina, Katrina, New Orelans, New Orleans, Tabasco, Toulouse Street.
Tags: , flooding, Katrina, Mexico, New Orleans, Tabasco
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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:
…So there you are again.
I’m glad to see you back. I thought you were gone forever.
Meanwhile, donate to Tabasco relief.
And never forget, never surrender. We can all rest in the grave.
Fire on the Bayou October 26, 2007Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Hurricane Katrina, New Orelans, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
Tags: California, fire, Katrina, San Diego
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Shelton Alexander–When the Levees Broke September 28, 2007Posted 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.
Tags: Shelton Alexander
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.