Hail & Farewell, Commander Kantner January 30, 2016Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, je me souviens, Remember, The Dead, The Journey, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Blows Against the Empire, Jefferson Airplane, Jefferson Starship, Paul Kanter
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“…and we commend his body to travel forever in the depths of space. Farewell and Hail, Commander Kanter.” The thin, silver death vessel is launched to voyage forever among the family of stars.
Requiescat in Astrorum Paul Lorin Kantner: March 17, 1941 – January 28, 2016
Best Of Cast Off Sculpture December 27, 2015Posted by The Typist in A Fiction, art, FYYFF, je me souviens, New Orleans, Pedestrian I, Remember, The Narrative, The Odd, The Typist, WTF.
Tags: City Park, Delgado Museum of Art, NOMA
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The Forgotten Labor Of Heracles: The Slaying of the Psychotropic Bacon at the Gates of Taste
The Ignominy of Ignorance: Kinetic Sculpture by Some Guy from Some Where with Docent in the Background
All photos by A. Eulipion. Reproduced under a letter of Marque and Reprisal issued by the Committee of the Whole, Free City of New Orleans.
Ed. Note: Some explanation for the blog’s many subscribers from afar: These are the sculptures that graced the front of the New Orleans Museum of Art in my living memory, a span of half a century. I did not grab a picture of the plaque beside the bronze sculpture of Hercules of my earliest memories and so cannot name the artist. The kinetic piece below, Wave, is by Lin Emory, a world renowned native of New Orleans. His deserved place of honor is now taken by a monstrous Lichtenstein. I would not argue the acquisition of the Lichtenstein, or a place of honor for it in the Bestoff Sculpture Garden behind NOMA. I am resentfully nostalgic that the museum would displace a native son with it. The title is a play on the Bestoff family partnership in the local Katz & Bestoff drug store chain.
Bloody Bourbon November 29, 2015Posted by The Typist in Murder, New Orleans, Remember, The Dead, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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I think it is time to take up again the Victims list pages I abandoned from emotional exhaustion, and to pursue another shelved project on the subject; to take it up again as something like chanting prayer, an invocation against that which I chronicle. Sweet teachers, pray for us.
I have some serious catching up to do.
Allen Toussaint Circle November 11, 2015Posted by The Typist in 504ever, je me souviens, Memory, music, New Orleans, NOLA, Remember, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Allen Toussaint, Allen Toussaint Circle
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They may think it’s a MOVEMENT, and that’s what it is. . . and all you gotta do to join is to Sing it the next time it comes around on the guitar.
— Arlo Guthrie, “Alice’s Restaurant”
The single most important figure in music to emerge from New Orleans since Louis “Pops” Armstrong passed away Tuesday in Madrid while in tour. Think of your favorite New Orleans song. Google it. Look at the author credit. Yeah, it’s like that. As the city struggles with the “Confederate monument issue” a simple solution emerges out of the tragedy of Allen Toussaint’s passing for the most contentious of all the monuments in the city. And the answer is so simple. Allen Toussaint Circle, with an appropriate memorial.
Join the Movement today. Like the page if you’re a Facebook sort. Share it widely. Most importantly, write Mitch Landrieu at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell him it is the right thing to do, the least contentious, most universally appealing and most fitting possible decision he could make. Rechristen Lee Circle as Allen Toussaint Circle and start casting around for an appropriate memorial.
Come on. You know that we can, can.
In The Zone August 28, 2015Posted by The Typist in Federal Flood, FYYFF, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, Memory, New Orleans, postdiluvian, Remember, Sinn Fein, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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The reconstruction of the city around me will last at least as long as WWII. There will be long periods of boredom and routine punctuated by times of great excitement, much of that of the unpleasant kind. Yes, we will have shore leave for Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest but most of our time will be spent scrapping rust and paint knowing all the while that just over the ocean’s horizon there is something threatening.
In this peculiar armada the officers are as useless as the French nobility. They look fine high up there in their crosswise hats and give marvelous speeches, but we know from hard experience that they are worthless. People mutter all around the city about mutiny of one form or another, but mutiny is a lot of damn work and it is awfully hot. I like to think we could yet rise up and have our storming of the Bastille moment but every passing day it seems more unlikely. No Fletcher Christian or Maximilien Robespierre has stepped forward to lead us, and every angry mob needs a leader.
Perhaps I ask for too much. If history and the city consumes us all one-by-one but the city lives on, that perhaps what was always intended, why were were all lured home. In the end, perhaps 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 Slothrop’s harmonica, to disappear into the random noise in the signal.
And death shall have no dominion August 27, 2015Posted by The Typist in Federal Flood, FYYFF, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, Memory, New Orleans, postdiluvian, Remember, Sinn Fein, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Postdiluvian August 26, 2015Posted by The Typist in Federal Flood, FYYFF, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, Memory, New Orleans, postdiluvian, Remember, Sinn Fein, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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“It is no longer I, but another whose life is just beginning.”
Resurrection Fern August 24, 2015Posted by The Typist in Back of Town, je me souviens, New Orleans, postdiluvian, Remember, The Journey, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Grandfather Cypress, oaktrees, resurrection ferm, spanish moss, The Federal Flood
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How long their beards have grown in ten years, the oaks along Roosevelt Mall. The wind, such as it was and the coast got the worst of it, stripped away much of the Spanish Moss from the oaks that stood through it all. Ten years, and now it hangs in long, Confucian threads, the oaks like monks who have stood in long silence on the high ground on what was once the spoil bank of Bayou Metairie. The Great Depression, the men who came and built much of the old park around them, the hump bridges that gave a thrill to the stomach, the widely spaced row of chiseled concrete eagles along the Mall, were as the brief passage of a gnat.
The moss is back, the Resurrection fern that lines the branches–taking its name from its habit of drying brown during dry spells but coming back after a grain, and some small fan palm has rooted in the crooks of a few where the wide base trunk divides into the branches, the lowest of which tend back toward the ground as they lengthen, granting easy access for adventurous children to scramble into the trees. The oldest oaks, the ones with names and stories–Dueling Oak, Suicide Oak, and another name I heard the other day and have forgotten because it has not been repeated since childhood–are old, older than any building in the city, older than the arrival of Europeans.
The idea that the oldest grow on the spoil bank of Bayou Metairie, the last bit of which is the one natural lagoon in the park, the one south and parallel to City Park Avenue, came to me the other day walking out for cigarettes from my girlfriend’s house in south Metairie. The crazy job of which you have heard too much of late in these virtual pages, the one that keeps me trapped in the house rather than out noticing the oaks, has started me smoking again. It was Sunday morning, and I have developed the habit of going out for a really dark cup of coffee, not the weak store-brand Colombian she buys. I needed cigarettes and set out first down toward Dolly’s gas and cafe, taking the next cross street to Canal Boulevard and there I found a cypress of incredible girth, and a crown the size of a hot air balloon, which I immediately christened Grandfather Cypress. My arms (not the longest) stretched out encompassed a third a best, perhaps only a quarter of the trunk. This tree, I thought, was so much older than south Lakeview, older than the spur track just south that grew up along what was once the Lafitte Canal toward downtown, older than Metairie Road when it was a farm-and-cattle track before the bayou was filled in ,older than the cemeteries sited at the back of town to bury the yellow fever dead far out-of-town. I have never seen a cypress of such size but I am a city boy. This tree clearly predates the city.
On my way back from coffee (in the opposite direction, up the boulevard and back toward the L&N line), I went out of my way and passed the shortest cross-street home in spite of the early morning heat of a record-setting August to see this tree again. The current owner of the house was out watering her front garden, and we spoke for a bit. The crown was once even larger, and she had called an arborist to have it cut back a bit, to make sure it would weather any storm. She told me once she described the three she didn’t have to give her address. The man know it well, a tree familiar to those whose care for trees. I did not kneel as I had meant when I broke open a cigarette and sprinkled some tobacco as an offering and said a silent prayer, much as I had on my way out when I stood in silence several minutes, my hand against its trunk. I explained before I started how I had come back to do just that, and she just smiled. She had bought the house, she said, because of that three.
Ten years since the last Great Flood, what I once called the Federal Flood for the failure of the levees, but to Grandfather Cypress and the old oaks on the river end of the park it is simply the last great flood. They have weathered many, no doubt, and survived. The City survives as well, rebuilt by what I called the 200,000, those who came back in the first year and rebuilt it with their own hands and the help of a flood of immigrants from Latin America, the children of people who built even greater cities and saw them abandoned back to the forest, or destroyed by Spanish conquistadors, the bricks of their temples taken to build the new cathedral and palaces. i wonder if they think at all of the transformations their ancestors underwent, or if they just think of the beer and dinner at the end of the day, of a weekly remittance to family back home wired from the corner store now well stocked with familiar baked goods and tubs of iced, cold Modelo.
We have our own conquistadors in our own small way, the influx settling into and transforming the old neighborhoods in the sliver by the river, the high ground running down from downtown toward the mouth of the river, come to bring us Yankee ingenuity and industriousness while they take the pleasure of an entirely different culture which does not care so much of such things, and which may or may not survive their arrival, the resulting dispersal from their old neighborhoods of the people who made that culture. That is all the worry these days, in the bands of land from which the old trees were cleared hundreds of years ago.
I don’t live down there, and while I find it regrettable that they come as the Spanish came, greedy and bearing an alien religion in which the dollar sign supplants the cross of the Jesuits I live in the back of town, where the oldest trees survive, and now think more of them. The culture of the dollar at all costs has pushed nature too far, and I walk past grandfather oak in the warmest August since records began in the 1880s. Worse, the best minds tell us we have pushed the oceans themselves past the tipping point already. These will steadily warm, the distant arctic ices will melt and the water rise as sure as Noah’s flood. Other’s argue about whether the levees are really any better but I know that New Orleans is doomed, if not in my life time than in my children’s and their children’s. A greater flood is coming than the old oaks and cypress have ever seen, one that will not recede. Even the resilient cypress, accustomed to flooding, will not survive. Grandfather Cypress has seen his day in which the minutes are decades, in which we are less than the passing buzz of a mosquito.
Aging Children August 2, 2015Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, je me souviens, Remember, The Journey, The Narrative, The Typist.
Tags: Joni Mitchell, Songs to Aging Children Come
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I don’t know what prompted this memory, perhaps the stillness of Sunday morning, the exhaustion of another 60 hour week working a young man’s job, and most of all an answered email to a friend mostly encountered online who had vanished from e-space.
Are you OK? I wrote.
I had begun to feel old and irrelevant and needed to adjust to that, he replied. It’s coming along. Thanks for thinking of me.
Why this song? That is from the quiet of a Sunday when I have chosen to blow off a promised bit of busy work for Moloch, Patrice still asleep, the blinds not yet opened. Exhaustion as an opening to stillness. A mind not quiet but wandering, back in time to Sunday’s long ago in Washington, D.C. when a folk music show on WAMU-FM I favored opened its Sunday afternoon broadcast with this. Even at 30, I struggled against the responsibilities of Capitol HIll and my intrinsic non-conformity. Saturday night’s were the pleasant irresponsibility of of the BBC Robin Hood series, which opened with a lovely song by Clannad, and then on to pleasantly silly irrelevance of Dr. WHO. (Tom Baker is my doctor, as Sean Connery is the only James Bond).
My obsessive ex- would see all errands done Saturday. Not rain nor hail nor sleet nor snow would keep us from those appointed rounds. Sundays were pleasant nothings, a field of wildflowers in the mind, a little tending of the tiny garden in the back of the equally tiny two story railroad house on Fourth Street North East. I remember carrying my then infant daughter to Hechinger’s garden department one Sunday, and having forgotten her bonnet or hat I had tied my handkerchief around her head. This a gaggle of older ladies found absolutely charming. Such a thoughtful and resourceful father.
Come mid-afternoon, all responsibilities dispensed with, the breakfast dishes done and put away, the Post the only real Responsibility given my position on the Hill. Withthe only exception cigarettes on the stoop, it was the futon couch and the radio, this show and this particular song. On certain Sunday’s it comes to mind, and G’s reply to my email immediately brought it forth.
“Songs to aging children come/Aging children I am one.”
(Close your eyes to the overly busy video and just let the song wash over you, my cohort. As we reach the age where the aches take over, we are only as old as we think we are.)
At 5 o’clock in the afternoon, or perhaps 7:45 April 18, 2015Posted by The Typist in A Fiction, cryptical envelopment, Fortin Street, fuckmook, FYYFF, ghosts, je me souviens, New Orleans, postdiluvian, Remember, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Metairie encroaches from the East, swallows Carrollton Avenue. Brooklyn comes from the west across the Industrial Canal in a pathetic, staged white second line. We lost the north when they made Lakeshore Drive the private dog park of the of Lake neighborhoods along Robert E, Lee. To the south loom the gas-flare, metal islands of BP, Mobile, Exxon.Sucking the black ghosts of marshes long past was not enough.The water must run red as blood.
There is no retreat, no defense. When America erupted in flames and east Detroit held off the National Guard for two days, nothing happened here. Riot is not our style. Its too damn hot and a lot of work.
You are left only one choice, to chose the place, the once familiar corner with its shuttered store, and the moment (Esplanade in the rare, painterly golden light of late afternoon, perhaps) when New Orleans dies inside you.
Death of the Cool April 12, 2015Posted by The Typist in Beauty, cryptical envelopment, Jazz, je me souviens, music, New Orleans, Remember, Shield of Beauty, The Narrative, The Typist.
Tags: Birth of the Cool, Darn That Dream, Lester Young, Miles Davis, Pork Pie Hat, Prez, The Cool, Yusef Lateef
Listening to Yusef Lateef brought this song to mind (and only one other person in the world would know why). God Damned arpeggio showoneupmanship. The world has forgotten how to swing slow, soft and sweet. Miles. Yusef. And Prez. Always Prez. (Yes, that’s our hat.) How did we miss the Death of the Cool?
Miles Davis / Darn That Dream: https://youtu.be/-jYCpOOsEV0
Y February 28, 2015Posted by The Typist in Bloggers, Fortin Street, FYYFF, je me souviens, Katrina, postdiluvian, Remember, Sinn Fein, The Narrative, Theater, We Are Not OK.
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[Baraka’s] are the agonized poems of a man writing to save his skin, ot at least to sette into it, so urgent is their purpose. — Richard Howard’s jacket blurb for Amiri Baraka’s S O S Poems 1661-2013
Klonopin does not differentiate between a panic attack and the sudden urge at the edge of sleep to turn on the bedside lamp and find a notebook. — The Typist to his Psychologer, on why he wants to “wash out”
Nor can the inflexible chemistry of psyco pharma recognize what might be thought an anxiety attack if it did not present as righteous anger. Yesterday I should have been emblazoned with the red lightening bolt of danger, caught in a fit of righteous anger, the fire that blossomed into the shield-boss flower of the old NOLA Bloggers, the warriors for New Orleans. I am not done with that. More2com, not –30–.
Rastaman the Griot: You got to be a spirit! You can’t be no ghost.
Before pharma entered my life there was beer, there was coffee, and after The Federal Flood there was writting, the countless typos of a hundred thousand plu words written in wee hours on not enough sleep. The dispensers of psycho pharma do not recognize the world around them, the urgency of that world’s dysfunctional condition, their patients but presentations of a broader illness. If people are not angry or depressed some significant portion of the time they are at best ill informed and at worse complicit dupes. I am not sure Toulouse Street is the platform for such an anger. The name lacks the resonance of the names of the prophets. The Typist is not Ezekial, fresh from the desert. Before Toulouse Street there was the Wet Bank Guide, where anger, sadness and hope argued drukenly around a table in a halo of smoke. Somewhere in the middle was a famous and druken, attempted but incoherent eulogy atop a fountain in the courtyard ofa bar at Ashley’s wake I don’t need a Klonopin. I need a fountain. And a beer. FYYFF, The Typist
Greg Peters August 3, 2013Posted by The Typist in Bloggers, cryptical envelopment, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA Blogroll, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Tags: Greg Peters, Suspect Device
“Sing, Goddess, the wrath of Achilles.”
–Homer, opening of the Illiad
No, that’s not right. Greg Peters was so much more than the wrath of Suspect Device and so much the opposite of the boastful Achilles. What I most remember was the last conversation we had. He was sitting alone at a table at Mimi’s before the Krewe du Vieux parade, and I don’t remember a word we spoke. I just remember an easy manner, a smile like a child at once guilty and proud of what mischief he had done, the smile of a bashful teenage lover, looking down a bit when he smiled lest someone catch him at it. Beneath the public exterior of satirical cartoonist and ranting blogger was the soul of a genuine Buddhist, an easy compassion and acceptance of the world that perhaps masked an acceptance of mortality. He sat that night at ease among friends and yet distant, as if he were already leaving, sitting alone at his table receiving visitors, so many not knowing it would be the last time they would speak.
No, not an acceptance of mortality. This is going all wrong. Greg had the word “indestructible” tattooed on his forearm a short while ago. Words, ink: he was only going to fall with his pen in his hand, with a samurai beauty that combined a fierce defiance and a Zen certainty of bliss beyond death. That word spoke of his love of his young sons, the companionship of a good woman and many friends, so much he was not at age 50 ready to leave behind, so much more for a lightening-fired mind yet to do.
We were all thrown together by the storm, a collection of ranting and lamenting bloggers who fell together into an indivisible friendship. We birthed an anarchist conference called Rising Tide, “A conference on the future of New Orleans” and Greg was our artist. Each poster and t-shirt topped the last, the best the rough angel rising from the waters. Rising Tide has moved onto to a 501(c)3 with paperwork and committees and most of us who were there at the beginning fell away from that but never lost each other. At the center of that group was a meeting of minds and hearts larger than the rest, Greg’s (with Ashley Morris’s) largest of all.
We knew of his heart problems from the first. After his first surgery at a distant heart clinic fellow organized a collection to get him a Macbook so he could continue to work in his convalescence. We knew that heart of steel had a fatal flaw, one that would one day break and leave him holding the haft and staring Death in the face.
A heart of steel is no guarantee except against despair. Invincible until the end. We should all go so well.
Oṃ tāre tuttāre ture svāhā. I don’t know if Greg followed the Taras, the female Buddha, but he modeled so many of her aspects: Green Tārā, known as the Buddha of enlightened activity; Red Tārā, of fierce aspect associated with magnetizing all good things; Blue Tārā, associated with transmutation of anger. In the end White Tārā, also known for compassion, long life, healing and serenity, took him into her bosom, recognizing his compassion and serenity through so much suffering. It was enough for this one soul to advance. Oṃ tāre tuttāre ture svāhā.
Greg left us too soon but he carved a path through the world large enough most men would happily call it a life. Tārā Mother of Liberation, teach me to walk in his footsteps.
When the Music’s Over May 20, 2013Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, je me souviens, New Orleans, Remember, The Dead, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Ray Manzarek
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…now night arrives with her purple legion
Retire now to your tents and to your dreams
Tomorrow we enter the town of my birth
I want to be ready
Somewhere in the City of Lights tonight a single bulb fails to illuminate and that absence will be drowned in rivers of headlights and the sparkling hills. PG&E will not notice. The grid of copper and gold will continue to enfold us in its clutches. There is, however, another grid, an etheric one, that operates in that place where photon waves collapse into particles and the very air dances at frequencies only discernible to the ears of the so attuned. The minor catastrophe of the end of a single human life vibrates through that grid until it reaches every other life the lost one touched. A harmonic resonance begins which, left unchecked, could shatter the world, and only the countervailing vibration of Love that runs back through the etheric grid cancels it out and prevents cataclysm.
The old embed code no longer works on You Tube. When the Music’s Over.
RIP Ray Manzarek
Traveling with the Dead March 19, 2013Posted by The Typist in Crime, cryptical envelopment, je me souviens, Murder, New Orleans, Remember, Toulouse Street.
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This comment posted day before yesterday explains why I haven’t been posting but instead trying, in my limited time to blog, to finish my list of the dead of 2012.
“My Love, My Soulmate, My Hubby….
*Arthur Jackson* 05/08/78-07/01/07
It’s been 5yrs and it feels like yesterday…some days are better than others, but the pain remains…I’ve know this man since 1st grade, we attended elementary & high school together….He was my friend,soulmate,my LIFE…Our kids miss him so much, I wish he was here to mentor,guide, his boys(2) or see his daughter as she blossoms into a beautiful,bright,intelligent, young lady….although he died during his 2nd surgery it was still a result of gun violence…this type of savagery has claimed the ives of so many of Nola’s fathers, my youngest son’s kindergarten class had 6 kids including my son whose dad was killed…my really goes out to the kids, because they’re the ones whose really suffering….this has to STOP, just the thought of some poor child being told they’re dad is DEAD, gone foever and haing to endure the pain on their face, (as I recall my kids experience) breaks my heart….PEACE*”
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.
Walking in August August 18, 2012Posted by The Typist in Fortin Street, History, je me souviens, Louisiana, memoir, Mid-City, New Orleans, Remember, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Cansecos, DeBlanc Pharmacy, Dudah's, Faubourg St. John, Lake Vista, Miranti's, Terranovas
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By August we’re done like long basting turkeys in the oven, well-browned and in danger of drying out. The wasps proliferate in the back yard, nesting in the neighbors wild vines behind their shed. The mushroom cloud rising out of the line of cumulonimbus is all the weather forecast that you need, convection foretelling the afternoon’s thunderstorms which coax the grass into miraculous growth the landlord never tends to properly. The pigeons come up to my stoop like hobos although I never feed them. Still, my neighbors walk up toward the grocery on Gentilly or on Esplanade, a subtle racial divide on my quiet street. The feral parrots complete the tropical scene.
We still walk the sunny side up sidewalks not to prove a point but out of habit. Bicycles are almost as frequent as cars on my street not to make some fashionable statement like a car plastered in stickers but out of necessity. Pedestians converge from the fashionable bayou Faubourg and edge-of-Gentilly Fortin Street toward Cansecos and Terranovas groceries, Dr. Bob’s drug store–where you can put your prescription on account or have it delivered–to the democratic coffee shop and the fashionable wine bar and salon.
If I walk up at noon the pavement is brighter than the sky and a hat is advisable. Even the pigeons have sensibly retreated to the shade. I don’t pass as many people on their porches as I would in the evening but air conditioning has driven people inside in the Faubourg unlike black, working class Orleans Avenue ten blocks away where neighbors still gather on shady side stoops and old men drag kitchen chairs beneath the trees of neutral ground trees. Still I am almost certain to converge with or pass someone with a shopping bag when the only others out are tradesmen with their heads bound in bandanas working a saw table, pausing to wipe the sweat and sawdust from their brows with the crook of their elbows.
I sit writing this beneath a whirring air conditioner in South Lakeview. The nearest grocery is on Harrison Avenue a good 25 blocks away around the railroad tracks and a car is a necessity. Lakeview is where the city meets its suburbs, just over the 17th Street drainage canal from the typical American sprawl of Metairie. To the north is the lakefront: Lake Shore, Lake Vista, Lake Terrace and Lake Oaks, the desirable addresses of doctors, lawyers and other men and women of educated industry and the luck of the draw. I grew up in Lake Vista, designed as a paradise of cul-de-sac street divided not by alleys as in Lakeview but by pedestrian lanes named for flowers as the streets we named for birds, shaded paths converging on broad parkways that radiate from the center. Once there was Dudah’s Grocery and Miranti’s Drug Store with its nickle-plated conical cup cherry Cokes a nickle at the soda fountain, a cleaners and a post office. Some idealistic planner once hoped the residents would walk there but in the Fifties and Sixties the automobile ruled. Over time people found it just as convenient to drive up and down Robert E. Lee Boulevard to the new strip malls and the stores of the Center faded into memories.
Across City Park Avenue from South Lakeview in Mid City only stalwarts and holdouts walk to the stores of Carrolton Avenue. When I lived on Toulouse one couple always engagaed in caffinated morning conversation would walk down the street to make their daily groceries in the big greocery up on Carrollton Avenue. The corner doors in that neighborhood are all converted to houses, the shop windows drapped or shuttered. The houses of Mid City are narrow, nestled Craftsmen relics of another era, most with no parking, but even there its hop in the car for the identical aisles of Rouses Grocery and Walgreens, indistinguishable from the stores of Metairie.
You have to journey further into the city or across the bayou to my neighborhood off Esplanade to find where the folk and the houses still match, where the corner store still prevails, and in the evening the closer you get to Mystery Street the walkers proliferate on their evening errands. At six o’clock the sun is hidden by the trees along Esplanade but in August the 90s don’t abate until much later and still they come slowly up the shady side or coast on their bicycles in their after work tanks and shorts and sandals, old habits persistent or forgotten ways rediscovered, a neighborhood that lives in its history like a worn and comfortable pair of shoes.
Uncle Lionel July 8, 2012Posted by The Typist in Jazz, je me souviens, music, New Orleans, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Tags: bass drum, brass band, Frenchman Street, Jazz, Uncle Lionel Batiste
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NEW ORLEANS — Legendary Treme Brass Band leader and drummer Uncle Lionel Batiste passed away Sunday morning. He was 81.
Booker April 15, 2012Posted by The Typist in je me souviens, music, New Orleans, Remember, Toulouse Street.
Tags: "James Booker", French Quarter Fest, Joe Krown
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The crowds pass on Bourbon as always, out of season beads and plastic cups. Over by the river thousands in front of the stages, brass band and accordion, Gibson and Zildjian, lawn chair and parasol. Inside the Royal Sonesta the crowd is older and better dressed, settled at tables, waitresses passing with trays of glasses, and on stage Joe Krown plays James Booker. I have wanted to do this for years but even if you go downtown alone you always fall in with a crowd, everyone is there, another tray of beer is on the way, another stage, another chance to dance. You are swept up in the ant hill madness. Carnival or festival you follow your crowd. This year I break away because some things should be remembered, not just in the cut out paintings at Jazz Fest but in the hands of memory on the piano.
Joe Krown is one of the exemplars of our generation, following a tradition that reaches back through Booker and Professor Longhair to the barrel house. It takes an accomplished pianist to do Booker credit. Behind the eye patch stood Bach and Chopin, Erroll Garner and Liberace, a turn at his preacher-father’s organost. Equally at home on the Sunny Side of the Street or hunched over Junco Partner, Booker had a range and virtuosity no one in the city could match. If Professor Longhair stands at the root of modern New Orleans music, Booker was the leafy canopy, branching out equally in every direction, toward and away from the sun, swinging in every direction.
In Irvin Mayfield’s packed club Krown plays a baby grand, joined by a saxophone and a drummer. The side men are good but after a while my mind drifts off during their solos, memory adjusting the mix on the soundboard of the old upright that once stood in the Maple Leaf bar, just behind the jukebox. It’s Friday, I’m off work early and my girlfriend’s job is just around the corner. I sit at the bar and order a beer and a man in an eye patch sits next to me, says nothing. The bartender pays him no mind. You want a drink, I ask? Sure he says. I don’t remember what he drank. Everyone remembers that he drank, that he died of kidney failure in a wheel chair at Charity, just another poor Black man waiting his turn. He takes his drink back to the piano and pays me back unasked. Somewhere behind that one-eyed jack eye patch is all of the joy and sorrow of New Orleans, the tribulations of musicians, piano lesson and barroom, something rare and delicate that could not grow outside of this city.
I slip in front of the crowd to take a picture and Krown mugs for the camera. For a moment I’m just another tourist in a room that looks a lot like the midday crowd at the Jazz Historical Park concerts, back from their free lunch break for a requisite allotment of the music before they climb back into their buses for a drive down St. Charles Avenue. I slip out into the patio for a cigarette, stealing a candle off the carefully set tables of someone’s upcoming wedding party to jam open the door behind the soundboard so I can hear. The sound man smiles. There is something just right about finding a place outside the crowded room, drink and cigarette in hand, close to the piano, unwilling to miss a single bar. Some hotel functionary shoes me away, reclaims the candle and I go back into the breezeway to find a place to snub out my smoke and get back inside. Someone along the back wall with a clear view of the piano gets up from their stuffed chair and I make for their spot like it’s the fire exit, plop down where I can watch Krown’s hands on the keyboard or just close my eyes and listen, alone with the music, drifting from the upholstered barrel chair to the barrel house barstool of nineteen seventy something and Friday afternoon.
Somewhere up in Woldenburg Park a band is setting up, getting ready for the last set of the day. Behind the stage, visible only if you squint your eyes just right, something hovers, choir-robed arms outstretched, a crown of thorns and a bared heart, an eye patch with a gold star. The band is there because we are here, because deep down in the bone everyone who has heard or played a note in New Orleans does so in the shadow of James Booker.
Ashley Morris: 1963-2008 April 2, 2012Posted by The Typist in FYYFF, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Remember, Sinn Fein, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Ashley Morris
By Dylan Thomas
And death shall have no dominion.
Dead men naked they shall be one
With the man in the wind and the west moon;
When their bones are picked clean and the clean bones gone,
They shall have stars at elbow and foot;
Though they go mad they shall be sane,
Though they sink through the sea they shall rise again;
Though lovers be lost love shall not;
And death shall have no dominion.
And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
They lying long shall not die windily;
Twisting on racks when sinews give way,
Strapped to a wheel, yet they shall not break;
Faith in their hands shall snap in two,
And the unicorn evils run them through;
Split all ends up they shan’t crack;
And death shall have no dominion.
And death shall have no dominion.
No more may gulls cry at their ears
Or waves break loud on the seashores;
Where blew a flower may a flower no more
Lift its head to the blows of the rain;
Though they be mad and dead as nails,
Heads of the characters hammer through daisies;
Break in the sun till the sun breaks down,
And death shall have no dominion.
Back to the Future February 25, 2012Posted by The Typist in je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Remember, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
Tags: University of New Orleans, UNO
The campus toward Leon C. Simon was a vast meadow, covered in a cotton blanket of ground fog in which we left a wake as we walk home. As we passed the utility plant known as Stonehenge for the wall of interrupted standing concrete monoliths that surround it The Mad Scotsman would come out. We have no way of knowing if was actually Scottish. That’s just what we called him. We only know that on nights after our class in Twentieth Century poetry, perhaps after a night class of his own, he would play his bagpipes somewhere toward the building that houses the music department.
The meadow of 1978 is now a parking lot to serve the gleaming tower of the new Engineering Building and the campus of Ben Franklin High School. The walk south from the Liberal Arts Building toward St. Anthony Street is a maze of curving sidewalks, concrete plazas and a confusion of new buildings. Some of the sidewalks trace the goat paths students once wore into the grass, while other paths of memory are blocked by berms meant to discourage shortcuts.
I thought the greatest difference in going back to school after thirty years would be the age difference between the other students and myself. When they notice me at all, the conversations are not much different than they might have been decades ago. No one asks me why I am back in school. They bum a cigarette, complain about a disinterested professor, ask after a generic liberal arts class what my major is. In the mirror of their eyes I am as they are, just another student.
The sidewalks are no more full than I remember them but there must be more students or who is populating all of these new buildings? Perhaps they all scurry off to their cars and go somewhere else between classes. I notice the young woman with the interesting tattoos I sit next to in History of New Orleans sometimes scurries off toward her car after class, but I see her later in the new canyon between Liberal Arts and the new Mathematics Building. It has always been a commuter campus but other than the mobs in the lunch lines in the University Center I don’t know where they all are between classes.
The students and professors mostly accept me. I am not the only older student in the room. I am most unsettled by the new geography and I find myself spending time between classes in familiar haunts: the second floor of the UC, the patio in the center of the LA building, the library. The cafe I knew as The Cove is now The Sandbar, and the angular concrete walls that once flanked the entrance are gone, remembered only in a small display in the library lobby. I look for myself or someone I knew in the photographs but don’t find them.
The entry to The Sandbar is now a plaza with fountains and gas-fueled, lava-rock braziers amid the metal cafe tables. I avoid the building, mostly because I can’t stand to eat my homemade sandwich in a room filled with people eating Popeye’s Friend Chicking, one of the half-dozen fast food outlets that have moved on campus to complete with the cafeteria and the original Sandbar the counter service that was once the only choices.
I think about those long gone concrete walls at The Sandbar, and the concrete monoliths of the physical plant. I recently learned that Curtis and Davis, the architectural firm where my father spent most of his career, laid out the original plan for the campus in the early 1960s when it was opened. In the long-gone, berm-flanked concrete walls that gave to us–the second generation after The Bomb–the sensation of entering a fallout shelter, and in the monoliths as the center of campus, I see a touch of functional Brutalism that marked the work of Curtis and Davis. None of the people going in and out of the cafe or toward their cars remember the Rivergate or the other studies in undulating cement and sand in their french curve glory that marked the work my father did.
Do these children even know what a French curve is, or how to operate a slide rule? Everyone seems to have a tablet computer or a tiny netbook computer, and their backpacks are small. My messenger bag straings my back as I groan under the weight of the Riverside Chaucer and another class’ thick stack of tabbed printouts that fill a once inch binder. I have tried both the pack pack and shoulder slung arrangements and neither spares my back. So much paper, unless we have lately slung a case of copier paper we forget how much it weighs until you fill your bag with a ream of it. My son mocks me because I dutifully fill in three-by-five cards before a biology test. Why don’t you use Quizlet online, he asks? I tell him writing for me is a mnemonic aid, even while every professor posts Power Point slides of their lectures on the Moodle website I could just as easily study from.
Amid all this technology (and I have worked in IT. I am no luddite) I think I find comfort in a stack of blue-lined cards, a prop to help me adjust. Scantrons, the little sheets of circles to be colored in with a brace of No. 2 pencils, I remember only from scholastic aptitude tests, not classes. I find some comfort to see the stacks of blue books in the book store, and wonder if I can still manage to fill one legibly with my bad handwriting, a task that thirty years ago required a concerted effort but which in retrospect I think required me to slow down and focus on what I was writing.
I no longer walk out of my last class of the day in a direct line toward Leon C. Simon and St. Anthony. I could not if I wished to, but would have to thread the maze of new buildings. I left my car in that direction, not far from my old apartment at 6219 Wadsworth Street, but my son has taken it to NOCCA. Thirty years go I parked for free in the lot of the abandoned Pontchartrain Beach amusement park, but that is also gone, replaced by a university-affiliated technology park. I head instead for the familiar brick bus shelter across the empty approximation of a quadrangle north of the library to catch my bus home, glad to sling my messenger bag full of books (how can the onion skin of the thick Chaucer weigh so much?) onto the concrete benches.
I will probably drop my one night class when I return to work part-time. Moloch regrets their decision, and wants me back to help. I wish I could keep that class. I know the Mad Scotsman is long gone, but I often hear music students practicing in the new amphitheater behind the bus top. I long to walk some night through the swirling ground fog to meet my ride home, to the strains of some powerful instrument–a tenor saxophone perhaps–to sing me home through the dark.
Drinking with the Spirits November 27, 2011Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, je me souviens, New Orleans, Remember, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Coco Robicheaux
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I toyed with the idea of going to the Apple Barrel last night, then reconsidered what such a small bar would be like on the day of the announcement of Coco Robicheaux’s passing. And I can’t even begin to imagine what the crowds at the second line and party that will follow will be like. Better to wait I think until tonight or tomorrow, when the crowds will have passed, will be best; to ask Sara or J.D. for two glasses of the tequila Coco favored. I don’t remember the brand, but bought him one or two over the years. Why not appropriate a bit of the tradition (we’re very good at that down here) of having a drink with Max at Molly’s, spilling a bit of tequila on the stage while shooting the other. I imagine there is a shrine and I can stop by the Herb (which is probably open on Sunday as the Broad Street Botanica is not) and pick up a candle; probably a purple, the favored color of mourning in Día de Muertos iconography, and leave the votive and his shot (minus the small propitious spill) there.
Somewhere It Is Tuesday November 1, 2011Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, je me souviens, New Orleans, Remember, Toulouse Street.
Tags: All Saints Day, Halloween, Samain
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Tonight we have mimicked and mocked death.
Tomorrow (this morning) we go to our city in minature cemeteries to be with our dead, and then have lunch in their honor.
Somewhere else in America it is Tuesday.
Potter’s But Not Forgotten October 15, 2011Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, je me souviens, odd, Remember, The Dead, Toulouse Street.
Ars Longa, Vita Brevis September 5, 2011Posted by The Typist in je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Remember, second line, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Tags: Micheal Showers
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Cross-posted at the Treme blog BackOfTown.com
The tragic death by drowning of actor Micheal Showers, who played New Orleans police Capt. John Guidry in “Treme,” has an eerie resonance both for fans of the show, echoing the death of John Goodman’s character Creighton Bernette. Showers’ death has been ruled a drowning, but in the missing persons report filed by his girlfriend she indicated he was suffering from depression, anxiety and had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. There is no official report that his drowning was other than accidental.
While I suspect most New Orleanians have put such thoughts behind him, his death should register beyond the confines of a television show. Official suicide rates tripled in New Orleans in early 2006, the period represented by Season One and Bernette’s fateful ferry ride. Mortality rates spiked by one third, based on a study of Times-Picayune death notices that included displaced residents who died elsewhere. (Conflicting studies focusing on official, local deaths poo-poohed this notion but disregarded that in that period over half the city’s residents remained displaced). In the evacuation trailer parks to the north, fifty percent of residents met the criteria for Major Depressive Disorder, and the suicide rate in the parks was 17 times the national average.
Some (many) may think this post disrespectful of the dead, to speculate on how Showers met his death by drowning, but a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis echoes the experience of so many of those who made up the spike in post-Katrina mortality, the sense that they had lost the life they had before with no prospect of recovery. Bernette was, like most Treme characters, a composite, based both on Ashley Morris and documentary filmmaker Stevenson Palfi, who took his own life post Katrina Palfi lost not only his Mid-City home but files, photographs and film that helped produce his documentaries “Piano Players Rarely Play Together” and an unfinished film on Allen Toussaint.
Whatever brought Showers to the edge of the river, a breath of fresh air to clear his head after a night of drinking, or an ultimate moment of despair, something about his death resonates in a way most people in New Orleans would rather not contemplate but then I’m not most people, spent too many months in 2005 and 2006 tracking and cataloging the dead, too many hours each January compiling an annual list of all the victims of murder. In my own space at Toulouse Street (and formally on Wet Bank Guide), we remember.
Treme is ultimately about the resilience of the people of New Orleans, their insistence to save not just a bit of real estate but a culture and a way of life, and that resilience is more powerful and poignant against the unspoken backstory that Creighton Burnette’s death hints at, a tripled suicide rate, thousands dead from lack of medical care or just the loss in the elderly of the will to live. It is important to remember not only the 1,753 official Katrina deaths but the over 4,000 carefully cataloged by journalist Robert Lindsay five years ago.
Treme is about the Last Battle of New Orleans but the casualties are mostly off screen, like the millions of Civil War dead that haunt the soul of every bushwhacker turned Western gunslinger, and Showers’ brings that back to mind. RIP Micheal Showers, and I’m sorry if you and yours think I have hijacked that particular and personal sorrow but it so clearly brings back the desperation and loss that makes the triumphs of survival depicted in Treme more noble. You were a small part in the great machine of a film that reminds the rest of America–long since moved on–that we in New Orleans second line for our dead and why we do so and for your part in that, in every snap of a tourist’s camera as the band and joyful mourners pass, every second line from now on is in some small way for you.
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.
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.
The Great Wave March 14, 2011Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Federal Flood, je me souviens, Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, Remember, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Hokusai, Japan, The Great Wave, tsunami
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I first posted this ekphrasis to Katsushika Hokusai’s painting in March 2008, thinking after I saw the image of Hurricane Katrina, but now it brings to mind of course the terrible tragedy in Japan. Strange, a song that has become permanently associated in my mind with Katrina as well NPR played it on the news not weeks after that horrific flood, Eliza Gilkyson’s Requiem, was written for the victims of the 2004 Christmas Tsunami. There are many hands but only one tapestry constantly woven until the last hand drops and then only the soul memories of this painting, this song will survive. Carry them with you always.
Hokusai’s The Great Wave off the Coast of Kanagawa
Through the lens of imminent disaster Fuji–the looming backdrop of a countless artists–is an insignificant bystander. The mountainous water towers over the iconic peak and the doomed boat. The sailor’s backs are turned to the crest of threatening fingers, their hands clasped in muscular prayer to the task of rowing. They did not choose the sea. It is the world they were granted by their ancestors, rain on their fields and fish in the sea. The sky is a mirror of the sea, sometimes placid and other times fierce with wind, and where else shall they live except between the sky and the sea, those promising and pitiless fields of blue? They know the tales of typhoon and tsunami, whole villages swallowed by the sea, coasts given over to ghosts. Still, they rise up with the sun and go down to their own boats. When confronted with the Great Wave, there is nothing to do but row.
Silence is Violence 2010 January 11, 2011Posted by The Typist in Crime, je me souviens, Murder, Remember, The Dead, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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I began listing the murder victims of New Orleans from 2007 in early 2008, partly because I could not make a Silence is Violence march. I did it again the following year because of the number of people I discovered go searching for their loved ones (I hope, and not gloating over their victims). I didn’t do this last year because I started a writing project (unfinished) called Murder Ballads instead, but I feel bad I did not post a list last year. Since NOLA.com now has a database of murder victims with links to the news stories on that site, I may go back and do 2009, but for now, here are the victims of 2010.
I have copied liberally from NOLA.com, giving more detail than I have in the past.
What I wrote in a piece about one victim still about sums up the reason for this exercise best:
Everyone person on that list, even if they had gone down that dark path and died with a handgun in their waste band and an empty look in their eyes, all of them were once as Chanel once was, as my own children once were: as innocent as a lamb in the lap of Jesus.
The list is long so I’ve placed it on a page here.
Saying Grace November 24, 2010Posted by The Typist in 504, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Remember.
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Tonight 44 people visited my 2007 murder victim list post, from 38 hits searching for Angela Thomas Bryant.
Her children, mentioned in the link, will be six and ten when they sit down to dinner tomorrow without their mother.
I’ve been going to a weekly meeting at St. Anna’s Episcopal Church, am reminded every Monday by the sign boards of so many people who will be remembered tomorrow when their families and friends sit down around the table, bow their heads in prayer and are thankful for the company of who they are with.
Angela, may your children grow up sweet and smart and strong and live to sit at the table and tell your great grandchildren the stories they will hear tomorrow.
You are remembered. You are all remembered.
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.
The Patio on Royal April 17, 2010Posted by The Typist in French Quarter, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Remember, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Gert Folse, patio, Royal Street, Sadie Folse
The carriageway is not just a conduit from the street but a corridor in time, a passage into my past of Gert and Sadie’s apartment on Royal and the private patio behind, into childhood memories of the Sixties and visits to my father’s aunts. The mostly shaded plants are blooming but I recall aromas of liquor and Kent cigarettes and Jean Nate powder. I get down on my knees as if to pray and I could in this temple of memory but I only wish to capture for a moment the perspective of a child bored with the adults inside and entering the lair of imaginary pirates.
It seemed there were more maiden aunts in those days, and I frequently saw my mother’s cousin, a sweet woman who lived with my grandparents but there was something of the pressed leaf about her, a dry and rigid antiquity. She worked her whole life as a bank teller and read screen magazines and played a lot of solitaire or concentration with us children if we were around and would give us little stand up cardboard bank calenders with a mercury thermometer. She was a dear woman but my memories of her are those a woman might have taking out an old dress from a trunk in the attic, stiff and crackly.
There was something magical about Sadie and Gert, these women who moved into the quarter in its seedier and consciously bohemian days, Gert with her voice rich with a lifetime of cigarettes and experience, my father’s maiden aunts in the sense that neither was married but Sadie was once the very special assistant to “Coozin” Dudley Leblanc and the other had worked for the government and traveled the world. I once had the two halves of a torn soft cardboard ticket from the last Roosevelt inauguration its circus ink colors still bright, and I still have a rough wool blanket from Guatemala of antique white with a pattern of fantastic, caricature animals of red and blue Gert brought back from her travels. I still have a royal quarto abridged children’s Iliad and Odyssey beautifully illustrated in the flat manner of old Greek vases, something they kept around for bored children back before they came equipped with their own portable electronic entertainment and which I loved so much they gave to me.
When we went to visit I had that book, the stoop where I could watch Royal Street pass by and the patio. To get to the patio you passed out the back into a tall well containing a spiral staircase with a thick banister of dark wood. I did not get to see that staircase on this visit. It has been enclosed and is now the entrance to the owner’s residence above the shop–off-limits–and so I understand why the women in the shop in front would not let me in the back the few times I asked as I stood among the perfume bottles, pretending to sample scents while I studied every detail of molding and ceiling, looked for traces of the water stain on the ceiling that was a permanent fixture in Gert and Sadie’s day and confessed finally why I was really there.
I thought there was a fountain but found none, perhaps conflating Gargia-Lorca’s private Grenada (I am very fond of Lorca) with Gert and Sadie’s world but remember the French Quarter is largely Spanish in architecture and perhaps that is where we acquired our Andalusian patios tucked back from the dirty street. Looking at the hasty camera phone pictures I snapped it seems an ordinary French Quarter patio–no, not ordinary, there are no ordinary patios in the Quarter, I meant typical of those I know from the commercial front of the quarter, the larger houses with an L of slave quarters wrapped around the back.
It is long and narrow but spacious enough that there are two planters, a round one of cast concrete in the middle front and a larger rectangle of brick toward the back and several along each sidewall, and still room for an iron table and chairs and a scattering of stand alone pots. I recognize the elephant ear and African violets, the ferns and hostas but I’m no naturalist; there are a few spindly but healthy looking trees that I can’t identify. The plants are largely the deep green of specimens raised for the shade, and they deepen the dimness of the courtyard’s well, but the soft light is peaceful like the nave of an unlit church.
The stairs go up on the right to the narrow slave quarter balcony, and are painted a color so dark in the dim light I take it for black. All of the trim is this color against the antique white of the painted brick and plaster and there is a Germanic cast to the space, appropriate to the Folses of the Côte des Allemandes. In places the plaster has fallen away and exposed the brick but that’s not the sort of repair people bother with, preferring the character of such architectural liver spots. The window air conditioning units are inconspicuous but the one incongruous piece is a large air-conditioning compressor elevated on a platform along the far wall and away from the house.
I know there is another child visiting this same patio. There is a child’s height basketball goal, the sort you fill the base of with water, standing in the corner. I didn’t have any such entertainment and its a bit sad that video and I-pod are sucking their minds dry so that they do not know how to entertain themselves when left alone in such a place, something so radically different from the blocky suburban house they likely know that it is an immediate jump start to the imagination and I wonder what memories they will have of this place, if forty years from now they will stand next to the two men in Jazz Fest chairs enjoying the Spring weather on Royal Street to press their eyes to the barred windows of the carriageway doors until they explain themselves and one of the men smiles and kindly lets him or her in.
Tootie’s New Suit April 12, 2010Posted by The Typist in 504, Debrisville, Federal Flood, je me souviens, Mardi Gras Indians, New Orleans, NOLA, postdiluvian, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Tags: David Simon, Treme
Last night America saw a ghost and they don’t even know it.
It spoke a language they did not understand, took a stand, gave a command: Won’t bow. Don’t know how.
When that spectral yellow figure stepped out of the darkness with that downtown sparkle and spoke, the spindly cemetery trees all across this town moved in the windless night and the hairs on the back of a ten thousand necks stood up like the feathers in its headdress.
Won’t bow. Don’t know how.
The last night Tootie Montana spoke he died at the microphone, defending his culture to tone deaf politicians and against a hostile local police force, demanding respect for a century old tradition with roots in in the bead work Yoruba and a strange and never clearly explained solidarity with the American Indian, something I think similar to the identification of the Black Christian church with the Isrealites in bondage.
Won’t bow. Don’t know how.
That ghost wasn’t speaking to me, or to any of the people in the room with me on Toulouse Street. It wasn’t even speaking to New Orleans. It spoke to all of America, to the entire planet. It stood amidst a desolation the American continent has not seen in a hundred years, one only those who came home with nothing to nothing, and the few privileged tens of thousands who came to volunteer, can understand. That ghost said all you need to know about the people of New Orleans.
Won’t bow. Don’t know how.
If that phrase still seems cryptic to you, try this: watch a repeat of Pacific that leads into a repeat of Treme.
Won’t bow. Don’t know how.
Remember Haiti February 10, 2010Posted by The Typist in je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Remember, Toulouse Street.
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As I slowly crawl out from under Saints in the Superbowl fever and contemplate Carnival, I want to note that the number one search bringing people into this blog is Haiti. I know everyone in New Orleans is terribly distracted right not but it’s important we not forget. Their recovery (as well we know) will not be a matter of weeks or months, but years and decades.
Take a minute to stop and catch up on the news from our island sister. If you haven’t donated yet (or you only pissed away $10 on the entirely worthless Red Cross), stop to give a few dollars. I suggest International Medical Corps, which I’ve been following since my nephew Will was hired by them. He is now the logistics leader on the ground for IMC.
The bonds between Haiti and New Orleans run deep. Remember.
Help Haiti January 13, 2010Posted by The Typist in je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Remember, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Doctors Without Borders, earthquake relief, Haiti, Wyclef Jean
The world is not after Haiti as so many of us feel. The cold truth is the world’s indifference, and if there is one thing a Haitian hates it is to be unconsequential. It does not matter what is said about you, as long as you are the subject of conversation. Perhaps at some international soiree idle chatter passes to Haiti, but I doubt it.
–The mysterious stranger on the hotel veranda speaks to author Wade Davis in Chapter Six of his book on voodoo The Serpent and The Rainbow
Here more than anywhere else in America we should remember what it is to suffer, to lose everything (and for people who have so little as the people of Haiti it is a short fall with a very hard landing), to see the dead in the streets.
The ties of New Orleans are old and run deep. In the entrance to my house are portraits of two Franco-Haitian ancestors who fled to New Orleans after the Haitian revolution, a bitter irony when I look at the descendants of their slaves suffering so. Me, I have an extra burden to discharge. You should give because you Remember.
I have taken down the link to Wyclef Jean’s site after reading an internet report at thesmokinggun.com suggesting he had paid himself handsomely to appear at a benefit organized by the group. Instead I pass on the recommendation of a local acquaintance whose wife studied in Haiti, is Doctors Without Borders.
Another thought: I still read regular reports that the American Red Cross is sitting on $170 million in money donated to aid Hurricane Katrina and Rita victims. Our experience on the Hurricane Coast: please, do not give to the American Red Cross.
Update: Read this excellent article by the Preservation Resource Center. on New Orleans’ historic ties to Haiti, and the island nation’s contributions to New Orleans.
I Dreamed I Saw Ms. Hill Last Night January 4, 2010Posted by The Typist in Crime, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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This morning’s reading assignment: get thee to Billy Southern’s Imprefectly Vertical blog and read the entry Helen Hill, You Are Missed.
I have not done a lick of work over my holiday escape from the Counting House on my annual list of the victims of murder in New Orleans, instead working on a long poem titled Murder Ballads, but I plan to get the list together and up here soon. (Bad luck, I know, to speak of the unwritten or the unfinished.) Until either of my own bits of handicraft on the subject are done Southern’s piece from the New York Times, originally published under the headline Taken By the Tide, will have to stand (admirably) in their place.
Je me souviens.
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.
Shaking The Devil Off December 18, 2009Posted by The Typist in ghosts, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Remember, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Carmen Reese
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I received a comment today on an old post about the murder of Carmen Reese, a message from a friend of the dead young woman letting me know that her murderer was sentenced this week. If you do not recall, Carmen was a troubled young woman who came to New Orleans, fell into stripping and the life of the French Quarter and died violently of it
I know it is merely the internal machinations of the Internet, the hidden web of links and searches and emails that ties the world together in strange new ways that led her friend back to me to share this news but I always have this feeling that somehow the dead have reached out and replied to my many posts about the victims of The Flood and our slow motion war of murder.
I can’t complain, as I have certainly invited the unquiet spirits by the many posts on Wet Bank Guide such as this, and my listing here on Toulouse Street of the murder victims each year, a sad holiday task I have set for myself, and must soon get busy on.
I could not find anything on the sentencing, but discovered this story on his conviction. Look soon for the list of victims of 2009. What is remembered lives.
It’s Odd that this should come up now, just as my wife is finishing Shake The Devil Off and found the book and it’s tale entirely too creepy. It seems she didn’t know quite how many people die here (and how easy to just tune it out of one chooses), and she says she now sees Zack and Addie in every street kid on the streets downtown. I may never get her out at night into the Quarter again.
For me, every comment on one of my electronic murder ballads is another step in the second line to shake the devil off.
Update 12-29-09: If you just dropped in from the link on NOLA.Com and didn’t click the link above, you can read more details about Carmen’s murder by clicking here.
Dancing Madly Backwards November 4, 2009Posted by The Typist in je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Remember, Toulouse Street.
The old bricks of the Lafitte Housing Project are gone, leaving just a scar of tall grass and piles of dirt, a thin stump forest of new pilings naked and brown rising up like the dead cypress trees in Bienvenue and St. Bernard, like the gray leafless forest that lines the I-10 West. The good red brick, laid half a century ago by the hands of craftsmen from the Seventh Ward, is gone. The buildings that crouched on their stoops like museum lions watching the traffic on Orleans Avenue roll by are just another fading Polaroid in a city of long memory
Soon the Tyvek-wrapped sticks will rise up overnight like toadstools to replace them; trading sheetrock for plaster, vinyl siding for masonry, cement steps for a blue-roofed porch, and the street will never be the same. The place will smell of fresh plastic like a new car, will smell like Houston or Atlanta or Charlotte instead of coffee or beans or sweet olive and something deep inside us will vanish as the old buildings vanished, replaced with a vague sadness; not just those who raised families and grew old in those bricks but all of us who have traveled Orleans Avenue as the short route from Mid-City and the Lake to downtown.
The landscape changes gradually down here, houses slowly settling and sagging between the shoulder joints like old men collapsing in a chair for a nap; swallowed by vines with old Creole roots that once strangled trees before the woods back of town were cut for lumber, before that wood turned into the rows of houses that stand in their place; the roads crumbling bit by bit as if the asphalt were trying to turn to back to oil and work its way down into the ground from whence it came.
Not much else is really changed on Orleans. From the old can factory out by my house converted to shops and condos, across the bayou to the rows of shotguns that still line the street in various states of repair and habitation. Up at the busy corner of Broad the old Ruth’s Chris building still stands across from the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club. The abandoned neighborhood clinic still hoists the Carver movie house sign, the marquee with old pre-flood messages that once listed Blackula and Super Fly still stands, an old mural of a street car carrying children into their check ups slowly fading, the small frame chapels and big brick churches still advertise services. So little is different.
As you roll up to Galvez, where the other day I saw a flock of domestic ducks escaped from someone’s yard, you reach the corner where the chain-link wrapped fields begin, not an inviting field of the sort that makes people drive slow through the park even when they’re supposed to be in a hurry but a vast absence where Lafitte once stood. Soon there will be bright new buildings in cheerful colors with carefully chosen factory accents to try to blend in but it won’t work. I hope the new tenants are happy. No more fighting the Housing Authority or the shotgun slumlords. Lights that light and water that runs and stoves that cook, no asbestos or lead but instead that new car smell to match the aroma of that new sofa on easy terms from the place on St. Claude where the guy on TV says, “let ‘em have it.”
They’re going to redo Orleans Avenue as well, strip it down to the bones and pour it new, smooth and level, but I think once the oil-spill-sheen blue and green siding starts to go on the new apartment blocks I’ll begin driving up Bienville to work. I want to be happy for the lucky few who get new homes in the old neighborhood, who can still walk to church or Willie Mae’s or up to some old, familiar bar for a beer with friends. I am happy for them, but I won’t want to look at the place. I’ve spent my time in the east and north, in towns where the settlers cabin at the county museum is not as old as bathtubs I’ve sat in here in New Orleans, places where the local natives haven’t been on that particular land as long as my family’s been in Lafourche. If I wanted Houston or Atlanta, or even the raw suburbs of the Northshore or Baton Rogue, I could move there in a minute and save a pile of money and trouble, but I don’t.
Maybe it’s just me. I know my wife would love to move out to the lake, to a nice stick built brick box plopped onto a broad green lawn but the idea repels me just as the thought of the yolk yellow and slime green apartments rising up on Orleans repels me. I think the plot of The Curious Case of Benjamin Buttons is just a clever device of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s, something to catch an editor’s eye back when selling stories meant money. Still, it resonates here (where the story is partly set) in a peculiar way. Remember Fitzgerald spent a month on Prytania, looking out over Lafayette Cemetery and walking those broken sidewalks of slick brick. Perhaps something planted itself in his mind over those weeks, this feeling I have that some of us are drawn here not to live out our futures but are instead arebpulled backwards by the undertow of history all around us, into a life the rest of the world has been shedding like last year’s styles since the Jazz Age, until we are those old men from my analogy sagging in our chairs, the last view through our fluttering eyelids before we nap old, comfortable and familiar, the landscape of memory spread out before us in the afternoon sun.
In the South October 30, 2009Posted by The Typist in Flood, ghosts, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Remember, Toulouse Street.
Tags: ghosts, Halloween, Salmon Rushdie, Samain, Samhain, what is remembered lives
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A tale of old men and the sea, of old men and the south, of old men everywhere from Salmon Rushdie courtesy of The New Yorker online. To share the last lines is not really a spoiler, when the opening lines clearly prefigure the end. And it is the getting there from the first to the last that is the joy of this.
The observance of Halloween, that has become just another excuse to turn over the season aisles for new merchandise masks the deeper, darker meanings of the date our pagan friends call Samhain and which is tied to what our Mexican neighbors call the Day of the Dead. I have no fun plans for this weekend so I find myself contemplating the more serious associations of All Hallow’s Eve and All Saints Day. I don’t intend to be a killjoy because you have a costume and are bound for Frenchman Street and I am not. I probably spend more time than most people thinking about these issues, more time Remembering, so maybe its a good thing to grasp this spoke of the wheel a bit more firmly and with purpose.
So, to share the true spirit of this weekend here is brief excerpt of a wonderful story on Floods, Death and Ghosts, things which people in New Orleans know like no others. It is the tale of two old men that culminates in the Tsunami of 2004. What is remembered lives.
Senior did not like the Japanese word everyone used to name the waters of death. To him the waves were Death itself and needed no other name. Death had come to his city, had come a-harvesting and had taken Junior and many strangers away. In the aftermath of the waves, there grew up all around him, like a forest, the noises and actions that inevitably follow on calamity—the good behavior of the kind, the bad behavior of the desperate and the powerful, the surging aimless crowds. He was lost in the forest of the aftermath and saw nothing except the empty veranda next to his own and, in the lane below, the girls with the lowered heads. News came that D’Mello was among the lost. D’Mello, too, was gone. Perhaps he was not dead. Perhaps he had simply gone home, at last, to his storied city of Mumbai, on the country’s other coast, that city which was neither of the north nor of the south but a frontierville, the greatest, most wondrous, and most dreadful of all such places, the megalopolis of the borderlands, the place of in-between. Or, on the other hand, perhaps D’Mello had drowned and Death, swallowing him, had denied his body the Christian dignity of a grave.
He, Senior, was the one who had asked for death. Yet Death had left him alive, had taken so many others, had taken even Junior and D’Mello, but left him untouched. The world was meaningless. There was no meaning to be found in it, he thought. The texts were empty and his eyes were blind. Perhaps he said some of this aloud. He may even have shouted it out. The girls in the lane below were looking up at him, and the green birds in the golden-shower tree were disturbed. Then, all of a sudden, he imagined that across the way, on the empty adjacent veranda, he saw a shadow move. He had cried out, “Why not me?,” and in response a shadow had flickered where Junior used to stand. Death and life were just adjacent verandas. Senior stood on one of them as he always had, and on the other, continuing their tradition of many years, was Junior, his shadow, his namesake, arguing.