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Cemetery in Snow December 11, 2008

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, poem, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
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New Orleans snow turns
old tombs white again. Later
rain repaints them gray

I spent yesterday in the chill drizzle photographing 231 tombs to collect names for a statistics project for my daughter. I wish I had been there when it snowed instead of trapped high up in the beige boxes of Place Sans Charm. The counting house gods also do not approve of posting to Poems Before Breakfast on company time, so this will go here.

Until this morning I didn’t know much of the history of St. Louis No. 3, except that it was built as a yellow fever cemetery. You can find a number of burials from 1878, presumably from the yellow fever epidemic of that year, along with quite a few from 1897 and 1905 when the fever also swept through the city

Google later confirmed that, yes, it is those Tujague’s and Galatoire’s who are buried at there, along with the members of many religious orders. There are the tombs of the Little Sisters of the Poor (who once begged door-to-door barefoot in New Orleans) and and the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart, an order founded by St. Francis Cabrini.

Visited St. Leo’s masoleum but forgot to bring a cigar. Sorry, big guy.

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Angels Sustaining and Triumphant July 17, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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Like everything here in postdiluvian New Orleans the movement towards a Katrina Memorial drags slowly on. Everything down here moves by fits and start, like an old man pushing a scrap cart up the street.

We are not building the New Jerusalem here, for all of the bright and optimistic noise made back in the heady days of the recovery planning process. Thousands of citizens came together, night after night, to draft the plans for their shining city behind the small hills called levees. So many plans, drawings, maps and renderings, reduced in the end to pickings for that scrap man.

In spite of the monumental failure of the city’s leaders to produce any large projects people all over town are hammering their lives back together. Those who are here are busy and more than a bit worn down by it all, as might be expected. Rebuilding a city is hard work, especially as we are going by the well-established shanty town method of everyone for his or herself because the government and their consultants have only managed to erect promising looking signs (Coming Soon!) after three years. So it should come as no surprise to hear that the memorial will be delayed. I have to wonder if it will ever be built.

Few expect the monument to be built by the target date of Aug. 29, Katrina’s third anniversary. “Maybe by the fourth anniversary, maybe the fifth,” said Gwendolyn Davis Brown, 53, the niece of the Rev. Lonnie Garrison, a longtime pastor at Pilgrim Progress Missionary Baptist Church in New Orleans who died in the aftermath of the storm. “There’s so much stuff going on in the city, people still have to get back into their homes,” added Patsy Dupart, 58, Garrison’s daughter.

The memorial itself looks quite nice online, although the rendering of two angels rescuing a fleur de lis looks off in the promised bright bronze. Here in the back of town (as the cab maps still refer to our section), down by the cemeteries, we are used to the more ethereal look of angels in pale marble. The expression on the picture I found here seems a bit off as well. The top most angel looks a little too coquettish and pleased with herself. We prefer our funereal angels to find the matter a bit more dolorosa. Since we seem unable to locate any construction cranes to erect in the city, perhaps we could manage something more triumphant like Sadako proudly holding her paper crane in Hiroshima; an angel sustaining in the heraldic sense (think of the Columbia Pictures woman bearing a torch), holding a fleur de lis up to the sky.

The sense of rescue the current angels convey seems wrong as well. The lists of the dead and the adjoining ovens to hold the unclaimed will give us enough of a sense of what is past and done. What is needed at the center of the hurricane swirl shaped ground is something that will speak to us on the day it is unveiled, that will tell the story of the New Orleans rising out of the floodwaters.

The city itself is its own best memorial. No one can fault Frank Minyard’s insistence that we have some fitting place to bury the unclaimed dead, somewhere better than the current potter’s field he describes as “a swamp”. If we are to have a memorial to the flood (I haven’t even begun to address whether we need a Katrina or a Flood memorial; some other time), and if it must be on the open piece of ground at Cemeteries and be itself a cemetery, then I would hope there is something about it that rises above that frozen moment of 2005 and carries the visitor into our future.

If the statuary won’t give you the rest of the story, then let the city tell its own story. I would suggest to a visitor that as they leave the memorial site (should we in fact ever manage to build it), then stroll up Canal Street back towards the river, and consider that once ten feet of water stood there. As you reach Carrollton, turn and pick a busy restaurant, any restaurant. As you stand in that bustling neighborhood consider the pictures most shops have somewhere on the wall, showing their business ten feet under or after. Then look at the place and the people around you, the old made new and full of life.

Those people in line with you and the ones behind the counter are our angels sustaining and triumphant.

An Odd Fellow’s Memorial Day May 25, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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“Now, I have come again
to the land of the fair, and the strong, and the wise.
Brothers and sisters of the pale forest,
children of night,
who among you will run with the hunt?
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.”
— Jim Morrison

It is two years Memorial Day since I saw the city’s towers and the white arc of the Superdome rising out of the vast, flat waterscape, my car hurtling southbound on the Causeway at 80 after days of towing my boat at 55 or 60 the entire breadth of the country, ‘OZ pouring in from the radio like a beacon and the lake flashing in the late afternoon sun like the runway lights of some great airport as I prepared to touch down–the white lines hurtling past–at the Final Destination.

And then I am rolling down Causeway Boulevard in the perfectly American stripmallandia of Metairie, past the old Lakeside Shopping Center and the corner where Harry Lee’s family Chinese restaurant, the House of Lee, once stood. Thinking I will stop to buy some Abita I opt to go down Veterans Boulevard rather than take the I-10 into town. Instead I am too absorbed by the landscape to remember to stop, too smitten by how little has changed on the mostly dry side of the levees. The familiar landmarks march past–the building once a Shakey’s Pizza but now a sushi place, a convenience store at the Bonnabel Boulevard corner where I bought cigarettes so many years ago that I should not have been allowed. The closer to town the more reassuring it becomes: the Lamplighter lounge, Dorignacs: so little has changed in 20 years. And then I am across the 17th Street Canal and rolling down into the lumpy, camp-pottery bowl that is home.

My wife is sitting on the porch of our new home waiting, the wife I have lived apart from for almost half a year is waiting to show me all she has suffered through to make the shotgun double we bought at Mardi Gras a familiar home, painted in many of the colors we first chose in Fargo and now furnished with our things. And still I go the long way down Polk and pass through Lakeview, crawling down the bad streets past the hollow cottages of old south end. I turn up Canal and point myself toward home, past the drowned sunken gardens on the neutral ground and toward Cemeteries, toward Toulouse Street and the house where the children will join us in another day and make it home in full.

As I passed the assembled Saints and Angels that stand watch over the tombs of Greenwood and St. Patrick–wondering who watches over Odd Fellows behind its high walls–this came to me: like Jesus on his ass I knew I had reached the end of my road, the Golden Gate; I knew that some great fulfillment was at hand. What now, I asked aloud, starting up through the sun roof at a sky wholly blue and empty, and pitilessly hot? What next?

I have come to the appointed place.