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Let It May 11, 2013

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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Having established a stable orbit and allowing for the radio delay from Saturn, we resume our old habit of Radio Free Toulouse Street.

It hardly rains in Eureka, California February 25, 2013

Posted by The Typist in Bayou St. John, Crow, cryptical envelopment, Fortin Street, Louisiana, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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Certainly it’s rainy west of the Cascades: Oregon, Washington, Northern California; all those dreary grey days, redwoods and ferns, heroin and grunge. Portland and Seattle are the sentimental favorites. Along the Hurricane Coast it rains buckets, pissing pythons my girlfriend’s text message said the other night. It’s February 24th and we have had twenty cloudy days and thirteen of rain, including Mardi Gras Day. January we had twenty-six cloudy days, thirteen of rain. December: twenty cloudy days and eleven of rain. You get the idea. A rain of frogs would be an interesting relief.

Winter here makes you long for summer when the unrelenting heat and humidity are relieved by the afternoon monsoons, the fairly regular afternoon thunderstorms, watching the inbound cumulonimbus crowning over the coastal wetlands and the lake, the dense tropical splendor of the cooling downdrafts and downpours. One night not long after the flood I was stopped on a dark Marconi Avenue (the lights not yet restored) by a parade of ducks crossing the road to see what the raucous chorus of frogs were singing about in the small wetland that lies between the road and the levee. I rolled down the window and stopped the engine in the middle of the then-deserted road and simply listened in the cool aftermath, watched the egrets high-stepping through this cypress-studded niche eco-system.

The black sky is just turning gray as I write this but I can already hear the crows calling the laggards over the breakfast at the racetrack stables. When it’s this wet the seagulls will be with them, and I can stand just inside my door with a cigarette and watch their chessboard battle over the soggy infield and the best bits left by the horses. If I were a true naturalist masochist I could grab my hurricane slicker and an umbrella and walk the blocks to the park and watch the pelicans over the bayou but I have an inexplicable love of crows, love to watch the stark battle of black versus white against the gray sky. I don’t understand the attraction for the seagulls with the bayou a half-dozen blocks over. I understand the attraction to me, to stand with the heat of the house pouring out behind me just under shelter from the next downpour watching the crows loud party. We are rather fond of large and animated dinners down here.

Rain Street October 13, 2009

Posted by The Typist in Flood, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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The first rule of driving in the rain, I taught my daughter, is never trust a puddle you don’t know. On the pothole-pocked topography of New Orleans’ streets, crevassed and treacherous as a summer glacier, that sheen of water may hide one of the tire swallowers, one of the axle breakers.

My children grew up in a dry climate, the upper plains of the Midwest, where ten inches might fall in a good year and half that as snow. Here we have built pumps to move an inch of rain the first hour and a half-inch an hour after that, and still its floods. And when the streets run like streams the gaping craters fill with water and look like simple puddles, suitable for innocent stomping and splashing. Drive through the wrong one and you will find yourself waiting in the rain for a tow truck, your car aft end in the air like a sinking ship.

The last few weeks we have all been relieved that the hurricane season is evaporating into nothing but at the same time we have suffered through unseasonable heat waves, angry Comanche Indian Summer days of 104 degree heat indexes. The only relief has come from brief “cold” fronts that bring brief relief (my God, it’s 68 this morning!) but also monsoon volume rains, pouring for hours without interruption, the kind that floods and laps at the steps of houses (or worse, creeps into what we call “basements” down here) and sends everyone scurrying to move their cars to the neutral ground. No mater how capacious the pumps we build or how often we clean our storm drains of debris, we cannot escape the fact that much of the city is reclaimed marsh and sits at least a few inches if not a few feet below sea level.

(If anyone suggests the entire city is 10 or 15 feet below sea level, offer to take them out and show them the spot where that is true. Then push them down the bank into the bottom of the drainage canal. I have maps saved somewhere of these spots. I’ll come and help.)

Here on Toulouse Street we are at the intersection of a high point of the Metairie ridge and the end of the railroad bed that paralleled the old Carondelet Canal. Our streets are clear and glistening black with the rain, full of leaves and magnolia cones but free of running water outside of the gutters; not so our surrounding neighborhood. My sister was coming home the other night and could not get into her building (itself on the edge of Bayou St. John at Esplanade Avenue but not quite on the Esplanade Ridge. She tried to find a path along the bayou ridge that would lead us to our house or her son’s in the same general neighborhood but the streets were impassible.

Last week I dropped by daughter’s car at a neighborhood garage and walked back in the steady rain and stopped to marvel at a tiny urban wetland on Hennessey Street, a long narrow lagoon at one edge of the street edged with tall cattails and other water plants that must have migrated to this comfortable spot from the park a few blocks away. I expected to see ducks paddling out of the cover at any moment.

I still marvel at the rain here, especially after decades spent first on the East Coast during a long drought, and then on the edge of the land once called the Great American Desert, the High Plains that run from Texas and surrounding states straight up to the Dakotas. Now that I am back on the hurricane coast it seems Odd to me that in a place where the gray loads of rain roll in from the Gulf as regular as trains and discharge their wet cargo that there is no Rain Street, no Thunder Road or Cloud Boulevard to intersect with Flood Street.

After our long monsoon the ground is saturated and any rain will run into the streets and down to the canals, and if the canals fill and the pumps won’t keep up into cars and houses. I wonder at the ground beneath, so full of water. When I was a boy my father and his handy man built a fence. On the second set of a post hole digger they would hit water, a little dark mirror at the bottom of the black and gray tunnel. Into this they set four-by-four pieces of cypress. Those posts of wood from the tree that grows submerged in the swamps here rotted away by the time I was grown.

After the flood that followed Katrina water stood waist or head high over the streets for weeks and the ground turned to something not quite solid. Hidden beneath the waters the complex matrix of wires and pipes that make a city possible began to shift and collapse, the old iron main lines surrendering to rust. Now some fantastic fraction–a third or more–of the city’s purified water vanishes into the ground every day. And so the ground grows more waterlogged.

I remember the Loma Prieta earthquake, when the shaking turned the Marina District ground to liquid and a neighborhood found itself afloat on its footings and the buildings came crashing down. Here the ground is never dry or still, the entire city sliding in a slow tremor-less movement down into the sea. There is no rattling of dishes or shattering of windows, just the slow breakup of the blacktop like the crust of moving lava, the brightly mortared zigzags in the sides of old masonry buildings held together with metal rods, the wheel and ankle gobbling sink holes that appear overnight.

There is one of these holes just up from my house, where a divot of the lawn at the curb has collapsed into a hole that vanishes under the street. Neighbors steal traffic cones and stick them in the hole but over time they just vanish, as if something down at the bottom resented the interference. Whatever it is, perhaps its hopes to eat what it catches like a trap door spider.

There are several tremendous ones at the edge of downtown that I routinely step around going into and out of work, one a tiny hole the diameter of a water meter cover opening into a much larger cavity, another mysterious worm hole in the street at the corner of O’Keefe and Union that vanishes under the sidewalk like the one by my house. I step gingerly around these when I pass, never knowing when the unsupported concrete will suddenly give way. Today the pothole killer, the truck with the elephantine trunk that vomits tar and rocks into the potholes must have come and filled in the one on Union, but I know it will be back. They always come back. As persistent as guerrillas the water is slowly winning.

And now it is raining again. I warned my daughter by phone not to run off across town after school for fear she might not be able to get back or worse drive into an underpass with water as high as her car roof. A half dozen cars did that at Carrollton and I-10, and I now the other best route along Jeff Davis will fill with great sheets of water where the Palmetto Canal crosses. When the streets start to fill there’s no good way through the center of town, the old swamp where the ridges where we live and the high ground along the river once drained.

As I pull the garbage can out in the unremitting drizzle and listen to the water chuckling down the gutter I think again about Rain Street, and realize why there is none here. In New Orleans, some days every street is Rain Street, when the water comes in sheets from the sky and overflows the roads. I’m just glad I don’t live on Flood.

No flurries, mate May 5, 2007

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, Flood, flooding, New Orleans, NOLA, Odds&Sods, Toulouse Street.
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While I’ve left behind the land of the blizzard (and my least favorite weather phenomena, snirt), I have to remember how to live in the land of flood.

After wading out of Fort Apache the Bank through calf-deep water, it was smooth sailing home down Orleans Avenue as I circled around the gaping manholes which had blown their covers in the peak of the storm. (Hint: when enough water come out of the main storm drains to blow off the man hole covers, it’s probably too late to move your car to the neutral ground).

Some parts of New Orleans got more rain this afternoon than parts of North Dakota get in a year. The reward for such weather (although its not a requirement) is The Golden Light, that peculiar illumination at sunset that turns the entire world into a transcendent landscape painting by Rembrandt . I don’t think I ever saw this particular quality of light anywhere else in my twenty years away.

Googling golden light turns up attempts by painters and photographers to capture it, but it is for me an indelible New Orleans experience; like Noah’s promise it is a heavenly reminder that after the storm one can walk down a tree shaded by oaks and studded with flowering trees for a drink and dinner, music after.

So, no flurries, mate. Toss a couple of Barbies on the grill and hand me another oil can Foster’s Ale. After the flood, it’s a glorious Friday dusk on Toulouse Street.