jump to navigation

Bastille Day July 12, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
Tags: , , , ,
5 comments

La Marsellaise is such a lovely song.

Aux armes, citoyens ! To arms, citizens!
Formez vos bataillons ! Form your battalions!
Marchons, marchons ! Let’s march, let’s march!
Qu’un sang impur May a tainted blood
Abreuve nos sillons ! Soak our furrows!
Aux armes, citoyens ! To arms, citizens!
Formons nos bataillons ! Let us form our battalions!
Marchons, marchons ! Let us march, let us march!
Qu’un sang impur May their tainted blood
Abreuve nos sillons ! Soak our furrows!

How would you say in French: We will armor the levees with their skulls?

Advertisements

And Because It Is My Heart May 29, 2008

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

In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said: “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter-bitter,” he answered;
“But I like it
Because it is bitter,
And because it is my heart.”

— Stephen Crane

It is not the date itself, the largely symbolic start of hurricane season; the idea that the winds have changed after June 1, that somewhere between North Africa and the convergence zone in the North Atlantic something ominous begins to turn. It is the compulsion of the media at this cusp to flood us with stories like this one from National Public Radio, the tale of a a hardworking family (he in security at a local casino, she a waitress as Waffle House) living with five children in two motel rooms. In less than a week, on June 5, they will find themselves homeless, more than 1,000 days after Katrina struck the richest nation in America.

Steve and Lindsay Huckabee and their five children lost their home when the storm itself swept across the Mississippi Gulf Coast and reduced it to its natural state, a flat expanse of scrub-tree sand looking out on the Mississippi sound. They were driven out of their FEMA-supplied trailer by the formaldehyde which made their children sick. On June 5, FEMA will stop paying for their two motel rooms. There are no places for them to rent suitable for their family. Rents have doubled. They don’t know when they might get a Katrina Cottage, 300 square feet of formaldehyde-free manufactured home to put on their vacant lot.

“It’s not just the people who are on welfare and getting food stamps … it touches every class of person,” she says. “It’s not that easy. It’s not limited to just the super poor people who can’t find a place to live. It’s everybody, pretty much.”

Developers are rebuilding high-dollar homes and condos, but Huckabee says average Mississippi residents can’t afford to live in them.

Glad to see that Mississippi is doing a so much better job than poor, benighted and corrupt Louisiana. The link back to Wet Bank Guide is from September, 2006. So long ago and so little changed. And then we have to reconcile this sort of Pravda/Isvestia happy talk nonsense from USA Today with stories like this by the Washington Post. The only sure truth is that we are lied to.

If you wonder why I would write something as bitter as my post from last Memorial Day, why I consider the United States of America a failed state with which I feel no bond other than the chains they have laid around our necks like those placed around the ghost Marley, consider the season: it is time to be reminded again and again by the professional doom criers how we have been failed and forgotten, treated like some inconvenient third-world ally whose usefulness is passed. The central government have their oil and the port open. They don’t need us.

I am so dumb-struck this morning after hearing that story, sitting in my car with a bitter cigarette in the parking lot waiting for the piece to end with some glimmer of hope, of a happy ending, that I have a hard time finding words that are not sour in my mouth. So instead I go back a year and a half to a Wet Bank Guide post called “How Long, Lord?”, a question that bears repeating.

For how many will it be the last bitter insult in a long train since Federal levees failed us and our city was flooded? I have to wonder if here in the New South, people still take counsel from Psalms, or are we become just another part of a society that taps its foot impatiently to wait for a hamburger or a cup of coffee at the fast food restaurant. Are we ready for this marathon? I recall from my trip down from North Dakota that as close as Jackson, Mississippi the big and little box national retailers gleam clean in the morning sun along a ribbon of interstate highway, calling to people living in small trailers in ruined neighborhoods. How much longer will they resist that call from other cities?

How long, Lord, how long? “. . . Thou feedest them with the bread of tears; and givest them tears to drink in great measure. Thou makest us a strife unto our neighbours: and our enemies laugh among themselves . . .” the Psalmist laments in number 80. Unlike the children of Israel, release for the [returnees to the hurricane coast] is as close as the nearest tank of gas and entrance to the interstate. A conversation with a friend a few weeks back, a couple that came home early and rebuilt and who threw themselves into the endless parade of rebuilding meetings, turned to him talking wistfully of what life would be like in Memphis, and I wonder, how long?

Much comes down to what we can accomplish on our own. The question I have asked here again and again, is this: are we still the nation that weathered the great depression, or who turned back the seemingly invincible Japanese advance into the Pacific? Are we the country that, flush with those victories, erected a home for every soldier and the highways that tied them together, the nation that sent men to the moon.

Those who held the reins of power when Katrina wiped the Gulf Coast clean and the Federal levees failed measure greatness by prowess of arms. They were amply rewarded for their failure in Iraq with a serious thrubbing at the polls this past Fall. I think a greater test is whether this nation can rebuild New Orleans and the hurricane coast. As the blogger Ashley likes to remind us all, they rebuilt Hiroshima. For that matter, they also rebuilt post-war Europe, a fact I am reminded of when I think of the European foundation established to repay that largess which is helping to rebuild the gymnasium at my son’s school.

One thousand days and counting: why do we stay, and why do more come home each day? They come and stay because it is home, and because in the civics class, film-strip America we were all raised to believe in the government does not tell you where to live. We will do it alone if we must, Sinn Fein. It may at times be bitter-bitter, but in the end it is our heart.

P.S. Thank you, Tim, our eternal optimist and resident engineer who knows a thing or two about poldars and dikes and such.

The Shepherds and the Wolves April 9, 2008

Posted by The Typist in 504, 8-29, Flood, Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
Tags: , , , , , ,
12 comments

Last night we took a woman and her daughter to dinner at Liuzza’s and to Brocatos, people my wife knew in North Dakota who came here on a Lutheran Church mission to work on homes in St. Bernard Parish for the St. Bernard Project. The church that hosted them was an Evangelical Lutheran Church led by a pastor who himself lived through the disastrous flood of Grand Forks, N.D. and who willingly took on to rebuild a church and congregation here in Lakeview.

What happened here, my wife told her friend, had reaffirmed her faith in organized religion: so many religious volunteers have come and done so much work. I wanted to disagree, but I bit my tongue. It is not organized religion that is rebuilding our community, and most certainly not the church my family professes, the Roman Catholic Church.

My own growing distaste for that institution (not its people, mind you; certainly not all of the clergy) was firmly cemented when It joined the pantheon of clannish hate cults, jumping up to their too-tight clerical collars into the Gays Aren’t People campaign of the last few election cycles. My loathing was made stronger watching the local hierarchy decide without explanation which parishes would live and which would die in the post-Federal Flood city, especially the painful episodes of St. Augustine’s and St. Francis Cabrini. the “cathedral of the lakefront“.

One simple fact to know about The Church, or any church: where parishes returned, congregations followed. Where pulpits were left empty and the churches left filled with the rotting remains of vestments and missals, people were slow to return if they came back at all.

Witness the miraculous recovery of the Vietnamese-American community of New Orleans East, an area like most of those east of the Industrial Canal lade completely to waste. Led by Father Vien Thé Nguyen, Our Lady Queen of Vietnam first sheltered those who stayed for the storm then led the recovery of their community.

Or look at Lakeview. Fr. Paul Watkins, the parochial vicar (associate pastor) of St. Dominic Catholic Church in there , told Brian Denser of WTUL’s Community Gumbo in 2007: “we have spearheaded the recovery…everywhere the priests were allowed to return those neighborhoods have come back. The parishes that were closed…the neighborhoods are all exceptionally grim.”

Now, take a drive in the area around Parish Avenue where Cabrini Church once stood to you can understand what other areas of the city looked like, say, two years ago.

Today the Archdiocese of New Orleans will announce the closure of additional parishes. These are not those drowned by the failure of the federal levees. Take for example Our Lady of Good Counsel on Louisiana Avenue in Uptown new Orleans. Accomplished local novelist (and blogger) Poppy Z. Brite distributed a statement that tells us the story of the church where she was just baptized into the Catholic faith this past Easter:

This 114-year-old church ministers to 450 families, including a large number of elderly and disabled parishioners who do not have the ability to travel to another church. Both OLGC and another historic Uptown church, St. Henry’s (which is 152 years old and ministers to 300 families) are to be closed in April. Our Lady of Good Counsel was one of the first Catholic churches to reopen in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Since then, we have repaired the
minor wind damage we sustained in the storm, doubled the size of our congregation, and made great progress toward paying off our debt to the archdiocese. Our congregation ministers to the local poor through the St. Vincent de Paul Society and other organizations, and we hold a popular St. Joseph’s altar each March 19, where the saint is honored and the public is fed.

Our Lady of Good Counsel is architecturally significant, with a magnificent high altar, remarkable stained glass windows, a working pipe organ, and other details that would make it part of a standard church tour in any European city. Under the archdiocese’s current
ruling, this beautiful and sacred building will be sold off to the highest bidder and could even be torn down. Only in New Orleans do we have so many unseen treasures, and only in New Orleans, it seems, are we so ready to throw them away.

An arch diocese, indeed.

Here is the beautiful building the Archdiocese intends to sell off to the highest bidder. Given the building type , unless another faith’s congregation takes it over it will be demolished. I wish the same fate on those who would demolish this as others wish on the Taliban who demolished the great cliff Buddhas. The two groups differ only in degree, not kind.

In the aftermath of the attempts to destroy the nation’s oldest African-American Catholic congregation and the demolition of Cabrini Church, I’m near speechless. What more can I say about Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes and his arch-henchman Fr. William Maestri? Having dropped the F-bomb more times this week than I have in all the months and years since 8-29, I think this time insteadd I’ll just quote (but not profess) the words of a simple carpenter whose teachings Hughes and Maestri once swore to profess: Forgive them. They know now what they do.

As these new centurions of the Roman Catholic Church draw out the last nail, wagering perhaps over what the auction price will be, it is important we remember this: Our city is being rebuilt by in a very large part by individual volunteers who understand, who have internalized an important part of the message of Jesus: to help the downtrodden, the afflicted and oppressed. They come not at the direction of men with great offices in Rome or opulent television studios in the suburbs of the south. They come because of their personal commitment to live out the charge laid on them twenty centuries ago:

And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.

The Catholic Church, an anchor of this Franco-Iberian founded city, is just another institution that betrays us, just as government–the city, the state, and the central government–have betrayed us. Each of these looked on our suffering and saw an opportunity for profit and advancement. Tomorrow the NOLA Bloggers will bury our good friend Ashley Morris, and we will remember one thing he leaves behind, his own charge to people not his disciples but certainly his comrades: Sinn Fein, Ourselves Alone. The Church’s actions today remind us that the institutions we have trusted are now run not by shepherds but by wolves. We can only save ourselves by our own actions and in spite of them.

Sinn Fein, New Orleans. And thank you, Claudia and all of the volunteers of all faiths (and none) who have come and helped to rebuild our city. May you hold Hughes and Maestri in your prayers and beg for them mercy and forgiveness, for I should give them neither.

Never Let The Fire Go Out April 4, 2008

Posted by The Typist in 504, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
10 comments

Some of us make small marks on paper or simple bits of dark on a light screen. It is not much, these words, but it is something; perhaps to be read by a stranger who discovers a different New Orleans than that gleaned from the television news or some bad film, or by someone who finds a kindred spirit or who discovers in one of us something they did not know about themselves.

Words on the internet are more transient than bar room banter or check-out line chit-chat. In a few years, without some special effort, much of what we all write about New Orleans may be lost forever, stored on some disk or tape for which all of the readers have been lost. Most of us will be happy if we can leave something our children can remember, like the ribbon-tied bundle of letters from my father to my mother from World War II I have stashed away; something they can sometimes touch thoughtfully, can show to their children and say: “this was your grandfather’s; he did this.”

A very few of us rise above that personal level of history, make a larger mark in this life, like elephants passing on the savanna: something monumental moving through the world, a rumbling in the earth and a trumpeting cry, a trail of marks left behind which other men will find in some dim future and say: that is what it was like in that place and time.

Ashley Morris, was one of those few.

There are a scores of us who write passionately about New Orleans. What we do is little enough but it is something. Just to live here in what one wag called Debrisville is more than a little. It takes a commitment most Americans couldn’t begin to muster. The ones who most likely could manage it have all volunteered for Iraq, and we seem to be running out of them.

Above the simple bloggers and patriots of New Orleans like a hierarchy of angels are the people who don’t just live here and count that enough, who not only make the time to write about New Orleans but who do so much beyond, who give so much of their life to the city–Karen Gadois, Ray Shea, and Bart Everson come first to mind from among the ranks of bloggers.

And then there was Ashley.

His was not simply a life ardently dedicated to New Orleans. His life was inseparable from the city whose fleur de lis symbol he had tattooed upon his arm. He was not just spirited in his love of this city, he was in some sense a spirit of this city, a sort of deva or force of nature, the dedication so many people feel for New Orleans concentrated and made incarnate in living flesh.

I think Greg at Suspect Device may have said it best yesterday: “Ashley was fire. Ashley was the furnace where the rage was forged, where the steam pressure built, where raw anger began its conversion to power and motion. He was not a one-sided man, by any stretch of the imagination. He was intolerably funny. Talented. A father. All of that. Not an angry person except when driven to it. I feel tonight as if the fire has gone out and the boilers have begun to cool and the whole beastly thing is slowing to a crawl.”

Ashley burned with an angry flame that made something holy of the word fuck and gave names and faces to a throw away movie line–fuckmook–and made it a part of our everyday vocabulary. . But he also burned with a consuming fire for New Orleans’ food, the high and the low, and the more of it the better; for the New Orleans Saints, heroes and bums, winning or losing; and finally for the musicians of the city. Ashley was the one who stepped up to challenge venerated icons like Habitat for Humanity and Harry Connick, Jr. when it became clear that the “Musicians Village” would not be reserved for musicians.

He certainly lived large. A born raconteur (and don’t we love them more than any other people in North America), we all listened breathlessly to his tale of trying to hunt down Hunter S. Thompson while doped up and hampered by injuries from a motor cycle accident. He loved the aura of people with a bad boy shtick of their own, most of all Warren Zevon. He took a line from Zevon, “Excitable boy, they all said” and made it the signature of his blog.

His energy was borne in part of contradictions. For all of his incendiary bravura, around his three small children he was a model of tenderness and fatherly energy, his fire banked to the glow of a warm hearth on a cold winter’s night or the crackling fun of a fire for roasting wienies and s’mores. He didn’t post pictures of his kids up in his internet persona. They lived in a separate world, carefully guarded and at the same time taken out to experience all of New Orleans they could from the very first. They were , kept away from the man with the burning brand in his hand as they were initiated by him into the ways of the city.

It was the mix that made Ashley the person he was, the person we all loved. His anger, his humor and the palpable aura of love and pride when around his wife and kids: all of these made him more than just an angry, ranting blogger or another fan with his team inked on his arm. He seemed the complete package and then some, an edgy something extra like painted flames on a car visibly built to exceed not just the speed limit but all common sense. He seemed to signify some thing or other we all perhaps felt we lacked because he seemed to have it all going, plus that bit of Thompson-esque crazy most of us don’t dare try. If you know a little of his life story, you know he was not the complete package, that living large was perhaps a compensation for his past, for the demons that likely stalked him right up to his last day in Florida as he tried to put his deceased mother’s affairs in order.

Now is seems the fire is all out and the demons are all fled. Perhaps.

I was not as close to Ashley as some other bloggers became. He was for me one of our crowd, our krewe of bloggers, and I mostly saw him at blogger functions: our parties, the planning meetings leading up to our Rising Tide conferences, times like this. I would run into him on the street, and he would almost always offer me a cigar, and they were always the best damned cigars I ever smoked. But I can’t say we were close. Instead I knew him as I knew so many of the other bloggers through our constant exchange of blog comments and emails, because we talked as constantly as the people of a small farm town.

And so when I woke up this week and wrote a quick blog post to excuse myself from not posting much because my own life seemed to be spiraling out of control. I then opened my email and found out Ashley was dead. I was devastated. It was as if someone had ripped a huge hole in my chest, carving out that piece of ourselves unrelated to circulation that we still call our heart.

I remembered that feeling. The last time I had it was a Monday night in August two-and-a-half years ago when I came home from my son’s football practice to find that my city had not “dodged the bullet” but instead was drowning, that the Big One–the flood we all knew could come–had happened at last. This week I was once again the hollow man. Something was taken from me, a place left empty that I was left to my own devices to fill.

And so I read what all of Ashley’s friends had posted on line. I only left a short comment on Hana’s message on Ashley’s blog telling us the news, and a short post of my own here. The word Fuck in my post that day appears not because I was angry. It was too soon for anger. It was instead an invocation of the spirit that Ashley carried, that Ashley was. It was like Eliot’s final Shantih Shantih Shantih at the end of the bleak “The Wasteland“. It was the yell tens of thousands of southern boys hollored running up hill to their death in battle long ago. Ashley had fallen, and I wanted to pick up his damned flag–the white field with three gold fleur de lis–and carry it charging against all of the fuckmooks of the universe. It was the whispered invocation of the Bone Men, an invitation to Ashley not to leave but to stay and be carried through the city once again.

As the day of the announcement of his death wore on and became the day after, the strange communities we have built for ourselves in this dystopic, postdiluvian world – the NOLA bloggers, Hana’s fellow Roller Girls – rallied to help Ashley’s family. I realized that while Greg Peters had nailed Ashley to the canvas perfectly he had gotten one important part wrong. The fire was not going out. It was spreading like a Pentecost. Like the equally tragic loss of Helen Hill the year before, I know his death will become a galvanizing moment that will ultimately feed the bigger fire of all of the people Ashley represented: the partisans of New Orleans.

That is not to excuse the fuckmook god that would take Ashley from his widow and young children and leave all the in-his-craven-image fuckmooks to live, this callous mechanical universe that randomly takes the best and the innocent and the beautiful and leaves the rest of us with the wreckage, that seems to laugh in its trickster sleeve as it silently mocks us: figure it out. Well, we have figured it out, with Ashley’s help: Sinn Fein, Ourselves Alone. We get it, god. So as Randy Newman, another partisan of New Orleans, once said long ago: “Lord, if you won’t take care of us/Won’t you please, please let us be.”

The world is a smaller and colder place without Ashley Morris. And that’s easy for his friends to say. We are not his family robbed of husband and father. But still I know that Suspect Device got it wrong (for once, Greg: it happens to us all). Ashley’s fire has not gone out. It has moved on. It has spread itself through his friends in their hundreds and will unleash itself first to help Ashley’s family and ultimately to save the city that was as inseparable from his identity as his head was from his body.

We will never let that the fire go out.

  • IMPORTANT UPDATE: Please visit www.RememberAshleyMorris.com and give generously to help his family (he leaves three pre-school children behind). There’s a Pay Pal account so it couldn’t be easier. There’s a direct link to the Pay Pal at right under Ashley’s picture.

Easter Song March 17, 2008

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Ireland, Irish, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
Tags: , , , , , ,
2 comments

Why, someone once asked me, do all holidays seem to have songs except for Easter? (Yes, I’m sure there is a song out there somewhere about the Easter Bunny, but I managed to raise two children without it burrowing permanently into my brain like Frosty the Snowman).

The song below was my answer to that question. Suitably solemn to the tone of the occasion, and for those of us of a certain political and philosophical bent of mind, well you don’t have to worry about Leon Russell’s cryptic warning on Mad Dogs and Englishmen: “don’t get hung up about Easter”.

So, here’s to a happy St. Patrick’s Day to our cousins across the ocean, who have shown us how to be themselves and live well while succeeding in a globalized market economy. Read the linked post. It’s as relevant to New Orleans today as it was two years ago.

Anyway, here are the Chieftans and Sinead O’Conner from The Long Black Veil on “The Foggy Dew”

Sinn Fein, New Orleans.

Sinn Fein, Baby March 14, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Chieftans, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

At this Super Sunday weekend collision of our Irish, Italian and African roots on the streets of this Franco-Hispanic city, our individual identities melding into something greater than it parts, we must remember: All we have is ourselves, and redemption songs.

Sinn Fein, baby.