New Orleans, where they’re still very angry

“The past is never dead. It’s not even past."

Forgive me this Faulkner quote that’s used every time someone wants to sound profound about the South. It’s just that I found it particularly appropriate as I toured the t-shirt shops of New Orleans.

 Nola 011

Nola 018 

\Nola 013Nola 019Nola 014


Heckuva job, Brownie!


You must read this!

My friend Karen (Queen of All Media) Gadbois tells a fine story and amazingly well in this posting from Squandered Heritage called The House on New Orleans Street

For about the past month I have obsessed and worried and wondered about the house on New Orleans Street.

From the outside it is a perfect rendition of the vernacular song of a Corner Store. The tension between the overhang and the house made you wonder if the awning was pulling at the house and telling it that it was time to come down, or was the house letting the awning just have a little break from the decades of work it had done providing shade.

Lionel told me that they used to have beaucoup candy in that store, but I think that candy existed in his imagination of what the store should have had, or could have had. The kind of stuff you want it to have if you are 8 years old and you live across the street.

It just gets better and it includes pictures of the house and Lionel.

Karen, if I didn’t like you so much I’d hate you!

Three years ago today

man, i was hoping these posts would never be timely again:

Sep 01, 2005
Notes From The Road

Here I sit on the Blvd. St. Germain, in the shadow of some minor church that looks to have been already old when St. Joan was a schoolgirl. From a radio somewhere Curtis Mayfield is singing “Superfly” – bless the French, they may like J. Lewis, but they like the good stuff as well. I have just finished a fine omelette with tomatoes, onions and gruyere at a brassiere that is wonderfully indistinguishable from a dozen others. In front of me a grand parade of great Gallic noses ranging from large to magnificent pass by. The cliche is that the eye is the window to the soul but it is the nose that tells you if the soul is interesting enough to bother peeping into. If the French are looking down their noses at the rest of us, who can blame them? They are just enjoying the view.

I have no idea where the French got the reputation as being rude to travellers. I find them wonderful. And that is not just because I am from Boston, a city that really can not cast the first stone when it comes to being rude to others. The only trouble I have ever had was on my last trip here when I ran into a very rude person at the Tourism office. That was more than made up for this time by the man at the tourist office who helped us find a toy store that sold tanks and made Collateral Damage Jr. very happy. <BTW, French keyboards are laid out differently and don’t have apostrophes, so I am not totally to blame for my poor spelling this time.>

Looting in New Orleans? Isn’t that redundant?  Given the corruption of that city’s government in general and the police department in particular I cant help but think the citizens view this as though they are finally getting their cut.

What is truly appalling in the wake of Katrina is how badly the relief and rescue efforts have been bungled. It’s not like they didn’t know this was coming. Officials have been expecting and planning for this disaster practically since the French <AH HA!> settled the damn city. Even so all the government agencies appear too have been caught flat footed: This should deservedly cost a lot of politicians and bureaucrats their jobs

Sept. 02, 2005
More notes from the road

I am writing this from an internet cafe across from the Lycee Charlemagne – given the age of the students I would say roughly high school. It is oddly relieving to note that French teenagers look every bit as stupid with a cigarette as American teens do. I have just stumbled across a wonderful English bookstore on rue Saint Paul called The Red Wheelbarrow (after the poem by William Carlos Williams). I had a fine conversation with the owner, whose name I didn’t get (bad jounalist bad! No croissant for you!). She, who has my dream job, is from New York and went to school in Boston. I am (now) from Boston and went to school in New York. Those fine coincidences make the day.

We talked about how difficult it is to be in the midst of current events – both the aftermath of Katrina in the States and the two horrible fires that have killed so many families here in Paris – and at the same time remembering to cherish our blessings and good fortune.

It is a strange thing being so far away from the states when a disaster hits. It’s not as though being in Boston would put me closer in any real sense to Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana, but still I have the feeling I should be home – plugged into my communication network and therefore being responsible, not frittering my time away on something as frivolous as vacation. Call it vacationer’s guilt.

In watching the president on CNN and the BBC, I am struck by how much this disaster needs and doesn’t have a Giuliani. If not a hero, then at least grown up who is willing to say honestly how bad things are and what they do or don’t know. That gave Rudy a credibility so we trusted him when he said things will get better. Never mind getting the Ex-Presidents involved in this, maybe the current president should see what Mr. G is up to.

Watching the coverage of all this on those two TV networks, their reports are so at odds with what the people at FEMA and elsewhere in the government are saying that I am forced to conclude that either the press has grossly overplayed how bad things are or that the government is more concerned with spin than facts – sadly, either is a real possibility.

What is certain, and what we are just beginning to hear about, is that the defense of “no one could have predicted this” is absurd. The threats to New Orleans have been documented thoroughly. If you doubt this go back and look at coverage at the start of every hurricane season. The “what will happen if New Orleans gets it” story is written and re-written every year.

There is a huge difference between how the Beeb and CNN are covering Katrina. Both because the Brits seem to feel that there is still other news going on in the world as well – the deaths by stampede in Iraq, the anniversary of the massacre at the school in Beslan in Russia, typhoons hitting both Taiwan and mainland China – and because the BBC people are much more comfortable asking people, officials and people on the street, difficult questions. At CNN, they appear much more concerned with being liked, with letting the viewers know that CNN feels the same things the viewers do. It is the difference between an having an avocation and building a brand. CNN has put a heavy emphasis on heartwarming and funny stories of survival. Last night’s interview with the two ex-prez was one soft ball question after another. The only thing more appalling was what I saw of Diane Sawyer’s interview with the current president. I assume the president is upset by the devastation, so stop asking him about that. Facts, please.

Two predictions:

1. If, in fact, the word refugees is accurate and sticks around, there will be hell to pay from the American public. Refugees happen in other countries, not the US.
2. Louisiana, being Louisiana, there is a story of corruption and malfesance at the heart of this disaster that will boggle the mind.

Some people are paid to be journalists and some people just are journalists

My old bowling buddy Karen Gadbois is featured in a glowing article in the NYT today. Amid Ruined New Orleans Neighborhoods, a Gadfly Buzzes. (Don’t be put off by the uber scary picture of her. If you know her you know that she’s about to start grinning like a fool.)

Karen lives in New Orleans and writes the truly excellent blog Squandered Heritage. What she does is listen to words of various pols and bureaucrats about what they say is being done to repair New Orleans and then goes to look and see if it is actually being done. Then she writes up any differences between promise and reality.

It has set off a bomb that has exploded in slow motion here in the past three weeks, largely thanks to Ms. Gadbois: the federally financed program to gut and repair the storm-damaged homes of the poor and elderly, on which the city spent $1.8 million, has been exposed as — at least partly — a sham.

That’s journalism. It reminds me of the great I.F. Stone who covered Congress by staying away from Washington as much as possible. He read transcripts of committee meetings and the fine print of legislation and budgets and found the facts there.

Back in the age of mastodons, Karen and I worked together at a bar called Leo’s. She was a waitress and I was an incredibly surly bartender. She was and is an artist and I was about to re-enter journalism after taking a year off to write a widely unpublished novel. Since then I’ve spent a couple of decades getting paid to be a journalist. I do not knock my own accomplishments when I say I wish I had accomplished half of what she has accomplished with her blog.


Louisiana won’t name its poison: Nixes official state cocktail

State senators were concerned that naming The Sazerac (invented in New Orleans: whiskey, sugar, bitters and absinthe. Sugar AND bitters?) the state’s official drink would “send the wrong message” about the state.

To which I can only ask, “Have they ever been to Louisiana?”

Isn’t that the basis of most of its tourism?

Story quotes a great exchange between the bill’s author, Sen. Ed Murray and Sen. Buddy Shaw:

“Is there a possibility that we could be encouraging folks, who were not intending to drink, that it would be acceptable and they could become an alcoholic?” Shaw asked.

“No,” Murray replied.

Two points for Sen. Murray.

I’ll believe it as soon as Michael Chertoff moves in to the Ninth Ward

I think we’re in good shape. There’s no question in my mind, we’re ready.” — ” Don Powell, the Bush administration’s coordinator of Gulf Coast rebuilding, on New Orleans’ levee system.

Ernie K-Doe for PRESIDENT!!

EKDThose of you with a lot stored in your musical memory banks will doubtless remember Mr. K-Doe as a great New Orleans R&B singer whose biggest hit was 1961's "Mother-in-Law." You will be glad to know that Mr. K-Doe has now embarked on a second career and is running for mayor of The Crescent City despite the not-inconsiderable drawback of having died five years ago. His hat was tossed into the ring last Saturday by his widow, Antointette K-Doe. According to Reuters, Mrs. K-Doe announced at a rally outside the Mother-in-Law Lounge, the nightclub that bears the name of K-Doe's biggest hit song: "He's the only one qualified — that's my opinion. He gets the job done. The guy has soul."

Although a spokesman for incumbent Mayor Ray Nagin blasted Mrs K-Doe's assertion, representatives for the Almighty would not confirm or deny the existence of Mr. K-Doe's soul.

Further quothing Reuters:

The campaign is vintage K-Doe, the self-proclaimed "Emperor of the World" who died in July 2001 at 65 after a colourful music career. His campaign T-shirts feature him grinning with his trademark long hair cascading over his shoulders, decked out as Uncle Sam. "Vote K-Doe Vote," they blare.

kinky!One thing working in Mr. K-Doe's favor is New Orlean's long tradition of high voter turnout among his natural constituency: the dead. Should Mr. K-Doe get elected this could bode well for fellow Gulf Coast musician/politico Kinky Friedman who, although alive, is running for governor of Texas under the platform of Why The Hell Not? And who are we to argue with that?

This seems to be quite the year for election slogans. In the current nailbiter over in Italy opponents Silvio Berlusconi (motto: putting the ill in Il Duce) are wearing t-shirts that say: "I'm a coglione." Although I'm pretty sure they say it in Italian. A coglione, as you are doubtless aware, is the Italian word for testicles, bloody idiot, dickhead or moron. (That's according to the Agency France Presse and I'll have to take their word for it. I took two semesters of Italian in college and now can barely pronounce La Cosa Nostra.) The opposition adopted the word after Berlusconi accused any one who opposed him of being a … well, you know. Posters now abound throughout Italy saying: "Better to be a coglione than to vote for Berlusconi."

BTW, Pollsters have declined to say which candidate carried the all important "Former Pope" vote — although their holinesses have endorsed Ernie K-Doe.