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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

New Orleans, No Reservations

Up above is the immersive quality of the Katrina exhibit in Jackson Square, French Quarter, New Orleans. It's a room where you sit, immersed, in the sounds and 3 screens of the hurricane. The center screen was showing the graphic of the weather map, the left and right the whipping wind of the pre-storm siren. They say it wasn't the hurricane that caused the problem - it was poorly built levees.

And then Lucas and me, flying solo late night (7:45pm), Bourbon Street style. Big tall drinks named the 'hand grenade', & the 'hurricane'. Loud, boisterous, with competing wedding bands sounding from all open air establishments.

Our favorite breakfast joint - Camilla's - on the corner of Chatres and something or another. It's one of things that has rubbed off on Lisa - I'm a man of habit, and I like sticking with something I like, so we ended up eating here like 5 times for breakfast. The guys behind the counter really got a kick out of us for some reason (lisa said it was because I wore tube socks with my plaid shorts and sneakers). (Check out the tattooed chick in the fore - the young woman who made my 11am tall boy pina colada actually had a note on her tip jar - "Tattoo fund". She looked like a lot of fun).

The 10th Street Bridge in the early morning fog.

And Lisa coolin' it after Lucas retired for the evening. We had a great room, actually 2 rooms - actually, with the living room, bedroom, and two nice baths, it was actually 4 rooms. The windows looked out over the French Quarter and we couldn't get that fan to stop spinning for the first 3 days.

The thing that makes New Orleans appealing is it seems to be a layered city that no matter how well you know it, it is waiting to revel more. The courtyards and alley ways just one example of the things you don't see from the regular street walking.

Oh boy, the Roosevelt. What a hotel. Just across the street from us, it was old school perfect having seen it's heyday in the 20's, 30's and 40's, and 50's, falling into disrepair, having it's name changed, being damaged and flooded and then having a $170m post-Katrina spruce up back to it's perfect period self. They say Huey Long, the long time govner of Louisiana used the Hotel for a lot of his romps and escapades in the day. If you looked hard enough, you could see the Flappers flirting with the jazz boys.

Here's Lucas feelin' it, communicating with his dinosaurs about life's trials and tribulations, and how you have to stay strong and see it through and not let rejection get you down.

One of the lobby at the Pere Marquette on Commons Street. They did a good job.

I was pretty active - I mean I run 3 businesses and raise a family and have a bunch of employees so I stay pretty busy most times - so on vacation I'm a pretty active guy. We went to the zoo, the aquarium, the insectaturium, the IMAX, did a river boat trip, walked liked 40 miles through the city when you added it all up and I rented a bicycle for 3 days so I could cover some ground while the troops napped and leisured away the afternoon.

The below pictured shack pretty much sums up New Orleans with the mangy short legged dog out front.
And this is the damn draw bridge that started going up while I was frickin' on it. "Tourist crushed by draw bridge' headline has run through my mind ever since. This bridge bridged the canal that ruptured and overflow first during Katrina, and on the other side, the 9th ward and beyond, were stories after story, being narrated less by words than by structures and visuals.

So I'm cruising along on my bike which I rented at 'rentthisbike', checking my bike out at the same time that Beyonce's sister was checking out her rental bike (lisa still doesn't believe me even though I double dog swore it true). It was a non-descript 3 speed with a seat too small for my ass but it was fine until it blew a tire 6 miles from town, in the heart of the seedy 9th ward with empty houses and the levee just a stone's throw away.

So for some dumb reason I get a flat right in front of Roy and Shannon who were fixing up Roy's mom's house that was damaged in the hurricane 6 yrs ago - so they were super nice and Shannon actually had a tire pump that plugged into the lighter of his jalopy pickup. So he got the pump out, and filled an empty bottle of gatorade with soapy water to help me find the leak - which I found when the bubbly water squirted me in the eye.

And here is where it get interesting...

So I'm riding my sissy bike around in a pretty deserted 9th Ward, with lot of abandoned homes around and not much activity when i spring a flat. So I'm farting around the plug-in, loud miniature air pump this guy Shannon carries around. he carries it around because he says after Katrina there was so much shit and broken bottles and nails etc... that he kept getting flat tires. Like I said, he's in the hood because he's helping Roy fix up his Mother's double shotgun style house, to the left in the above photo - it's the same house Roy grew up in.

I guess the loud tire pump contraption that plugs into the cigarette lighter (lucky he didn't have a new car) caught the attention of the owner of the shotgun cottage on the right - so this young hip guy with a teeny baby pokes his head out and asks if I need a bike pump, which I do, which he has. We talk and turns out he and his wife bought a ramshackle flooded double shotgun cottage on the right, renovated it, and now live there full-time - interesting since it's a bit isolated - definitely houses around, but not a lot of people or cars. I peeked inside when he left the door open to get the pump and it was pretty macked out.

Roy, below, was a pretty big talker in a slow big easy way, and he starts going on about the neighborhood, Katrina, his Ma, etc... I'm not a big small talk guy, but I got an hour + to kill until my replacement bike arrives, so we shoot the shit a bit. So his Mom got flooded, moved out 6 years ago. Received a lot of aid, had good insurance and hired her son to fix up the house - she came out $120k ahead, money in her pocket, post-flood.

Roy's house down the road was flooded as well, and on top of that an oil company's inland oil tank had tipped over during the storm contaminating like a sq mile or more, and Roy's house was in this contamination zone. He had flood insurance, there were gov't grants, and the oil company made some contributions due to their negligence. He retired from the glazier company he worked at and now travels the country in a camper going to destinations like Yosemite and Yellowstone and the Blue Ridge Mountains. It's not like he and his Mother are now rich - they just were always poor before and now they have a $100k or 2. That goes a long way when your house was paid off 30 years ago and you like living in a camper half the year.

The below picture are the cabinets that his Dad made back in the day. I didn't realize it but the lower 9th Ward where I know was stranded was, back in the days before Katrina, the most dangerous area in a violent city.

and then you have the attics where so many residents fled to as the water was rising. Living in the attic, then cutting a hole in the roof if you had something to cut with. Otherwise, it's like the book I'm reading currently - "1 Dead in the Attic'. You can kind of get a feeling of the terror of rising water and high winds by looking at this attic.

Then off the new modern homes sprinkling the landscape (I can't use the word 'sprinkles', or any derivative thereof without thinking of my wife's mom, who drinks a fresca and vodka mix she calls a "Sprinkler".

I got it wrong on the previous post - it's not the 'hope' homes - they are part of a project named "Make it Right" - and they intend to build 150 of these modern flights of fancy.

I had never been to New Orleans before so I couldn't quite place what was wrong with this place until I realized that all the trees were missing. The New Orleans used to be a place of trees, and they are gone so the landscape has a real feeling of barren-ness. Over on this side of the St. Claude's Avenue, a lot of the ruined houses have been bulldozed over which may have eliminated the abandoned cottage look, but inspired a sort of barren wasteland look.

Life goes on...
Back in the French Quarter, some 1800's architecture. Between riding my bike and walking, I literally - no exaggeration - visited every single street in the French Quarter - I noted a lot of "Oriental Spas" tucked away on the side avenues.

Most alleyways and courtyards were protected not just with gates, but sharp pickets and barbed wire, probably to keep the rowdies of Bourbon Street out.

It won't be supereasy to encapsulate this southern sojourn of ours to New Orleans (I'm now a big fan of WWOZ, an New Orleans public radio station). The pictures do the heavy lifting but the narrative has been craftily meandering through my mind, like the Mississippi around the Crescent City of New Orleans, named for the sharp half moon twist of the river around the city.

Nawlins has dealt Lisa Lucas and I a fairly fabulous hand of easy travel.

Having spent the last few years scratching an archived itch to tour the South, we've since seen Key West, Charleston, Virginia, Beaufort, Augusta and Atlanta. Now a real fundamental city of the South, New Orleans.

A few adjectives quickly come to mind as I sit in the fabulous 1920's bar of the Roosevelt. Seriously, this bar is upscale old school, and I'm diggin it bigtime - New Orleans is busy, both touristy busy and from the river barges and freight trains crowing and sailing by; historic, with period architecture everywhere - French, Spanish, American, Creole, Vietnamese; struggling, or perhaps it always has been, since struggle promotes art and New Orleans is art; bohemic, with dirty poor good looking street singers and musicians; loud; quiet; flooded; rebuilt. In sum, extravagant, in a very non-bourgeois, courtney love kind of way.

Heard a woman to her her 11 yr old son, on the corner of Chatres and Ann - "If ya don't behave, I'ma gonna beat ja like ja stole sompen'" I loved that - like preventing stealing something is the first defense in the quixotic urban motherhood quest.

Not to digress, but one of our successes at Catskill Farms is our ability to create architecture that - for lack of a better word - emotes. Our new homes, or our renovations, speak, sweat and give back an emotion.

For me, architecture and neighborhoods of history, old libraries, poor working class neighborhoods, and jazz era bars do it for me - I feel them. They - through walking or biking osmosis - teach and inform me. That's architecture.
I'm sure modern architecture, clean lines and museums do it for some, but for me - if I indulge the abefore-mentioned - I come out with a refreshed sense of color, depth and appreciation. That's architecture.

Sitting in the Sazerac, the Roosevelt Bar off Canal, the perfect 1920's hotel, - the Roosevelt, sparkling after a $170m renovation, post-katrina. It was long gone before Katrina, but I guess the storm reduced it's long gloried history to a cheap enough price where the Waldorf Astoria got interested and the rest is history - and a celebration of history - they say Huey Long the long time govner loved the place (and his pretty mistress) enough to fund and build a very nice highway from the capital Baton Rouge straight to New Orleans.

The Martini before that was swallowed whole at the Napoleon house, a 1792 structure built as a wet dream refuge for Napoleon during exile (he never made it there ) - right before that I was at a park along the River along the French Quarter, letting Lucas run wild;

...after picking up a big bag of clothes for Lisa from Anthropology; after going to the Insectaturium (note no pics, due to memory card left at Hotel), where beetles, bugs, roaches and butterflies enthralled us for 50 minutes; after Lisa took the trolley to Whole Foods up by Tulane. I rented a bike where the levee broke.

There's Lucas in the Park with a Saxophone and some homeless guys. You got to be careful in New Orleans cause it's the type of city where people don't clean up after their dogs. He could easily come back with a big turd in his hand. It's the kind of city where men, in broad daylight, explicitly describe what they would sexually do to a passing woman.

And brunch off of Magazine Street...

...and a Harley convention at the Spanish Inn.

The old-time St. Charles Street trolley....

Lucas, Lisa (far corner) and I out on Bourbon Street late night (7:30) (yes, I know I've used that lame joke before - but it's a good one I think ).

The Penquin skeleton.

And above, what I pictured my office like in my absence.


  1. Loved reading about Nawlins and looking at the pics of the small shotgun homes. Never been there, hope to one day. So fun to read your blog!