the gumbo pages

looka, <'lu-k&> dialect, v.
1. The imperative form of the verb "to look", in the spoken vernacular of New Orleans; usually employed when the speaker wishes to call one's attention to something.  

2. --n. Chuck Taggart's weblog, hand-made and updated (almost) daily, focusing on food and drink, music (especially of the roots variety), New Orleans and Louisiana culture, news of the reality-based community, movies, books, sf, public radio, media and culture, travel, Macs, liberal and progressive politics, humor and amusements, reviews, complaints, the author's life and opinions, witty and/or smart-arsed comments and whatever else tickles the author's fancy.

Please feel free to contribute a link if you think I'll find it interesting.   If you don't want to read my opinions, feel free to go elsewhere.

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New Orleans music for disaster relief

Doctors, Professors, Kings and Queens

"Doctors, Professors, Kings and Queens: The Big Ol' Box of New Orleans" is a 4-CD box set celebrating the joy and diversity of the New Orleans music scene, from R&B to jazz to funk to Latin to blues to zydeco to klezmer (!) and more, including a full-size, 80-page book.

Produced, compiled and annotated by Chuck Taggart (hey, that's me!), liner notes by Mary Herczog (author of Frommer's New Orleans) and myself. Now for sale at your favorite independent record stores, or order directly from Shout! Factory Records, where all profits will be donated to New Orleans disaster relief.

The box set was the subject of a 15-minute profile on National Public Radio's "Weekend Edition" on Feb. 6, 2005, and a segment on Wisconsin Public Radio's "To The Best of Our Knowledge" on Apr. 3, 2005. Here are some nice blurbs from the reviews (a tad immodest, I know; I'm not generally one to toot my own horn, but let's face it, I wanna sell some records here.)

*      *      *

"More successfully than any previous compilation, Doctors... captures the sprawling eclecticism, freewheeling fun and constant interplay of tradition and innovation that is at the heart of Crescent City music." -- Keith Spera, New Orleans Times-Picayune.

"... if you DO know someone who's unfortunate enough to have never heard these cuts, press this monumentally adventurous box and its attendant booklet upon them. It's never too late to learn" -- Robert Fontenot, OffBeat magazine, New Orleans

"... the best collection yet of Louisiana music." -- Scott Jordan, The Independent, Lafayette, Louisiana.

"[T]he year's single most awesome package" -- Buddy Blue, San Diego Union-Tribune

"This four-CD box set doesn't miss a Crescent City beat ... For anyone who has enjoyed the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, this is Jazz Fest in a box. ***1/2" -- Dave Hoekstra, Chicago Sun-Times

"... excellently compiled, wonderfully annotated ... New Orleans fans will know much of this by heart, though they may not remember it sounding so good; those who don't know what it's like to miss New Orleans will quickly understand." -- Terry Lawson, Detroit Free Press.

"... a perfect storm when it comes to reissues. This box set is musically exciting, a complete representation of its subject matter, and just plain fun to listen." -- Charlie B. Dahan,

"... one of the best impressions of a city's musical blueprint that you're likely to ever find." -- Zeth Lundy,

"... an unacademic, uncategorized album that suits the city's time-warped party spirit." -- Jon Pareles, The New York Times

A new book featuring the best of food weblogs.

Digital Dish is the first ever compilation volume of the best writing and recipes from food weblogs, and includes essays and recipes contributed by me. Find out more and place an order!

U.S. orders:
My Photos on Flickr

"To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public."

-- Theodore Roosevelt, 26th President of the United States (1901-1909), speaking in 1918

"There ought to be limits to freedom."

-- George W. Bush, May 21, 1999

"You don't get everything you want. A dictatorship would be a lot easier."

-- George W. Bush, describing what it's like to be governor of Texas, Governing Magazine, July 1998

"If this were a dictatorship, it would be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I'm the dictator."

-- George W. Bush,, December 18, 2000

"A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there's no question about it."

-- George W. Bush, Business Week, July 30, 2001

Looka! Archive
(99 and 44/100% link rot)

September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
February 2005
January 2005

2004:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

2003:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

2002:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

2001:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

2000:   Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, Jun, Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

1999:   Jul, Aug, Sep, Oct, Nov, Dec.

How to donate to this site:

Your donations help keep this site going. PayPal's the best way -- just click the button below, and thanks!

You can also donate via the Honor System, if you wish (but they deduct a larger fee from your donation and I keep less).

(Also, here's a shameless link to my Amazon Wish List.)

Buy stuff!

You can get Gumbo Pages designs on T-shirts, mugs and mousepads at The Gumbo Pages Swag Shop!

Friends with pages:

mary katherine
michael p.
pat and paul
tracy and david

Talking furniture:

KCSN (Los Angeles)
   Broadcast schedule
   "Down Home" playlist
   Live MP3 audio stream

   Subscribe to the
   "Down Home" weekly
   playlist email service

WWOZ (New Orleans)
   Broadcast schedule
   Live audio stream
   (Comprehensive listings)

Air America Radio
   (Talk radio for the
   rest of us)
Joe Frank
Grateful Dead Radio
   (Streaming complete
KPIG, 107 Oink 5
   (Freedom, CA)
KRVS Radio Acadie
   (Lafayette, LA)
Mike Hodel's "Hour 25"
   (Science fiction radio)
Radio Free New Orleans
Raidió na Gaeltachta
   (Irish language)
RootsWorld's Rootsradio
RTÉ Radio Ceolnet
   (Irish trad. music)
WXDU (Durham, NC)

Cocktail hour:

   The Internet's most comprehensive
   and indispensible database of
   authenticated cocktail recipes,
   ingredients, reseearch and more.
   By Martin Doudoroff & Ted Haigh)

Museum of the American Cocktail
   Founded by Dale DeGroff and many
   other passionate spirits, Jan. 2005.
   Celebrating a true American cultural
   icon: the American Cocktail.

*     *     *
The Sazerac Cocktail
   (The sine qua non of cocktails,
   and the quintessential New Orleans
   cocktail. Learn to make it.)

The Footloose Cocktail
   (An original by Wes;
   "Wonderful!" - Gary Regan.
   "Very elegant, supremely
   sophisticated" - Daniel Reichert.)

The Hoskins Cocktail
   (An original by Chuck;
   "It's nothing short of a
   masterpiece." - Gary Regan)

Chuck & Wes' Cocktail Menu
   (A few things we like to
   drink at home, plus a couple
   we don't, just for fun.)

*     *     *

The Alchemist
   (Paul Harrington)

Alcohol (and how to mix it)
   (David Wondrich)

Ardent Spirits
   (Gary & Mardee Regan)

The Cocktail Chronicles
   (Paul Clarke's weblog)

The Cocktailian Gazette
   (The monthly newsletter of
   The Museum of the
   American Cocktail.)

DrinkBoy and the
   Community for the
   Cultured Cocktail
   (Robert Hess, et al.)

DrinkBoy's Cocktail Weblog

Happy Hours
   (Beverage industry
   news & insider info)

King Cocktail
   (Dale DeGroff)

La Fée Verte
   (All about absinthe
   from Kallisti et al.)
   (Ladies United for the
   Preservation of
   Endangered Cocktails)

Fine Spirits & Cocktails
   (eGullet's forum)

Martini Republic: Drinks
   (featuring posts by Dr. Cocktail!)

The Modern Mixologist
   (Tony Abou-Ganim)

Mr. Lucky's Cocktails
   (Sando, LaDove,
   Swanky et al.)

Nat Decants
   (Natalie MacLean)

Spirits Review
   (Chris Carlsson)
   (Beverage Tasting
   Institute journal)

Vintage Cocktails
   (Daniel Reichert)

Let's eat!

Food-related weblogs:
Chocolate and Zucchini
Honest Cuisine
Il Forno
KIPlog's FOODblog
Mise en Place
Notes from a New Orleans Foodie
Sauté Wednesday
Simmer Stock
Tasting Menu
Waiter Rant

More food!
à la carte
Chef Talk Café
Food Network
The Global Gourmet
A Muse for Cooks
The Online Chef
Pasta, Risotto & You
Slow Food Int'l. Movement
So. Calif. Farmer's Markets
Zagat Guide

In vino veritas.

The Oxford Companion to Wine
Wally's Wine and Spirits
The Wine House
The Wine Spectator
Wine Today
Zinfandel Advocates & Producers

Wine shops in our 'hood:
Colorado Wine Co., Eagle Rock
Silverlake Wine, Silverlake
Chronicle Wine Cellar, Pasadena

Reading this month:

The Devil You Know, by Poppy Z. Brite.

Microcosmic God: The Complete Stories of Theodore Sturgeon, Vol. 2, by Theodore Sturgeon.

Ken and Thelma, by Joel L. Fletcher.

McSweeney's Enchanted Chamber of Astonishing Stories, edited by Michael Chabon.

Listen to music!

Chuck's current album recommendations

Luka Bloom
La Bottine Souriante
Billy Bragg
Cordelia's Dad
Jay Farrar
The Frames
Sonny Landreth
Los Lobos
Christy Moore
Nickel Creek
The Old 97s
Anders Osborne
The Proclaimers
Professor Longhair
Red Meat
The Red Stick Ramblers
The Reivers
Zachary Richard
Paul Sanchez
Marc Savoy
Son Volt
Richard Thompson
Toasted Heretic
Uncle Tupelo

Tom Morgan's Jazz Roots

Miles of Music

New Orleans

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

No Depression


Appalachian String Band Music Festival - Clifftop, WV

Long Beach Bayou Festival

Strawberry Music Festival - Yosemite, CA


A Gallery for Fine Photography, New Orleans (Joshua Mann Pailet)
American Museum of Photography
California Museum of Photography, Riverside
International Center of Photography

Ansel Adams
Jonathan Fish
Noah Grey
Greg Guirard
Paul F. R. Hamilton
Clarence John Laughlin
Herman Leonard
Howard Roffman
J. T. Seaton
Jerry Uelsmann
Gareth Watkins
Brett Weston

The Mirror Project
(My pics therein: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.)

Chuck's Photo of the Day Archive


The Amazing Adventures of Bill,
by Bill Roundy

Bloom County / Outland / Opus,
by Berkeley Breathed

Bob the Angry Flower,
by Stephen Notley

The Boondocks,
by Aaron McGruder

Calvin and Hobbes,
by Bill Watterson

by Garry B. Trudeau

Electric Sheep Comix
by Patrick Farley

Get Your War On
by David Rees

by Jonathan Rosenberg

L. A. Cucaracha
by Lalo Alcaraz

by Peter Blegvad

Lil' Abner,
by Al Capp

Lulu Eightball,
by Emily Flake

The Mostly Unfabulous Social Life of Ethan Green,
by Eric Orner

by Walt Kelly

Ted Rall,
by Ted Rall

This Modern World,
by Tom Tomorrow

XQUZYPHYR & Overboard,
by August J. Pollak

Lookin' at da TV:

"The West Wing"
"Battlestar Galactica"
"The Sopranos"
"Six Feet Under"
"Malcolm In The Middle"
"Star Trek: Enterprise"
"One Tree Hill"
"Queer Eye for the Straight Guy"
"The Simpsons"
"Father Ted"
The Food Network


Polly Ticks: (Progressive politics & news)
Daily Kos (My favorite political weblog)
Eschaton (The Mighty Atrios)
Hullaballoo (The Mighty Digby)
Media Matters for America (Debunking right-wing media lies)
Orcinus (David Neiwert)
PostSecret (Secrets sent in via postcards; astonishingly beautiful, funny and sad.)
Talking Points Memo (Josh Marshall)
TAPPED (The American Prospect Online)
TruthOut (William Rivers Pitt & Co.)

Borowitz Report
(Political satire)
The Complete Bushisms (quotationable!)
The Fray (Your stories)
Landover Baptist (Better Christians than YOU!)
Maledicta (The International Journal of Verbal Aggression)
The Morning Fix from SF Gate (Opinions, extreme irreverence)
The New York Review of Science Fiction
The Onion (Scarily funny news/satire)
"Rush, Newspeak and Fascism: An exegesis", by David Neiwert. (Read this.) (Not the actual White House, but it should be)

Weblogs I read:

American Leftist
The BradLands
The Carpetbagger Report
Considered Harmful
Creek Running North
Anil Dash
Ethel the Blog
Follow Me Here
Franklin Avenue
Ghost in the Machine
Hit or Miss
The Hoopla 500
Jesus' General
Mark A. R. Kleiman
The Leaky Cauldron
Letting Loose With the Leptard
Little. Yellow. Different.
Making Light
Martini Republic
Mister Pants
More Like This
Mr. Barrett
Neil Gaiman's Journal
News of the Dead
No More Mr. Nice Guy!
August J. Pollak
Q Daily News
Real Live Preacher
Respectful of Otters
Right Hand Thief
Roger "Not That One" Ailes
Ted Rall
Sadly, No!
This Modern World
Whiskey Bar
What's In Rebecca's Pocket?

Matthew's GLB blog portal

L.A. Blogs

My Darlin' New Orleans:

Gambit Weekly


New Orleans ...
proud to blog it home:

Library Chronicles
Metroblogging N.O.
Right Hand Thief

The Final Frontier:

Astronomy Pic of the Day
ISS Alpha News
NASA Human Spaceflight
Spaceflight Now


Locus Magazine Online
SF Site

Made with Macintosh

Hosted by pair Networks

Déanta:  This page is coded by hand, with BBEdit 4.0.1 on an Apple G4 15" PowerBook running MacOS X 10.3 if I'm at home; occasionally with telnet and Pico on a FreeBSD Unix host running tcsh if I'm updating from work. (I never could get used to all those weblogging tools.)

LOOKA! Bia agus deoch, ceol agus craic.

New Orleans News:, WWL, WDSU,
New Orleans Music: WWOZ-in-Exile.

  Thursday, October 27, 2005

Second Line on Sunset.   Tonight is the big fundraiser concert at the House of Blues on the Sunset Strip, billed as "a concert for the musicians of Louisiana and their families." I don't think it's sold out, so if you're in the area and have the time and the dough, show up at 7 and catch this lineup:

The Neville Brothers
The Dirty Dozen Brass Band
Jon Cleary & the Absolute Monster Gentlemen
Walter "Wolfman" Washington
Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews
Kermit Ruffins
Sammie "Big Sam" Williams

... and anyone else who might show up. I think they're touring with this lineup, so keep your eyes open.

Eddie Bo in L.A.   It was a great show last Saturday, albeit a too-short one.

The opening act was brilliant, Lake Charles-born blues singer Mickey Champion, who just tore it up from the stage to the bar and just about everywhere in between. I've gotta go see her gigs at Babe's and Ricky's.

Miss Mickey Champion

The second act was a local funk-jazz band called Orgone, who were pretty good and who ended up backing Eddie later on, but they played too long. Eddie didn't go on until midnight, after we expected him to go on at 10:30, and consequently he only played for about 70 minutes. (Hey, he's old and tires out.)

To look at Eddie Bo you'd never think that he'd just experienced a major loss for the third time. The first was Hurricane Betsy, the second was a fire in 1998 (losing just about everything both timse), and now Katrina, in which he lost his business (the Check Your Bucket Café, which had only been open barely more than two years. His spirits were high, and he played a terrific set of his own material (including his cafés namesake song) and a host of New Orleans classics, from "Big Chief" to songs by the Meters and Fats Domino. I was having too much fun to keep a set list, but I did manage a few pictures:

Eddie Bo at the piano with someone's big head in the way

A smile to light up the night

(Damn, I hope I look that good when I'm 75.)

Me got fire, me can't put it out ...

Mr. Eddie and me

Usually I'm too shy to ask for a picture like the one above, but a girl handed me her camera and asked me to take a picture of her with Mr. Eddie, so I asked her to reciprocate.

He's playing his heart out, and that makes me feel good for him and for New Orleans. We might not see the Check Your Bucket Café again anytime soon (if ever), but we most certainly haven't lost the great Eddie Bo.

Quote of the day.   From Paul Begala, about the Harriet Miers nomination withdrawal and everything else it represents (via dKos):

Mr. Bush would do well to augment his current staff, a C-Team if ever there was one, with some stronger characters. But to read the Bush-Miers correspondence is to gain a disturbing insight into Mr. Bush's personality: he likes having his ass kissed. Ms. Miers' cards and letters to the then-Governor of Texas belong in the Brown-Nosers Hall of Fame. You can be sure the younger and less experienced Bush White House aides are even more obsequious. The last thing this President wants is the first thing he needs: someone to slap his spoiled, pampered, trust-funded, plutocratic, never-worked-a-day-in-his-life cheek and make him face the reality of his foul-ups.

That will, of course, never happen, unless that slap is an impeachment. Even then, he'd undoubtedly continue claiming he's never made a mistake, even as he's run out of town on a rail.

Quote of the day, part deux.   From Mary, who ran into a friend of hers today and shares this anecdote:

"How are you?" I asked.

"Fine," she said. "Just set up a splendid Halloween display on my front porch with one of those giant inflatable spiders with a Bush head affixed to its front. He is spinning a web of lies over my front door. Now I'm too scared to go home."

Boooooooo! It is indeed scary, kids.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Cocktail of the day.   Wes found this one via the Random Recipe Generator on CocktailDB, and we loved it. Hate the name, love the drink.

The Sir Ridgeway Knight Cocktail

3/4 ounce brandy.
3/4 ounce Cointreau.
3/4 ounce yellow Chartreuse.
2 dashes Angostura Bitters.

Shake with ice and strain; no garnish.

I think we'll just call this one the Ridgeway for short.

Photo of the day.   Yeah, I know sunsets are easy, but the timing was right for this one. This was taken right after my arrival in New Orleans post-Katrina; I drove up to my uncle's house on the North Shore to meet my folks. He lives about 50 feet from the lake, and I caught this as his young neighbor walked by along the seawall with her dog.

Girl at Sunset, Lake Pontchartrain

I drove back down the Causeway the next morning, and the views got considerably less pretty.

Mandina's news.   From the Baton Rouge Business Report (Thanks, Brian!):

Mandina's, the popular and moderately priced New Orleans Creole restaurant on Canal near Carrollton, has signed a lease to occupy the one-time Chalet Brandt building at Jefferson and Old Hammond highways. Most recently, the building was home to San Marco restaurant, but that operation was closed several weeks ago. Property-owner Donnie Jarreau says Mandina's New Orleans location suffered significant damage during Katrina, and the family plans to make Baton Rouge its home base for a year or more. The Baton Rouge space seats over 100, and Mandina's is working on some renovations to make it more casual. It should be open by Thanksgiving. Mandina's is the first big-name New Orleans restaurant to sign in Baton Rouge since Katrina. French Quarter institution Galatoire's is still exploring its options here.

Well, it's better than nothing, for the Mandina family and for us as well. From what that insurance adjuster was telling me, the Mandina's space was a horrible mess. This way the family gets an income and we get their food, which I would gladly drive to Baton Rouge to eat. So far that'd be the only reason for me to be there, as the last of my family who took refuge in Baton Rouge moved back home to New Orleans this week (yay!).

That exact address is 7655 Old Hammond Hwy., Baton Rouge, LA 70812, about a mile north of the I-10/I-12 split and a little under 2 miles west of Airline Hwy. I'll be there on my Christmas visit.

The heartbreak continues.   I guess I didn't post this as the lead because I felt we needed a drink first. As bad as our own experiences were, and as bad as they are for tens of thousands of people, you hear stories like this and it makes your head want to explode. I'm not sure we'll ever be able to truly get over the loss to the city of New Orleans, particularly when reading about people like Dr. Michael White, one of my favorite jazz musiciansa.

Jazz clarinetist Michael White returned to his Gentilly home on Friday for first time since Hurricane Katrina and confronted a desolate tableau: beige bricks stained and striped by 6 feet of water; a front door branded with the bright orange and red marks of search teams; dead grass and demolished trees.

"It reminds me of one of those 'Twilight Zone' episodes," White said as he approached the door, "where I'll go in and find my own body."

Instead, he found his body of work, his valuable jazz artifacts and his personal treasures -- now decimated by water and mold.

For White, jazz is life; his instruments, family. He leads the traditional Original Liberty Jazz Band and is a respected scholar of New Orleans music and culture. He occupied an endowed chair at Xavier University, published meticulously researched articles and biographies, and lectured on topics ranging from Congo Square to the early history of New Orleans brass bands.

He lived alone in the 5200 block of Pratt Street, surrounded by jazz music, books and artifacts. The night before Katrina struck, he fled to Houston with several vintage instruments, among them the model for the giant clarinet mural outside the downtown Holiday Inn.

But he left behind 40 others, including a clarinet owned by King Oliver sideman Paul Barnes.

[...] Picking through debris in the ruins of his house, he found little to salvage. Outfitted with a mask and green rubber gloves, he stepped gingerly over a pile of jazz magazines just inside the door, now reduced to pulp. He spotted the remains of a new two-volume encyclopedia documenting the Harlem jazz renaissance, to which he contributed five biographies.

To the right hung a framed smudge, what was once a rare 1960s Bob Coke photograph of jazz bassist "Papa" John Joseph, a distant relative of White's. Joseph died of a heart attack onstage at Preservation Hall in 1965, reportedly after performing "When the Saints Go Marching In."

"No matter what had happened during the day, I'd look at that picture, and it gave me strength," White said. "It was the most beautiful picture I'd seen of Papa John. Wherever you went in the room, those eyes followed you. There was wisdom, but also truth."

Inside a waterlogged closet lay White's collection of vintage wooden instruments. He couldn't open the warped door.

"I don't know if I want to," he said. "That would be like (finding) relatives."

His casualties included more than 4,000 CDs and LPs. And there were as many books and a vast trove of research material, including primary source documents, voluminous notes and taped interviews with musicians. He had original sheet music from Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, Sidney Bechet and Louis Armstrong.

Also gone are a set of banjo strings played by legendary jazz raconteur Danny Barker; a medal appointing White to the Chevalier rank in the French Order of Arts and Letters; snapshots with the late jazz legend Kid Thomas Valentine and President Clinton; and a 1993 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival poster autographed by artist John Scott.

Accompanying him Friday were a cameraman and writer Jason Berry, who is directing a documentary about jazz funerals that features White. Berry marveled at the scale of the loss, both to White personally and to jazz scholarship in general.

"Not that many people carry the history and culture like Michael does," Berry said. "It's the way Louis Armstrong did, the way Danny Barker did, the way Wynton Marsalis does. They are those rare players who rise to another plateau and become more than musicians. That's why it's so heartbreaking to see his loss."

Berry carted soggy artifacts to the porch: a painting of legendary clarinetist George Lewis, one of White's heroes. A sketch from Africa. Framed album artwork from Bunk Johnson's "Brass and Dance Band" and the Young Tuxedo Brass Band's "Jazz Begins."

"Michael, I think some of this can be salvaged."

"At this point," White said, "I'm trying to figure out if I can be salvaged."

I can't stand it. I can't bear to think about it. And it wasn't direct damage from the passing of the fucking hurricane itself, it was the failure of the levees -- their bad design and poor maintenance.

Musical loss.   This was only an tiny fraction of the musical loss experienced by Dr. Michael, but it was still sad to see, as I walked into my folks' living room for the first time:

This is what 5 feet of water does to an upright piano.

Not a single key would move.

That's what five feet of water does to an upright piano. Unsurprisingly, we couldn't get a single key to move.

Fats lost a white grand piano, along with everything else.

Sister Rosa.   Rosa Parks, 1913-2005.

December 1, 1955,
Our freedom movement came alive.
And because of Sister Rosa you know,
We don't ride on the back of the bus no more.

Sister Rosa Parks was tired one day
After a hard day on her job.
When all she wanted was a well deserved rest,
Not a scene from an angry mob.

A bus driver said, "Lady, you got to get up
'Cause a white person wants that seat."
But Miss Rosa said, "No, not no more.
I'm gonna sit here and rest my feet."

Thank you Miss Rosa, you are the spark,
That started our freedom movement
Thank you Sister Rosa Parks.
Thank you Miss Rosa you are the spark,
That started our freedom movement
Thank you Sister Rosa Parks.

Now, the police came without fail
And took Sister Rosa off to jail.
And 14 dollars was her fine,
Brother Martin Luther King
Knew it was our time.

The people of Montgomery sit down to talk
It was decided all God's children should walk
Until segregation was brought to its knees
And we obtain freedom and equality, yeah


So we dedicate this song to thee
for being the symbol of our dignity.
Thank you, Sister Rosa.

("Sister Rosa", by the Neville Brothers, from the album Yellow Moon)

Death to Mr. Go.   It's the headline in the Times-Picayune today ... there's already talk of filling in, blocking or at least floodgating "Mr. GO", a.k.a. the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet, which was the direct cause of the flooding of my parents' house, their neighborhood, their entire ZIP Code, in fact, as well as the rest of New Orleans East and St. Bernard Parish. All so that one ship a week can have a shorter journey from the river to the gulf. As for those ships, I say screw 'em. Fill the damned thing in so that we don't have to rebuild huge swaths of our city and greater metro area again.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Saturday, October 22, 2005

The Saturn Bar.   3067 St. Claude Avenue at Clouet Street, in the Bywater. If you've been there, you don't need to have me talk about it, other than to say that you know how completely funky and unique it is. If you haven't been there ... well, if you're in New Orleans just go there and have a drink. (But nothing too fancy.)

A friend of mine emailed me and asked me if I knew how the bar had fared. In fact, I snapped a picture of it on October 11:

The Saturn Bar, apparently untouched.

It appears to be untouched. Amazingly, it didn't even lose its sign, as what seems like 99% of businesses in New Orleans did. I have no idea what Neil's plans are for reopening, but this article said something about Neil just waiting for his customers and neighbors to return. That's a cause for celebration.

There's fantastic interview (.pdf file) with the bar's owner O'Neil Broyard that was done earlier this year by the Southern Foodways Alliance's Oral History Project (which has an entire section on bartenders of New Orleans); here's an excerpt:

Q: Do you get many tourists over this way?

Broyard: Oh, yeah, yeah. I get a lot of tourists from all over.

Q: Yeah? How do they hear about you?

Broyard: Well, it's on the Internet. You know, travel guides and stuff like that. Word of mouth. [Sniffs] New York--had some people in from New York the other day. Atlanta, Chicago, Frisco, uh, [short pause] no. I think it was Wisconsin. Colorado. All over the continent. Well, you know, you ask everybody, you can tell a tourist when they come inthat they--they're not regulars. [Laughs]

Q: [Laughs] Yeah. You have a lot of regulars?

Broyard: No, not as many as I used to. They--it--well, you've got to look at it this way. I don't open up until four o'clock in the evening. Now years ago, I used to open at nine--nine o'clock in the morning. We still got--the old-timers still living in the neighborhood before used to come wait for you to open up in the morning. They come over there, they'd sit down and play a little Knock Rummy [card game] or something all day long, you know, to pass the time away. They all died or moved off, when everybody moved out of the neighborhood. So you don't have too many regulars.

Q: What did those regulars like to drink?

Broyard: Mostly beer. Ah, you get to the college kids and all that come in and want--they get a beer with a straight shot or something. "I want Jagermeister," or something like that, which I don't handle anymore. Because they get too stupid on that stuff. You know, they want to throw their glasses up against the wall and all that stuff, you know. [Clears throat] And I just don't put up with it. I just don't. If they say, "Jägermeister," I say, "I don't have any." [They'll say,] "Well, what you got? Can you make a B-51?" I say I don't make none of that stuff. They want the layers, you know?

Q: Yeah, for shots?

Broyard: Oh, what the hell. Like the--I can't even think of half the stuff I have over there to make it but, uh, I quit handling it. Irish--Irish cream--what the--Bailey's Irish Cream, you know? They used to order three layers, you know, in this shot.

Q: Do you mix many cocktails?

Broyard: Oh, yeah, a few. Yeah. The regular ones. You know, I make like a Bloody Mary or a Whiskey Sour, uh, Tequila Sunrise or vodka orange juice, you know. Uh, [if they] want cranberry juice, grapefruit juice, you know. Little Martinis once in a while. Manhattans, you know. Something plain and simple like that. All them shake drinks and all that stuff like that. Phew. I used to make the--like a, uh, Black Russian, you know, with the milk, the vodka, and the Kahlua. I tell them you got to go Uptown if you want a fancy drink.

Q: Yeah? [Laughs]

Broyard: [Laughs]

Q: How do you think times have changed? Maybe you did some more of that a couple decades ago? Did some more cocktails or, no?

Broyard: Ah, well you get different people, baby. You know, people come in and ask youwant a, uh, uh, what the hell are those--about four drinks--what--what do you call--a sting--not a Stinger. A Long Island Iced Tea. You know, you got to put your white rum, white gin, and vodka and all that stuff in it, you know. I make that once in a while. Got to have a tall glass and all that shit, you know. But, uh, I--I like everything plain and simple. You know, come in--like I mean, like--"What kind of beers do you have here?" Just like asking me, "What kind of cigarettes do you have?" I said, "What kind do you smoke?" And see, he was going to tell me that--that one brand. And me naming all fifteen, twenty brands, you know?

Q: Right.

Broyard: Same thing with the beer. I got thirty-five, forty beers. You want to know what kind of beers we have? I say, "What kind do you normally drink? You just starting to drink or what?"

Q: [Laughing]

Broyard: [Laughing] You know? You had to drink something somewhere.

Q: What do you think about those fancy drinks that they serve down in the Quarter?

Broyard: It's a gimmick to get-- that's a -- that's a drawing card, that's all. You like the, the Hand Grenade, you know? Now they got four different places -- it's all one clique, you know? [Sniffs]

Q: Well, people come to New Orleans to drink.

Broyard: Oh, I hear they're partiers. They stay open all night, but I'll close it down. But I don't like to stay open all night.

Q: Do you know about the history of cocktails in New Orleans and like Southern Comfort being a ... liquor that came from here and that kind of history?

Broyard: Southern Comfort? I don't know that it came from here. I wouldn't know, to be honest with you. The only-- the only thing I know of that came [from] here, like a, uh-- [short pause] oh, that new rum they got out, New Orleans rum. I forget the name of it. The guys who make it here. God, they used to have-- Absinthe, I believe, was from here, but they quit making that because it had opium in it. Uh, like the Sazerac come from the, uh, [coughs] I can't even think of the bar's name right now. Uh, uptown there. I don't know, shit.

Q: [Laughs]

Broyard: They make them fancy drinks with the--like you go to Pat O'Brien's, you get the Hurricane. Come to Saturn Bar, you get what you like. [Laughs]

Yeah you rite.

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  Friday, October 21, 2005

Eddie Bo tonight in L.A.!   New Orleans funk and R&B legend Eddie Bo appears tonight with an eight-piece band at Little Pedro's in downtown Los Angeles, tonight and tomorrow at 9pm.

It would be an understatement to say that this is not to be missed.

Check your bucket!

WWOZ back up!   As was mentioned in the comments the other day, New Orleans' own WWOZ, the greatest radio station in the world, is now broadcasting in New Orleans at 90.7 FM once again, from temporary facilities in Baton Rouge.

Listen to the groove!

Mandina's.   Sixty-two inches of water.

Mandina's Restaurant

Mandina's waterline was at 62 inches.

While I was taking pictures I talked to the flood insurance adjuster, who was waiting for Mr. Mandina to come by. I asked if he knew whether Mr. Mandina wanted to clean up and reopen soon, and he said, "He don't want to." My heart sank.

Then he said, "Well, by that I mean that he wants to tear the building down and build another structure, but I don't think that's necessary." He said he was going to try to talk him into cleaning up and renovating the existing structure, which is historic (although perhaps not officially so). I really hope he does, and I really hope we see this local institution reopen.

Second line in the Quarter.   When I was home last week my friends Michael and Louise told me that on Sunday there'd be a second line parade (well, minus the actual funeral) in the Quarter to celebrate people's return and the beginning of the city's recovery. There was a story on NPR about it, with video that includes my aforementioned friends, self-described as "the extraordinarily happy girl in the white tutu and the grinning idiot in the red hat." Unfortunately, that day I was spending 12 hours travelling back to Los Angeles, so I had to miss the parade. Had I been there, I'd have been the extraordinarily happy idiot in the Panama hat.

Michael said,

This was a very, very cool parade. It wasn't meant to be a funeral for Katrina, it just took that turn because a few of us decided to bring out floats from the Krewe du Vieux parade, one of which was a funeral hearse. I'd estimate that one in four people you see in the video lost their house, and this was a major blow-off of steam for them and for all of us. There were misty eyes all around. There was no route for the parade; we left that to the police car who was escorting us through the Quarter. The organizer had been feeding the 1st District NOPD for weeks, so we had carte blanche.

From the video I recognized a few other people in the crowd, including Michael and Louise's friend John, whom I had met at Molly's on the Market a few days earlier, plus trombonist Craig Klein from Bonerama and the New Orleans Nightcrawlers. I didn't see him in the video, but according to the story local food writer Ian McNulty was there too. I'm really sorry I missed it.

The refrigerator graveyard.   It's at the corner of Read and Almonaster, and I think that working there would have to be close to the top of the list of jobs I don't want.

The Camellia Grill.   Undamaged but still boarded up as of October 10.

The Camellia Grill

I can't imagine them not reopening, but I'd bet that they lost most of their staff. I fear that their waiters and cooks tended to live in neighborhoods that flooded.

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  Wednesday, October 19, 2005

New Orleans is alive.   It's badly, badly wounded, and there are vast swaths of the city that are still dark and deserted.

But slowly, day by day, the city grows by a handful of people at a time. When I arrived home on the 8th, there were far fewer people than when I left on the 16th.

Welcome home sign, outside Creole Creamery, Prytania St.

My first trip into the living parts of the city was on Monday the 10th. Some of it encouraged me. Lots of it depressed me. That said, we shouldn't lose hope, because that's all we have. That, plus a living, vibrant city that at the moment has retreated to roughly its 1878 borders.

I thought I'd write a long piece about my impressions once I got back, but I'm feeling oddly tapped out. Maybe later. In the meantime, I'll post some pictures from around the city, the good and the bad.

A wrecked house on St. Claude Ave., in the Bywater
The bad: a wrecked house on St. Claude Ave. in the Bywater

The Maple Leaf is open!
The good: the Maple Leaf Bar reopened even before they had power;
the neon, A/C and beer coolers were running off a generator

Café du Monde reopened today!   This morning, at 6am, after more than six weeks. It was the longest hiatus in 143 years, but it was a blessing in disguise. We might have needed them, but they took the six-week closure as an opportunity to make many renovations and improvements to their facilities.

Not a moment too soon, either. It was profoundly weird to see CdM looking like this:

Café du Monde, empty.

If you're anywhere near the city, go there and have some coffee 'n doughnuts. Make sure to get plenty of powdered sugar on your pants. (Wear dark pants, too.)

Angelo Brocato's.   Five feet of water. Someone on said today that "the contractors start this week, but they anticipate it taking a year before they reopen. I get weepy when I think of lemon ice..."

Angelo Brocato's, exterior

Angelo Brocato's, interior

The encouraging thing is that they're at work, and they're reopening, no matter how long it takes. We've been warned that our short-term rebuilding will take 1-5 years, and long-term up to 30. I want to see the city progress, repopulate and rebuild as soon as possible, but I also want to have the patience to make sure it's done right.

News about Galatoire's.   From New Orleans City Business:

New Orleans restaurant Galatoire's is opening in Baton Rouge, according to the Baton Rouge Business Report.

It will open on Perkins Road near Highland Road and Interstate 10 in mid-November at the location of the Caspian Grill, said building owner Cyrus Bonakchi. Galatoire's officials signed a lease this week for 4,500 square feet and will expand to 7,000 square feet with the construction of more space.

Melvin Rodrigue of Galatoire's did not immediately return phone calls. The BRBP reports the restaurant will be named Galatoire's Bistro Baton Rouge.

This is the first time I've heard anything solid about this since it was first mentioned. The idea was that the management would keep the staff together, which is a good idea. I hope they can provide some housing too, because I know some of the staff will need it. John Fontenot, who was always our waiter at Galatiore's, lived in Chalmette, and there ain't no Chalmette anymore (not yet, at least).

Commander's Palace.   I know what it means, too. We'll be waiting, y'all. (In fact, I think I'll drive to Vegas in a couple of weekends to practice by dining at the Commander's there.)

The corner of Washington and Coliseum

They left us a message.

We know what it means too, y'all.  Thanks.

A nearly perfect interior

I held my camera up above the curtains and took that last shot of the interior, which appeared to be so bizarrely perfect that I almost expected diners to stream in and waiters to rush by bearing huge trays of 25¢ Martinis, Sazeracs, crab cakes, Tasso Shrimp Henican and Bread Pudding Soufflé.

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  Monday, October 17, 2005

Home from home.   I'm back as of late last night, tired and now busy at work. Posting will resume soon. (My access to the internetssss was very limited while I was in N.O.)

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Monday, October 10, 2005
Home to New Orleans, Day 1.   Sorry, I had meant to write this up yesterday (Sunday). It was a busy day -- I was pretty exhausted and got into the bathtub around 11:30pm, and promptly fell asleep in the tub. I woke up in a tubful of cold water at 2:15am, and crawled into bed after a perfunctory drying-off and decided that weblog posting would have to wait.

No pictures yet either, because I'm stuck on a dialup connection in a broadbandless house while I'm here ... stone knives and bearskins!

The flight over was perfect, as perfect as a flight can be when it involves a connection in Denver instead of a nice now-nonexistent nonstop. The people at United seemed to be the polar opposite of how Mary described Continental -- efficient, timely, friendly, and the crew on the second leg of the flight from DEN to MSY seemed really fired up to be going to New Orleans, and even thanked everyone who was going there to help out. Fully 1/3 of the sardine-full flight consisted of people from the Portland Water Works, who were all going down to help fix the sewers and pipes; one guy told me he'd be there until Thanksgiving.

First impressions when I landed -- eerily quiet, still. A knot of people at the security area exit at the end of the concourse, waiting to greet people, and a few uniformed National Guardsmen walking around (weird). Went down to baggage claim, where the people from my flight were crowded around the carousel ... and other than that, the entire baggage claim area was deserted.

While we were waiting for luggage I walked over to the car rental counters, on the off chance that I might be able to make my arrangements while my bags were being unloaded. Deserted ... except for one lonely looking woman at the Enterprise counter. Fortunately, they're the ones that had my reservation, and she got me squared away. She asked me if I had made my reservation before Katrina, and I said, no, around the 8th of September or so. She was astonished, as she said they had been pretty much completely sold out since operations had resumed, and that I was "incredibly lucky" to have a car. She lives in River Ridge, and her apartment was unscathed.

The van service was down to one instead of two, and just my luck, the driver happened to be there waiting for me, surprised not only that I had a car but that there was someone working in the terminal. He was a hefty Yat who lived in Metairie and who had minor damage, but whose daughter's family lived in St. Bernard. They're okay, but ... well, 'nuff said.

Once we got to the Enterprise office on Airline Highway the boy who rented me the car to me handed me the keys to a crappy little Kia that looked as if it hadn't been cleaned in a month ... well, because it hadn't. Short-staffed, they said. "Oh, one more thing," he said. "It's only got a quarter of a tank of gas. We don't have the staff to go gas 'em up, so don't bother filling the tank when you bring it back."

"Um ... okay. Where can I get some gas around here?"

"Oh, no problem. Just go down Williams a couple of lights, and there are plenty of gas stations."

Yep, there sure were. There were plenty of closed gas stations, and plenty of gas stations that were out of gas. It took me 45 minutes to get my tank filled, which I was willing to do because I was unwilling to run out of gas on the Causeway.

Next impressions ... there is no signage, pretty much anywhere. It's all blown down, and stores are resorting to sheets of plywood with their business name spray-painted on it. Tree limbs down everywhere, and piles of debris in front of building after building. Hardly anything open, even in East Jefferson.

Mom and Dad are in a really nice little rental house in Mandeville that was impossible to find, according to the absurd directions that Mapquest gave me. I swear, if I had followed that I would have ended up in Peoria, Illinois. We met at my uncle's house on the lake first, got some nice pictures and followed them in. It's a nice little place, in a nice subdivision that has a Mandeville address but is actually outside the city limits, and gets its police and fire from St. Tammany Parish rather than the city. It seems rather Stepfordly organized, with lots of "activities" and "organizations" for the residents to join, but that's ignorable for the time they'll be here, which will be until Christmas at the longest. Mom made a lovely dinner of perfectly roasted tenderloin of PIG!, marinated in tawny port, and with Creole-seasoned green beans and baked sweet potatoes, finished off by a plate of brownies that Granny had bought at the church bake sale earlier in the day. We love church bake sales.

Next day we suited up in throwaway clothes, in my case some of my old Fat Clothes that I had missed when I was rounding up stuff for the clothing drive, and off across the Causeway we went, through Jefferson and into Orleans. Dad took a swing down the Pontchartrain Expressway instead of going I-610, so that I could get a first look at the city. Superdome depressingly just as I expected, a lot of life on Canal Street, historic cemeteries looking more or less okay ... and the further east we got, the more everything began to deteriorate.

As I passed the Chef Menteur exit, heading toward Morrison and Crowder, it just got worse and worse. Massive destruction of apartment buildings along the interstate, waterlines on the sides of houses looking higher and higher. My iPod at that moment cued up Leigh "Little Queenie" Harris singing, "I'm Going to Paint This Town Blue", and ... boy, that girl knows how to get the waterworks flowing.

By the time I got to Read, passing the now-deserted Lake Forest Plaza (except for what looked like a Red Cross service tent in the northern part of the parking lot), it was actually scary. Not a soul around, no traffic on Read except for a couple of National Guard humvees. No power, no traffic lights. Some traffic lights hanging from a wire, dangling from their stanchions. Plaza parking lot empty except for two cars that had been left there and from the water marks on the windows were completely submerged. I took a left onto Lake Forest and I could see the water level marks on the trees, the destroyed medical clinic on the left side, and the ruined houses. Left again onto Wright Road, their street, and the entrance to Lake Forest Estates. Debris everywhere, advertising signs pounded into the earth bearing ads for disaster recovery services, mold remediation, debris hauling, etc.

Some of the houses on their street got hit really badly by the wind -- destroyed roofs, smashed windows, uprooted trees everywhere. Many houses had spray-painted symbols on them, but not all -- apparently the Guard were initially only checking houses that still had cars in the driveway.

Then, ours. One old oak tree snapped in half and completely blocked the driveway, so we had to park in the neighbors' driveway. Fences completely down, greenhouse blown halfway over, a giant crybaby tree in the back uprooted and on its side. Other than that the house itself didn't *look* too bad from the outside ... until you saw the water line.

Y'all all saw the pictures from Wednesday and if you can believe it, the mold has gotten about fifty times worse since then. Dad had opened the windows to air the place out, so some of the wet and slime had dried up somewhat, but the mold seems to have thrived on some more fresh air and were beginning to establish cities, organize nations and make art. There was also almost a visible cloud of spores in the air. In fact, "mold spores" are now my two least favorite words in the English language.

The smell had gotten somewhat better since Wednesday, though, which is hard to believe, because it was AWFUL. You couldn't last thirty seconds in there without a breathing mask (and yes, the old Vicks-Vapo-Rub-under-the-nose trick works really well, recommended by my sister the nurse, who uses it all the time when dealing with "body smells" at work). It's not just the smell, it's the toxicity. If you breathe the air inside the house for more than half a minute, your nose, mouth, chest and all breathing passages start to itch and burn.

One of the things I was hoping to rescue was the BOSE Wave Music System that my dad won in a contest a few months ago. I figured it would have survived, because it was way up high on top of the old stereo speaker and that speaker was on top of Dad's stereo cabinet, which is solid plywood and 2x4s and 3/4" solid walnut front paneling, and is 4 feet high and 9 feet wide and weighs about a thousand pounds, so big and heavy and solid that I just knew that sucker wouldn't have moved an inch.

It had moved five feet, upended and was laying on its back, front facing up. The BOSE radio was buried in the muck, and when I picked it up and shook it, it sloshed. Also buried in the muck next to the stereo cabinet was, among other things, "Doctors, Professors, Kings and Queens: The Big Ol' Box of New Orleans." Fortunately I had anticipated this, got them another one and brought it along. (I must confess that I snuck the book out of the new box set and swapped it for the book in our old box set, so that now Wesly and I have a copy of the book that actually has Mary's credit in it. Yay!)

We managed to save a lot more pictures this time, shoeboxes of stuff that was slightly damp and musty-smelling but not wet and ruined, including a treasure trove of pictures (one of which looked like a tintype) from my paternal grandmother's family, the Caseys (and the Murrays and the Ryans and the O'Neills), some of which were dated as far back as 1887. We dug through slimy muck under Granny's bed and in the locker looking for a list of things she had given us, including an old WWII-era metal box that had lots of her important papers inside (the box was rusty, but the papers inside were DRY), some of her jewelry (some of which we found, some of which we didn't), lots more pictures, family tree documents from both sides of the family, lots of china and crystal, and, amazingly enough, the gift card from Dakota restaurant (sister restaurant of Cuvée) that I had given Mom and Dad last Christmas. We crowbarred the front off their upended chest of drawers in their bedroom, and rummaged through rotten, moldy papers and stuff and bang, there it was, covered in muck and slime. It was one of those plastic credit card-style gift cards, so after a bath in bleach water, a dose of spray cleaner and a good wipe and it looks as good as new. We'll be redeeming it at Dakota on Saturday when we all go there to celebrate Mom's birthday, and we'll make sure to tell them where it came from.

Dad and I also went up into the attic to see what we could find, and just as before there were tons and tons and tons and tons of stuff. Most of it will be left behind, but we retrieved the family silver and the gold orchid jewelry that Dad had made for Mom, and is unique in the entire world. (Briefly, he made it the same way that cast gold teeth and fillings used to be made -- he set an orchid flower in base, placed a ring mold around it and slowly flowed plaster of Paris in the mold around the flower. Once it set, it was heated in a kiln until the flower disintegrated, and then in a hot centrifuge molten gold was injected into the space left by the flower. When you break the plaster cast open, what remains inside is a perfect gold flower, beautiful and amazing.)

Speaking of Mom, she really didn't want us to go up into the attic. It's pitch black, we didn't know if there would be vermin and we weren't sure about its structural integrity. Dad had plywood flooring on most of the paths up there, but if you weren't careful you could easily fall through the ceiling, particularly a ceiling that's wet and moldy and basically falling apart anyway. In fact, Mom was particularly worried that we'd fall through the ceiling, to the point of shrieking, "DON'T GO UP IN THE ATTIC, YOU'LL FALL THROUGH THE CEILING!" We resolved to be careful.

We wanted to retrieve Christmas ornaments (Mom had a huge collection amassed over 45 years), some nice tile tabletops Dad had made, and a few other things), plus I was looking for what Melissa wanted. She called last week and asked if I'd be going to the office. I said yes, and she said, "Okay, when you go up there, go straight back and look for a box that's up on top of the old ugly orange sofa."

"Okay, what's in it?"

"... My Barbies. And my Mork from Ork doll. And my Fonzie doll. And my Charlie's Angels dolls."

She's 33, by the way.

I went looking for my old spaceship models, but was a little disappointed when I found them. The starship Enterprise was missing a warp nacelle, the Klingon battle cruiser was missing its engineering section (I had forgotten about the Great Model Shelf Collapse of 1977), the Spindrift from "Land of the Giants" and the Flying Sub from "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea", as well as an Enterprise bridge set, just weren't built very well. I suck at building models, I now recall. I did find some old elementary school yearbooks that I'll bring back, and a couple of books, and lots of other neat stuff but I have to be realistic -- most of that will be left behind and end up in the pile of rubble when the house is bulldozed.

Oh ... and of course, I fell through the ceiling.

Goddammit. I was sure there was flooring there. There was flooring all behind me and all in front of me, and that was a skinny part right by the ventilation fan that would logically have to have had flooring as well, why wouldn't it after all? So I put my foot there without looking, and before I knew it I was up to my crotch in attic floor, and my sister Marie, who was waiting for me at the bottom of the attic stairs, was horrifed to see a booted leg come crashing down through the ceiling in an explosion of moldy drywall and pink insulation.

I issued a series of profane oaths and obscene exclamations and managed not to fall completely through down to the ground floor; the studs in the floor at the section where I fell through weren't more than 2 feet square, so my body couldn't have fit through that bit anyway. At first I thought that the only thing bruised was my ego, but this morning my knee smarts like hell and I have a gorgeous, multicolored bruise on my kneecap. No skin breakage, no toxic mold injected into my system, although I think the mold colonies had sent spores into my head whose job it was to fool me into thinking I had solid footing, so I coudl fall through and die and they could grow on me and consume me. Devious, invading bastards. I showed them.

We worked from about 10am to about 5pm, and we got a lot of stuff out, and we were exhausted. Mom and Dad drove back up to the North Shore, and I stayed behind for a bit; I wanted to head about a mile south toward the Chef, to see the neighborhood where I grew up.

It was complete desolation.

Every house took 5-6 feet of water. For blocks and blocks in each direction. And I was the only soul in the area.

There was nobody.

No one surveying their houses, no one bringing out trash or soaked furniture or refrigerators. No one tearing out sheet rock or doing mold remediation or trying to gut and rebuild. Nothing. No one.

The lawns were all dead. The streets and sidewalks were covered with chips of dried toxic mud that crunched under your feet, sending up clouds of toxic mud dust that made my nose itch and burn. And I was utterly alone.

It was the creepiest, most unsettling feeling I've ever had in my life. I felt like a character in a Stephen King novel. As I walked around the neighborhood where I was the only living person for twenty blocks, I began to wonder ... when I fall asleep tonight, who will I dream about -- the old black woman or the Man With No Face?

I drove back to the North Shore, and we spent a fair amount of the rest of the evening removing damp photos from albums to dry, stacking boxes of things we had removed from the house, and having a lovely meal of leftover pork roast and beef pot roast, baked potatoes and my new favorite dessert -- chocolate chunk cookies and Wild Turkey 101.

More on Day Two (a much better day) tomorrow.

Photos of the day.   Okay, I did manage to get a few uploaded via the dialup connection. It only took about eleven feckin' hours.

Chuck, The Toxic Avenger
Chuck, the Toxic Avenger

The mold is far worse than it was four days ago.
The mold is far worse than it was 4 days ago.

The Big Ol' Box is kaput
"The Big Ol' Box of New Orleans" is kaput;
I got the folks another one

These next two are special.

This photograph was taken in 1965; I was three. That's my Dad's Charlie Brown figure that my Mom had bought for him. In dental school he ended up picking up the nickname "Charlie Brown", and was irritated by it; Mom, whom he was only dating then, bought this for him. It's older than I am, and it's been there at home my whole life. I was probably reading "Peanuts" comics within a year; Charlie Brown helped me learn to read. I remember when I first moved to California I asked Dad if I could have Charlie Brown to take with me. The answer, as I recall, was "Hell no! He's mine!

This is probably my favorite picture that was taken of me, ever.

Chuck and Charlie Brown, 1965
Chuck and Charlie Brown, 1965

I rescued Charlie from Dad's study yesterday.

Charlie Brown, 2005, post-Katrina
Charlie Brown, 2005, post-Katrina

We gave him a bath in bleach solution, sprayed him with green cleaner and left him in the sun to dry. He's got a few stains on his head from where the mold got him, but we think he'll be okay.

Dad said I could take him back with me to Los Angeles now, but I said no ... he needs to stay at home for a while longer.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Friday, October 7, 2005

Goin' home.   I got my hip boots, got my old throwaway clothes, got my fancy breathinh mask (which I'll probably give to my dad; those damn things are expensive, and I only bought one), some fluorescent orange rubber gloves (I may be dressing for toxic muck, but I know how to accessorize), and a "VW Drivers Wanted" cap to protect my head (I'll be happy to throw that fecker away, after a $1500 Bug repair bill this week). I'm ready.

I'm hoping I'll work off some of the food I'm going to eat when I'm home, from going up and down seven flights of stairs in the building where my dad's office is, which still doesn't have power. Actually, from what we can tell, his windows didn't break and the office should be perfectly fine. The only thing I'm not looking forward to is the stories I've heard that the building's pitch-black stairwell is "swarming with roaches". Loooooovely.

I'll have me some good food too, and I'll probably get good and drunk. It'll be good to see everybody, and good to see home, as broken as it is.

More friends getting home.   My good friends Michael and Louise got home yesterday, after really not knowing what was up with their house since Katrina hit and Rita got everything more soggy. Here's their report.

Wow, what a day. If the term "emotional rollercoaster" was not already extent, I would have had to make it up.

The day started about 4:30am with Tropical Storm Tammy, which I sincerely hope was the final "fuck you" to us from this year's hurricane season. I got drenched loading the car, and for the next three hours it was white-knuckle driving, just trying to see the lane dividers through the sheets of rain and avoid the speeding trucks and SUVs. I thought the sun would never come up. Louise on the storm: "It's a beautiful day, we're going home!"

It finally let up a bit south of Montgomery, and we settled in with some Professor Longhair on the stereo and a building sense of anticipation and dread as we approached the Coast. The tree and building damage started in earnest a bit west of Mobile, quickly got worse as we came to Biloxi and Gulfport, and then got really bad right around the MS/LA state line. The trees that went down are already brown, which brought home just how long it's been since we've been home. The spookiest scenes were the long rows of destroyed billboards from the casinos. I was happy that one of the billboards that survived was advertising a Merle Haggard show, it takes more than a bit of wind to take down Merle.

The I-10 bridge over Lake Pontchartrain from Slidell to New Orleans is still in shambles, but the smaller, older Highway 11 bridge that runs parallel to I-10 somehow survived. To get there you have to go through Slidell, and Hwy 11 runs through a series of inlets from the Lake that were filled with fishing camps, houses, and businesses. Lucinda would be hard pressed to find her joy in Slidell these days. It actually wasn't as bad as I thought it would be in the main part of the city, I've seen worse damage on the Carolina coast. But close to the water, it was staggering. First, you start seeing piles of sheetrock and furniture outside all the houses from people gutting them due to the flood. Then, for the last mile or so, there is nothing but mound after mound after mound after mound of debris where the houses and camps used to be. Boats upside on top of the mounds, flooded out cars at all angles. It was hard to believe that this was 5+ weeks after the storm, I can't imagine what it was like right afterwards.

After we crossed the bridge, we got back on I-10 and drove through New Orleans East. Chuck, I really don't know what to say. All the clich?s about how you can't understand the scope of something like this until you see it are definitely true, and I know that what we were seeing from the interstate is nothing compared to what we would see in some of the neighborhoods. One unexpected sight was the Toyota dealership; all the cars were still lined up in their parking spaces, but they were all covered in grey mud left by the water. Mile after mile of scenes like that.

So we finally get into the city proper, get off the highway and head towards our house. The water line as we came down Elysian Fields was about 3-4 feet at the deepest, lots of trees down but the wind damage was evident but not nearly as bad as I had feared. Chuck, Gene's Po-Boys lost a good chunk of the second floor on the uptown side, the first floor downtown corner where the kitchen was seemed intact, though I'm guessing there is a lot of water and nastiness in there. No other vehicles around other than an occasional military patrol, very spooky.

We got to our street, pulled up across from our house because a neighbors tree had fallen in front of, and partially on, the house. As we approached the door we could hear the alarm going off inside, which is a good sign; there's power! We opened the door, and found everything almost exactly as we had left it. Roof intact, siding intact, everything still on the wall, same magazine on the floor next to the toilet upstairs. Not even a leak from the skylights that sometimes leak during a drizzle. Even the fridge was better then expected, slight smell around it but nothing like the maggot farm that some told us to expect (we didn't open it, and we're still trashing it). All the other houses immediately around us got damage ranging from minor to moderate, but nothing really major. The majority of the damage seemed to be on the west side of the houses, and our house is protected on the west by a larger house which shielded us. The western side of that house lost all of it's siding. It's almost embarrassing. Our garden is trashed, but other than that all we really need to do is give the place a good cleaning, get a new fridge and it will be like we never left.

We had just gotten over the shock of not being shocked, and sat down with a beer on the stoop, when a guy in a pickup stopped and asked if we wanted him to get the tree off our and our neighbor's roof. "How much?" "30 bucks." "Sure!" About 20 minutes later it is in pieces on the sidewalk. Then, maybe 30 minutes later, some contractor with a backhoe comes down the street and hauls the damn thing away! Amazing! This type of efficiency just does not exist in New Orleans!

We spent a few hours cleaning up, and then went for a walk. Our neighborhood looks pretty good, though would benefit greatly from trash pickup. I was trying to figure out the best way to describe what the rotted contents of refrigerators smell like when they've been out in the heat for a few weeks. The closest I can come is that it smells like Dick Cheney's soul. We checked on some friends' houses, and headed into the Quarter. Lots of cars driving around, but very few people walking. We found our good friend John Hyman who stayed throughout the whole ordeal and had lots of interesting stories to tell. We had a very joyful reunion with Fahy's, our regular bar, which re-opened a few weeks ago. The only other patron there was the only regular that none of us had been able to contact, so our timing was perfect.

We later went down to the 1100 block of Decatur, which has become the prime evening gathering place. Molly's at the Market was hopping, I think mainly with relief workers, it was strange to see it packed and not recognize a single face. We had dinner at Coop's, which is one of our very favorite places. Having red beans and rice with fried chicken at Coops was like sinking back into a warm bath. Various friends from the neighborhood slowly filtered in. It was Miss Sue's birthday and we all pinned dollar bills on her shirt. A make-shift brass band suddenly appeared outside and played "Gloryland," we all went out and danced and laughed for a minute like none of this shit had ever happened. It was a very good moment.

We then went to the R Bar, which is between our house and the Quarter. The area around there doesn't have power, but the bar opened that night for the first time with cold beer on ice and a generator powering a few lamps and a boom box. Little signs of life everywhere. The walk home through the dark streets by the bar was surreal, especially as we got near Chartres St. where a hold-out has been blasting New Orleans music using a generator-powered stereo since right after the hurricane. Dancing down a dark, deserted street with music blasting put a very nice cap on a very long day.

Our neighbors tree took down our phone and cable lines, no telling how long that will take to fix. However, our friends across the street have broadband and a wireless network that I can pick up in my office, so I'm sitting up here now just like it's a regular work day! Amazing!

It's great to hear some good news.

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  Thursday, October 6, 2005

Mom and Dad go home.   The mayor of New Orleans officially reopened all parts of the city for residents to "look and leave", except for the Lower Ninth Ward. That included New Orleans East, where my parents and grandmother lived. Although people have been getting into the East for a couple of weeks now (as soon as it was dry), it involved sneaking past checkpoints and roadblocks, and I don't think my folks were up for that.

Yesterday they went back to the family home for the first time in over five weeks. The house had four to four and a half feet of water in it for at least two of those weeks. Mom said, "It's the biggest, nastiest, smelliest, most awful mess you've ever seen in your life. We thought we were prepared, but it's a thousand times worse." My sister went along to help, and sent pictures.

It's just ... staggering.

Almost nothing left

There are about 100,000 sets of pictures just like this in New Orleans, many of them worse.

About 80% of the framed pictures on the walls survived, as did my parents' wedding album and a couple of shoeboxes of old family pictures, high enough in the hall closet such that water didn't touch them. They were able to save their wedding china and crystal and silverware, and we'll go back on Sunday to find a few other things. Everything else, including the house, is history.

I had been steeling myself, but I couldn't believe what I was seeing when I saw these pictures. I get to see it up close, and smell it, on Sunday.

Mr. Dread has returned. He's unwelcome.

Good news and bad news.   First the good: the tap water in Orleans Parish west of the Industrial Canal (i.e., not N.O. East or the or the Lower Ninth Ward) is now safe to drink. If you're goin' home, run your taps for 10-15 minutes to flush them out.

Now the bad: Charity and University Hospitals are unsalvageable and must be demolished.

The Rendonaires go home to clean, part six.   Home again, home again, jiggity-jig ... my dear friends' final day at their (thank goodness) salvageable home. It's a relief to read some good news.

A day of anticlimax and winding down ... after the tensions of the previous days -- and for that matter, weeks -- and the departure of our dear and most beloved co-owners, some of our oomph has gone. Steve and I went out early to start in on more sweeping and drywall removal (HandyGuys cleaned up a lot of the downstairs, but it's a bit like the Augean stables), only to get interrupted by the welcome and timely arrival of Termite Removal Guys, with Mold Removal Guys hot on their heels. Since the various chemicals kind of chased us out for a bit, I used that time to go over to our friend Alexandra's. Like so many, she left with only enough clothes for a few days, so I'm sending her a fresh supply. It was a chance to see another neighborhood; this one did pretty well over all, with the exception of a few houses that lost some siding, but it did look just plain beaten down. Her own house was fine, with the exception of one unboarded window with a basketball sized and similarly shaped hole. Based on the presence of feathers, I think a bird hit it. The wind blew the glass all over the place, so I swept up most of it.

Back at our house, another Roof Guy came by. When I told him about the many tiny holes visible from the attic, he just scoffed at our concern, calling them some word I didn't recognize (combination of roofer terminology and NOLA accent) that meant they were typical and harmless, but grudgingly ascended to take a look anyway. We went inside to do a few things, and when we came out, he was gone. We have no idea what this means; our roof is fine for the moment? The holes are too tiny to bother with? He couldn't see them and didn't want to waste time when he could do a more urgently needed repair elsewhere? We won't rest easy until we either get the thing tarped over or, really, until we get a whole new roof.

Meanwhile, Henry came by and took down all the instructions for the various repairs he's going to do, most of which will wait on insurance. He also told us a bit more about his adventures during Katrina. Noting all the water stains and damage that weren't present when he went through the last time before he finally evacuated, he agreed that was Rita's handywork. (We didn't have any significant rain other than from Rita.) It seems our end of town got very little rain during Katrina (most of the rain was dumped on the southeast part of the city), and most of that came in sideways. By the time the storm had passed, there were only a couple inches of water in the street. But at some point, the water began to rise, and rise, "like a bathtub filling up." That was the storm surge, and the levee break. Once it hit its highest point, the surge pulled out again -- like a wave receding -- and the water level abruptly dropped eight inches. He said "I thought they were pumping it out -- HA." Henry went on to note that there are approximately 350 miles of levees etc, and that the breaks were about 500 yards. "I'd call that a pretty tenuous system." And now we can understand why even those committed to returning add the proviso that the levee system has to get properly fixed in order for them to stay for good. And why Henry looked at our downstairs high water line mark and said "Can we agree that we won't flood any higher than this ever? Okay -- then I'm putting your new water heaters up on a platform above this level." Just in case.

And yes, United is now flying out of NOLA again, though we didn't really believe it until we got to the airport and saw the ticket counter operating. By the way, it's a strange experience to fly in or out of a major airport, and see only six flights listed on the boards, and only four planes in the entire place.

A few other things: each day brings more traffic, but not so much that Metairie, at only about a third of what it usually is, crowd density-wise, doesn't look positively bustling by comparison. Our neighborhood still has only a slow trickle (though more and more tree removal trucks and energy trucks -- go, Entergy, go!), though our across-the-street neighbor moved back in with a Coleman stove, and Susan down the street was reunited with one of her dogs, Mabel, who spent her evacuee time in Chicago. (There is nothing like a happy dog smile, so good for what ails ya.) More and more restaurants in the Quarter and nearby are reopening, with limited menus, usually grilled items because those don't require much in the way of pan washing. To this same end, everyone is serving on plastic plates and utensils; it's supposed to be 2-3 weeks before the water is safe again.

More grim sights; we drove down Broad Street today, and most of it took anywhere from 6 to 8 feet of water. We couldn't even find the Lion's Den -- they must have lost their sign though we might have just missed it because we were so overwhelmed -- our favorite BBQ place was almost entirely flooded, Zulu headquarters got 4-5 feet, it was just miserable. And yesterday, when I took my detour home via Elysian Fields, I got a better look at Ernie's Po-Boys, and the top part of the right hand side of the building is gone. I don't know what this means; these aren't the fancy places that could get good financial backing to help them get back on their feet. It's sobering; we just don't know what's going to happen in the short or long term.

But our little piece of New Orleans is looking good and feeling better all the time. We did everything we could do, and needed to do, shy of quitting jobs and school, and staying to learn how to drywall and lay shingles. Don't think we weren't tempted. One thing we are not tempted to do is give up on our house and our city. We are so grateful to our friends down there who helped us out, and the people who came and helped keep our house going for another 100 years. I am deep in karmic debt for Diana, Nettie and Dave; Steve and I would have been lost during this experience without them, and there is no one better to own a moldy New Orleans house with.

We are so glad we went there; not only did we get so much done, but just as important, we got to see it, all of it, the little purple flowers and the blighted moonscape, the trash heaps and the crowds at the Maple Leaf, diners at Bacco and the mold, the dead trees and the people having their coffee klatsch out on the sidewalk. They haven't left, the trees will come back and the music plays on.

Diana said recently, "We live in Los Angeles by circumstance. We have a home in New Orleans by choice."

What she said.

My own odyssey begins day after tomorrow. I won't have the same experience, quite; we'll have about six thousand times more mold, but not nearly so much cleaning. We'll save sentimental items as we can, and then walk away forever. My mom is already asking, "Are we going to have to pay someone to bulldoze this thing?"

Cocktail of the day.   Goddamn, did I need a drink after seeing those pictures.

This came courtesy of the Random Recipe feature on CocktailDB. It was good. I used the strongest gin we had on hand.

The Cabaret Cocktail

2 ounces gin.
1/4 ounce dry vermouth.
1/4 ounce Bénédictine.
2 dashes Angostura bitters.

Stir with cracked ice for no less than 30 seconds.

Thank you, sir; may I have another?

Imagine my surprise.   (Via Wes.) A partisan politician, presumably loyal to the president, was appointed to head the CIA, and then ...

The CIA will not seek to hold any current or former agency officials, including ex-director George J. Tenet, responsible for failures leading up to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, CIA Director Porter J. Goss said yesterday, despite a recommendation by the agency's inspector general that he convene an "accountability board" to judge their performance.

Goss's decision, coming four years after hijackers commandeered four jets and killed nearly 3,000 people, appeared to end the possibility that a high-level official will be held responsible for what several investigations found to be significant failures throughout the government. The inspectors general of the departments of State, Justice and Defense completed their own investigations without publicized disciplinary actions taken against anyone.

The CIA's report, which severely criticized actions of senior officers, will remain classified, Goss said in his announcement, which was welcomed by some former officials mentioned in the document but assailed by families of victims of the attacks.

Of course, that explains it all. No one is to blame.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Wednesday, October 5, 2005

The Rendonaires go home to clean, part five.   Looks clean, smells bad. But hey, there's ice cream! (Probably) the second-to-last missive from Mary in New Orleans, recounting her adventures with hubby Steve and friends Nettie, Dave and Diana as they clean their slightly moldy and wet house and survey life in New Orleans.

Oh my, what a day we had...

But first, let me say that I'm writing these at night, when I'm tired, and not only do I forget things, with the result that this email will be rather long, in order to add a number of leftover details, but I also make mortifying grammatical errors. I really do know that water "smells terrible" rather than "terribly." Speaking of which, while the CVS Pharmacy on Prytania has proudly reopened, it currently smells like sewer. It is sparkling clean and it sells ice, but P-U.

We spent the last two nights at the home of Margaret, mother of Becca, one of my NOLA teenage girlfriends. Margaret is an OB/GYN who has been working back to back to back to back shifts at Ocshner, and visiting 20 differenet pregnant clients in their various homes. She's an exercise in sleep deprivation. She has a beautiful Uptown home that came through the weather like a champ, and she had generously given us three bedrooms for a couple nights (the Chimes ended up with some overflow thanks to various returnees). We are deeply grateful for this and all the kindnesses shown to us by our dear friends; thanks to the Chimes, and Charles' wonder cooking (SUCH a béarnaise sauce that man makes!), we are hardly roughing it. Just having AC alone, in a city where 70% of the neighborhoods are still without power is a remarkable luxury. Add in cable TV and high speed internet, and it was enough. But then Charles, who has worked for many years at Arnaud's, had to go and make us Bananas Foster for dessert. I ask you. How strange life is.

Dave and Nettie went out after dinner last night to check out the bars and see just what curfew means these days. The authorities had been pretty strict about it even now -- they shut down the Maple Leaf first night at about 9pm, despite the peaceful crowd -- but the sense was that by and large, they were getting more lax. They went back to the Maple Leaf, still going strong at 9pm, and then to the Quarter, where cop cars were thick on the streets. A handful of bars were open on Bourbon, and another handful scattered throughout the Quarter. I know -- we were shocked, shocked that Bourbon Street is already booming. Well, hello, relief workers and construction guys! "Guys" being the operative word -- not a single woman in sight, except the strippers.

On the way back, a cop car diverted people from going down St. Charles, so they went down Prytania instead, and said there were army guys with big big guns on every corner, and each time they slowed to a stop, they could see in a rearview mirror that the guys on that corner were watching them very carefully, to see if their car just kept moving along, and doubtless to encourage them to do so, if need be. Nettie felt entirely creeped out by it all -- "It's just weird and disorienting to be in your country and see all these guns patrolling the streets," but Dave said he wasn't really bothered by it, though he did find it an oppressive presence. But having said that, it's clear that this place would be lawless without that presence -- they are absolutely acting as a deterrent (though there are about ten times more of them in the very wealthy Garden District than elsewhere, and none in the area about the Maple leaf, where it is pitch black, but that could be because they are really protecting people more than property, as there weren't too many people up there) -- and we are very glad they are here.

So today, we resumed the Drywall Destruction, joined by our lovely HandyGuys. Shortly after we started, a truck pulled up -- and it's Henry! Our extraordinary neighbor who stayed and stayed after the hurricane! Who would be a hero anyway (you should hear his stories about what he calls the Faulkner House, on the corner, full of little old ladies who were lit by 7am each morning -- "They didn't have any water, so we brought them some, and they promptly offered us a Bourbon and water!" -- and who refused to leave when Henry begged them to go. They are gone now, and he's relieved), but is even more so, because he's a skillful contractor, and also the sort of man who Just Gets Things Done. Barely were we finished hugging him and screaming, than he had his saw out and was removing our water heaters and fixing the back door that suddenly refused to shut, and offering more Opinions About Mold. He's going to be doing all our drywall and ceiling replacement (yes, three ceilings on the one side have to come down, if they don't come down on their own), and helping coordinate with various insurance inspections and what not.

Speaking of which, today Flood Insurance Guy came, and he briskly and cleanly put together a list -- drywall, fridge, washer/dryer/water heaters, and all the stuff stored in the basement will be covered! And more! Yay! And then Termite Guys came -- yeah, they say it's the cockroaches that survive, but let the record show we've only seen three palmetto bugs, and yet, we've got termites -- and they are coming TOMORROW to treat the place! And they've gone into the Mold Business (of course they have; it's the Mold Rush of '05) and they have a special treatment that costs a fraction of what the big deal treatments do. Does it work? Who knows? We aren't even sure any more, because now we are hearing bleach doesn't work. Utterly confused, we agreed to have them treat -- couldn't hurt -- and they, too, are coming tomorrow. We also have at least two different roof guys coming to see what they can do about the remaining roof leaks (tarp? Patch?). The drywall dust is mostly swept up, and the wet stuff taken down from the ceilings. So even though we have to go soon, we think we've Done Good.

And, oh, a funny thing about "leaving." As I was driving Diana, Nettie and Dave to the airport, and as we stopped for sandwiches at Martin Wine Cellar (because we could!), I suggested, recalling the whole Continental flight to NOLA which did not exist incident, that they call their respective airlines and confirm their flights. Diana's -- no problem. Nettie and Dave's on United? Didn't exist. United claimed they had called them to tell them, but that was a lie, and as Nettie tried to get them to fix the problem (no luck), I quietly called about our own Wednesday AM direct flight. Yeah, you guessed it. It seems United has not resumed flight operations yet, and though they are supposed to tomorrow, our flight is not among those scheduled. So faced once again with no transportion on this trip, I began again to think about a drive through Cajun country, this time TO Houston, instead of FROM. The nice reservation woman got us on a flight Tuesday afternoon, but that's only if United gets up and going again. Nettie and Dave were able to transfer their reservation to American today, and we might try that option, or, failing that, try driving to Houston or Memphis and flying out from there. Or we could just stay at the Chimes for another week. As long as Charles feeds us, we will be fine. And maybe Henry can teach me how to put up drywall!

Meanwhile, a few other things: as I was coming back from the airport, I got off at our usual exit, the Canal Street one off the 610, and got stuck at my first check point. I showed them a letter saying I had work in the French Quarter, and they waved me through, no questions asked. But I only got a couple blocks down Canal before I had to stop -- the area under the overpass is still full of water. I had to turn right (no other outlet), and suddenly I couldn't be pleased about the drywall and the flood insurance guy and the all the rest we've done, because outside my car was a blighted moonscape. (I think it's the lower part of Lakeview.) Houses that took at least eight feet of water. All vegetation dead. The roads themselves have turned to dust, all the asphalt washed away. Trees and litter cover every surface, and downed power lines and trees made for a drive that was somewhere between tense (the car was bumping over and around, and what if something broke down? Who could come get me?) and absurd -- this is a major American city? It wasn't totally desolate -- there were people coming out of a few houses, pulling out things to trash, a scene that will become ubiquitous. But you can see why, when you ask someone (as we ask everyone we see) "How'd you do?" all they have to say is "I live in the lower 9th Ward," or "I have a house in Lakeview," and there's not much more that needs to be said.

Other snapshots: I was trying to put my finger on something else that seemed off kilter, apart from the obvious. I mean -- trash, broken houses, these things, in smaller quantities, are not precisely alien to New Orleans. I finally figured it out on my drive home; this is usually a very green city. (Twenty feet of rainfall a year will do that.) It's part of its beauty. But now, it's dry, and brown-gray, and while there is still some green, it's considerably reduced. So much was under water for so long, the plant life was killed. It will come back, and pretty fast (we had a morning shower just today), but right now, it's just one more part of the brokenness of it all.

Many of the houses have spray painted symbols on them (just another piece of litter in a trashed city), codes that indicate if the place was searched, if it's structurally sound or not, or if the SPCA came by and either removed a pet or left food and water for same. You can imagine how happy we were to see a big spray painted sign around the corner from our place, indicating that the dog who so upset and worried Dave had been rescued! Since we had told a number of rescue people about its plight, we think that's one bit of good we did. We hope he's okay. Speaking of spray paint, Nettie wrote "I'm a victim" on their dead fridge.

While the population is definitely increasing, we are still seeing the most cars and the like in Uptown and the Quarter. Our street remains surprisingly quiet and empty, though a couple nearby blocks have signs of returning residents. Becuase the power is not yet on -- and after we sang them a song! What more could they want! -- most people are just coming home briefly to assess damage. It's just weird to drive around with the streets so quiet, and with most of the traffic there consisting of trucks (contractors, roofers, SPCA, emergency folks), utility vehicles (power, water, tree removal) and Hummers (Army, etc). Very few regular folks. On the other hand, it's very quiet, and yesterday, we sat on our porch and listened to the many birds chirp their hearts out, no other sounds to drown them out. Today, a small hawk flew next to our car as we went up St. Charles Ave, keeping pace with us for half a block, and there were dozens of white egrets along Bayou St. John.

Speaking of wildlife, my legs are covered in the most curious collection of bug bites. If this keeps up, I will soon have no visible skin between the bites. It's very pretty, and by that I mean "puke ugly." No one can understand it, as I have been spraying with Off! as much as everyone else. For entertainment, we gather around trying to decide what kind of critter is responsible and the others are thinking of exhibiting me in a freak show for extra change. Margaret kindly gave me some cream to put on them, and some benadryl, since she thinks I may be allergic and that's causing the over reaction.

Also, we DID make it on WWL -- a little shot of me yakking about something (didn't really hear what, was too busy noticing the furrow that has developed in my forehead; just as well they couldn't see my leperous legs) with my arm around Nettie's shoulders. We think the late night piece was truncated from an earlier, longer broadcast, and will ask WWL for a tape.

And the Creole Creamery makes divine lavender honey ice cream. Just sayin'.

Last report tomorrow, when we get home. Or a report about how we haven't gotten home yet. One or the other.

Incidentally, the Creole Creamery is located at 4924 Prytania St. at Upperline, and by the time I get there they should have between 20 and 25 really nifty homemade flavors. That lavender honey ice cream sounds good, but I want me a nectar cream soda.

No faith, no trust.   Amazingly enough, the right and left seem to be in agreement, more or less, about Bush's new Supreme Court nominee; with her competent but wholly undistinguished legal career, she wouldn't even be under consideration for the highest judicial office in the land if she weren't a crony of Shrub's, who thinks she will do his bidding.

It's yet another of countless examples of why the man is such a poor president, and this particular decision is coming under well-justified fire from the left (Maureen Dowd) ...

I hope President Bush doesn't have any more office wives tucked away in the White House.

There are only so many supremely powerful jobs to give to women who are not qualified to get them.

[...] W. loves being surrounded by tough women who steadfastly devote their entire lives to doting on him, like the vestal virgins guarding the sacred fire, serving as custodians for his values and watchdogs for his reputation.

First he elevated Condi Rice to secretary of state, even though she had bungled her job as national security adviser, failing to bring a sense of urgency to warnings about terrorism aimed at America before 9/11, and acting more as an enabler than honest broker in the push to invade Iraq.

But what were these limitations, considering the time the workaholic bachelorette logged at W.'s side in Crawford and Camp David, coaching him on foreign affairs, talking sports with him, exercising with him, making him feel like the most thoughtful, farsighted he-man in the world?

Then he elevated his longtime aide, speechwriter, memoir ghostwriter and cheerleader Karen Hughes to undersecretary of state for public diplomacy, even though it is exceedingly hard for the 6-foot Texan to try and spin a billion Muslims whom she doesn't understand the first thing about.

But who cares about her lack of expertise in such a critical job, as long as the workaholic loyalist continues to make her old boss feel like the most thoughtful, farsighted he-man in the world?

And now he has nominated his White House counsel and former personal lawyer, Harriet Miers, to a crucial swing spot on the Supreme Court.

The stolid Texan, called "Harry" by some old friends, is a bachelorette who was known for working long hours, sometimes 16-hour days, and was a frequent guest at Camp David and the Crawford ranch, where she helped W. clear brush.

[...] But who cares whether she has no judicial experience, and that no one knows what she believes or how she would rule from a bench she's never been behind, as long as the reason her views are so mysterious is that she's subordinated them to W.'s, making him feel like the most thoughtful, farsighted he-man in the world?

David Frum, the former White House speechwriter and conservative commentator, reported on his blog that Ms. Miers once told him that W. was the most brilliant man she knew.

[...] W. is asking for a triple leap of faith. He has faith in Ms. Miers as his lawyer and as a woman who shares his faith. And we're expected to have faith in his faith and her faith, and her opinions that derive from her faith that could change the balance of the court and affect women's rights for the next generation.

That's a little bit too much faith, isn't it?

And the right (George F. Will) ...

Senators beginning what ought to be a protracted and exacting scrutiny of Harriet Miers should be guided by three rules. First, it is not important that she be confirmed. Second, it might be very important that she not be. Third, the presumption -- perhaps rebuttable but certainly in need of rebutting -- should be that her nomination is not a defensible exercise of presidential discretion to which senatorial deference is due. It is not important that she be confirmed because there is no evidence that she is among the leading lights of American jurisprudence, or that she possesses talents commensurate with the Supreme Court's tasks. The president's "argument" for her amounts to: Trust me. There is no reason to, for several reasons.

He has neither the inclination nor the ability to make sophisticated judgments about competing approaches to construing the Constitution. Few presidents acquire such abilities in the course of their pre-presidential careers, and this president particularly is not disposed to such reflections.

Furthermore, there is no reason to believe that Miers's nomination resulted from the president's careful consultation with people capable of such judgments. If 100 such people had been asked to list 100 individuals who have given evidence of the reflectiveness and excellence requisite in a justice, Miers's name probably would not have appeared in any of the 10,000 places on those lists.

Ouch. Hard words, Dubya, considering they're coming from one of your own.

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  Tuesday, October 4, 2005

OffBeat is in trouble.   OffBeat, the indispensible New Orleans roots music magazine, is penniless. They need our help.

Read the story of their current situation at the above link, and especially note publisher Jan Ramsay's offer: Anyone who donates $200 or more to OffBeat during this difficult time will be offered a LIFETIME subscription. Hell, that's a great deal.

Photo of the day.   An old advertising sign for Legendre Herbsaint, marketed then as an absinthe substitute (and still, to a certain extent; it's a pastis, and it's still made), in the window of the New Orleans Pharmacy Museum on Chartres St., also the temporary home of the Museum of the American Cocktail.

At the close of the day, drink an Herbsaint Frappé

And remember, folks ... at the close of the day, drink an Herbsaint Frappé!

The Rendonaires go home to clean, part four.   Eating, and cleaning, and goin' to Mass, and bein' interviewed, and dumpster diving ... oh, and mold. Mary's latest epistle on their experiences cleaning up their little corner of New Orleans.

During a normal trip to NOLA, all we talk about is where we just ate, what we are eating now and where we plan to eat in the future, with some discussions of music for variety. And now? We talk about mold.

What is mold, how it differs from mildew and whether that spot right there is mold or mildew or whether it matters now that Nettie sprayed it with bleach. We trade stories from tradespeople and emails from Mary's sister Deb on just how pernicious and/or dangerous mold is. We aren't the most exciting of conversationalists.

To this end, today was spent -- you guessed it! -- in more mold removal, to wit, drywall teardown. We kept pulling out moldly wood and other water damaged goods and sweeping and sweeping, and managed to get the other garage side looking rather spiffy. Kevin and Jeremy, the way too cute handyboys, who all but refused payment ("We really did just want to help y'all out" -- we paid them a good hourly rate anyway), were put to work removing what was supposed to be the drywall from a couple of the rooms downstairs, but, it seems, will turn out to be every inch of drywall up to about four feet, throughout. This was due to a late development, as we continued to haul flotsam and jetsam out, and discovered several hitherto undetected mold cultures spreading over more walls. By the time the guys had to leave, we got worried we wouldn't get it all done before we have to leave town (one room had the stuff nailed on a particularly tricky and time consuming way which slowed the guys down) and so Nettie got a clawhammer and a jabsaw, which is all she needs to make her happy ("Seriously," Dave said, "You've never see her take down a room before.") and she, Steve and I went to work peeling back the stuff and ripping it down. Most satisfying.

By the end of the day, we had all but three walls bare to the wooden bones. We only had to go halfway up the wall -- the mold stops dead at the seams, to our relief. Sprayed with bleach, the interior studs and beams are clean, which is more than can be said of the floors, which are naturally now covered in drywall rubble. Tomorrow, we will try to get the rest of the walls done, and the rubble removed. We also need to target spraying any ceiling that got water damage with bleach; the one room already thus treated no longer has that mildew smell which is a very good sign indeed. Ever less attractive is the immediate area outside our house, which has a four-foot tall pile of moldy mattresses, wood, drywall, garbage and other litter, all covered with flies. Now imagine one of this outside of 80% of New Orleans, and you can see why trash removal will soon replace electricity as everyone's main concern. On the other side we pulled furniture into the middle of the rooms and covered it with plastic, in preperation for replacing the two ceilings that are threatening to come down from rain damage. We sighed, looking at it; it's just like it looked when we first moved in, and were painting and doing other prep work. It feels like we barely got the place all set up, and now we are a little bit starting all over.

But all is not entirely labor; we went to the Quarter this morning (we think the odd smell is the absence of beer and vomit), because we heard the first post-hurricane mass would be performed in St. Louis Cathedral. We got there about an hour early, so we went off for a walk, only to immediately get stopped by WWL, the local news channel. After seperating us into Catholics and Jews (we were evenly divided), they wanted to know why we came out this morning for Mass. Nettie and I (appointed Catholic spokespeople) gave some answers that emphasized community and the historic role of the Church in the city's development and culture, while studiously avoiding anything sounding remotely like piety. Then the camera guy filmed us walking along -- "Oh, B-roll time!" we said, and he replied, surprised, "Now, how do you know about B-roll?" ("That's like asking, 'How do you know about biscuits?' where we come from," Steve said later.)

Walking through the Quarter, we came across CC's Coffeehouse, where the usual morning regulars, frustrated that it wasn't open yet, had just set up a tailgate party with a coffee pot and blues music on a portable stereo, and everyone seated around in chairs they set up on the sidewalk. We were pleased to join them. The Entergy trucks came by, and Nettie, Diana and I sang them our "We love you Entergy" song, and the guy we serenaded pulled out his videocamera and made us do it again. Hey, if it gets us power more quickly...

And then it was off to Mass, presided over by Archbishop Hughes who actually did a good job for a classical theist, scolding anyone (hello, right wing!) who might blame the hurricane on the decadent sinners who were being punished for their sins, nor did he say some crap thing like, "This was all part of God's plan," but instead emphasizing that we have to turn something awful into something good, and ending his sermon by bringing up the statue of Jesus out back that lost his fingers (to a falling oak), and then said "So instead, we will be His fingers, and we will do the work to rebuild this community. And to this end, I will not have those fingers reattached until that is done."

Continuing the shameless promotion aspect of our day, as we walked out, we got stopped by John Ydstie from NPR ("Ooooo!" we all said, "We are SUCH fans," because we are geeks, and we barely managed to not ask him to say something soothing, as he does), for a spot on All Things Considered! Again with the "And why did you come today," and again with our neutral religious but strong community spirit message, and each of us proudly identified ourselves as being "From Los Angeles, and Mid City, New Orleans." Which is precisely why we didn't make the final cut on the program tonight; we weren't local enough. Harumph. But we saw our WWL buddy who assured us we would make his show. We'll let you know. But yes; by the second press interview, we were getting VERY amused.

And how did we end our day? Why, with our FIRST RESTAURANT MEAL. At Bacco! Three hickory grilled redfish with lemon butter sauce, and two grilled ribeyes with garlic herb butter, and a couple praline bread puddings, and it was GOOD, thank you very much! At last! We again talk about NOLA food! And mold; restaurant manager Richard Shakespeare had a house in Lakeview. Note tense usage.

It's interesting how differently some people take the same event; when you ask "How'd you do?" some say "Not bad!" and then you hear they got four feet of water. (But, you know -- knock out the drywall and move along. That seems to be their attitude, bless them.) Others say with complete detachment, as Richard did, "Lost my whole house," and they shrug. Most people declare their intention of staying, but then we get others, like the couple who from our 'hood who said they had way too much water, and are bugging out for North Carolina (the new promised land; the majority of those who are moving are moving there), and then they showed photos of the worst of the damage "Look, there's mold EVERYWHERE!" and it's the same three foot patch we had -- emphasis "had" because Nettie took care of that sucker with her bleach and her clawhammer -- and there's a desk chair covered with the same fuzzy mildew I just wiped off a couple of books which are now good as new. When this same couple said, "You shouldn't stay here after dark; people are moving back into the projects and it's going to start to get hairy," with an implied but not stated "Those People are coming back," we realized that these people are Those People to us, and they are the real problem. Good riddance.

Sights and sounds: we drove down Orleans Ave. to the Quarter, and that area got hit really hard. Every house took well over four feet of water, and all the remaining cars were entirely submerged. The streets are still pretty empty; the Quarter is only about a third as busy as it usually is, but by comparison to the rest of town, it teems with life. Electricity will do that. Street signs are twisted and bent, so on corners you can't tell which street is which. With business signs also missing, and buildings also altered, it's sometimes hard to tell where you are. Soon, this place will be a dumpster diver's dream; so much stuff is being thrown out and while some of it is genuinely ruined, some of it could also be salvaged. We heard that Antoine's was throwing out many of their dining room chairs, so we went by to check it out, and found an enormous dumpster out front, too tall to look into. Spotting a ladder, I decided I was my sister's sister, and climbed on up. The chairs in question were cane bottom and not that nice, but we may reconsider...

There are weird moments after the apocalypse, sometimes unwittingly prophetic. The sign advertising a show called "The Iraq N' Bowl", a tribute to local returned soldiers, on a building next to the Maple Leaf, a show that was scheduled for Sunday, August 28. We suspect it didn't take place. The magazines and newspapers on the stands are all from that same week, like time just stopped a month ago. But time marches on, and so T-shirts are popping up: "I looted New Orleans and all I got were 30 lousy T-shirts." And another showing two swirling hurricane eyes right over the breast areas: "Katrina and Rita: Girls Gone Wild."

A favorite local bumper sticker reads "New Orleans: Proud to Call It Home." This has prompted a favorite parody "New Orleans: Proud to Crawl Home." We took photos of the sign hanging in the Quarter "New Orleans: Proud to Swim Home." And then we spotted a brand new bumper sticker, on a very dirty car...

New Orleans: Still Proud to Call it Home.

Yeah you rite.

T-minus four days and counting.

Lying bastards.   Yeah, they're going to rebuild New Orleans and the Gulf Coast with local companies and labor. Right.

Companies outside the three states most affected by Hurricane Katrina have received more than 90 percent of the money from prime federal contracts for recovery and reconstruction of the Gulf Coast, according to an analysis of available government data.

The analysis by The Washington Post takes into account only the first wave of federal contracts, those that had been entered in detail into government databases as of yesterday. Together they are valued at more than $2 billion. Congress has allocated more than $60 billion for the recovery effort, and the ultimate total is expected to rise far higher.

But already the trend toward out-of-state firms is clear, despite pledges by administration officials that federal funds for Katrina relief will become an engine of local economic redevelopment. Among the contracts analyzed, 3.8 percent of the money went to companies that listed an Alabama address, 2.8 percent to firms in Louisiana and just 1.8 percent went for Mississippi contractors. Taken together, that amounts to less than $200 million.

I wonder how many of those out-of-state firms are big Republican party contributors.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Monday, October 3, 2005

Bacco open for business!   Mary called yesterday afternoon and said they were just about to sit down to dinner at Bacco, who along with the Red Fish Grill were the first two major restaurants in the French Quarter to be re-certified by the Department of Health for reopening. The key to reopening a restaurant seems to be to start with a limited menu, as they were saying in the T-P yesterday, and that seems to be the case at Bacco as well. Right now I'd have to say I don't care, as I'd eat anything on their current menu, if not all of it at once.

This evening's menu is as follows:

Gumbo Ya-Ya
Chicken and Andouille Gumbo
Bacco Caesar Salad

Hickory-Grilled Redfish topped with a Lemon Butter Sauce
Ribeye Steak topped with Garlic Butter
Herb-Roasted Chicken
Grilled Hamburger

Praline Bread Pudding
Lemon Icebox Pie

The KatrinaRita (Herradura Silver Tequila, Triple Sec, Lemon and Lime Juices and a splash of Blue Curaçao)
Hurricane (What you'd expect)
Category 5 Hurricane (A Hurricane topped with a shot of 151 proof rum)
Curfew and Coke (Crown Royal and Coke)

They're closing early and recommending that their patrons be out of the restaurant not long after 6pm, as they're a bit worried about the curfew, but from what I've been reading and hearing most cops are more or less ignoring the curfew unless you really look like you're up to no good.

People, if you're in or around New Orleans, go eat!

The Rendonaires go home to clean, part three.   Mary's latest email from the home front, as follows:

Today more of the neighborhoods were opened up to residents, though against the advice of some of the government, which believes the lack of potable water is a problem. Indeed, Jill thinks we shouldn't shower in it. We just shrug; after a month in Bali, nearly that in Morocco and a couple other places where you can't drink the water, and we are adept at showering with our mouths closed and using bottled water to clean toothbrushes. Just another sign NOLA has become the third world country residents always joked it was. In any event, the result was that there were more cars around; more coming down our street (maybe two dozen all day, up from a dozen the day before), more around the city, but not so many that we pretty much could do whatever we wanted at the intersecutions, most of which do not have working stop signs. When you are the only car visible for blocks, one way signs and lack of stops signs don't really matter.

My chore today was tackling our fridge. On Charles' advice, my face secured with a good mask, I hastily emptied the contents, most of which were covered in what we shall consider penicillin, into a trash bag (not too gross, but at long last, I found a good use for those nice smelly candles from William Sonoma! Ah, faux Meyer lemon smell! So much nicer than spoiled ice cream...) and hauled outside. Then I cleaned it out with bleach, hit it again with Simple Green, scrubbed it dry with a towel and voila! It's the prettiest fridge in the Faubourg St. John. It looks better than when we moved in. A couple of boxes of baking soda and a couple plates of charcoal -- the currently recommended remedy, I do wonder if it's an Old Wives' Tale -- are currently resting inside, soaking up the remaining odors.

Not so good, but far more hilarious was the fridge on the other side. Since it contained meat -- and by now, God knows what else entomology-wise -- and smelled foul even with the door closed, we duct taped it shut ("I get to use duct tape!" shouted Nettie, who is easy to please) and hired Kevin (I know his Mamma) and his cousin Jeffrey, who were young and cute and earnest, to haul it out and down our very steep steps.

Phase One -- haul out -- went well, all the better because Diana laid down plastic sheeting to catch the exceedingly foul liquid that dripped out. Phase Two is when Comedy Ensued, as we noticed how very steep and narrow the stairs were. It was decided to put down plywood and let the thing more or less salom down, but the plywood stuck between the top pillars, and the boys finally heaved the fridge down, foreheads bulging with effort. But the toxic thing is gone (well, out on the sidewalk) and once the porch was scrubbed with soap, the smell began to disappate, as did the flies. The boys were then put to work knocking out the (really crappy) drywall (mold retardation) between the two downstairs garages, and then earned our lasting love by going up to the moldy spot on Diana's ceiling to shoot it with bleach, only to pronounce the spot mere (harmless!) mildew (they bleached it anyway). They will be back tomorrow to knock out the rest of the downstairs drywall, which neighbor Henry (a contractor) can replace for us later. So the house repairs are coming along fairly fast, though while up in the attic checking on the backside of the damp ceiling, they did report seeing many little holes in the roof. We have called teh roofer, but we are going to see if FEMA can put a blue tarp over the whole thing which will give pretty good protection until we get our new roof. Further, this evening, Diana got the number of another guy who can tarp. Cross your fingers; with his tarp on top of the good hole repair, we should be set for six months.

Our neighbor Susan came over, her first clean up at her house -- she's been working with the SPCA, collecting animals (her own dogs were flown to LA and Chicago!). Her house came through okay (she discarded her fridge, too), but she had two rental properties which are going to be total tear downs.

Towards the end of the afternoon, the owner of Pal's, the bar on the corner, came by. "Bring us some ice and we will pour you a drink!" We immediately ran down as they opened up for the first time in a month, noting that the last drink special they had on offer before Katrina was called the "Rita." They got broken in to at some point, looters who broke into the poker machines and cash registar, but left the booze. The floor got some water, but otherwise it looks good. The owner had just come from her house, which is coated in mold inside. She was paralyzed with helplessness and totally overwhelmed, so we sprang into action. "Do you want us to come over and spray bleach?" we said, with the authority of the experienced, "Cause we are ready to go." She wasn't quite ready to do anything, it was just too much with her at that moment, but we told her that it does make the mold vanish (if not remove it entirely as a threat) and that it was a huge psychological boost to see it go.

Further, Diana offered up our house for her to live in, if she wanted to reopen the bar while she was figuring out her next step. And we meant it. And she was stunned, and shocked, and a bit weepy and she might take us up on it. The couple other locals inside traded stories of signs of life. Molly's on the Market is full of customers! Royal Market is selling sandwiches! And it was a glimmer, a start.

After our labors, we drove around the city a little bit. We noted that many of the oak trees look like they got overly pruned, but otherwise seem okay. We passed the Entergy (local electric company) trucks and began to sing to them (to the tune of "We Love You Birdie"):

We love you Entergy,
Oh yes we do,
We love you Entergy,
Our meat is blue.
We don't have power,
Maybe soon?
Oh, Entergy, we love you.

Two trucks full of National Guard, big guns at their side, drove by and we shouted "Thank you! We love you!" and they shouted back "We love you too!" Photos were taken of a sweet boat parked in the middle of the street, and the downed helicopter by our Post Office. Perhaps you saw this on the news. Steve and Nettie drove by Ernie's, home of our favorite hot sausage and cheese po-boy, and while they took on as much as four feet of water, the building looks pretty secure. Less happy was McHardy's, home of the best fried chicken ever, which lost most of its roof, and Liuzza's, a beloved local restaurant, which Steve and I had seen photos of showing flooded with six feet of water; but we forgot how very close it was to our house (about a 2 minute drive, if that)...and we realized just how incredibly lucky we got. Our neighborhood was really one of the worst hit, but since the water was only halfway up the sides of houses, as opposed to up to the roof, and so it didnt' get as much press.

From there, we drove to the Maple Leaf, a wonderful bar and club, in fact, the first night I ever spent in NOLA I was taken there, almost exactly fifteen years ago. Yesterday, they oepned up to great fanfare, Walter "Wolfman" Washington, powered by a generator playing the blues to a hundred unbearably happy people. There were only a few people when we walked in, but they shouted "Welcome home! Welcome back to the Maple Leaf!" and we cried back "Welcome back, Maple Leaf!" And the guy at the bar bought everyone in the house a round, and then another guy reciprocated, and we all beamed and beamed at each other.

"So, how was YOUR hurricane?" I asked, and many shrugged and said "Not bad!" Ed the Contractor said "Oh, you got rain on your ceilings? That mold thing is a scam -- if the drywall is soft, then replace it, but otherwise, just spray with bleach and you are fine. Your ceilings are plaster? You have NOTHING to worry about. Spray with bleach and forget about it." (When told about our basement, he said "Okay, with the actual flooding, you DO have to knock it out," so we know he's not being too casual about it.) So that's hugely reassuring, and a hell of a lot cheaper.

As I stood outside talking to Chuck on the cell phone, a couple came by, noted I was standing by restaurant Jacques-Imo's, and said "Table for two?" and I said, "Maybe in about a month."

"So about the usual wait?" they replied (Jacques-Imo's has notoriouslt long and slow lines.) And Steve picked out "St. James Infirmary" on the clunky piano, and the gang drank, and we toasted and the news came on and showed the scene at the Maple leaf the night before, and it was a self reflexive moment and we all screamed and raised the room. It was exactly, exactly, what we needed the most.

"I feel like I died and went to New Orleans," said Nettie, and we knew exactly what she meant.

Although I still dread going to the house, and I still dread seeing the destruction, I actually have something to look forward to. I want to see New Orleanians, I want to go somewhere and have a drink and toast with someone and look them in the eye and know that we're going to come back, slowly but surely.

More made-up New Orleans stories.   I've lost track of the number of times I heard stories like this, and from whom I heard them.

Among the rumors that spread as quickly as floodwaters after Hurricane Katrina, reports that gunmen were taking potshots at rescue helicopters stood out for their senselessness.

On Sept. 1, as patients sweltered in hospitals without power and thousands of people remained stranded on rooftops and in attics, crucial rescue efforts were delayed as word of such attacks spread.

But more than a month later, representatives from the Air Force, Coast Guard, Department of Homeland Security and Louisiana Air National Guard say they have yet to confirm a single incident of gunfire at helicopters.

Likewise, members of several rescue crews who were told to halt operations say there is no evidence they were under fire.

I know it sells more papers and gets higher ratings on MSNBC to say that people were shooting at rescue helicopters, but will the media who promulgated these stores be as fast to debunk them? If not ... thus does the slander of New Orleans continue.

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Sunday, October 2, 2005

The Rendonaires go home to clean, part two.   The second installment from Mary, going back to New Orleans to assess the damage and do what needs to be done:

Again with the better and the worse...

First, the house: We spent all day there, doing one thing and another. Nettie and I got really lucky, early on, thanks to an eagle-eyed Reuters guy, who saw, right across the street from the Chimes, a contractor's truck. Turns out it was parked at the contractor's home, and when I said "See, I've got this roof that needs tarping..." he said, "I'll send my guy over today." AND HE DID. (Seriously; usually, "today" in NOLA time means "a month from Tuesday" but by god, everyone came today and when they said they would.) Damn good thing; the other side had at least eighteen holes of various sizes, some big enough to peer into our attic. We almost certainly were screwed by Rita; there weren't nearly as many leaks and water stains when [our neighbor] Henry went through, and Rita brought the only rain since Katrina. They patched the holes with some kind of roofing stuff they said would act as temp material for about three months, and they are working up an estimate for our new roof.

Oh, yes -- Insurance Guy came today (!!) and gave a quickie look, and without even going up there said "Oh, yeah, new roof for you guys." Hate to lose our 100 year old slate in favor of new, but it seems that Roof Guys are happy to save the slate for us, agreeing that said slate will make nice flooring and other materials and is too good to waste. Getting the roof dealt with was huge; we will probably STILL have the odd leak or twelve, but no more so that we usually do. So that's a big relief.

Insurance Guy needs to come back for a two hour, close inspection, before he can tell us anything more.

Meanwhile, Jill gave us the number of a handyguy, who it turns out, is the son of someone I know! He's coming TOMORROW to help us with the basement, and cutting up Big Dead Tree, and moving the Dead Fridge out -- we duct taped the one containing Pork, but I got brave (or foolish) and peeked in ours -- dead ice cream, dead bread, all adds up to stink but not bad, and once power comes back on, it will freeze up swell and we should be able to clean it out and keep it. Other replacements depend on Flood Insurance Guy, who will be responsible for mold removal, washer/dryher and other things, and is coming, we hope hope hope, on Monday.

Backyard looks terrible; downed tree takes up nearly all of it, branches, leaves, trash, it's full with crap, and out of force of cliché habit, I said "My God. It looks like a hurricane hit here-- oh, right." Well, for once, it's not hyperbole.

And in the middle of all this, a truck pulls up and it's Tim Smith! Our handyguy and good friend who uses our side as his workshop! We thought he was in North Carolina still. We hugged and cried and rejoiced and he's ready to come home and get to work. An unexpected and total delight.

Less of a delight was Mold Guy #1 who came to give an inspection and said that not only would we have to knock out all the moldy walls downstairs, but every single ceiling upstairs (roof leaks), and a whole lot more. We decided we hated him, because he clearly was out to make a buck, and also? He's working all over New Orleans, but didn't bother getting a map and we had to tell him how to get to our place from Slidell. Also, he had a small hairless dog. I ask you. The point being, we are totally getting a second opinion before we gut our place.

Mold issues are sharply debated, between the old timers who point out they've had mold for years and everyone just lived with it, and new timers who point out that they also used to think cigarette smoking was good for your health. We suspect there is a happy medium, and while it likely means losing the dry wall downstairs, the roof leaks really don't add up to huge over reactions. By the way, all our attic insulation blew out!

The day was spent with Nettie spraying bleach over all the mold (some of which was mildew -- lots of pretty colors and textures and we simply don't know which is the bad kind and which isn't), which was along most of the walls downstairs. ALL OF IT disappeared with the bleach application. This doesn't mean we are out of the woods, but it was MOST encouraging. I spent the day dragging stuff out of the basement, much of which was still damp, but only faintly smelled. There was a little water in some items, which smelled terribly.

So, we sweeped and dragged and made big piles of trash, and we swept Henry's porch and sidewalk, so he didn't have trash all over when he comes home. As we worked, we noticed the power lines were down across the street, which was a hazard for cars which couldn't see them. So we took Craig's Mardi Gras beads and draped them all over as a gaily decorated hazard sign -- and over half the cars (only about a dozen all day) that came through stopped to take photos! It was so very New Orleans and they were glad.

Thanks to our hot and sweaty efforts, our basement is almost entirely cleaned out -- except for Tim Smith's part -- and looks so much better. Nettie had been wanting to clean it out since we bought the place, so she got her wish.

Our neighborhood is still almost entirely dead. No power, only a few people coming through to collect things. A few stray dogs, including one with a bad head wound, that reduced Dave to tears as he tried to catch it. We put out food and water for everyone, but the SPCA are out in force, and there are food and water spots all over for the pooches.

Everywhere, there are piles of trash, collected or just blown. Tree branches line the roads in huge piles -- you can tell that the streets were totally impassable, and that the city has been out working very hard to saw them up and put them out of the way. All over, signs are down, sides of buildings ripped, walls gone, the occasional building gone gone gone. The roads are empty -- Dave and Nettie took a stroll last night, in defiance of curfew, and they walked down the middle of St. Charles avenue, because they could. Lights are on in Uptown, but few are home. Trucks are around, but few other cars. Trees show bleeding gashes from downed branches. Cars abandoned on the neutral grounds, showing signs they had water up to the windows. Everything is still, and strange.

And yet. Everyone who drives by waves, and the few people on porches shout "Welcome home!" The oak trees really are still here, if a bit thinner and spindly. There are purple wildflowers blooming among the debris in our backyard.

And the Quarter? Looks PERFECT. Looks like it does after Mardi Gras, except, weirdly, CLEANER. We had heard that the residents were working their asses off keeping it clean, and it shows. We drove down St. Ann and Lafitte's was open!! And someone at a corner grocery store was selling hot food, and another place had people inside eating. Life is coming back there, and we all cried with relief. In ohter places, people have painted amusing signs on their plywood boarding up the place. "I'm inside with a big dog, an ugly woman and a clawhammer. Looters beware." (Two weeks later.) "Woman left. I'm making dog gumbo." I walked outside just now to check the laundry, and the air was sultry and silky and it smelled like it should, like river wind and honey. Charles is making salmon and jambalaya for dinner. There is a hot rumor that the Maple Leaf will have live music tonight.

There is a sign on Commander's Palace: "We know what it means... Lally, Ti, Ella and Dottie."

Yeah, you rite.

The Maple Leaf did indeed open Friday night, and they did indeed have live music ... by Walter "Wolfman" Washington!

Now we're cooking!   Local chefs in New Orleans can't wait to get started again. Restaurants, big and small, are coming back.

ZydeQue in the Quarter is open. So is the Red Fish Grill. The chef-owner of Stella! has been grilling burgers and sausage sandwiches outside his restaurant. The Royal Street Grocery and Deli is serving po-boys. Slim Goodies Diner is packed, Cooter Brown's has shrimp and catfish. Chef Paul Prudhomme should have K-Paul's open by next week. La Cote Brasserie is open and serving. Restaurant August will be open by Wednesday.

It's happening!

[ Link to today's entries ]

  Saturday, October 1, 2005

The Rendonaires go home to clean, part one.   Our close friends Mary, Steve, Dave, Nettie and Diana, all of whom live in L.A. most of the year but who also own a duplex together in the Bayou St. John neighborhood of New Orleans, returned home on Wednesday to assess the damage to their house and their adopted city. Mary has been sending in regular updates over the last couple of days, and here's the first one:

It's at once better than we hoped, worse than we expected and as bad as we feared.

After an all too thrilling trip to get here -- exceedingly short version, Continental first cancelled our Houston flight and couldn't get us on a flight to NOLA today, then reinstated the Houston flight, then as we were about to board the plane, told us that the NOLA flight "didn't exist" and then didn't give us any options, so we got on the Houston plane and after more angst and options, finally begged our way on to the last NOLA flight we could have gotten for the next eight days (we were intending to drive if that failed), and then after all that, we had NO check points and no hassles getting into the city! (By the way, at no point during this day-long ordeal did the people of Continental fail to be either rude, dismissive or incompetent and usually all three) -- we faced ... The House.

Upstairs [the living quarters]: FINE. A few leaves have blown through. Slighty musty smell. FINE. Sure, several of the ceilings show the tell-tale signs of water damage (deep yellow-brown discoloration) which means we have to get that roof fixed ASAP, but otherwise, FINE.

Downstairs [the ground-level "basement"]: Mold on walls about waist high, no higher. No muck, just dirt. Going to spray mold with bleach tomorrow and clean it up, and then figure out next step, between tearing out drywall or hiring mold company or what. Will go through Cousin Craig's worldly goods, but some of them seem to have survived.

Outside: Tiles blown off roof. Lotsa debris. Worse, that big, beautiful four-story tall pecan tree, as big around as a small car, is down. Took out fences, neighbor's shed. The shade it provided our back rooms, the leafy green beauty that made that back room such a joy to hang out in, the privacy it gave us, the screening of our neighbors' junky backyards -- all gone. But it fell in such a way that it didn't hurt any of the houses, one last act of joy it gave us. Such a good tree. I'm still crying.

The rest of the city? I can't talk about it yet. Steve said "The closest I can describe it, it's like when we were in Bosnia..." The Rock n' Bowl, Angelo Brocato's, Liuzza's ... Mid-City took it a lot harder than we realized. Chuck, it's going to be hard.

We are at The Chimes [Bed and Breakfast], which has AC and TV and Charles has Cornish game hens in the oven and clean sheets on our beds. So we are home.

More tomorrow...


It's good to hear this. We all worried about what really happened to their house, without any of them having seen it until day before yesterday, and it's a relief to at least know what's what, and get started cleaning it up. It's also good to hear their stories and kinda ease myself into what to expect at my parents' house next week, when we all go back. That's gonna be far worse.

Mo' latuh ...

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