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Five years ago: 8/29/2005

Today we celebrate life in, and the continuing existence of, that incomparably wonderful place, the city of New Orleans.

Five years ago today, a fearsome hurricane on the Mississippi Gulf Coast but what should have been a run-of-the-mill hurricane of low-to-moderate strength in the city of New Orleans, came ashore. By the time the force of the hurricane reached the city the winds were only Category 2 and even down to a Category 1. There was some damage and lots of rain, but the city itself weathered the hurricane relatively well. The initial reaction was that “we dodged a bullet.”

Then the levee and floodwall system, designed and built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, failed.

Here’s how it happened, demonstrated via an animated graphic from the Times-Picayune.

A very concise description of how fast things happened once the floodwalls and levees failed comes from the excellent Twitter feed of Crystal Kile, aka DJ Poptart at WTUL in New Orleans:

With all of the breaches, some neighborhoods flooded to the rooftops in minutes.

Even where the flooding was slower, further from the sites of the breaches, the water rose approximately 0.3 m (1 ft) every 10 minutes.

The lake level equalized with the floodwaters at midday on September 1, 2005. [That’s three days later.]

The failure of the levees and the flooding of New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina on August 29, 2005, represent the first time in American history that engineering failure has brought about the destruction or near-destruction of a major U.S. city.

There are five-years-later posts and articles all over the internets — there’s not a lot I can add. I wasn’t there until five weeks later, but I certainly had my own experiences with my family’s home. There are a couple hundred thousand other stories just like it (and, on the five-year anniversary, a hundred times more than that — that’s 20,000,000 — in Pakistan at the moment, which I simply cannot get my head around). Just look around and you’ll find plenty. But I do want to point you in a couple of directions.

First off, continuing to run on HBO this weekend is Spike Lee’s excellent documentary “If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise”, a sequel to the one he did four years ago in the immediate aftermath of the Federal Flood, “When The Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts.”

Then tomorrow is the one-night-only theatrical premiere of Harry Shearer’s long-awaited documentary film “The Big Uneasy,” which we will not miss.

Harry’s film will pull no punches, spelling out the reasons for the disaster (man-made, not natural as it was on the Mississippi Gulf coast), talking to New Orleans residents and whistle-blowers from the Corps of Engineers. As one prominent scientist said, had the floodwall and levee system worked as it was supposed to, the worst that Hurricane Katrina would have inflicted on New Orleans was “wet ankles.”

The odd tidbit of news about “The Big Uneasy” this weekend is that Harry, a longtime contributer to National Public Radio, submitted an ad to NPR for the film, which NPR subsequently rejected. The very brief ad stated that the movie was about “why New Orleans flooded.” According to NPR, “the language violated FCC guidelines.” However, they would allow the ad to say the movie was about “New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina.” Harry said, “The bickering went on for days.” I would like to see an explicit explanation of exactly how that language violated FCC guidelines.

Harry calls shenanigans on the explanation as well. “The FCC won’t let you say what your movie is about?” The NPR lawyers declined to offer any further explanation. Perhaps it’s because they’re Nice Polite Republicans?

“The Big Uneasy” plays in theatres tomorrow night only, August 30, in these theatres nationwide and at the following theatres in the Los Angeles area:

The Bridge 18, 6081 Center Dr, LA
The Grove 14, 189 The Grove Dr, LA
The Americana 18, 322 Americana Way, Glendale
The Culver Stadium 12, 9500 Culver Blvd, Culver City
Foothill Cinema 10, 854 E Alosta, Azusa
Agoura Hills 8, 29045 Agoura Hills Dr, Agoura Hills

Call for showtimes.

New Orleans has come a long way in five years, but still has a long way to go.


Vote for Nine Lives

Yes, we’re all still alive over here — traveling again, and more. Let’s jump back in and talk about some important stuff. First …

Some of you may be familiar with Dan Baum’s excellent book Nine Lives: Death and Life in New Orleans. It traces the true stories of nine New Orleanians from different parts of the city, vastly different circumstances and levels of New Orleans society and culture. Their stories begin 45 years ago with Hurricane Betsy and take them through the disaster of Katrina, the Federal Flood and beyond. It’s excellent, and I recommend it without reservation.

Some of you may also be fans of New Orleans singer and songwriter Paul Sanchez, who’s one of my very favorite musicians. Paul and his wife Shelly lost everything in the flood of nearly five years ago, but after having gone through the heartbreak and difficulties physical, emotional and financial have picked up and carried on with life in an amazing way. Paul’s life and singing are full of joy and love; he’s been making an amazing amount of music in the last five years, and it’s all terrific.

Let’s take a little musical interlude, shall we?

Paul’s been doing some writing with Los Angeles-based writer Colman DeKay over the last few years — they co-wrote the title track of Paul’s album Exit to Mystery Street and several other songs, and now they’re working on a project that’s got me very excited.

Colman and Paul have picked up the rights to adapt Nine Lives into a musical. I’ve heard several of the songs, and they are amazing. Truly amazing.

The first step is to make a CD of the songs, then … “all the way to Broadway,” as Threadhead Records founder Chris Joseph says. Let’s hear a bit more about the project from Chris and Paul:

In order to do this, they’re going to need some money.

Threadhead Records is perhaps the world’s first non-profit, volunteer-run record label. Their sole aim is to raise funding to help get great New Orleans musicians make records and get them out to the people. Threadhead needs our help with this one, folks — it’s a big project.

Fortunately they’re in line for a $50,000 grant from Pepsi’s “Refresh Project,” but in order for them to be eligible for the money, they need our votes! Go to this URL:


Register at the site. Don’t worry about spam — I’ve been participating in this for a while and I haven’t gotten any. Once you’re registered, vote for the Nine Lives Project. The important thing to remember is that once you click “vote for the project” you’ll be redirected to a login screen. Once you register and log in you will be redirected back to the main page, where you HAVE to click, “vote for the project” AGAIN in order for your vote to count. This is really important — a lot of votes went uncounted until people realized this!

It’s getting down to the wire; only the top ten get the cash and Nine Lives has been as low as #15. We’re up to #8 as of today, so we need to keep the momentum rolling.

UPDATE! Dan Baum himself visited the comments section (wow!) and said that you can vote TEN times a day, as long as you let an hour or so go between votes. So vote early and often! Vote now, and tomorrow, and every day until the end of the month. It’s legal! It’s not as if it were a congressional election in St. Bernard Parish or something.

If we’re successful you’ll be rewarded with a monumental work of New Orleans music, telling some great stories with some great songs. One of the things that’s helped people through the last five years in New Orleans is a ton of great music — mo’ music, mo’ betta!

If you’ve been attentding any of Paul’s recent shows you may well have heard versions of some of the songs. You can also preview one of the songs at Paul’s site — scroll through the music player at the bottom of the browser window until you get to one called “Feel Like A Lady,” with vocals by John Boutté (the song is based on the story of JoAnn from the book and captures one of the character’s pivotal scenes beautifully).

Thanks for helping out, y’all.


Honey, I’m home!

We had the most luscious honey the other day.

One of our favorite breakfast and lunch spots, the Village Bakery and Café in Atwater Village, is carrying local honey made by Feral Honey (aka “our friends Amy and Russell,” said owner Barbara). The beekeeping is hands-off for the most part, all natural and organic (no pesticides or hormones) and the honey is made by wild bees in the Silver Lake area. All the nectar they gather is from within a 3-mile radius in the neighborhood, and it tastes like what’s growing in the area, and what’s in people’s backyards.

The current batch tastes of lavender with a touch of minty eucalyptus (although not medicinal-tasting), rich and complex and absolutely wonderful. It’s not cheap, but you get a lot of honey-bang for your buck.

Besides just eating it out of the jar with a spoon (which we found to be dangerously enticing, ’cause we just might finish the whole thing if we’re not careful), the first thing we thought to do with it was try it in one of the great classic cocktails that I think needs a lot more attention.

The Bee’s Knees cocktail popped up sometime during Prohibition (although we don’t know its exact origin) as one of many ways to disguise the taste of, shall we say, disreputable gin. It’s a very simple gin sour, but the twist here is that the sweetener, as you may have gleaned, is honey rather than sugar. You have a lot of room for variation and creativity with the myriad flavors of honey that are available, and we thought this marvelously floral honey would be a perfect match with the new Beefeater Summer Edition gin.

Beefeater Master Distiller Desmond Payne, looking for a followup to the very successful Beefeater 24, sought to come up with a gin that’s a bit lighter and more suitable for warm weather and summery drinks. The limited edition Summer gin is lighter in proof, 80 as opposed to 94, a slightly lighter juniper profile and the addition of black currant, elderflower and hibiscus flower to the range of botanicals. In tasting the gin neat you can’t really pick these individual flavors out, but the combination plus the lighter profile makes it very refreshing. It’s floral without being flowery, and the combination of flavors in the gin seems to make it want to leap into the arms of other ingredients. (Wes has been playing with this a fair bit, and once we get back from Seattle I’ll post a couple of his recent concoctions.)

Grab Beefeater Summer Edition while you can, because it won’t be around for all that much longer (and I certainly hope it shall return next year).

Now, for that cocktail …

To make honey syrup, combine equal parts of honey and extremely hot water and stir until the honey is dissolved. For rich honey syrup, use 2 parts of honey to 1 part hot water. It’ll keep in the fridge for a few weeks, and longer if you add a splash of vodka as a preservative. It’s so easy to make on the fly, though, that I’ll usually just prep enough for the batch of cocktails I’m about to make.

You can serve this drink strained and up with a lemon twist garnish, or on the rocks with a lemon wedge. Try more robust gins, or try swapping out the gin for rum or tequila. If you’ve never had this one, you’re going to fall in love with it. Why, it’s so good it’s the … (you know).


2 ounces gin (substitute rum or tequila)
1 ounce honey syrup
1 ounce fresh lemon juice

Combine in a shaker with ice and shake for 10-12 seconds. Strain into chilled cocktail glass and garnish with lemon twist, or over ice in an Old Fashioned glass with a lemon wedge garnish.


Embarrass the vegetables …

You may have noticed a scarcity of posts ’round these parts of late. Then again, you may not … is there no one to yell at me when I haven’t posted in a while?! Someone step up to the plate!

Truth be told, we’ve been doing a fair bit of travelling recently, compounded with my innate laziness and my status as God Emperor of Procrastination. To make matters worse, we’re taking off again today, and won’t be back ’til the end of next week. Until now I hope that nice New Orleans playlist has kept you busy, and I hope to keep you busy for a while with today’s post as well.

By sheer happenstance I stumbled across what could possibly be The Greatest Cooking Show Ever. It’s a BBC production called “Posh Nosh,” starring the Hon. Simon and Minty Marchmont, who have dedicated their lives to bringing extraordinary food to ordinary people. Here’s Episode 1, “Architect’s Fish and Chips”:

As you might have noticed … it’s a parody. And it’s hysterical. The first episode I saw was number 3, and it had me shrieking. From Minty’s ridiculous terminology (she doesn’t peel vegetables, she “embarrasses” them), the outrageously expensive ingredients they call for, the person to whom Simon’s true affection is directed (it ain’t Minty) and many quotable quotes:

“I know which side my Brad is battered!”

“There’s a famous saying: ‘Like schoolboys, Rieslings are best enjoyed young.'” “Er … school DAYS.” “What? Yes.”

“We make our own stock, but by all means buy stock cubes, if you have no self-esteem.”

They only made eight of them, and the shows are only about 9 minutes each, so you should be able to knock them all out fairly quickly. Our friend Fiona informed us that it was produced as an interstitial between shows, and quickly developed a following of its own — people would tune in for this rather than the shows at either end. Arabella Weir and Richard E. Grant (aka Withnail from “Withnail and I”) are brilliant, and keep an eye on who plays José Luis. According to one of the YouTube commenters (one of the few useful comments I’ve ever seen on that service) there’s an additional level of humor for native Britons. Minty’s accent is distinctively lower-middle class — “all her snobbiness is aspiration from someone who married into it, which Brits find hysterically funny.” It’s funny enough even without that.

Here are links to the other episodes:

Episode 2. Birthday Parties
Episode 3. Paella
Episode 4. Beautiful Food
Episode 5. Bread and Butter Pudding
Episode 6. Leftovers
Episode 7. Sauces
Episode 8. Comfort Food

Join us next week on “Posh Nosh,” when I’ll be disabling a partridge in its own jus.

And now for something completely different …

Idle conversation at work the other day brought up this question: Did Luke Skywalker feel any guilt over the couple million working stiffs he snuffed when he blew up the Death Star? Were the cooks evil too? (RumDood informs us that the movie “Clerks” cleared up this point, but I didn’t see it, so I consider it un-cleared up.)

Big booster of the service industry that I am, what about the cooks on the Death Star? Somebody had to feed Darth Vader, Grand Moff Tarkin and all those hungry cloned stormtroopers. Turns out Eddie Izzard wondered the same thing, and his musings are accompanied by some illustrative animation.

The penne all’arrabiatta would be lovely …

I’ll trickle out at least one more post this week, but I’ll see y’all in a week, quite likely with some drinking stories.