Monday, August 31, 2015

Sign graveyard

We happened upon this pile of discarded signs at an industrial facility on Lafitte Avenue in Mid-City.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Monster boat

At almost 9:00 pm on the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I just happened to take this photo. I was backing my car out of a vacant lot off of Port Street near the trainyards in St. Roch, when I was struck by the sight of the full moon.

I had just left a kind of underground arts and event venue, after hearing a guitar player present a surrealistically processed Cajun ballad where his voice resonated and echoed against itself.

Mmm - kay. I'd had a glass of Old New Orleans Crystal Rum on ice with a slice of lime, and I was ready to go home.

In the parking lot, there was an abandoned boat on a trailer, with a giant monster mouth painted on it. Looked like the monster was eating a roast beef debris po' boy.

Yeah, you right.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Living in New Orleans makes you unfit to live elsewhere

I went into the French Quarter today - my experiment with public transportation. Parking in the French Quarter is ridiculously expensive, and aggravating, to boot (yes, I used that word on purpose).

But the RTA Number 5 bus, Marigny/Bywater runs down Royal Street, and there's a stop right at my corner. So this afternoon, I checked the schedule and walked to the corner. Damn if it didn't come right on time!

It was comfortable, not too crowded, and it got me to the Quarter in about ten minutes. The only quibble I might have with it is that a city bus bounces and lurches on pitted, potholed Royal Street even more than my little car does. But I can get used to that. It's $1.25 a ride, or you can get a monthly pass.

Napoleon House
I didn't really have anything in mind, I'd just wanted to try the bus. But I wandered up and down Royal, looking into art galleries and antique stores. I went to Hove Perfumes, and bought a cologne sampler of three scents - Verveine, Tea Olive, and Spanish Moss. I checked the bus schedule on my phone and headed in the direction of Decatur Street.

I had a half hour before the bus came (the only drawback about the bus is its infrequency - every 45 minutes), so I stopped at Napoleon House, one of my favorite places, for a Pimm's cup. And after I'd been sitting there for a while, listening to the classical music they always play there, and sipping my cool drink, a man sat down two barstools over.

I forget what started us talking. Perhaps I started it - I might have told him that I spent my morning trying to write an abstract about British 18th Century poet William Blake while my next door neighbor played second-line music in the street outside my house. But when he mentioned he was a writer, he said that this coming 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina was hard for him. I asked his name, and he introduced himself  as Chris Rose.

Chris Rose is a writer and former journalist for the Times-Picayune. His book about post-Katrina New Orleans, "One Dead in Attic" was a best-seller that I have on my shelf, and I read it again before moving here. In 2006, he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Commentary for the columns that became the book; his contributions also won a Pulitzer Prize for the Times-Picayune.

We talked, and I told him why I'd moved to the city. He spoke of his mixed feelings about this anniversary - a funny thing to celebrate, the drowning of your city. Most people who were here in 2005, he said, would rather forget what happened.

Another coincidence - while we spoke, he was approached by another person. This was Maurice Ruffin, a writer and an alumnus of the University of New Orleans Creative Writing Program I'm enrolled in. I remembered him, because he hosted our incoming class's welcome celebration at the restaurant he owns with his family on Elysian Fields.

Before I left to catch my bus home, Chris invited me to check out a reading he was doing later in the evening, at a performance venue in the Ninth Ward. So... I bought a ticket and went, parking in a grassy field by the railroad tracks, and entered what looks like a warehouse.

Port Event venue
Chris Rose is not the person he was in 2006. Life's travails have changed him. Even his appearance is different from the photos and publicity shots from those years.

On stage, he's always in motion, turning and feinting, his long feet at the end of his skinny legs pointing one way or swiveling the other. Sometimes he balances on one foot, pointing the other toe in the air like an unsteady dancer, almost staggering across the stage. His voice is a rasp - often hard to hear, or going quiet with emotion. But that suits the material he's reading perfectly.

He didn't read from the book this evening; he read new material. Some painful, some hopeful. It is the anniversary of the drowning of his city. At one point, he said, he planned to leave, abandon the city. But, he realized, living in New Orleans makes you unfit to live anywhere else.

The word "resilience" is batted around these days, and he says most New Orleanians don't want to hear it. I'm with them - that was the word used by the HR counselors during my long year of losing my job. It's a word that means "suck it up."

Chris Rose says that The Big Easy is neither big nor easy, and he's right on at least one account. It's a small town, where encounters seem to happen almost magically. The fact that I ran into him - and at the same time, re-encountered another accomplished New Orleans writer - is just one of the odd miracles that seems to happen to you in this town.

Hope I'll see you around Napoleon House sometime.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Yeah, you right!

Photo from Associated Press
Today, President Obama had lunch at Willie Mae's Scotch House restaurant, in the Treme neighborhood of New Orleans. 

Willie Mae's is known for the best fried chicken in town - some say the world. Willie Mae Seaton received the 2005 James Beard American Classic award. Sadly,  just two months later, the federal flood after Hurricane Katrina destroyed her kitchen.

After the flood, volunteers pitched in to help rebuild, and today the restaurant is run by Willie Mae's granddaughter, Kerry Seaton.

We ate there a few weeks ago, and of course we ordered the famous fried chicken. It was amazing - the crunchy batter perfectly brown, with a hint of cayenne to it, the meat beneath it savory and juicy. But the sides were awesome, too. Butter beans came served on a big flat plate, creamy and seasoned with sage. I had mac and cheese, which was also served with a side of cooked peas - yes, they were khaki colored but oh they did taste great.

Welcome to New Orleans, Mr. President! I hope you enjoyed your visit. And I hope you had the butter beans!

Cats of the Bywater

Sleeping in our front yard birdbath. I'm not sure whose cat he is, but he spends time at our house. Dr. Smudge is what we call him.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015



I spent the whole day doing homework. Critiques, readings.

And then I went out and ate some of these.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Boots on the ground

This pair of abandoned boots has been on the corner of Chartres and Mazant Streets for the past month. This is an empty corner; both this lot and the one across the street are vacant, the one on the south side kept mowed and neat by HANO, who owns the property. On this side, the weeds grow. And the boots remain.

What's their story?

Saturday, August 22, 2015

They aren't pretty, they're delicious

One of the most perfect foods known to mankind is the char-grilled oyster, said to be "invented" by Tommy Cvitanovich of Drago's Restaurant in Metairie, Louisiana.

The family immigrated from Croatia, ended up in New Orleans, and Tommy's parents opened their restaurant in 1969. There, they take shucked gulf oysters, roast them in their own juices over a roaring charcoal fire, then nap them in melted garlic and oregano butter till they plump up in the heat. Then they are sprinkled with grated parmesan and romano cheese, heated till bubbly and slightly browned.

We went out to Metarie today (yes, we eschewed the branch in the Warehouse District Hilton Hotel), and though we didn't plan it that way, the oysters were worth the ferocious thunderstorm we braved to get them.

The minute we sat down, when she took our drink order, the waitress asked if we were having oysters. We ordered a dozen. They come to the table with the shells crusty and almost black on the bottom, in a flat pan swimming with melted butter, topped with slices of lemon. Hunks of soft pillowy Leidenheimer bread are served alongside, to soak up the buttery sauce.

At Drago's you can see the charcoal fire from the dining room, and hear the oyster shuckers popping the shells all day long!

They ain't pretty, but they sure do taste good!

Friday, August 21, 2015


I have a lot of reading to do!

By Tuesday, I have to read two poem cycles, one 15 page overview essay, three memoir excerpts, three non-fiction excerpts, and one book.

I'm lucky, in a way, because I don't have to read a Writing Workshop piece and write a one-page critique for it...because the piece being critiqued in my Writing Workshop is MINE. Yikes!

Thursday, August 20, 2015

First day

It's my first day of classes! Wish me luck.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

A different view

My first visit to St. Roch Cemetery was at high noon on a blindingly sunlit day.

Yesterday I visited in the late afternoon, as the sky was heavy with thunderclouds on all sides, a storm threatening.

When I stepped out of the air-conditioned car into the muggy heat, my camera's lens was fogged with condensation.

A bright note of color.

The storm is coming.

Inside the chapel tokens are left behind.

The floor is paved with "thank you"s.

A child's shoe. Small bones? A single die. So many stories untold.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Clouds over St. Claude

Photo by Christopher Waterman
 We went to lunch at the St. Roch Market on St. Claude, while the skies were gathering ominously for a storm and the rain just beginning to fall.

The St. Roch Market dates from 1875, when it was a public, open-air market. It was almost torn down in the 1930s, but instead was renovated with WPA money. By the time it was damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, it was pretty run-down, but still people went there for fresh shrimp and oysters, boiled crawfish, gumbo, and cowan turtles.

FEMA money and city funds were used to renovate the old building, and it opened this spring, with eleven vendors offering prepared foods and beverages in an open hall setting.

Today's gator

The only way I could photograph it without glare
The house we're renting is furnished; it reflects our landlady's taste in furnishings and artwork. She contacted us to say a piece of artwork she had on back-order has come in, and if she arranges for delivery and for her handyman to come by, were we willing to help with hanging it?

So now, with the help of Little Shannon and Eddie, our little dining room, which has become my messy work-space, is graced with another 'gator. a fabric applique framed piece by Chris Roberts-Antieau called "Alligator Wrestler."

I think pretty soon, we're going to be up to our asses in alligators - in a good way!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Clouds came in from the north and it started to rain

Sunday morning the sky was overcast. Weather Underground's radar shown a swirling mass of storm out in the Gulf, wheeling toward Mobile and Pensacola, and turning our way.

By mid-day Sunday brunch, the sky to the northwest was dark gray. When we came out of the Rouse's supermarket up on Franklin by the lake, raindrops spattered us as we pushed the cart to our car. It all let loose on the road, sheets of water on the windshield, abated when we drove under the I-10 underpass, then splashing back down as we emerged.

We out ran the storm to the Bywater, but the drops began falling as we unloaded the groceries. We settled in for a cozy Sunday afternoon.

The rain came down again in the evening, and then again at four in the morning, I could hear it pounding away on the tin roof of the gallery outside the bedroom window. This morning as I walked the dog, thunder growled off over the river, where I could see a thunderhead over veiled rain. The forecast is for more storms the rest of the week.

I have a few errands to run, but otherwise, it's a stay-in kind of day.

It has broken the streak of excess heat, for which we're grateful. During the afternoon rain, I could sit comfortably on the front porch with a book and watch the rain come down. Jack's tethered to a long lead near me, so he can wander a little, but when the rain comes, he's happy to stay under cover.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Plenty of gators to go around

Alligator Museum on Magazine Street
When we left Topanga, we were sad to leave behind the alligator sculpture at our gate. But now that we're here in New Orleans, we've found plenty of gators to keep us company.

It seems like you're never very far from a gator.

Or someone thinking about a gator

This house in the Bywater is covered with murals  and models of sea and amphibious life, one of which is an amazing alligator.

Another house, which is rumored to be the home of a real Voudou priestess, has a double-headed alligator bench in front.

But yesterday evening, I was walking Jack when we came upon this sight, on Alvar Street. It was a kind of pedicab, maybe, with a trailer on it; on the trailer was an alligator clenching a crushed Coca-cola can in its teeth.

It was parked beside an open gate to a garden, cluttered with canopies, lawn furniture and fantastic objects, the fence strewn, as are many in this neighborhood, with Mardi Gras beads. There was a woman inside, I said hello and asked her about the gator.

"Oh, I picked that up somewhere," she said. "The gator's a movie prop." She said they call her Ms Pearl, and that her place is known as Kamp Katrina. "That's Kamp with a K," she said. "I have people staying here from all over the world, artists and musicians. They made a documentary about this place. You know, the water stopped up there at the red light (at Alvar and St. Claude). We had everybody camping in here. You can look it up."


One of the most charming aspects of the Bywater and Marigny neighborhoods in New Orleans is the kaleidoscope of colors used to paint the historic houses and buildings here. Just taking a walk around the block delivers enough colors to make a rainbow.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Welcome aboard

Mural at Rampart and France Street
Yesterday I attended the official orientation for new students at my program. This was followed by the unofficial orientation, at the Parkside Tavern on Carrollton, near City Park.

I met my fellow students and program faculty. I spoke with one of the professors whose class I'll be taking this semester - he teaches the non-fiction writing workshop I'll be taking on Tuesdays. He remembered me from my spring visit, which was flattering.

I also met several other program professors, a couple of fiction writers and another non-fiction prof. And I really enjoyed meeting students - they are a diverse group. Some quite young, others, like me, returning to grad school after busy lives. This is a group with a lot of good stories.

This evening there's another event at a local restaurant, with food and - I'm told - killer daiquiris.

I feel so welcomed, and I am really looking forward to jumping in and getting to work.

Friday, August 14, 2015



One of the pleasures of my morning walks around the neighborhood has been to pass by the property on the corner of Alvar and Chartres Streets. It's a fenced property, and wildly overgrown with many interesting plants.

Facing on Alvar Street is a corrugated metal shed that seems to be a metal-working shop. Through the fence I can spy various interesting objects made of metal, like sculptures, and so I was lucky on my very first morning here that when I walked past the gate, there was a man in the yard.

His name is David. I asked if he was a sculptor, and he said, not really. He's a landscape designer.

This explains the interesting plants. There are flowering gingers, and blooming daylilies. There are all kinds of twining vines through the fence. On the Alvar Street side there are tall cypress trees and stiff spiky palmettos.

And then there is beautyberry.

It's all in the name, Callicarpa americana. In Greek, callos means “beauty” and carpos “fruit.” Beautyberry is a fast growing shrub, native to the southeastern United States. The fruit forms in clusters on the main branches, between the leaves, and in late summer or early autumn, it ripens and turns a brilliant violet-purple.

It reminds me of the spray-paint color called "Federal Safety Purple," one of the OSHA designated colors used by industries to code safety equipment locations, physical hazards and protective equipment. Federal Safety Purple is used to designate radiation hazards, and you have to admit beautyberry throbs with a weird unnatural glow seldom seen in fruiting plants.

Beautyberry provides food for song birds. The berries aren't really edible for humans, but like the leaves, they are a natural insect repellent, and farmers used to rub crushed leaves and fruit on horses and mules to protect them.

My neighbor's beautyberry is at the height of its splendor right now. When I walk past its long graceful branches strung with bright clusters, I wonder what other beauties my morning walks will bring, in the coming months and year.