Thursday, September 3, 2015

City on a river

A view of New Orleans' central business district from the Piety Street Wharf in Crescent Park yesterday, clouds overhead. The rain will come in later around noon.

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!