Friday, March 31, 2006

(with apologies to rock icons, the Beatles...although the condition of the streets down here would definitely give the 4,000 holes in Blackburn, Lancashire a run for their money. But I digress)

Woke up yesterday to the sound of my husband loudly telling me he was off; he also managed to wake our son up with his declaration, which I think my husband does on purpose sometimes. I got the little guy out of bed and began working on some pancakes, with my son telling me partway through the cooking of said pancakes that he wanted hot cereal. However, he didn't insist on it, and some syrup on a warm cut-up pancake was not refused by him. Good kid. We walked the dog around the nearby park a bit after ascertaining that there weren't any dogs out there, and then we piled into the car for the trip down St Charles Avenue to preschool.

In the mornings lately, the little guy has been telling me he doesn't want to bring his turtle backpack into school with him. I have explained to him so many times now that he needs the diapers and wipes in said bag until he is potty trained. I have hopes that he will be trained by the time summer camps come along, because most of them refuse kids who aren't potty trained due to the swimming activities... but life doesn't always go as planned. Maybe he'll be ready for a four week session towards the end of the summer...

I drop my son off and return a book to the local library. I choose to slum in a local Italian-styled coffee shop for a bit until the library opens for the day. The place is a tad empty, and I remember when a New Orleans style coffee cafe used to operate out of the same place. There was way less crap on the walls then and the coffee was real good. Not that my Italianate iced mocha was bad, but the croissant could have used some help. I hop back in the car and mail off a bill at a local post office, wishing as I do so that local mail delivery will improve. I drive to the library along some back streets and note the many signs of recovery and renovations. The usual piles of debris, the portable storage containers outside of houses, a pile of dirt blocking a driveway with a sign proclaiming it to be "Free Dirt", a supposed enticement to dirt-seekers. From the quick glimpse I got of it, however, this dirt would need a lot of work to be considered for reclamation of any kind. I drive on.

The local library branch reopened a few weeks ago, one of only five branches currently operating in a library system that once boasted twenty-plus. I made it just under a deadline for obtaining a replacement library card without having to pay a fee, though my previous card wasn't storm damaged - it was stolen along with my wallet on my honeymoon trip almost five years ago. I have been reading a lot of New Orleans non-fiction works and am moving into some fiction by New Orleans writers - I end up staking a borrowing claim to all the works of Patty Friedmann this library branch has. I really have to rein in my book buying impulses, but the hours and the selections of books at the operating branches make this a little tough. Just have to retrain myself, I guess.

I move on to a store where I used to work as a gallery manager, craftsperson, and all-around slave to purchase a retirement gift for Edie, and I schmooze a little with my ex-boss, who I haven't seen since before the hurricane but have talked to many times. She took care of my cats for a bit when we were moving back into New Orleans, and she is currently running around like a headless chicken trying to organize renovations and repairs on the houses she owns, manages, and rents out. Desperate for a roofer, she is prepared to take whatever estimate her one roofer she's consulting with gives her, because other people she knows from her 1980's past life of renovating houses are currently occupied, understandably so. We discuss other common acquaintances, including a couple that has split up over one of the pair's seeming madness over imagined unfairness and money. Terrible things...

I pick up my son from preschool, who says he doesn't want to go to the after school playgroup, that he doesn't feel well. He has been exhibiting a runny nose lately, which is a typical oak allergy reaction, it turns out. A talk with his teacher reveals that a number of kids in his class have runny noses, too. Hello, New Orleans spring. Here I was worried that the storm had decimated the tree population on places such as St Charles Avenue. I needn't have worried. My son does insist on having some Goldfish crackers, which we just ran out of the day before, so we make our way to the local Sav-A-Center, which has seemed emptier than ever in all the time it has been open at the foot of Napoleon Avenue. When it opened, it was a mainstream grocery store that was really packing it in until the Whole Foods store opened up nearby. The trouble with Whole Foods, however, is that it is more expensive, so I still go to the Sav-A-Center for most things, though it has definitely lost that gourmet-ish feel. The smaller city population makes it feel emptier than ever, but I still go. We pick up our things and high-tail it home.

A short break, a bit of lunch and Goldfish, a dose of medicine to counter the allergy effects, and a good nap leave my son feeling refreshed and ready for a dog-park jaunt. On the way, my son comments on the cracks in Coliseum Street as we cross it to get to the park (Told you we could rival Blackburn, Lancashire). I tell him most of the city's streets are like this and he says, "Oh well...we all make mistakes sometimes." I wonder where that comment came from as we make our way into the park.

Topics of discussion amongst the human visitors of the park centered on high energy bills and screwy assessments of city and private properties. We know Entergy is facing bankruptcy but they could let up on the power bills of the people who are still here, else there won't be as many people paying those bills. If it won't be the power bills that make people run screaming from the city limits, it will most certainly be the doubled, and in some cases, tripled, property taxes. Save NOLA NOLA's money and invest it in bringing other businesses and people to the area. Save those funds collected for better government and stronger storm surge protection. Save those dogs at the park from my son's kicking feet...oh, I'm the one who should be doing that. We collect my dog and head home.

On the way back, we stop off at our next-door neighbor's house so that my son can play with the toys of the little girl his age who lives next door. He is enthralled by her play kitchen and Dora the Explorer dollhouse - other kids' toys are always so much more fun. I talk with my neighbor about potty-training and summer camp possibilities or the lack thereof. We also discuss our mutual love of books and of toys that don't require batteries (toys for our kids, that is). We talk of other things until it is time to take myself and my son to choir practice at our local synagogue. Off in the car again. It's not for nothin' that a recent mommy-lit essay I read featured the writer of said essay at a forum telling the folks at a Q & A session that a good requirement for moms these days is a driver's license.

Chior practice featured my son on percussion once he found the noisemakers in the music room. He did keep a fairly good beat on the "Swinging Shalom Aleichem" for a bit, but a three year old can only hold out for so long at an adult choir rehearsal, so we retreated to the playroom. Once the fellow choir members began to leave, Dan informed them about my emailing a West Coast-based bagel shop looking for franchisees - concerning establishing a franchise in good bagel deprived New Orleans. The general responses were positive. The jury's still out from the west (or left) coasters, however...

Exhausted, I drive my son home, with my husband joining us shortly in his vehicle. Dan puts our son to bed and ventures out to a local eating joint for dinner, from which, God bless him, he returns with a shrimp po-boy sandwich and some fries, all of which taste great with a Bud. Ah, the pleasures of being in a place like this. We even catch a "South Park" episode in which the town and major parts of the Left coast are inundated by Smug emanating from self-satisfied hybrid car owners. Ah, the good life...

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

It becomes clear to me every day, when I see the latest newspaper headlines here, that this city I love will live and die by the numbers. It's a hazard of the information age in which we live.

Whatever do I mean? Yesterday's Times-Picayune headline stated that "Frustrated Homeowners Look to New FEMA Flood Maps for Answers, But There's No Guarantee The Advisories Won't Pose Even More Questions." A colorful map of the New Orleans area denotes the properties that filed repetitive flood claims with FEMA before the 2005 hurricane season. Parts of the city that showed up as having the most claims weren't surprising, as they were also the ones that fared worst in the storms and flooding over six months ago: Broadmoor, Lakeview, the Bywater, chunks of New Orleans East.

There is a caveat to this map, however, a big one: only the insured could file claims. The areas that also fared badly in Katrina and its aftermath, such as the Ninth Ward and Gentilly, didn't show up on the paper's map as having registered many claims with FEMA. Those two neighborhoods I just mentioned are two of the largest areas of this city that are completely wiped out by flooding and storm damage.

Any questions?

This is why, when the baseball players' union gained more power over its own destiny, sabermetricians - baseball statisticians, for those not in the know - such as Bill James rose to prominence. Used for ages by team owners to help deny players salary raises and the rights to negotiate a better working position for themselves, sabermetricians' numbers have become another weapon in a player's arsenal, with the help of yet another player in the negotiation equation - the player agent. Lies, damned lies, and statistics - numbers are ironclad until interpreted by others. Compare and contrast with other players in the game, past and present, and an average pitcher can vie with Sandy Koufax in some way...and it can get him more money.
What the New Orleanians need here, the ones who want to come back, the ones who are fighting with the city, the state, and the federal governments to rebuild, are equivalents of the sports agents. The almighty numbers and stats will otherwise bring them down.

Not that the financing for rebuilding isn't there - it just needs to be directed accordingly, in the ways that will help maintain and strengthen this region. If all this mess had happened in the nineteenth century, or even the early twentieth century, there probably wouldn't be as much number wrestling as there is now. Think Lisbon after the 1755 earthquake. Think of the great Chicago fire. Think of the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Think of the quakes that have hit metropolitan centers in Japan.

The issue at stake is how important this area is in the grand scheme of things. Is the port of New Orleans important enough for this city to live? Does such a unique place as this deserve to wash away into the sea? In 1927, the New Orleans business elite thought enough of saving this city that they arranged to dynamite the levees further downriver from this city to offset the major amounts of water coming down from torrential rains that would surely overwhelm the area, the thinking went at the time. After evacuating Plaquemines parish, the dynamiting drowned the area downriver in many feet of water, saving the city of New Orleans in what turned out to be an unnecessary act.

I guess the difference between then and now is that we don't have all the answers with our dealings with Mother Nature anymore; our supposed superiority over the elements has been in question for a long time now. In fact, the more answers we are given by the sciences and by numbers, the more questions there are. The world becomes more uncertain, the costs become greater, the loopholes multiply - and places such as New Orleans are slowly abandoned. All that is left is the will of people who care and who have a stake in things here. Even the will of the poor, who more than likely could not afford to pick up flood insurance, and have thus skewed the numbers on the latest FEMA maps, counts for something...right?

My husband took some actuarial exams around the time I first got to know him, and he explained one of them to me and laughed at the expression on my face. "Don't think about it too hard or anything!" he said. Good words of advice now that we are being bombarded with numbers every day in one way or another.

This past weekend gave me two opportunities to celebrate some occasions that had very little to do with the almighty number. The first was the installation of the rabbi at my synagogue here, which in this case was a true formality, since he became the rabbi of the congregation shortly before Katrina hit, and he and his family counseled so many people through these times that the past few months has merely cemented the link between the congregation and himself. The sanctuary, which holds almost 900 people, was about half-full that night, a real statement of commitment by a segment of this city's population. Okay, so I guess I have mentioned some numbers again. Pardon me.

The second was the Dog Day Afternoon at Audubon Park, sponsored by the Louisiana SPCA, the facilities of which were flooded out, but reopened soon after on the West Bank of the Mississippi in Algiers Point. Many animal rescues happened because of the devotion of SPCA folks and volunteers who stayed behind and went house to house to check on animals. Adoptions of abandoned Katrina animals are still happening thanks to these folks' efforts, and the park was packed with people dogs, and even a couple of miniature ponies! It's events such as these that show that this is quite a pet-loving town.

If anyone can quantify the events mentioned above in some way, please let me know. Maybe I can present it to New Orleans rebuilders as arguments and numbers that will aid in the fight to help others stay and rebuild.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

I have recovered from my husband's volunteerism sufficiently to pass the morning writing a here goes.

My son is enjoying preschool immensely, but I had to take him out near the end of the week due to a cold. It's a truism of putting your child out in the world: he can risk getting sick out in public. Why we all take that risk, I sometimes don't know. Some days it seems as though human contact in most any form will contaminate you in some way.

I do find myself craving that contact with humans, however, and they should preferably be aged older than three. The Tennessee Williams festival is happening in the French Quarter this coming weekend, and though I have never been interested (or rather, never have had the time to be interested) in the goings-on of the festival before, I have taken a peek in the paper this morning and have seen at least three panels that I would love to attend - all at times that would mean I would have to get a babysitter. Got to get cracking on sitter research, or else I'll be stuck taking my son to the Stanley and Stella shouting contest, the only festival activity I could take him to see without fear of having all the literate folks staring daggers at me as my son does his three year old thing in the aisles of a panel discussion. He did try to start a "Bingo" sing-along at a local pizza place recently, to the appreciation of some diners, and he had some people reminiscing about their childhoods as they watched him blowing bubbles through his straw into a glass of water, but that kind of thing would be lost on festival-goers. C'est la vie.

Literature-wise, I have some books I have to stay away from, though, but they haunt me like a bad addiction. I pick them up in the bookstores, mostly, and take them home, where I cannot avoid them. They haunt me on the shelves even after I've read them, reminding me of the exhilarating highs and the crushing lows I have experienced in the reading of them when I come across their titles time and again. I speak of mommy-lit.

No, not the endless guides on parenting, on breast-feeding upside-down for optimal feeding of your child, on simultaneous toilet training and MBA studies for your toddler (okay, the last two tomes don't exist yet...I think). Not fiction such as The Nanny Diaries, I Don't Know How She Does It, What Do You Do All Day?, or any other quasi-fictional accounts of mommy and nanny inner struggles. I'm talking about mom essays, mom meditations on mommyhood, on how far we have come, how many steps back we've taken, how awful it is that we are so polarized into stay-at-homers and outside the home workers, how can I count the ways in which us moms feel guilty, bored, angry, blissful, content, agitated, alone....I could go on and on. Many women have done so before me and many more will do so after me.

I liken these books to drugs because they confirm everything I am finding out about motherhood, which is a good thing. It feeds my euphoric, emphatic sense of righteous rightness, that I am not alone, that I am a perpetual victim of millenium-old views about motherhood as being strictly a woman's sphere, that it is wrong for things like day care to be a privilege rather than a right, that equality still doesn't exist between the sexes in caring for the kids and the home, etc., etc. It is such a high.

These books are confirmation, indeed, and that is a bad thing, too. I come off the righteous highs and descend to the depths of a crushing depression, in which the confirmation of my hopes and fears results in more questioning, most of it slightly hysterical. Is this all there is? Are things going to change in my lifetime? How can I work toward this change when I can barely tolerate a full day with my preschooler and have to collapse in exhaustion at the end of each day?

I talked with another stay-at-home mom at a local ice cream parlor recently, and she said she wished she could help out with more of the recovery efforts, but that she was taking care of her little girl full-time. A pamphlet I picked up at the pediatrician's office recently advises parents not to take young children to assist at the recovery sites, and teenagers have to wear suits and masks if they are going to work there (which is what anyone should wear at these flood-damaged homes, anyway). Not that the reasons for keeping young children out of these sites aren't good - we all need to pay close attention to our kids' health, and preserve it. It's just that being hands-on with your kids means hands-off in other areas. So I can't volunteer for digging in with both hands and cleaning out someone's home...what's left?

The mom essays focus so much on the inner mom life that certain logistics are left out. Part of the crushing lows for me in reading these essays is that in the end, it really is every woman for herself. Moms should be all together on certain things. Maybe a co-op day care/ recovery crew could really make a difference for the women who want to get involved hands-on here - everyone switches off on taking care of the group's kids and helping clear out the mud and debris from local homes.

Then again, that's the point. It is every woman for herself, and we should all accomodate those choices each woman makes that is best for her sanity, and that of her family's, as best we can. That's most likely why this literature is more widely available now than at any other time in history. Providing women with more choices in their lives has translated itself into the marketplace...which has its good and bad points, too. The good manifests itself in products such as moms writing about their choices in life, about better products being available on a wide scale (such as organics and better food labeling), and the bad...well, let's just say that if it now has the moniker "baby" attached to it, count on it being more expensive than it should be.

As Bobby Kennedy remarked, however, teaching values and morals to our youngsters isn't something that can be measured by the gross national product of this country. Maybe if it could, women wouldn't be arguing over which choices are more valid than others and would be uniting over the ones they all seem to agree about the most. Until then, I keep those books on my shelf, as a reminding narcotic of hope and fear. Hope for what could be, and the fear of letting it all slide. A local bar has a flag outside that says "Don't Give Up The Ship." I can't - and I really don't want to, deep down.

About Dan's volunteerism - at our synagogue's Brotherhood meeting, the members lamented the lack of anything approaching good bagels in the city after the storm, since bagels were needed for a breakfast the members were sponsoring. I love my husband dearly, but why he volunteered us for the task of actually making the bagels - well, I nearly had a heart attack. Since my early crafting days, though, I really haven't had many opportunities, other than loads of cross-stitch projects, to work with my hands, and even though we had never made bagels before, we got hold of a recipe in a cookbook from my in-laws' synagogue and I tried out one batch during the week. We went into major bagel production on Saturday afternoon with the help of our friend Edie and her Cuisinart, and the only bottleneck we experienced was in the boiling and baking of the bagels - the pots on the stove and our oven can only handle so many bagels. Edie preferred to mix the dough in the processor, claiming she hated to deal with the stickiness of the dough, but I liked messing with it enough that Dan and I have seriously contemplated getting hold of the defunct bagel shop franchises and going in on operating them. It also gave me a break from running after the young 'un, who needed some daddy time anyway.

Was it all taking advantage of my better nature, this volunteerism? Maybe. All I know is, I liked shaping that dough, allowing it to rise, poking holes into dough balls and shaping them into bagel shapes, and the yeasty smell of the whole process filling the kitchen. Ah, the choices, the possibilities...

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

It's been a while since my last post, largely because I have been having Internet problems, but also because my first long period of time here without my husband nearly drove me off the deep end.

Not that he had any say about it. He's on a 90-day probationary period with his new job. It means he has to be there on time for the next three months, he only leaves the area when they send him out (like they did for a long weekend out in LA recently), and the only time he can escape are on the weekends. You'd think it was the army, but no, it's corporate America, folks. I'm glad I've never been seriously involved with it myself, but there it is.

The plain truth is that motherhood can be isolating. The three-year-old mindset is exhausting, much as I love my son. This was really the first week since we've returned that I have wanted to run screaming from the house in agony, my brain fried from cleaning up after humans and pets, from too much Nickelodeon and PBS Kids, from trying to concoct amusements that can accomodate a short attention span. I finally broke down at the playgroup one day, and the other moms and administrators urged me to find a preschool for him right away. With a bolstering mom sympathy session having propped me up after a good crying jag, I moseyed on down to the local JCC and put him in a preschool class right away. Not for the whole day every day, just the mornings, but it has restored some semblance of sanity. Now if I could just work on the rest of my surroundings, life would be good.

It didn't help much that when my husband left, I went with Edie and my son to a community meeting at the Chalmette courthouse in St Bernard Parish. And I thought New Orleans was hit hard by Katrina. Crossing the bridge from off I-10 into the parish revealed an area on way less land than ever before. Most of the buildings are shells of their former selves - skeleton businesses are operating in what few places have been cleaned up enough to accomodate customers. Boats and debris poked their way out of the waters that are now nearly up to the edge of the highway. The prospects for planning and rebuilding in the area were what were being discussed the night I went to the courthouse, and the place was packed to the gills, with many people spilling out into the hallway, where a massive projection screen had been set up to broadcast the proceedings inside the filled courtroom. My son settled in on the floor with me after obtaining some snacks - I think he thought he was watching a movie. It gave me a chance to see the keynote speaker, Andres Duany, give his housing plans talk to those assembled.

Many people who had once lived in the area came to hear this man speak. For a bare bones synopsis, I'd direct you to - but no synopsis could give you a clue as to what it was like being in that room. Duany went through a brief historical analysis of each type of housing in the area, and he also evaluated the storm surge preparedness of each housing type. Older, in many ways, was better, largely because the construction was better and, more importantly, the older homes were usually jacked up off the ground, since earlier homeowners were more attuned to the nature of periodic flooding from the Mississippi and from storm surges.

The groans that came up from the audience came from Duany's correct assessment of the homes built on slabs 30-40 years ago, homes that made up the bulk of the housing in St Bernard before Katrina. The neighborhood in which the courthouse sat attested to how poorly constructed the slab housing was in terms of the storm surges, how much the flood waters had destroyed these homes. They needed to be jacked up, which was an atrocious decision architecturally speaking, or simply cleared away from their sites to accomodate a design that hearkened back to the structures of old. Most of the people assembled couldn't afford the solutions proposed, and the rest of the folks assembled began to trickle out of the courthouse. By then, my son had had enough, too, so we had to leave even though I was curious about Duany's proposals for completely remaking Chalmette into a town with a smaller, more condensed city center minus the tract sprawl.

Writer Philip Lopate has said it is not easy trying to create a community gathering place out of scratch, that such spaces had historically tended to develop over time, with only some goading from the designs of such places...but what Lopate has never seen down here is how much people like to congregate any place they can, whether it is (usually) over food and drink or just lolling in the sun, out on the porch with good company sticking around or passing by. I would have liked to see Duany's stab at it. I need to take my own advice and check out the Louisiana Speaks website, I guess.

I am already half-regretting resubscribing to the Times-Picayune here, however, because I am stuck with the inability to keep up with all the recovery logistics it reports, the recovery stories, the continual finger-pointing as to who did what to whom and where and why it was unfair. I have a big pile that is accumulating on my kitchen counter, and I am torn between saying I will get through it all and just tossing it all out. The front page can just exhaust me sometimes. Recent front pages have featured the Army Corps of Engineers' levee assessments being made public - all attesting to the inadequacy of the levee protection. Car removal stories also abound - as do stories about the Bring New Orleans Back Commission, and the catch-22 that exists here now concerning the rebuilding of those decimated parts of the city (it will all depend on how many people come back to those areas, but of course those areas need to be made somewhat viable for residents before any of them can return). Somewhat more uplifting stories within the paper are the ones regarding cooking in one's home when the first floor is being reclaimed from flood damage (since the first floor is usually the one where the kitchen was), something friends of ours are going through right now. A project to carve sculptures out of downed tree stumps, the KatRita project, is in the works with the help of some chainsaw-wielding sculptors. A recent article on the deaths of most of the inhabitants of the local aquarium and its recovery was featured over the weekend, too. And a new passel of parades came through town, from which I have finally recovered.

The way this town celebrates St Patrick's Day, for those not in the know, is with parading as well as the wearin' of the green and the imbibing of verdigris beer and all. Yeah, there are beaded throws, but there are also produce throws - cabbages, potatoes, carrots, onions, and ramen noodles, to be exact. After wrassling with my son for a time at this year's parade and then decididng to just take him home, Dan and Edie stayed at the parade route and lugged home a bag of at least fourteen cabbages and other veggies courtesy of the parading Irishmen and women. I would have thought they would both know better, especially my husband - he used to spend the parade day protecting his first residence's windows from errant cabbages and 'taters when he first lived in New Orleans. But with him, it's catch the stuff first and worry about what to do with it later.

So off and on for the past week or so, it has been cabbages on my counter, in the bag they came home in, on the chopping block, in the Cuisinart, in the freezer, as a part of three casserole dishes full of stuffed cabbage we are now eating our way through. At the very end of my cabbage ordeal, I told my husband I wanted him to sign a contract saying he would personally deal with all the cabbages from next year's parade, and leave me out of it. He of course came out with a "can you top that" comment that a coworker was trying to get rid of forty-two cabbages her family had ganged up and caught from the parades. Don't dodge the issue, o husband of mine, I wanted to say, even after I exclaimed at the supermarket-busting number.

Then again, it can be good to get out from under the cabbage crush and breathe fresh, un-cabbage-tainted air again. After six-plus months of recovery talk and doings amongst residents here, it's no wonder they want to get out of the physical and emotional debris that is littering their lives down here, too. Yet another article down here, this time in New Orleans magazine, talks of the need for residents to take a vacation, any vacation, so long as the buildings are intact at the vacationing spot. What's one of the suggested places other articles in the same magazine issue feature? The town of Corleone in Sicily! Out of the politically corrupt frying pan and into the gates of hell, a town with a reputation as a Mafia haven and a museum to prove it.

I love this city, I really do...

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Recent Scenes of Orleans:

A woman on line behind me at the local drugstore tugged at my ponytail, then gigglingly apologized for giving in to the temptation to do so. Noticing the day's paper that I was holding, with the headlines about the first of the mayoral debates, she asked me if I'd had a good laugh at the proceedings on TV the night before.
Hey, you didn't need to turn on the tube to get a laugh in the first place. Twenty-three candidates are up for mayor of New Orleans - twenty-three, I said - and three of them have political experience, one is a twenty-four year old kid, at least two have been wheeler-dealers in the business of developing high-profile sites in the city, one is a preacher, one just wanted the current mayor to listen to him, and one announced her candidacy just before she was tossed in jail for contempt, and for the refusal to give up her previous job as clerk of courts to a FEMA appointed replacement, since she allegedly just wasn't doing her job. A pertinent argument was floated to the local courts in a petition for pushing the election back - a large number of the eligible voters are currently scattered across the nation - but the petition was ineffective.
Hence we will be voting for a new mayor in April - and the first of the debates, involving nine of the candidates, went off this past week and turned into a circus that only confirmed the personalities of the candidates who have been players in local politics and business for a long time.
The lady behind me in line said her husband, a native Minnesotan, had never seen anything like it. He's only seen the tip of a massive iceberg called Louisiana Politics, a source of much consternation and entertainment for locals. The entire nation will be financing the rebuilding of this region, but they probably had no clue they were getting a show for their money in the bargain. This is what happens when natural disaster strikes - political landscapes are remade, too, and the campaign carnage begins in earnest.
The lady formerly in jail was released, and immediately compared herself to Nelson Mandela and Gandhi, both of whom were in jail for much longer and both of whom were truly committed to a cause, not to an image. The men in mention didn't make all of it up as they went along. I have to hope that voters, whether or not they are physically living in the city, will pay no attention to this woman swathing herself in a blue tarp as the people's candidate. That leaves us with twenty-two other possibilities...

Sampling of bumper stickers, signs, etc.:
New Orleans - Proud to swim home
Get Rid of Katrina Water Stain
When Clinton Lied Nobody Died

Our local dog-park demographic has changed. I talked with a woman with four dogs out there, two of whom were hers, two of whom were her sons. I mistook the two boxers (her sons' dogs) for pit bulls, in part because I can be so dense, but also in part because four years ago, there were a large number of people coming to the park who brought 'em. Formerly (and by that, I mean four years ago, when I last lived here), the gutter punks and the students were the main park visitors, but now there are many more young families, older, more established singles and couples, and I have recognized only four people from those dog-park days of yore that are still coming out to the park.
This woman has a son working for a private security firm, chauffeuring people around in Haiti and keeping them safe from the disgruntled poor there, which is most of the country. His two dogs, the boxers, were under her care until his return. Another couple comes regularly to the park with two new arrivals, one a baby girl, another a Katrina rescue dog named Annie. The park is packed in the late afternoon with a lot of boxers (from a majority of pit bulls to a majority of boxers) and owners talking about everything from local politics to the cost of weddings to local real estate assessment.
A local radio personality once said that the world's problems could well be solved after some time spent in the Gospel tent at the JazzFest here at the Fair Grounds. I would make a case for the same thing happening at a local dog-park.
Four years ago, a young girl with a small red Doberman was approached by a sinister looking character while she was out with her dog. He asked her if she could take in another dog, that he had been training it to fight, but it wasn't mean enough. She took that dog home, a big male Doberman, and began taking him to the park with a muzzle on so that he could reacquaint himself with other dogs without attacking them unexpectedly. A recent dog-park acquaintance talked of someone who took in another Katrina rescue dog, who was so grateful to be with a family again. Makes me think of the human evacuees...hope we can extend them the same courtesy as these folks have with these dogs.

Recent related reading material:
1 dead in attic, Chris Rose
Bayou Farewell, Mike Tidwell
A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole
New Orleans, Mon Amour, Andrei Codrescu
A Great and Noble Scheme, John Mack Faragher
Feet On The Street, Roy Blount Jr.
The Mysteries of New Orleans, Baron Ludwig von Reizenstein
The Last Madam, Christine Wiltz
The French Quarter, Herbert Asbury
Time and Place in New Orleans, Richard Campanella
All the King's Men, Robert Penn Warren
Southern Fried Divorce, Judy Conner

Okay, so, I read a lot. Feel free to double-check on me and tell me what you think.

I went to my synagogue's choir practice for the first time in four years and was greeted by....Justin and his termites! No the termites were not in a jar. They were the subject of a small paper he wrote, based on his experience treating termite-infested trees in Lakeview with his fungus and with water to fill in and flush out the insects from the giant holes tunneled into the ground by the termite colonies. His theory (and not his alone, I might add) is that six decades of termite tunneling may well have played some part in the weakening of the levees.
The numbers of folks at practice were small, and I only recognized half the people there. Yeah, evacuations may have played a part in these small numbers, but so has Mardi Gras recovery. No rehearsals for almost a month makes for brain addled choristers who in some cases aren't aware that singing sessions have started back up until someone says something to them.
I ended the session with yet another tacky comment concerning life in a trailer, which is the norm down here for many. My first comment had been earlier in the day at the Parenting Center, when I gave my two cents on an article an administrator was writing about living with one's extended family and raising young children - I said jokingly that it was an especially relevant topic at a time when a large number of folks here are forced to cram together in trailers while their house recovery and renovations efforts are going through. Can you say lead balloon?
Someone after choir practice was talking about the efforts some are making to separate themselves from trailer trash, or something to that effect. All I could think was, oh, boy, an exercise in futility, and I just couldn't stop myself from blurting out, "Oh, come ON, this whole city has become trailer trash!", just for a laugh, which it got.
I got to see the trailer living thing going very strong in Metairie off West Esplanade, where it is rare to find a home without a trailer in front. The Jefferson parish folks got flood waters in their houses because the fellow in charge of the pumping stations told the workers at the stations to leave their posts and turn the pumps off. One man's decision put everyone up a creek and in the drink, though the damages were not as bad as the levee breach areas. I know I myself will never look at trailers in the same way ever again, especially since I am now in a land where each joke is simply a window to the truth, or some sort of mirror. The laughter can become tears in an instant. A double-edged sword, or possibly a coin to be flipped. Everyone's a-takin' their chances down here.

Monday, March 06, 2006

I am in a state of avoidance. Not denial, avoidance.

I get tired just getting up in the morning and looking at my place, at all the unpacking I have yet to do. I hear my son stirring in the next room ready for another rambunctious day - or maybe he got up when Dan left for work at 6 AM and is already wired for sound and action. It's so much easier to get some breakfast, to take the dog out to the park with the little guy in tow, to get the heck out of the house and leave the boxes for later...and later...and later...

Then, on leaving the house, the avoidance thing gets tricky.

I'm able to deal with our neighborhood, more or less. There are some blue roofs around, the apartment house across the street is going through major renovations, which are nearing completion (and which are a joy to behold for a three-year-old in love with Bob the Builder cartoons), some piles of debris in front of other houses in the throes of renovations and repairs, and fewer trees in the park we frequent to let my dog do her thing and play with other neighborhood pooches. It helps that I love our house and that we have good neighbors, with whom we shared some crawfish pies and the recipe for them last night, after they offered us the extra crawfish they had leftover from a boil they had the night before that. I am thankful for those things, and for the efforts people are making in the immediate vicinity.

However, three streets over are burned houses, casualties of the storm's aftermath, that have still not been cleared away. I have to make sure to avoid traveling down that street with my son in tow.

We went to the school where my friend Edie had to clear her things from the office, for moral support. There is no easy route there - houses in the poorer sections of town, which are not far from where I live, sport major amounts of storm and flood damage. One collapsed house evinced some comment from my son, who observed that the house had fallen down. Passing the old courthouse and central lockup on Broad Street and Tulane Avenue was passing a once busy place that had become silent, in a neighborhood that shared its silence. The water line still existed on streetlights lining the main drag. Cutting through the Mid-City area provided some semblance of what there had always been - tree-lined streets, pretty houses amidst all the green. A deceptive picture, since this area had flooded, too. City Park was a changed landscape, though - fewer and fewer trees, revealing somewhat barren grasslands. Some derelict cars lined Wisner Boulevard, one proclaiming "BUSH LIES" on its side.

Oh, this place is hard now. It has always been a place that people either love or hate, and I am glad we are part of the former. But I see the landscape now and see a city reaping a whirlwind of racial strife, of political corruption, of little attention to things that would raise the standards of living for everyone. I find it hard to try seeing all this through my son's eyes. Heck, I find it hard to reconcile the city as I once knew it with the city here and now.

My son, however, is having trouble letting go of New York, and understandably so. He has been on so many trips with us, I can't help but think he feels that we are on one of those vacations only with all our stuff here, too. It doesn't help that I haven't been able to get him into a preschool here, but I have established a membership for us at the Parenting Center and have been trying to take him over there on a regular basis. There isn't a structured program over there, just loads of play time with a plethora of indoor and outdoor toys, and a chance to network with other moms. I can also take a route there that avoids a lot of the physical damages to structures and landscapes. The focus is all on getting us out of the house and getting him and me involved with kids and parents. Truthfully, I wish there had been something like this in New York - the only thing was a few hours a week at a local synagogue or Y up there, not five days a week, 20-some-odd hours in that week. I would have been a bit saner had the Parenting Center existed up north, certainly.

On occasion, my little guy will walk up to me with his Clifford books in a small suitcase and announce he is going to the airport, to New York. Out of the blue, he will ask about a preschool friend up north and I have to explain that this is our home now and that his friend is back up in New York. He asked repeatedly one week why he wasn't going to his old preschool, and I had to tell him each week that we had moved here. He would dejectedly ask if the school was closed, and I would have to explain it was too far away for him to attend, and that he had his going-away presents from his friends to consult. He was a part of a great preschool group, despite his delayed entry into the terrible twos. I guess they should be called the Tumultuous Threes, in his case.

He's being a kid, and having some regular routines, such as taking the dog out and going to the playgroup are helping. Having all the devastation around, though...I dread trying to answer the questions that will come up. I hesitated at resubscribing to the Times-Picayune because Katrina news is understandably a large part of the local paper's content. Letting go of basic cable will be a good thing, because there are at least four channels that, when they are not showing essential information and phone numbers for storm victims, are showing endless pictures of Katrina's aftermath. Even flipping the channels on the tube is an exercise in avoidance. I need to block those channels with the V-chip if they don't disappear along with the basic cable.

A children's author, Kate DiCamillo, said recently in an interview that being human comes with a full scope of tragedy and joy: "if you open your heart to the love then you open your heart to the tragedy." She also said a few choice things about the impossibility of trying to spare one's children from suffering, things that made me realize that if I had wanted to keep my son completely safe, I had moved to the wrong place!

My husband and I opened our hearts to this place, and it cut us to the quick when we saw the storm's effects. I like to think that I am passing this kind of love on to my son, but oh, it is hard...

Then again, maybe it isn't. He is disappointed now when something comes up and we can't go to the playgroup. He got so comfortable at Edie's house last night, when we made the crawfish pies, that he took off his pants and ran around her house with her dogs in just his shirt and diapers, a sure sign he was making himself at home. He loves visiting the park everyday with our dog, not only because of the novelty of frolicking around in the trees and grass, but also of the joy of encountering other neighbors and their dogs. He even likes the synagogue we now attend, not least because of the company and the food after services, but he has actually sat through some of the services there.

It doesn't mean that I won't still avoid certain neighborhoods when my son is in the car. But I will work towards explaining things to him about what has happened here, and about why we decided to return, after all that has happened. I will hope that he will have developed a connection of his own with this place and its people, and will want to give back a little himself.

And as for the boxes, I unpacked some more of them today. Maybe I'll do some more later...

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Okay folks, the Congressional tour post dated 2-26 is actually my most recent post. Don't get so confused! Just go back a little and read....

Yo, Blogger folks! Can't I control the dates on the postings, puleeeeeeze?