Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Well, I'm a tad appalled. Hopeful, but appalled.

Part of the application process for the Montessori school we want my son to attend involves attendance on the parents' part: a classroom observation meeting and a curriculum meeting for the parents of prospective kids. I scrambled to get to the school early this morning to find the cafeteria chock full of parents, most of them attending for the pre-K observation meeting, about sixty-plus parents in that group alone. We were split into two groups and shown around a couple of classrooms.

My group ended up in the pre-K gifted Montessori classroom with an instructor who had been there for twenty-plus years and kept exclaiming, and not in a good way, at how many parents were in the room. He was grateful that his kids were in the library at that moment, or else they would have been freaked out by the sheer numbers of the parents in the room. He explained the Montessori method, a very short synopsis of the things kids work on in the class and the philosophy behind the method, and at how the program itself had been built up at Audubon physically by involved parents over the years. I told him at the end of the talk to brace himself, that another group of parents was coming. He was not enthused.

We all wandered on to the school library to see a storytelling session in progress, with the gifted pre-K teacher's kids sitting in a circle around the librarian, and then most of us crowded into the cafeteria again to sign forms saying we had attended the classroom observations. I joked with a fellow parent that they should just let us all write "We were here" on the walls and date that. I turned in my form and grabbed some breakfast stuff on a nearby table to nosh on, and sat down, watching all the other parents assembled in the room, signing forms and schmoozing with one another.

The enormity of what I was trying to do hit me then. This was not going to be a cakewalk, for sure. My son could have what it takes (and he does) in terms of his intellect and preparedness for this program, but the luck of the draw and the lack of space and resources, good as they are, in this one school building would make his chances of attending next fall at best fifty-fifty. The crowds of parents at the meeting today are signs of good and bad things to come in the future. near and far. So many parents are in this city wanting a great education for their young 'uns on the cusp of school age - how great is that for a recovering city such as this? So many of them were busting the seams of the school today largely because the prospects for good early education in the remnants of this city's public school system are pretty piddly - how scary is that?

I've said it in a previous post - and after what I've seen today, I'd amend the need for public education to the need for child care as a must for the economic rebounding of New Orleans. Save the school system down here, please. Somebody, anybody. Everyone we can possibly get to teach, to help administrate, to hustle for funds now that all of the public schools here, including the Montessori school I went to today, are charter schools - just COME ON DOWN. This is a new frontier in terms of our kids and their education and well-being. What needs to be kick-started is some sort of educational subsidy to teaching programs across this country - come down here and blaze a new trail in education, please.

What I saw in that room was a lot of hope, faith, and a certain determination to play the odds on the parents' part, because in the end, that is what attendance at this one school will come down to. I know this deep down.

Friends had warned me about this, namely Edie. She had just quit from the school where she had worked for umpteen years as teacher and administrator, and she told me it would be hard to get my son into this Montessori school. I chalked it up to her general rants about "the school system in shambles", most of which were dead-on analyses. Yes, a lot of teachers retired or relocated after Katrina. Yes, the charter school system is effective only with the right combination of affiliation with a benevolent sponsor(s) and crack fundraising administrators. However, Edie is a champion kvetch on any and all things, and after a certain point, it can be easier to just tune her out.

I joked with Justine yesterday that I had already put in a deposit for next year with my son's current preschool, and if Edie's worst scenarios came to pass, well, we had a backup. This is no longer a joke.

A parent departing the meeting wished me good luck, and I wished her the same, because we are all going to need it, big time. We are paying so much in so many ways to be here. Why should prying at the doors to good public education be any different?

The thing is, it can be different. And that's what makes all this so infuriating.

Monday, April 24, 2006

A beautiful day, overall, especially the evening.

Morning was spent getting myself up early because I was being paged by the little guy. Got ourselves up and going, walked the dog with my son in tow, got him off to preschool and did some relaxation, some library browsing, and purchased a gift for the boy in my son's class whose birthday party we missed due to our Passover absence. I got back to his preschool early and peeked into his classroom to find him paying full attention to a favorite dinosaur book his teacher was reading to the class.

We went from there to the car and surfed the grocery store aisles in his favorite fire truck shopping cart. The little guy has so charmed a security guard at the store that she once went out into the parking lot to find the fire truck cart for him, since he was putting on his best pout. We didn't see her today, but we found the cart at the store entrance and went on from there.

Got home, unloaded the groceries, built a new train layout with the Fisher-Price GeoTrax sets my parents keep getting for him, vegged out in the house for a bit, and then we hopped back into the car to cross the bridge to Algiers and to our friend Justin's house, where his wife would do phase two of my son's testing for a Montessori charter program. Phase one occurred on Sunday morning, when we ventured across the river to Justine's testing partner's house to test the little guy's vocabulary and verbal skills. I recalled being in the next room listening to him with this lady, and at one point, he ventured that "his daddy picked his nose". I was relieved that he didn't go on about how he'd been squishing buckmoth caterpillars recently - didn't want anyone in a position to evaluate him psychologically to start going on about how cruelty to animals is one of the first signs of a budding serial killer. Boys just do this stuff sometimes.

One afternoon, my brother and his buddies were up in his room, quiet for almost fifteen minutes. Too quiet. They soon came clambering down the steps, and my mother overheard one boy say excitedly that "they could have electrocuted themselves!" My father's computer repair kit tweezers and my brother's desk lamp, sans light bulb but still plugged in, were being used to electrocute live ants - grab with tweezers, stick in hot socket.

I dare anyone to tell me, and tell me straight, that young girls will come up with similar schemes. And if so, what are the odds?

My son's predilection with squishing caterpillars comes from three sources, I think. One: he saw another kid do it and decided to give it a try. Two: he overheard everyone's disgust at having these little creatures roam around. For those not in the know, buckmoth caterpillars look fuzzy, but their fuzz carries a powerfully poisonous sting. Dog parkers have to steer their dogs around those areas, there are warning signs at the Parenting Center of caterpillars having been seen dropping from the tree in the outdoor playground there, and those doing gardening work have to do so carefully. And Three: squishing them in just the right way gives way to a satisfying crunch and to the possible spectacle of seeing orange guts spewing from the things like toothpaste from a tube. This last one has put my son off squishing the creatures for a while, however, because the last time he did it, the guts went spewing all over his shoe. Moooooooommmmmmmyyyyyyyyy! he yelled in horror. No stings from the guts, just the icky realization he'd gottten them all over his Thomas the Tank Engine sneakers. He treads a bit more carefully now.

He did fine with Justine's testing, though I think he was a bit distracted because he doesn't normally go into Justin's house to be quizzed on how well he knows his numbers and letters, and how well he grasps basic computation concepts. He was much more enthusiastic about playing with the Labrador on the premises, kibitzing in his way with the Canadian workers, who had returned for another helping stint with the tree service Justin operates, and greeting Justin himself with much joy and gusto once the man returned home. We all sat down to dinner, Monday's red beans and rice, with a little sausage on the side, and then Justine and I talked over a little beer and a touch of dessert.

We had talked earlier about what it means to be back in the area at this time. She had just returned with Justin from a short trip to North Carolina, and she loved it. Somehow, the conversation wended its way towards places to go in the event of a need to permanently evacuate New Orleans and its environs, and I was reminded of another talk I'd had with Dan's and my neighbors a few days ago about this very subject. Our neighbors, born and raised in the Midwest, didn't want to go back there, much as their families have been trying to urge them to return and make homes for themselves up there. They'd move out of the country first, the way things are going politically, one of our neighbors said. I did speculate that New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, which we'd visited last summer, wouldn't be half bad, relocation-wise, except for the cold cold COLD weather they can get in those parts.

Worse comes to worse, I told Justine tonight, we'd look a bit more into getting a house outside Baton Rouge, God forbid. Talk about really starting our lives over again, socially. Talking about having a backup plan for permanently leaving this area is pretty damned frightening, too. At least if this were Israel, the only barrier to permanent settlement of a disputed area would be mainly political. Here it would really come down to life and death.

So what could possibly be worth dying for? Justin, Justine, their Labrador, and my son and I took a walk on the West Bank levee after dinner. The sun was slowly setting over the Central Business District across the river, a large cargo ship was passing by, some Carnival float dens were on the other side of the levee from the river's action, and my son was running ahead of us all, giddy with every step, slightly overtired, and mesmerized by the passing ship and the Coast Guard helicopter that hovered overhead. He was so mad when we had to turn back, but his eyes lit up when he saw a man on a nearby bench playing his guitar in the twilit dusk. He wanted to play the guitar himself, I know. He danced on the sidewalk a little and clambered up on the bench next to the guitar player, bobbing his head to a beat within himself - a beat possibly combined with the one the guitar player was strumming to. I loved seeing him this happy with being in a place, feeling his pain when we had to leave the place, the moment, all of it behind for home and sleep.

I made my choice to come here for love of a place, most of all. I really want to share that love with my son, and deep down, I would love for him to develop his own version of this love himself. I am constantly het up by the ephemerality of our chosen home, however, and no amount of just sharing the love will make a difference unless action is taken to keep this place from washing away.

Yeah, I could die here - but my son must live. There lies the dilemma. It's why I don't blame others for flying this coop. And it's why I still struggle inwardly a bit. Which is why there is a lot of strength in keeping up with the everyday. Got to keep pushing along - get the kid in school, keep us all fed well, walk the dog, and sustain and strengthen the family relationships, and the friendships.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

It is a weekend of much celebration, of new beginnings, of acknowledging the craziness around us, reveling in it a little, and moving on from there. These are the things that this city is known for, that people come from all over the world to get a taste of. For those of us who live here, these have become the rhythms of our life.

Some of these rhythms have been organized specially by a group or groups - like, say, Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, or the one that is going on this weekend, the French Quarter Fest. And sometimes, it is the welcoming of something that is a bit of an organized imposition - the Super Bowl, the Sugar Bowl, the Bayou Classic, local, state, and federal elections. This just happens to be a weekend when so many of these things coincide.

One year, the Super Bowl (Patriots-Packers, before the days of Tom Brady and them) coincided with the Krewe du Vieux parade running through the Quarter. Cheeseheads and Pats fans mingled with paradegoers and the usual partying flotsam and jetsam running in and out of the bars and restaurants. I was lucky to be able to call for a cab that night, since trying to hail one from off the street was an impossibility. I never felt threatened by the crowds - this town prides itself on manageable chaos.

A true testament to that credo is the French Quarter Festival, which has been going on for a number of years now. Loads of local bands play various stages on the riverfront and in the Quarter. The usual Quarter nuttiness mingles once again with the music in the streets with much abandon, an issue that is normally one of hot contention among city lawmakers and year-round street performers. Strange to think that a city known for its music tries repeatedly to regulate said music off its streets on a regular basis, but there it is. All the more unusual that FQF events are free to the public, with money needed only for food and tchotchkes.

Yep, people sure know how to party down here. Even the primary voting yesterday occasioned a flurry, a deluge, a forest of campaign signs on that corrugated plastic stuck in every neutral ground, loads of decoration lauding each and every single candidate for mayor, for city council, for assessors' positions, for sheriff, for clerk of criminal court, which must have amounted to close to fifty names on thousands of signs. If Dan and I had been awake enough to do it, I would have grabbed them all and done a Frank Gehry number with them.

Gehry, shortly before the design and execution of buildings such as the Guggenheim in Bilbao, created some fantastic and very comfortable furniture out of laminated pieces of corrugated cardboard, hundreds of them all stuck together and then cut into the shape of chairs, tables, ottomans. Campaign furniture would have been a kick - plus it wouldn't have disintegrated on exposure to moisture like Gehry's furniture. Nothing like a nice dais for mayoral candidate Sonja "Lady" DeDais, maybe. Or it could be just a good excuse to tell a candidate to SIT ON IT.

In a festive mood, after having been one of two candidates who kept their heads above the fray, for better or worse, Ray Nagin in his "phase two" speech pulled out a small keychain and professed that others were making money off his recent foot-in-mouth comments. In these parts, a fellow here has been making money off a keychain named a "Cajun in Your Pocket" - push the buttons on the keychain and a Cajun yell sounds off, another button yields the phrase "I love you like a pig loves corn" in a Cajun-cadenced voice, and other buttons yield other Cajun phrases. Well, the same fellow has apparently come up with the "Mayor in Your Pocket", and Nagin played it last night, two recordings of him saying some things. I noticed the "Chocolate City" quote was conspicuously absent, but I figured Nagin wouldn't touch that button with a ten-foot pole. As it is, his position versus his runoff opponent, Mitch Landrieu, is somewhat tenuous, considering Landrieu's connections as lieutenant governor, his family's political legacy on the local and national levels (his father, Moon Landrieu, as a former New Orleans mayor, and his sister's position as a US senator for Louisiana), and the fact that Landrieu has been able to attract all sorts of support from all facets of New Orleans' culture and classes. Edie and I saw him just after the election at a crawfish boil fundraiser for a local public elementary and middle school. He could just as easily have slept in after the primaries, since he had worked his tail off from a late start in the campaigning to get where he was. And yet, there he was, celebrating at a public school crawfish boil. More power to him, I say.

Of course, much is being made of there not having been an incumbent mayor voted out of office in New Orleans for sixty years, and in that respect, the odds are in Nagin's favor. However, the whole "Bulworth" style of speaking his mind and departing from a script ain't working well for this man, I don't think. Get rid of that "Mayor in Your Pocket", your honor. There are way too many shirts and bumper stickers making fun of you as it is.

Speaking of bumper stickers, some good ones recently:

My Body's Not a Temple, It's An Amusement Park!
Hug a Musician; They Never Get to Dance
Make Groceries, Not War

That last one is a true twist on an old New Orleans expression. "Making groceries" is simply an expression for grocery shopping down here.

Next festival stop? The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, which promises to be a zoo this year. We are already planning a strategy as to which stages to avoid due to anticipated critical crowd mass (big names this year include Bruce Springsteen, Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, and just enough world renowned performers to make one stage out of the ten-plus on the Fair Grounds effectively dead for a day, since the big-name acts won't be on until the end of the day; it all adds up to the perfect recipe for people who want to see those acts camping out at a stage from the beginning of the day until the bitter end), which acts we think my in-laws would love to see when they come to visit for the second weekend, and which ones we know are good that we haven't seen in four years. Add my son and his needs to the mix, and yeah, we need to plan for this big time. Maybe we can petition the Joint Chiefs to make use of the Pentagon for this purpose. Our tax dollars at work...

Almost ten years ago, at a local Spanish food place, I spied a sign up on the wall that I had to have. Friends of ours in New York never failed to comment on it:


We are beyond that doubtful guest, Katrina, and we are still cleaning up after her, but Lord knows, we need a break. We're on the cusp of a possibly different political future, and a new hurricane season. How best to bolster our confidence down here than with a bit of Festing?

Not FESTERING, folks.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

FOOD, deuxieme etage (part deux)

So, as I was saying...

I grabbed those excess uneaten crawfish from the ex-boss' birthday boil and didn't get around to crawfish pie-in' them until the day before we were slated to go back to New York to visit family and friends for Passover. I peeled the suckers, whipped up the roux, added the veggies and rolled up some pie dough and cooked up enough for a couple of armies only to place most of them in the freezer for consumption apres Pesach. They beckon to me longingly whenever I open the freezer door to get something else out. Two more days, little pies...

It's times such as these I am grateful for the existence of places such as the Kosher Cajun Deli and Grocery in Metairie. Passover shopping went a little by the wayside this year, as we are still unpacking some and, well, I must face it, I was also a bit of a lazy bum. The Kosher Cajun was actually open yesterday, when I did my shopping and had lunch there, and today, keeping the kosher for Passover mid-holiday shopping fires burning. The selection was all right, considering it was mid-holiday, and my son and I sat down to a nice lunch of hamburger with the fixings, minus the bun, some pickle slices, and a piece of matzah. As I told my friend Edie when her daughter complained about her made-from-scratch Passover brownies, I've learned over time to expect only so much from Passover food. It's a time of affliction, folks...be grateful that God and tradition didn't mandate eight days of fasting. It's times like these, though, that one realizes how pervasive bread and yeast and products that look like they rise when cooked have become in our food culture as a nation...forget the two challah loaves one is supposed to have every Shabbat.

No wonder my husband wants to be an honorary Sephardic Jew when this time of year comes around - Sephardim can eat more stuff!

We made our way to New York for my grandparents' seder nights and got to see a good amount of my family in the process. For twenty-three years now I have been co-leading the seders with my grandfather, so Passover in New York is a requirement. Now that we are down south, Passover is an absolute, on pain of death requirement because everyone has to see my son and give him gifts such as a toy Home Depot brand chainsaw, additions to his Fisher-Price train set, sets of Hot Wheels cars and other tchotchkes. I would have loved to see the TSA screener's face when he/she saw the outline of the chainsaw in my bag on my return trip. My parents' sense of humor is quite bizarre.

Another funny committed by my family? My father and grandmother go shopping in a gourmet kosher grocery store on Long Island, and my father stands there at the meat counter exclaiming over the size of the lamb chops there. "They look like pork! They're thick just like pork chops!", my father says, loud enough for most of the store to hear. An orthodox Jewish fellow nearby overhears him and says, "You came to the wrong place, buddy." Oh, well. At least they came back with some fantastic cranberry granola snack mix.

We got to see lots of family and friends on this visit, and we saw most of them at Shabbat services at our old synagogue. We even had lunch with one of the families we knew when we lived in the area and attended synagogue functions regularly - all because I ordered Passover candy from one of their kids before we moved and had to pick it up. We talked of New Orleans and of goings-on in their neck of the woods over matzah and cold cuts, and then we went to a local park we used to frequent and ran into more people we knew there, as my son demonstrated, hands-on, to those assembled around the water fountain how it can be turned into a sprinkler. From there, we went to my grandparents' for dinner and made it an early night.

I missed seeing a good friend of mine in all this, however - she is exiled from New Orleans and living in Astoria now with a primo job. We talked over the phone before my trip up north of catastrophes and their revisitations. "Picture, if you will," I told her, "a channel on TV that broadcasts pictures of the 9-11 sites and their destruction from every conceivable angle 24-7, with interruptions in the form of relief postings and pertinent phone numbers. Replace the WTC, the Pentagon, and Shanksville, PA, with pictures of the levee breaches' aftermath and multiply it by three, and that's what we have going down here."

Her beef was with the release of the recordings of the distress calls to the 911 operators from the WTC during the attacks. "Give me some good ol' Louisiana political scandal!" she said.

If we're not careful, there just might be the beginnings of one this Saturday, when the first of the post-Katrina city elections occurs. Us yutzes have missed the boat, however, at least for Saturday's election. I myself will be able to vote in the runoff on May 20, and there will definitely be a runoff. If I were voting for mayor in the primary, however, it would be for either Boulet or Landrieu. They seem to be concerned first and foremost with getting this city back on its feet, minus the axe-grinding most of the other candidates seem to have demonstrated towards each other and state and federal government. Watching the first of the nationally broadcast debates kind of bore this out, to me. When Rob Couhig bulldogs his way through the debates, Peggy Wilson stutters her way through answers to questions she is clearly unprepared for. Ray Nagin gets a burr up his butt for thinking a candidate's line of questioning to another candidate is a set-up that is meant to make him look foolish, and the Reverend Watson implies (and apparently said outright in the following debate) that Nagin's embarrassment is really the wrath of God being visited upon him. Ron Forman gets a great deal of support himself, but I think he has stepped on too many toes as a developer in the private sector - visit www.saveaudubonpark.org to see what I mean.

The part that nearly brought me to tears, however, was when Norman Robinson asked, with the wrath of God clearly channeled through his voice, what each candidate would say to prospective and returning residents about the safety of living in the flooded areas when even now, bodies are being found in houses slated for demolition, in many cases by returning family members. Would candidates recommend relying on levee protection once again in these areas? Wilson was called on first to answer, and she evaded the question, causing me to want to reach through to that studio and slap her upside the head. The last thing that is needed in this election is the same ol' political bull. Yes, there's still going to be a certain amount of it, but that, too, could be put to better use than to deny what's going on around here.

This is still going on when it comes to big issues here, such as child care. Once again, I can only direct everyone to the Gambit website for more info, since they seem to be the only ones consistently addressing what everyone else doesn't want to fully acknowledge:
Since Katrina and its aftermath, almost 80-some-odd % of the child care options that once existed are gone, and it kicks some New Orleans recovery prospects right in the teeth. Those who think women don't wield much in the way of political or economic power ought to try on the effective elimination of half of a prospective workforce for size. If there aren't any child care options, and soon, this city will be reaping that whirlwind for sure...

And there ends my rant for the day.

As we drove around New York in our rented car, Dan and I realized we had grown accustomed to the place, to mangle My Fair Lady and Rex Harrison a bit. I'd recommend to any new New Yorkers to give the place some time, some good care and feeding, and get to meeting some people and making connections, and it will all grow on you. We were on the verge of living a New York life for sure. Then again, we were probably caught up in the euphoria that comes with visiting a place that hasn't changed much in the few months since we left, and is not going through the same sort of turmoil we've been in the middle of.

We encountered a returning New Orleanian on our flight back home who was craving a good pot of gumbo on his return, but whose favorite hot sausage place in the Ninth Ward had succumbed to the floods. He asked us where good hot sausage could be had now, and all I could think of was someplace on the road to Picayune, MS, that may or may not exist anymore. Dan mentioned a place in the CBD the fellow had heard of and tried, and they both let out a hearty "MMMMMMmmmmmm" at the thought of the sausage.

Being Jewish, and carrying around some lessons gleaned from a people with a history of exile, all I've got to say is this, and I mean it in ways aside from the culinary:

If you feed them, they will come.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Yep, it's been a while. And the theme for the past week or so that I haven't been posting seems to have been FOOD.

Went to Russell's Marina Grill in the West End, right in the heart of one of the devastated areas. Lakeview's destruction surrounded the restaurant, but it was good to see the place packed to the gills for breakfast, just like before the storm. Don't know what possessed me to pick the place as our breakfast-out destination that morning, but there we were, waiting on a table. I pulled out the copy of Mark Kurlansky's Salt I'd checked out from the library and immediately sparked a conversation with a woman who turned out to be the curator of the Southern Food Museum here in the city (www.southernfood.org). Took a look at their website later on and found that they are collecting Katrina stories relating to food - cookin' in disastrous times, food you miss now that you're exiled from the area, food that pulled you through, anything related to food. Check it out when you get a chance, y'all.

Later on, we went out to the West Bank of the Mississippi to a new friend's home to celebrate my ex-boss's birthday over boiled crawfish, ribs, loads of snack food, and a chicken cooked with an unopened can of beer up its rear (I kid you not - the fact that it was unopened, however, was a mistake). Once again, we had leftover crawfish to take home (yeah, like we were crying about it...), along with garlic bread and some brussels sprouts that Dan just had to try, since it was our first time having them boiled with the crawfish, spices and all. I declined on that one myself; being the guinea pig for this family's first-ever attempt at a crawfish boil was more than enough adventure. Of our new friends, Mom the animal lover couldn't take watching the live crawfish being boiled, but she would eat them gladly. Dad, however, was cooking the little mudbugs and correcting the seasoning with gusto, but he didn't enjoy a single bite of his creation, since he harbored a lifelong distaste for any and all seafood. Their little girl was inhaling the crawfish that were peeled for her, and my son was tentatively tasting the corn and balking at its spiciness...he's been averse to the spicy stuff for the past few months now. My ex-boss dug in with both hands, grabbing for the larger crawfish first, as is her right as the birthday girl, but we enjoyed the feast with no beer, since she'd given it up for Lent. Stranger food preferences have rarely been witnessed by my own eyes, I'll tell you that...

Part of the conversation involved food in the scheme of evacuation. My ex-boss commented on her weight gain of fifteen pounds while in exile from New Orleans, because so many people insisted on feeding her and the folks with whom she evacuated. The table full of snacks we were noshing on while we were waiting for the crawfish to finish brought back the food memories from the evacuation...and then, after finishing up the second batch of boiled crawfish as best we could, we all went our separate ways, mostly over the Huey P. Long bridge to avoid the filming of a Denzel Washington movie they were doing near the Crescent City Connection that was guaranteed to tie up traffic. I wouldn't have wanted to see a load of fake explosions anyway, since there are loads of real ones occurring in our lives here almost every day.

For instance, our cantor of nearly five years is leaving. That bomb was dropped on the congregation shortly before Dan and I left for a family visit up north for Passover. There has been a load of speculation since as to his reasons for leaving, as there will be when a leader of any capacity moves onward. He'd just bought a house in the Broadmoor area of the city almost a year before the storm, all of his possessions were flooded out, he and his wife are raising a ten month old son, and the storm coincided with the retirement of one rabbi from the synagogue and the arrival of a new one. Stressful situation? Add the loss of his wife's university teaching job to the equation, and it would all be enough to tip anyone over the edge. Wherever he and his family go, I wish them all well. There will unfortunately be large numbers of people here who will think this person is abandoning them at a time of need - but this is someone who is clearly in need of help in the form of a fresh start. Once again, in this case, as I have seen in some other local families in transition to other places, there are other people to consider in the equation aside from himself. I could go on about the whole ministering part of a cantorial position being a tough one to negotiate - after all, more congregations are expecting cantors to be rabbis who sing. Folks in a congregation also need to recognize burnout when they see it.

Yet another bomb to report? Try the mayoral debate being broadcast on national TV, with local anchor Norman Robinson and CNBC Hardball host Chris Matthews doing the mediating. Now the rest of the country - indeed, the rest of the world - can see what we are going through tomorrow night, April 17. Truly an historic event in the making. No doubt the Nielsen ratings will be posted the following morning in the local paper. Stay tuned and hold on to your horses...

More on food in my next post. It's getting late for me.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Some more recent bumperstickers:

Bush Is A Natural Disaster
I'm Qualified to Run FEMA
Rebuilding New Orleans One Beer At A Time

I think that last one might have inspired a recent Ronnie Virgets short story I read, in which one character proclaims in a bar that he buys Dixie beer to help with New Orleans' recovery. Hell of a way to help - foot the recovery bills and say goodbye to sobriety in the process.

My husband was flipping through the channels last night, did a double take in that process, and switched back to ESPN. He thought Stephen A. Smith was interviewing local mayoral candidate Mitch Landrieu, but it turned out to be Cal Ripken instead. This city has thoroughly permeated our consciousness, for sure - and it needs no beer to help it along.

I have also had to reevaluate my child's imagination in light of some of the books I have been reading to him lately. I checked out Pete Seeger's Abiyoyo from the library, and its sequel, Abiyoyo Returns, since the little guy began singing the song after watching an episode of Between the Lions in which the first of the two stories was featured. The first story is about a boy and his father who are kicked out of the town in which they live for, respectively, playing the ukulele too much and for playing too many prankish magic tricks on people. When the giant Abiyoyo threatens the town one morning, though, father and son use their skills to save the town and make the giant disappear.

Driving to pick up Dan from the airport yesterday, my son took one good look at all the cars under the highway overpasses and asked me about them. I told him they had all been flooded out and were waiting to be taken away, and he said the cure for the flooding was a small dam (or, as he said, "a small DAM!!!!!!!"). That came from the second Abiyoyo story, which more of the people around here need to read.

In the second one, it is thirty years after Abiyoyo has disappeared, and the town is threatened once again - by natural disaster. The surrounding forests are no more, and the waters overflow and flood the town regularly in the rainy seasons. The people decide a dam must be built to preserve their home, but they run into a large boulder in the building process that cannot be moved...until the granddaughter of the magician in the first story comes up with the idea to resurrect Abiyoyo, treat him well, get him to move the boulder, and then make him disappear again. However, things don't go as planned. What follows after the giant is resurrected and fed and the boulder is moved is that the giant cannot be made to disappear. What does one do with a hungry, gross giant?

Well, if we go by what is happening here and now, we try to vanquish it with all the offensive tools in our arsenal. We get it to move away, or we run from it ourselves. We refuse to feed it, we blame someone else for its presence, chide others for neglecting its upkeep, and beseech others to deal with it. Sometimes we think that throwing money at a problem as large as a giant will help it go away, except that there are a large number of ways in which such money can be spent once it is out of our hands, and not all of those ways are wise.

It's what makes this mayoral race such a mess. New Orleans has become a microcosm of what is wrong with the United States and its de facto and de jure worlds. Inequality still reigns. Business opportunities have been squandered in some cases to keep the status quo intact (in the case of this city, it's fantasy, quasi-stereotypical regional freakishness and elegant decay over industry and job opportunities that don't involve tourism). Questions of whether or not this place should still exist hang above us like a suspended ton of bricks. Even the recent proposed legislation concerning illegal immigrants in this country who are largely from south of the border affects this area - a large number of the folks doing the brute recovery work are Mexican, legal or illegal.

Heck, there are a large number of folks from north of the border who are helping, too. Justin had to say goodbye to a large crew of Quebecois who were aiding him in his tree business a few weeks ago. They were all camped out in his house and in a FEMA trailer on his property, filling it all up with their soap operatic stories of families located far away, of young fellas let loose in a loose town around Mardi Gras, of guys who were encountering New Orleans food and accents for the first time, of the profound culture shock on their psyches. Not to mention the craziness these guys had to go through every time they went back across the border for one reason or another and had to deal with US customs folks on the way back. We have become a nation that relies on our customs officers to do our dirty work for us, and they take our reliance and wield that power in ways that ought to be countered by a behavioral manual...except that that manual would probably take up several libraries.

Oh, boy did I digress...

Anyway, since the folks in the town can't make Abiyoyo the giant disappear, the magician's granddaughter decides that kindness, good care and feeding of Abiyoyo will no longer make him a danger - and she is right. It also helps bring the people of the town closer together, since they all need to keep cooking their best recipes for the giant, singing and sharing their songs for him and themselves, and working with him as their helper to replant the forests that once surrounded the town. What doesn't kill us all makes us stronger, I guess. It supposedly helps bring us a little closer, too, which I find a bit difficult sometimes taking care of a three year old full-time.

What brought me closer to other moms in New York was the neighborhood I was in, the people of the synagogue I attended regularly, the camaraderie with other moms as we all picked up and dropped off our kids at the preschool class they attended. Here, it's a curbside pick up and drop off of the kids - quick and easy for the parents. The attachment to a local synagogue and to Jewish ritual is not as strong here. And my son is an inbetween kid, in a way - he's too young for us to congregate and commiserate with Jewish parents of kids his own age here, and the people active in the synagogue that are my husband's and my age have kids who are younger than the little guy, who is breaking out of the baby and early toddler development stages.

I have also run into the parents who are taking advantage of places such as the Parenting Center while they are in the process of relocating to another state. Not conducive to forming playdates and playgroups, I'll tell you. The impulse with some of the folks who are staying here towards those who are leaving is to say "Don't let the door hit you in the ass on the way out," but that denies the other factors that go into a person's decision to stay here or go...and any parent who doesn't consider the well-being of their child and the need to support that well-being financially and through community resources is kidding themselves. Some may find that things here are okay in that regard. I am among the ones who are on the fence. I've found good resources for my son, but finding a way to keep mama happy in all this is tough. I wish those folks who are relocating permanently well.

Part of what makes it tough is that before I moved up to New York and had my son, my identity was largely tied up in my job and my synagogue friends. Now I am having to reassess my identity, since most of my synagogue friends are much older than I and my time revolves around the job of raising a three year old. Meeting people here outside of it all has become tougher. I really need it too, because I need to dissect this city and its trials and travails outside of the three year old psyche.

Okay, I guess I'm not immune to the impulse to vanquish a giant. I guess I, too, have to find some way to live with the big ol' thing called full-time motherhood, too. Maybe I should have chosen a less interesting city, I don't know. It's all a constant struggle, and I can't help feeling less than adequate to the task. Sometimes I feel like I don't deserve to be here, that I don't deserve to have such a great kid for a son, that I should be more patient all the time with him and myself. It's just so hard sometimes.

From what I read in the papers, this whole city is finding life hard, too. When a review of the movie Ice Age 2: The Meltdown, comes with a caveat that the plot might be too close to home for Katrina survivors and their kids, you know you're living on a different planet. Edie, who advised me on my first day back that if I manage to get one thing done every day, that I've won a small battle, was amazed the other day at the things I'd been able to accomplish since Dan and I had returned. A recent radio interview of an author ended with the interviewer asking the author about short stories she could recommend, since a large number of people who are trying to get by here have exhibited an inability to concentrate. Edie's daughter exclaimed recently that she had finally been able to make it through an entire novel after the storm. Everyone needs a goal to make it through here, no matter how small.

Maybe my goal ought to be After Passover, for right now.

After Passover, I can work on my son's pre-K charter school application.
After Passover, I can work on applying to Tulane for grad school.
After Passover, I can start interviewing potential sitters for much needed kiddie hiatuses for Dan and I.
After Passover, this house will be fully unpacked.

But until then, I will just do what I can. Live with the giant some. As most of this city is trying to do.

Monday, April 03, 2006

All I can do right now is supply this link:


What we have here is a fantastic explanation of why recovery in Louisiana and along the Gulf coast is fast becoming a dirty word, in more ways than one. Especially here in this city, which seems to have been left to rot in hell by the feds, among others.

On the one hand, we get what we elect, and one could argue that on a local and state level, these kinds of scenarios were a long time coming. On the other hand.... ENOUGH ALREADY. So we elected a real schmo for president of this country. Some folks have been talking censure of Dubya, but nobody wants to go out and do it for fear of having the political bomb blow in their faces. If New Orleanians weren't scattered about the country so widely and liberally, maybe this could constitute a Katrina march on Washington. Then again, maybe the Katrina diaspora is in Bush's best interests: divide and conquer. Make people so worried about where their next meal is coming from, about their increased taxes and bills and how they will be paid, about where they will be living tomorrow, and perhaps they will be less inclined to pay attention to the man behind the curtain.

Anyhoo, don't just read my rant. Read about it in the Gambit article link. Tell me what you think.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

I live in a town in which the first subscription magazine of ours to make it through the snail mail morass here was the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. The famous postal motto should now read, "Hell and high water will seriously impede mail delivery, but pictures of mostly naked women will make it through the appointed rounds."

I live in a city in which the artificial atmosphere of a local zoo exhibit was ripped to shreds by storm winds ... but you can still see the anteaters, macaws, and jaguars among the ruined bamboo remains. The howler monkey family even looked exhausted. Then again, maybe it was just their two young kids running and jumping all over the monkey parents and the exhibit.

And I now know that my son has absorbed the recovery efforts of this city into his imaginary play.

Okay, we don't live in a vacuum. My son is in preschool with children of families who are trying to rebuild, so I'm sure he's heard about those efforts. We unfortunately had to inform a parent of a child in his class that we could not attend the child's birthday party in Lakeview, since we would be out of town then. And of course there's that lovely levee breach tour we went on with Edie, and all the houses around with blue roofs and debris piles.

A mom we met who had relocated uptown after the destruction of her Lakeview home was grateful for the presence of Audubon Park, since the shotgun house she was in now didn't have much of a yard, and it was tough telling her two year old to wait for her at the debris pile in front of the house before moving down the street with her.

But what we do have here are wonderful restaurants, still, and my husband and I went out with our friends to a great one last night, and left our son with a sitter. When we left, the little guy and the sitter were playing some games with the empty boxes left over from unpacking. I kissed him good bye inbetween his escapes from the boxes and Dan and I headed out.

We were wined and dined at Restaurant August, and I haven't had a meal like that since our favorite Creole and Cajun restaurant in Donaldsonville, outside of Baton Rouge, closed up to all except those staying at the B & B in which the restaurant was located. Hard to say what the best part was - the crawfish appetizer? The duck main course? The chocolate cake and accompanying liqueur for dessert? The deep-fried bread pudding of Dan's I tasted? The true nightcap was waiting for us when we got home.

The sitter said he was his amiable self. He enjoyed playing with the boxes so much, she went ahead and made a larger one into a house with a doorway and windows. He played with it in another room for a while, and when she went in to check on him, the house was crushed in a bit. She asked him what had happened, and he said the house was flooded.

I was so stunned, I called Dan up from the foot of the stairs, where he still lingered, so that he could hear this. It's moments like these that make me glad I'm married. I can verify the insanity and share it at the same time.

Dan and I listened further, and not without some giggles, to the rest of the sitter's tale. She repeated to him what she told me about the flooded house, and then amended her story with the tidbit of information that he began to gut the house he had said was flooded. It was at this that Dan and I just laughed, loud and long. We'd been drinking a little, but not too much. The absurdity of how our son had absorbed the atmosphere of this place was frighteningly funny.

The frightening part, of course, is what else has he absorbed of the post-storm circumstances here? None of us may never fully know, including him.