Archive for December, 2008

The Ninth Ward

Posted in Art, First Encounters, Food, Nature, Tourism with tags , , on December 8, 2008 by lexis2praxis

I am back in New York now, well really New Jersey, and wish I could have stayed longer in NOLA.  It is a rather small city but very dense, very rich and saucy, like the food.  To continue the metaphor, few places have left me with such a strong lingering aftertaste.  I only scratched the surface, but there is a lot bubbling up, a lot of love and unity, a lot of pain, tension, anger, expression, empowerment.  At the NO Museum of Art I got into a short conversation with a NOLA lifer.  I asked if a nearby area, now under construction, was a city park.  “Before Katrina,” he said, and then stopped.  “I’m so tired of saying that.  But– before Katrina, it was a golf course.”  The conversation continued a while and we revealed that we were headed to the airport.  “I wish I could stay longer,” I said.  “You should move here,” said the man.  “We need more people.”

Yesterday was the last day, and we didn’t have much time before we had to go to the airport.  So we did a very shortened version of the Prospect .1 tour.  According to the website, Prospect .1 is the “largest biennial of contemporary art ever organized in the United States”.  It is also a very well curated exhibit, featuring three buses that stop at major attractions in a continous loop throughout the city, Wednesday through Sunday from 10:45am-6:00pm, from November 1 until January 18, 2009.  And shockingly enough, it’s all free– provided you register for a ticket on the website.  Clearly, Prospect .1 — which, incidentally, was organized by Dan Cameron, a New York artist — got some very nice funding from companies like the W Hotel and Prudential (for a full list of sponsors, see the P.1 website).

After breakfast at J’anita’s (we were aiming for a quick breakfast, but my impression is that NOLA will teach anyone to be patient — in any case, it was excellent food) we took the bus straight to the Ninth Ward.  The devastation there was still palpable, especially in the Lower 9th, which was of course the hardest hit.  In the Upper 9th, most existing structures remained more or less intact, and I’d say about half are currently inhabited — although that may in fact be a generous estimate.  Part of the problem is that habitation is somewhat ambiguous, since some people have been able to move back in, but haven’t been able to repair anything.  One house, windows shattered, boards hanging in tatters from the walls, sported signs that said “We are here” and “No bulldozing”.  Many of the clearly water-damaged, delapidated houses were for sale or rent, and ads posted on telephone poles included a “We Buy Houses” sign and a toll-free number for mold problems.  The Lower 9th was, well, mostly uninhabited.  The P.1 driver told us, gesturing out the window, “I have to tell you– there was a house here, and here, and here, and here… This place was full of businesses.  It was busy, full of people…”  It’s grassland and concrete foundations, now.  Most existing structures remain in a state of disrepair.  The driver told us that this was an area where more low-income people owned their homes than anywhere else in the United States, so “they’ve lost everything.”

The art was intense and poignant.  I hate to privilege one piece without talking about all of them, so suffice to say for now that it’s all worth seeing, and better to see than to read about.

Cupcakes and Sorrows in NOLA

Posted in First Encounters, Food, Tourism with tags , , on December 7, 2008 by lexis2praxis

I finally spent time in New Orleans this weekend.  I have been here so many times on the blogs, living vicariously through the words of others.  Now in winter, soaking in the odd combination of humidity, hot sun and icy breeze, I wandered the streets and marveled at the curious combination of dilapidated, abandoned structures and restored, bustling storefronts and colonial-style houses with trellises draped in houseplants.  I went to the Garden District first which, incidentally, was marked off as the “wrong side of the tracks” on my hotel map — “Stay in the downtown area and the French Quarter,” said the clerk.  I guess neighborhoods with people walking dogs are threatening… maybe it’s the dogs we tourists are supposed to avoid.  In any case, I first stopped in at Pralines by Jean.  Attracted by the chocolate mint and cream cheese-capped almond flavored cupcakes, I bought some for the road and talked to Jean for a while about her Katrina experiences.  She said her area wasn’t badly hit, but that it took her a while to get back in business because it was hard to get items such as sugar and flour, obviously very important ingredients for such decadent food.  She also said that it was hard to get her permits in order to get the business under way again, because after she had filed everything the first time, the city informed her that she had filed the wrong forms or something and had to do it all over again.  Despite the local corruption though, she said, “we love it here”.

Next I wandered through the neighborhood, taking pictures of spectacular houses, including the occasional wrecked and abandoned one, and noted that there are many For Rent signs in the Garden District.  I stumbled upon Magazine Street, where I was coersed by a few local artists and artisans and hip-looking shopkeepers to spend more money than I have on gifts for people I know.

This done I set off into the sunset through an industrial area toward downtown, just wandering.  The cowbirds or whatever they are congealed in a great black mass and settled on the vast network of telephone wires above me like dark messengers.  Once near the river, bracing against the icy wind, I felt the intensity of sorrows accumulated there like silt in the delta.  But there was also music and spice in the air, and I found myself glad to be here.