Archive for the Nature Category

On Having Become a Resident

Posted in First Encounters, Nature with tags , , , on September 20, 2009 by lexis2praxis

So I moved here in July.  It was hot, but not as hot as I’d feared.  Still, I found myself quickly aware that if I attempted to walk the same speed as I did in New York, I’d find myself drenched, even pouring, within a few minutes.  That was just gross, so I slowed down.  Now, I mosey on down the banquette like a snow plow shoveling humidity.

There are other things that became immediately apparent upon moving here.  For one, the 9% sales tax, which is higher than New York or California.  Related to that, the cost of living.  Having lived in New York for a few years, I thought the rent prices were cheap here.  And, compared to New York they are, but no one should be comparing anything with New York.  I quickly learned that people talk about prices — including rent, food, and attractions like the Audubon Institute — in terms of “pre-Katrina” and “post-Katrina”.  Po-boys seem to be the barometer: before, you could get a good po-boy for less than $5, maybe even $3.50.  Now, four years after Katrina, they’re at least $8.

The third thing that struck me about moving here — and bear in mind, this list is not in order of importance, because if it were, this would go at the top — is the pervasiveness, the sheer tenacity, of water.  Here, water is determined, insidious.  The statistics say something about that — the region is geographically about half water, half land, and it rains somewhere around 50 or 60 inches per year — but local folks immediately told me that water has a mind of its own here.  This was most evident to me when each new storm (and there are lots of those) brought water into my recently renovated, 150-year-old house in new and sometimes mind-boggling ways, sometimes never to return in quite the same way.  As each issue is fixed, water still finds its way in, even once teaming up with a brutal gust of wind to knock my locked front door wide open.

Of course, I can’t forget the bugs and creepy crawlies.  I haven’t lived in a place with so many venomous, colorful, and buzzing things since the Arizona desert.  “Wait till caterpillar season,” people tell me.  In Arizona, we had poisonous caterpillars, but there weren’t a lot of trees from where they could fall in droves and sting you.  Perhaps I will follow Michael Homan’s example, and bait the ‘pillars with peeps.

And last but not least and certainly not the least of it, I came here with the assumption that people here must know a lot more about levees, and talk about levees a lot more, than anyone else.  Most people I know don’t really know what a levee is exactly or what it looks like.  I was pretty sure it would be different here, and it is.  Particularly interesting is the way it enters everyday conversation as a thing that people are familiar with.  They might take their dog to the levee, for example, because there’s some grass there and it’s basically a park.  Or someone will give directions and say, “Turn right at the levee.”


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.

The Dry Salvages

Posted in Art, Nature with tags , , , on September 20, 2008 by lexis2praxis

(No. 3 of ‘Four Quartets’)

T.S. Eliot

(The Dry Salvages—presumably les trois sauvages—is a small
group of rocks, with a beacon, off the N.E. coast of Cape Ann,
Massachusetts. Salvages is pronounced to rhyme with assuages.
Groaner: a whistling buoy.)


I do not know much about gods; but I think that the river
Is a strong brown god—sullen, untamed and intractable,
Patient to some degree, at first recognised as a frontier;
Useful, untrustworthy, as a conveyor of commerce;
Then only a problem confronting the builder of bridges.
The problem once solved, the brown god is almost forgotten
By the dwellers in cities—ever, however, implacable.
Keeping his seasons and rages, destroyer, reminder
Of what men choose to forget. Unhonoured, unpropitiated
By worshippers of the machine, but waiting, watching and waiting.
His rhythm was present in the nursery bedroom,
In the rank ailanthus of the April dooryard,
In the smell of grapes on the autumn table,
And the evening circle in the winter gaslight.

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