Archive for water

Cultural Wetlands

Posted in Art with tags , , , , on October 17, 2009 by lexis2praxis

New Orleans used to be known for her music.  Is she still?  According to some people interviewed in New Orleans Music Renaissance, the local music scene is trying hard but struggling.  Many of the musicians who used to live here are in diaspora, or simply disappeared, and no one has tried to find out where they are or if they will come back, or if they need help to come back.  This should be a national priority, says David Freeman, because New Orleans is the “cultural wetlands … of the country.”

Wetlands.  Diverse, complex, vital to a dense web of relationships.  Harboring stores of well-preserved history, bones and shells and things.  Often overlooked.  Exceedingly fragile.

One of the people participating in my research, who asked me to call him Tad when I write about him, took me on a tour through the Central Business District, pointing out where the old jazz clubs used to be.  They’re dry.  The Ninth Ward: dry.

The bird’s foot delta bridges the United States with the Carribbean, a cultural wetlands indeed, for it’s a geographic link for automatic travel, communication, and trade.  Its songs are now wildly dispersed, a performer or two perhaps trumpeting or tapping away in some Boise bar or Hollywood street.  The young musicians here are now thrilled and burdened by their new, Katrina-induced roles as the best players in the city.  But some of them think things can only get better.  Irvin Mayfield says, “We have to think about what we’re going to be,” because, “it’s not going to be what it was.”


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.”

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.