Beautiful Skies


New Orleanians are enjoying some beautiful skies in the last few days post-Isaac. I took this photo yesterday evening from my backyard.


And this one from my front yard.

If you can keep a handle on the fear and anxiety, storms actually have a raw and breath-taking beauty but there’s really nothing like the beauty of skies like this. I’ve heard we’ll have a few more days of spectacular sun rises and sunsets. Enjoy them, NOLA.

11 Post-Isaac Days & Counting

This is the debris pile and household trash pile in front of my house today, Sunday, September 9. Our trash is usually picked up on Mondays and Thursdays but, because Hurricane Isaac blew through on Wednesday August 29, we didn’t get our regular trash  pick up on Thursday. Totally understandable. So, by Monday September 3 we, of course, had more trash than usual to be picked up. We had to resort to putting household trash on top on the cans which were already filled but when the trucks came by, the workers threw those bags on the ground and left them. Fortunately, I saw what was happening & yelled for my husband who went out and actually threw them into the truck himself as the workers apparently didn’t believe they were trash but, instead, leaves. That’s ok, I can understand the confusion.

On Wednesday, a city contracted worker came by and picked up our debris which was about the same amount as you see in the photo and I’m grateful for that. But, again, on Thursday September 6 we didn’t have regular garbage pick up. We called the company and reported it. On Friday, I tweeted Kristen Palmer who replied within about 20 minutes that the mayor was having a press conference at 3:30 where garbage & debris pickup would be addressed. Great, I said. Except I never heard any more about it. I turned on a local talk radio station (admittedly at 3:45 because I was still raking storm debris in the yard) and there was no press conference on. I watched two local news stations Friday evening: no mention of a press conference.  OK, maybe I just had bad timing but it really shouldn’t be this hard to get garbage/debris pick up information updates.

On Saturday I went on the NOLA Ready website but there was nothing new there. I called 311 and was told by a a very nice lady that they were no longer taking debris/garbage pick up calls and not to worry because it would all be picked up. The big question is WHEN? I watched local TV news on Saturday evening, no mention.

Saturday night I decided to tweet (see Femme Tweets in the sidebar to the left) and post on my FaceBook wall asking about garbage/debris pick up in other areas of the city. (I live in Algiers.) Here are the results from the various people who replied:

No debris pick up as of Saturday night (in no particular order):
Algiers
Uptown
East Carrollton/Riverbend
Bywater
Irish Channel
Lower Garden District
Broadmoor

From what I can gather, my particular area of Algiers seems to be the only area that has not had regular garbage pick up. For two weeks we have had only one pick up instead of two.

Saturday night @NOLA Ready responded to the conversation on Twitter about garbage/debris pick up. They stated, “we just got more crews & equipment in to help; they covering city & will check & see if can get ETA for you!”  and today, ” thank you. We’re still running behind because of massive volume, so please leave out bins – crews working all day today.”

I sure hope today will be my day and I also hope all of my regular garbage, those bags inside the cans and outside the cans, will be picked up without my husband having to police them to make sure it is.

All in all, I think the city and Mayor Landreiu did a great job communicating and preparing the city for this storm – way better than was done seven years ago for Katrina. The NOLA Ready website (and Twitter presence) is a great idea and I referred to it many times during these last two weeks. The mayor has been accessible and visible and nobody has had to ask “Where is the mayor” in these post-storm days as so many of us did for years after The Federal Flood. Of course, no one is perfect so I hope once all the debris is picked up and the streets are clear that perhaps lessons will have been learned in that department for a better trash/debris protocol for next time. Because there will be a next time.

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Addendum: It’s 9:35 pm and today, again, was not the day. Grrrrrr.

Another Year, Another Hurricane

Part of living in Southeast Louisiana is accepting that you will, on a fairly regular basis, have to make the choice of whether to evacuate for an impending hurricane or ride it out at home. Every storm is unique with its own very unique qualities and it’s really a game of semi-education and gut calculating that goes into the deciding. Sometimes the evacuation is worse than the storm as it was for me for Hurricane Gustav. Sometimes the evacuation is a piece of cake but the storm is devastating as it was for me for Hurricane Katrina. It’s really a roll of the dice, kismet, karma or just plain bad or good luck.  There’s no making sense of it so don’t even try.

We are still in the midst of the aftermath of Hurricane Isaac, a storm that has defied all of the expert’s accumulated knowledge about how a hurricane should act. The word used over and over about it was/is “confusing”. Personally, I’ve made it through the storm with little material damage – just a whole lot of debris to clean up and it’s looking like several days without power. I’ll take it. I’ve seen much, much worse. Despite the group angst of this hurricane falling on the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, it appears New Orleans has made it through just fine from what I’m reading on Twitter and FaceBook and hearing on my little battery operated radio. (I’m able to write this thanks to hooking up briefly to our generator.)

Other parishes around New Orleans have not been so lucky. Two of our bloggers, Amy and Judy B, live in Slidell where there has been massive flooding and I’m very worried for them. Please keep them in your thoughts and prayers.

Femme Fatale Friday: Lorin Gaudin, Food Goddess

 Lorin Gaudin, aka NOLA Food Goddess, is indeed a Food Goddess Extraordinaire! She is  the Food Editor/Writer for Where Magazine New Orleans, does foodie podcasts for GoNOLA Radio and is a contributor for The New York Post and Culinary Consierge. She bakes weekly with Chef Lisa Barbato of Rivista, both of whom can be seen on Saturdays at the Crescent City Farmers’ Market and she’s also  runs a business, FiveOhFork,  where she crafts content for major food companies, restaurants and chefs. On top of that, she’ll soon be writing for the new CityEats New Orleans site owned by Food Network. I talked to Lorin recently to find out just exactly what makes a Food Goddess tick.

Lorin, I used to watch you almost every Friday night on Steppin’ Out where you were my favorite panelist because your love of food was so joyful and your passion for the subject reached out through the TV to me. Please fill me in on how and why food became your passion.

Thanks for those kind words! You’ve hit the nail on the head, I am a passionate foodie. Food and cooking have long been my soul-call, it’s the way I see the world – through taste, smell and color. Food is my art and expression, also my salve. Food and reading saved me in many ways. I suppose that’s why I’m such a cookbook fanatic.

You mention that you cook – not all foodies do. What is your specialty?

I love to cook French, American (traditional, contemporary and molecular), Asian and Middle Eastern.

What is your earliest food memory?

I remember my first bowl of cornflakes. I was very young and I can’t explain why or how I recall this, but I remember the rough and squishy feel of the flakes, the cool milk and the sweet milky-corn scent. Even today, if there is a box of cornflakes nearby, I can take a whiff and be transported to that first bowl. Yes, I know that’s odd, but that’s me. My family, going back several generations, are all artists and eaters – I’m hardwired.

Almost everyone has someone in their family who is legendary for their cooking. Mine is my paternal grandmother. Who is yours?

She was the woman I call the mother of my heart – her name was Annie and she was from Troy, Alabama. Annie and I cooked, danced and laughed together for 15 years. She taught me how to put together a great meal with balance, and how to time everything to come out together hot. My Aunt Lillian was legendary for her cheesecakes, kolachkes, and a long list of gorgeous baked goods. She was genius, and she knew she had a captive audience in me, so she’d make extras of everything, pack them in a bakery box tied with string and a note scribbled across the top, just for me. I loved both these wonderful, creative women.

Do you have any foodie “idols” or anyone who inspires you? Who are they and why?

Every cook inspires me in some way, but my one and only idol is Jeremiah Tower, period. When I was young, I watched him cook with love and passion and I adore his smarts and culinary sensibility. I made a pilgrimage to his restaurant Stars in San Francisco, the year it opened, and I was gobsmacked. Every detail from the restaurant design to the china to the food was done with thought and care. Gorgeous.

Do you have any favorite local restaurants that you’d like to share along with favorite dishes?

My favorite dish is always the one I’m currently eating and I don’t have a favorite restaurant. I do have a particular penchant for Asian food and cookery. I’m always on the hunt for great ethnic cuisine. I also have a serious thing for fine dining.

When did you first realize you wanted food to be integral in your professional life and how did you go about accomplishing that goal?

Actually, food writing came to me. In 1998 was approached by Gambit to write food features. The way that happened is kismet: A relative working in traffic at Gambit, called me to say that they were looking for a food feature writer and asked if I’d ever written anything on food. I lied and said “yes.” That night, I went home, wrote an 850 word article on Vietnamese eggroll, faxed it to the editor and was hired two days later. At the time, I was working as an Intelligence Analyst in Asset Seizure and Forfeiture for the Internal Revenue Service’s Criminal Investigation Unit. Yep, you read that right. Me and Julia Child – both of us started working for the government, then were consumed by food. I am NOT the cook she was, though I aspire to be.

Anyway, I was living a dual life working for IRS and food writing for Gambit. One of the Agents I worked with gave me a shove when he said, “What the f*$% are you doing here?”I thought long and hard about that…I left the IRS, kept writing for Gambit, was then picked up by Emeril to write for his blog, and from there it was crazy. I was hired by the group that produced New Orleans Magazine, etc. to write and be the “food editor.” Then came radio and television opportunities, and next thing I knew, I had a “career.” Weird.

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You can find Lorin on Twitter and FaceBook and don’t forget to say hi if you see her at the farmers market!

Survivors August

It’s August in New Orleans and autumn seems as far away as Australia. Forget the dogs, these are the cat days of summer at my house. The yard cats lie around making barely a bump in the languid landscape. They follow me as I perform my gardening snips an sweeps with eyes both exhausted and persnickity as though I alone were responsible for their unwelcome malaise.

August and September are the months I dread the most. They’re the hottest and most humid months in a city that’s often hot and humid and they are the most likely months to host hurricanes, with September 10 being the peak of the season. Although we New Orleanians bitch and moan about the humidity and heat we are a stalwart clan so we slog through these wretched months the only way we know how: dancin’, drinkin’ and singin’. We go to Satchmo Fest early to get seats under the tents and under the oaks and settle in for an afternoon of lawn chair bump-and-grind while keeping a firm grasp on our Abita’s. We run, walk and stagger through The Red Dress Run employing veteran strategies for making it all the way to the end without heat stroke. We revel in the best live music in the world at The Maple Leaf and Tipitina’s, stepping out to catch a cool river breeze when bodies get too sweaty and the air too electric.

In these ways, and others, we mark off the days of August and occupy ourselves so as not to dwell too long on the date that sends prickles up our spines. For those of us living in New Orleans in 2005, memories of a rushed and nerve-wracking evacuation followed by anxiety ridden weeks of an enforced exile loom larger each day that brings us closer to the 29th day. Thoughts of the fetid flood waters that drowned our city and took the lives of our loved ones and neighbors come at unexpected moments throughout the year while shopping at Rouses or on Magazine Street or as we sit in our courtyards and on our porches watching the sun set over the city we love so much. But the memories come hard and fast during August and they still make the heart pound and the ears ring.
Our collective experience of the hours before and the months after the levees broke bind us together in a unique way that only a catastrophic event can do. We may have returned to a certain complacency about some things in the seven years since Katrina but we will never forget the price that was paid nor lose the bond that was formed in the aftermath.

PSA: Free City-Wide Baby Shower Friday!

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Citywide Baby Shower

Date: 08/03/2012 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.Location:
Daughters of Charity Health Center-Carrollton Third Floor, Community Room
3201 S. Carrollton Ave.
New Orleans LA 70118

Contact Information:
Stephenie Marshall
stephenie.marshall@dcsno.org
(504) 874-0053

In honor of World Breastfeeding Week, Daughters of Charity Health Centers (DCHC), in collaboration with Amerigroup, Kiwanis Club of the Westbank Konnection, Dillard University’s School of Public Health, and Healthy Start, will host a Citywide Baby Shower for new and expecting moms at 10 a.m. Friday, August 3 at Daughters of Charity Health Center in Carrollton, 3201 S. Carrollton Ave. This event is free and open to the public. New and expecting moms will receive free breastfeeding information, baby items, consultations with doctors, midwives and nutritionists, and much more.

Beasts of the Southern Wild: My Thoughts

Recently, Lunanola and I went to see Beasts of the Southern Wild which, as most of you know, is a locally produced film with local actors. This is not so much a review of the film as just an assortment of my thoughts during the movie and in the days following. Indeed, Beasts is a grand over-the-top gothic fairy tale as told by a child called Hushpuppy whose imagination runs wild with the stories told to her by her alcoholic father, Wink. They live on a mythical swath of land off the Louisiana coast called The Bathtub by its inhabitants, a small community of people living on the edge of civilization.

Beasts reminds me of poetry in that the poet tells her story in such a personal way that the reader may never grasp its deepest meaning. The reader reads the poem, or story, through the lens of their own life experiences, often completely missing the poet’s intent. And that’s ok – it doesn’t negate the meaning of the work but enhances it by expanding and challenging the reader. The same can be said of this film and how I feel about it. I didn’t read any reviews before seeing the film because I didn’t want any other opinions influencing, even subconsciously, what I was going to see on the screen.

Having said that, I found myself wincing through much of the film; reacting to the squalor of Hushpuppy’s existence, the harshness and obvious mental illness of her father and the rampant alcoholism of most of The Bathtub residents we met. I didn’t see this isolated community largely as a celebration of a self-sustaining culture as much as the smaller stories of a few delusional souls, who’ve long since forgotten the real meaning of community, compassion and care, barely hanging on by their fingernails to a dysfunctional life. There was more about Beasts that bothered me than delighted or awed me and maybe that’s the film makers intention. In any case, it gives the viewer much to ponder.

I felt sad for Hushpuppy and the absence of a positive adult figure in her life except for an apparently cursory relationship with Little Jo (played by Pamela Harper), the resident Shaman, who taught the local kids about medicinal herbs, the flora and animal life in The Bathtub and the importance of being good stewards of the land and water. (Thank you for portraying her as a real three-dimensional healer instead of the stereotypical Voodoo queen!) She was the only positive, grounded character in the film and the only adult who attempted to prepare the kids for a real life instead of encouraging a life based on fantasy.

The interaction of people with each other, and the cause and effect of that interaction, has always fascinated me. I suppose that’s why I focused so much more on this aspect of the movie, while I was actually watching it, over the surrealism and symbolism the film was obviously pushing. In retrospect, though, the symbolism and subsequent cautionary tale is a vital part of what makes this movie unique. For instance, although I found the glacier avalanches jarring and somewhat disruptive I can acknowledge the part they played in the tale and beauty of the cinematography.

Generally, I thought the acting by all of the actors to be just about perfect. There’s a lot of Oscar buzz around this film and Quvenzhane’ Wallice, who plays Hushpuppy, and it appears she’s the darling of the Indie film set this year. There’s no disputing the child has a beautiful and expressive face but I always felt like someone was just out of view saying, “Now look fierce; now cry; now act crazy”. For me, Dwight Henry, who played the dad, was pretty incredible. I felt like he WAS the person he portrayed with all the nuances and warts of his character’s personality played completely naturally and believably. Children are so close and open to their emotions that I think most of them can act simply by following directions. But adults have to peel away layers of their own experiences and feelings to find the place where a character can come out. For this reason, I think Dwight was the better actor in this film and it’s a shame his achievement is being overshadowed when it should be equally acclaimed.

The cinematography was magical and pleasured us with torridly beautiful landscapes and seascapes. The manipulation of ordinary pigs into the hulking, mythical aurochs was nothing short of genius.

This movie had parts that I loved (Miss Jo with the kids) and parts that I hated (mamma shooting a gator while naked except for huge white diaper-like panties – WTF?). It made me laugh (the joyous fireworks scene) and cry (the death scene). In the end, I still can’t say if I “liked” it or not; I can only say it was a wild and interesting ride.

However, the most amazing aspect of Beasts is that it was made at all on the hand-to-mouth budget that produced it. The creativity of the film makers and the ingenuity required to make it is impressive and showcases the best this city has to offer artistically. That makes me proud to be a New Orleanian and, ultimately, happy I watched the film.

(And I’m still processing it.)

Sixteen

They aren’t lying when they say it is a pain and hurt that you have never experienced before, one that you can never fully imagine unless you are one of the unfortunate people to be a member of that damn exclusive club – that club no one really wants to be a member of, that club that signifies loss, broken dreams, dashed hopes, and empty arms.  It’s a club of parents left behind, trying to pick up the pieces after the death of a child. Sure, with time, the sting dulls a bit, but you never forget and you never relax. Each year is marked with anticipation, wondering if when those magic numbers come screaming off of the calendar you will handle it with strength and grace or if you will completely break down and play unintended games of  “what-ifs” and “should-have-beens” and “if-onlys.” Those dates that jump off the calendar as if lit by neon lights are especially hard on those milestone years: when they should be walking, when they would be starting school, when junior high would start, when the teenage years come, getting the driver’s license, and when adulthood would begin

You create rituals, a way to keep them apart of your life in whatever way you can, memorializing them with special traditions at Christmastime and on birthdays. The death date, that nasty day that signifies the day life changed for you, no matter how many years it has been, that’s always a tough one – marred, torn and tattered for the rest of your days. That day, for me, is the day before my birthday. I haven’t been able to enjoy getting a year older, not fully, since then. There is a certain guilt that comes with that, mourning the day before and celebrating the day after. That’s been my experience, anyway.

This year is a tough one, in the back of my mind and sneaking up on me at the same time – leaving me a bit unprepared. It’s a milestone year. Two of them, actually, and one cannot help wondering how different life would be had you not received that damn club membership – the one you didn’t ask for, the one you would trade away if you could.

Today, he would be sixteen. Sixteen. It’s been sixteen years since I entered into motherhood the first time. Sixteen years since I held him in my arms for the first time. Sixteen years since I accepted that life would always be a bit different for him, born with a cleft lip and cleft palate, requiring a different level of care from me as a young mother. Sixteen years since I didn’t give a damn, loving him so much from the first time I held him, certain that in my life, he was going to be the one thing I did right.

It’s his golden birthday – a day I spent most of my life looking forward to, being born on the last day of the month. My golden birthday, almost five years ago, was my first birthday in the South. I spent it with a group of new friends at an Irish pub. I didn’t feel much like celebrating, so much change happening in such a short amount of time, but that birthday held with it a certain type of hope: maybe with the move, life would be different, happier.

On days like today, I want to be left alone, but resent when my husband has to work. It’s not his fault. This is my loss, not his. What they say about couples not making it through the death of a child, for me, was true. It’s better, anyway. But with my parents both passed on now,  as odd as it is, I long to have someone there that mourns with me, that remembers him, the smile, the coos, the small moments of his life I have memorized, my only concession to the short 10 weeks I was given with him.  I long to have someone ‘get it’ – get what his loss was, get how it changed me, get how it changed life. It’s true what they say – unless you have experienced a loss like this, you can’t understand it. I  long to have someone else understand it with me, hell, maybe for me. Today, I am exhausted from trying to understand it all on my own.  Selfish, I know.

I wonder who he would be. Would he love books, writing, movies, and learning like me? Would science be his favorite subject or would he enjoy band?  Would the beach make him as happy as it makes me? Would he athletic? If so, would be prefer football to basketball or would be scoff at both of those for track? Would he have a wicked sense of humor? Would be like to laugh and goof off? Would he have been a protective big brother?  Would he look like me? Laugh like me? Enjoy the very simplest of things like me?  This is where I get lost; those are my what- ifs.

In my mind, he’s in this mystical place, surrounded by my parents and the friends of mine that have left this world for the next. I think of him fishing with my dad, laughing with my mom, and looking down on me from time-to-time, especially those times when I need extra strength, when life and its challenges are especially difficult on that day. I’m not sure if he has aged or not, but in my thoughts, he’s always a little boy, bigger than he was when he disappeared from my life, but not too big where he no longer needs me. And I know that I need heaven to be real.  I need to know that one day, I will see him again.

 

 

NOLA on Video: Rally to save The Times-Picayune

New Orleanians speak out about saving their paper. Big thanks to NOLAFugees for producing this video for those of us who weren’t able to attend the rally.