Little Free Library

At the end of last year, Sun and I wrote an essay and won a Little Free Library. Since then, she and I have been the stewards of our very own LFL. And I do not overstate when I say it changed my life.

First, it brought Sun and I even closer together sharing the project of checking to see if books have come into or gone out of the LFL and working to replenish our stock. We’ve spent hours together walking the neighborhood handing out flyers. She’s been asking when we’ll be doing that again. I think we’ll be sending out a summer newsletter just as an excuse to do it again soon!

Second, it brought me closer to my neighbors. I’ve yet to hear anything negative about the project. Turns out, folks like free things and appreciate the sense of caring that a steward emits by the very act of stewarding. Even wizened neighbors I’d have thought would have scratched their heads at us young hippies have embraced us and our library. I’ve met neighbors that have lived doors down from me for over a decade that I never knew. It’s that nice feeling we New Orleanians get after a storm passes and we are all sitting on our porches with no electricity to pull us indoors. Humans connecting over a common bond. In this case, that common bond is books. The Marthas and Wendys and Dollys that you meet every other summer after a particularly bad storm. Except now we meet weekly, if not more often. We get thank you notes left in the LFL. My favorite was written by a young boy thanking us for the Star Wars book.  We also get notes of encouragement to keep up the good work. I keep every note. And we get offers of donations. Oh, the donations! I need an extra room for all the books we’ve amassed in under six months!

Third, I am a reading machine now. The quality (and quantity) of books being donated to this LFL is nothing short of astounding. Here’s a link to my Librarything account showing the LFL tag I’ve created for the books I’d not have read but for my LFL. And that’s just of the books I’ve read so far. I have just as many in my to-read pile.

Our LFL has its own Facebook page, its own bookcrossing account, a personalized embossed seal to mark the books, and, most importantly, its own heart. When I was away from home for a week, a neighbor did the stewarding for us. Because truly, it’s hers too. It belongs to this neighborhood. And we all know it. We are proud of this little box–what it means to ourselves, our children, our community. And we are grateful for the wonder it has renewed in us that we didn’t know we could so easily attain.

The Coffee Shop Chronicles of New Orleans, Part 2

David Lummis’s second installation of The Coffee Shop Chronicles of New Orleans was recently published. Whereas the first part, reviewed here, was more a “lighthearted and irreverent and even campy” (as Lummis himself describes it) romp in and around the French Quarter, Part 2 is a more serious work. A more serious tone, a more serious topic. And a more true voice, I suspect, of Lummis. And for that, a far richer gift to the reader. Lummis lays bare his soul as he writes of the tormented soul-searching done by the last son of an old-school blue-blood New Orleans family, and the struggle of those who love him to keep him from losing himself in the process.

As Katrina approaches New Orleans, B. Sammy Singleton is on the search for his missing friend, Catfish Beaucoeur. Sammy, in a role similar to Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby, is the narrator but not the star of CSCNO2.  In his frenetic search for Catfish, Sammy encounters Lee Ann, Catfish’s oldest friend. And when it is clear Catfish is well and truly missing, Lee Ann decides it’s time for Sammy to know what Lee Ann herself knows to be the truth of Catfish’s tortured past.

And in this manner, Lummis takes us to 1970s New Orleans and pre-Civil War Louisiana. And the curses that were cast in the long-ago past and the long spidery legs that still stretch and scratch into the present.

Although it is Catfish that is the subject of the novel and for whom the reader will root, it is Lee Ann for whom the reader will relate: Her struggle to love, and be loved, in an imperfect way but in a way as pure as imaginable. Even when she knows it is utterly and completely hopeless.

Upon one reunion of the teen-aged Catfish and Lee Ann, with Catfish recalcitrant as always for having had to leave Lee Ann to fight his own darkness alone, Carfist extracts a vow from Lee Ann never to give up on him.  Here’s Lummis’s description of Lee Ann’s coming-of-age moment:

 And with that vow, Lee Ann felt herself letting go of all she knew she should do, not for Castfish, but for Lee Ann. And it was as if she were taking leave. And as she sat in the Firebird and listened to Catfish read “Old Glory” out loud, she saw the Lee Ann who knew better, the Lee Ann with the Lucky Strike rasp, open the car door and stride out onto the water. And as she watched herself go, this wiser Lee Ann kept on walking out onto that vast pool of night until she reached the center of Lake Pontchartrain, where she stopped and turned back as tiny waves lapped her calves. It was pitch dark in the Firebird and she was a long way from shore, but she could see Catfish plain as day, his eyelashes, the spray of freckles on the back of his hand. She could feel him too, his essence, his beating heart. Negating the distance, he was bigger than life, while the little girl to his right was scarcely a silhouette. From her marine outpost, Lee Ann waved but the little girl wasn’t looking, so she whistled, then called out. No response. The windows were closed and the words hit the windshield and flapped outward like Halloween crows. Her only chance of getting through to the girl, Lee Ann knew, was to return to dry land, but with the first step she comprehended her ability to walk on water was, like most things, imagined, and that all she could do to keep from sinking was to stay where she was, dead center on the lake. So this she did as Catfish started the car, and the headlights broadcast over the water, and the Firebird backed away from the curb and crawled along the shoreline, then winked red and disappeared.

This is not a cliff-hanger story-plot-twist of a novel. Rather, it’s one of strong character development among real-life afflictions and the struggle for regular folks to face life on its darkest days and push to get through to fight another day. And to love others enough to help them push on as well when they fail to find the strength on their own. CSCNO2 is at times lyrical, at times heart-breaking; and it is part historical fiction. But at all times, it is an attempt to explain who we are by where we—be it an individual, a family, a city, a society—have been. It is genuine and palpable. Written with a deftness so that the reader understands the love, and struggle thereto, Sammy and Lee Ann have for Catfish, and, more, to understand the demons that haunt Catfish. Even if the solution to exorcising those demons is not so obvious.

And best of all, it’s not the end of our journey. Part 3 is yet to come.

St. Joseph Altars, 2012

This year Sun and I headed out just the two of us to view a few St. Joseph altars. We started at St. Joseph’s Church. They had volunteers giving mini tours to explain various aspects of the altars. I opted to send up a petition for my grandmother. I don’t know what comes over my non-religious heart in these settings; but if anyone would appreciate a petition given at the foot of a table lushly set, it’d be Sunshine. It made me smile and frown at the same time. Upon leaving with a goodie bag in hand, Sun asked what was in them. “Cookies,” I answered. “You KNEW that?” She responded, apparently boogled by the thought that I didn’t take more goodie bags. That’s my girl!

Then we visited one I haven’t before: St. Stephen’s. We caught the very tale end of the mass as the school children passed before the altar and received their goodie bags. Those well-behaved children; the sad history of the closing of St. Henry’s to merge with St. Stephen’s; the state of decline of the church; the amazingly detailed items on this altar. I have to admit it got to me. Here’s what has come to be what I see of the Catholic Church at its worst: Poorly executed decisions from up high that impact parishioners in the name of numbers — dollars and parishioners. Then the Church leaders getting their way and STILL not sending money to allow for even as much as fixing the peeling paint in this church. But go down the street to the affluent church and marvel at the loveliness. And here I thought the Church was supposed to be about helping its most needy parishioners.

But I digress.

Onward to St. Francis Xavier. This one was the largest we saw today. They also offer lunch. And they sell a St. Joseph altar cookbook (my weakness!). The sheer number of hours that go into their altar, all the altars, really, is stunning. And it all shows in these altars. You can see, feel, that these cakes and artichokes and breads and fishes, they aren’t just to look good. They are prepared for none other than St. Joseph popping in for a bite. And the altars ARE dismantled and used to feed parishioners; homeless shelters; and what’s not able to be given away or is no longer fit for human consumption, they must dispose of in an appropriate way since the food is blessed. And in New Orleans, that means a trip to dump the unfit food in the Mississippi River. So even our fish benefit.

Finally, we rounded off the tour with a visit to Angelo Brocato’s. Their Sicilian roots show in their own small altar. It had my favorite lamb cake I’ve ever seen. Then a woman came in that a clerk knew. “Oh, Julie, you married yet?” she asked. “No,” Julie answered, “working on it!” “Girl, you need to go get altar lemons! You KNOW dem altar lemons mean that the girl that gets one will be the next one married, right?” “No; let me go get one!” Julie exclaimed. The clerk was sure to point out that the girl “has to be ready” to be married or the lemons won’t work. “Oh, I’m ready!” Julie quickly added.

And then I was just happy Sun had to bring LIMES for her school’s altar and didn’t DARE ask what the clerk knew of THEIR meaning.

 

This post was originally published on http://www.nolanotes.com on March 19, 2012.

Red Beans and Rice-ly Yours

It’s that time of year in New Orleans: CARNIVAL TIME! And with carnival (yes, I call the season “Carnival,” and the final day of the season only “Mardi Gras.” My Maw Maw taught me right, after all. But I digress…) comes KING CAKE! I am a purist and do NOT eat king cake out of season. I take it as bad form if not outright bad luck. And changing the color of the sugar to red and green does NOT make it NOT king cake. Sheese. Again, refocusing…

Haydel’s Bakery adds a ceramic doll to its king cakes. Each year, it’s a different set of dolls. When the Saints won the Superbowl, they had three Saints-themed dolls, including a flying pig. Post Katrina, a Captain Blue Tarp doll and a FEMA trailer float. The dolls are as uniquely New Orleans as the artist who creates them, Alberta Meitin-Graf. I had the pleasure of hearing her speak at last year’s Jefferson Parish Library king cake party. (Damn, I love this town!) She’s simply fascinating.

This year’s theme does not disappoint in its nod to Louis Armstrong’s famous expression when he ended his letters: “Red Beans and Rice-ly Yours.” I give you the Red Bean Lady and her Rice-ly Escort carrying a trumpet.

New Orleanians took the most mundane day of the week, Monday, wash day, and of course turned their attention to food. A pot of red beans slowly, cheaply, simmering on the stove as the laundry was done. Even today, with mothers working and not doing wash all day on Mondays, we STILL eat red beans on Monday. It’s like going home again.

Why would you live elsewhere than where Mondays are Red Beans and Rice-ly Yours?

Enjoy Carnival! And king cakes! And if you find a king cake offers you too much sugar, do what I do: tap it into your coffee.


This post was originally published on http://www.nolanotes.com on January 19, 2012.

Coffee Shop Chronicles of New Orleans

I learned about the existence of the book “Coffee Shop Chronicles of New Orleans” by seeing it on a side table in a co-worker’s office. Then, before I could register it in the frontal lobe of my brain, I attended the Jefferson Parish Library’s king cake party whereby several local authors were there signing books. And there was David Lummis promoting his book. New Orleans really is too small.

I am always leery of fiction set in New Orleans, especially the French Quarter. It is such a fine line to write about the inhabitants of the Quarter without getting clichéd.

My fears were unwarranted. As soon as I started it, I loved it. And as each page turned, I loved it more. And when I got to the end, I wanted more.

I love that Lummis describes B. Sammy Singleton’s cat as I would describe mine, thusly: “Even my cat Rowan had decided she’d rather take her chances as a scavenging outdoor orphan than reside under the same roof with me.” I gotta repeat that: a scavenging outdoor orphan. That is SO my cat.

I love this partial description of one of the coffee shops chronicled in the book:

Next: A host of plastic dolls indiscriminately integrated into the décor. Because while I suppose there’s something “New Orleans” about dolls, in this case we’re not talking about anything as interesting as the Anne Rice collection or Mardi Gras king cake babies (the latter of which are additionally thought-provoking in that people occasionally choke to death on them). Nor is there anything even remotely attractive about the dolls now under consideration. No, these are nothing more than poor-quality cast-offs that never should have been mass-produced in the first place, with missing limbs and crayoned faces and torn-out hair, the kind passed over by desperately poor children in thrift stores. Apparently somebody dropped a tab of acid, made a run on Thrift City, raided the kindergarten supplies aisle at Wal-Mart, and went to work on these babes in a way that would do Timothy Leary proud, nailing them to the walls in a final manic burst of adrenalin before lapsing into unconsciousness.

I love Lummis’ description of New Orleans as Sammy sits in Jackson Square reconsidering his decision to have moved from New York City:

Sure, the place has its share of problems (you know a city’s corrupt when top school officials embezzle millions from their own pitifully impoverished districts). But just as there’s something to be said for living in the City that Never Sleeps, there’s something downright sublime about residing in a town that peddles itself as the City That Care Forgot, where Time does business in pajamas and takes frequent catnaps. And undeniably, New Orleans has made the concept of laissez-faire into an art form dating back at least to the Civil War, when it became the first major city of the Deep South to be occupied by Union forces, which remained throughout the last three years of the war. The alternative, I suppose, would have been for the citizens of the Paris of the South to fight back. But as the ships of General Farragut came up the Mississippi in 1862, the closest the people of New Orleans came to taking up arms was to stand alongside the levee brandishing their parasols and shaking their fists.

My hands-down favorite part was the description of Sammy’s first visit to St. Louis Cathedral. When I was reading this section, I was putting Sun down for a nap and she asked me to read to her. So I read her what I was reading. And maybe that act of reading that particular passage aloud is what made it so powerful. But when I finished the last words of that chapter, I had to stop. I had a frog in my throat and tears in my eyes.

The mistake that could be made about this book is that it’s merely fluff: A non-native gay man’s exploits in coffee shops. It starts out highly-caffeinated and colorful. But Lummis is a researcher. You know that Sammy’s trips to the Historic New Orleans Collection were also Lummis’. Not being a local, Lummis earns his right to write about the city not just by having lived here for several years but also by learning her history.

And although this book is in parts dark, and some of the history difficult to read, the honesty with which Lummis writes carries you through. He is a gifted writer, and this gem is a gift to New Orleans. Now do yourself a favor and buy it as a gift for yourself. You can buy it at various locations on the website, or at Octavia Books if you are uptown or Faubourg Marigny Art & Books if you are downtown.

The good news is that this is just the first of three installments to this one novel. So there’s more coming!


This post was originally published on http://www.nolanotes.com on March 13, 2011.

Stick a Fork in Me.

Day 32.

BP’s oil spill is a cancer we have all been watching.  And each day IT. JUST. GETS. WORSE.  My stress levels are out of control.  I TRY not to get too consumed, not to read EVERY report, to skip a day of any coverage.  But even what little I allow in is too much and I get kicked in the stomach again.

The latest? Here’s what I’ve seen on the news or read in newspapers online:

1.  There is some hullabaloo in Plaquemines Parish about the feds giving the Parish authority to dredge small levies (abt 90 miles worth) to keep the oil from FURTHER damaging the marshes.  Parish president reports he’s been told NO by the Corps of Engineers, but the Corps say the decision is “still under consideration.”  Em, WHAT? How frigging much time do you need?  Frankly, the Parish asked for this dredging five years ago post-Katrina to help protect the parish against hurricanes–with that decision likewise apparently still being considered.  So it’s not like this is all new to the Corps.  I don’t know if dredging is good or bad.  Without knowing a thing about it, on face value, it seems good. But if bad, then fine. But DECIDE AND ACT.  If NOT dredging, then move your bloomin’ arse on Plan B already!  It’s been THIRTY-TWO DAYS and the oil is now onshore.  We have no luxury of time.

2.  Apparently BP has access to, well, I won’t say “good” dispersants, but let’s say LESS HARMFUL dispersants than are currently being used.  They are currently using Corexit WITH THE EPA’S APPROVAL.  There is NO DISPUTE this dispersant is harmful, toxic, BAD.  So, the EPA got all righteous and has come down on BP and said NO MORE! You MUST STOP USING COREXIT by this Sunday.  Wait, what?  THIS SUNDAY?  Is this a joke?  It’s ALL AROUND BAD and the EPA acknowledges that and gives them THREE MORE DAYS of spewing that into the waters? Someone please explain this to me.  ESPECIALLY in light of the fact that BP is apparently SITTING ON a small mountain of the “less bad” dispersants in Texas.  Really? Why? WHY?

3.  BP is reporting that it is now considering BURNING some of the marshes to burn off the oil and keep it from getting further inland.  THIS, THIS, BP, THIS IS TOO MUCH.  Seriously.  You have GOT to be joking.  Burn the marshes?  BURN THE MARSHES?  Not, first, DREDGE.  Not first, use better dispersants.  Not, um, I dunno, DO BOTH.  But instead DO NEITHER? WAIT THIRTY-TWO DAYS and then say, “WHOO! This is getting out of control!  We need to consider BURNING the marshes to get a handle on it.”

Here’s a few suggestions lil ole me, non-engineer, bookish she-girl can think of BEFORE you burn my marshes:

1.  Stuff the hole with BP executives.  Or their money.  Or both.  They’d be far less missed than the marshes.

2.  BOMB the well so that it falls in on itself.  Apparently this is a viable option.  My theory on why they didn’t do this straight away?  It may render the reservoir, THAT LARGE RESERVOIR OF BLACK GOLD, inaccessible down the line.  In other words, the gazillions of dollars BP can make from this reservoir CANNOT be put to risk by bombing it.  Even if that means MILLIONS in damages.  Your classic cost-benefit analysis.  This is merely speculation on my part.  But it keeps creeping into my thoughts.

3.  Use EVERY idea you are given, BP.  Kevin Costner’s brother’s gizmo? USE IT.  Hair and fur in berms? Yup.  Fishermen using their nets to capture tarballs? Absolutely.  Let’s face it.  You could use ALL OF THESE resources spanning miles and miles and miles of the oil and STILL have uncaptured oil to contend with.  Why snub your nose at any of these?  You say they may not work?  Hmm.  Take a peek, BP, your own efforts AREN’T WORKING.  Take the ideas.

4.  GET BP OUT OF THE DRIVER’S SEAT ALREADY.  I was initially saying that this was an industry problem and as such they were in the best place to find the solution.  What could government do regarding STOPPING THE LEAK?  But now? Well, hell, BP has had a month to dazzle us, impress us, build our confidence.  What has it done?  Lied about the amount of oil leaking (again, because the more they spill, the more the government assesses clean-up costs to them), lied about events leading up to the explosion, gave double talk to fishermen about compensating them for damages while asking them to waive claims against them if they helped with the clean up.  Oh, and they’ve flooded the waters with toxic dispersants.  AND they are somehow connected with the animal cleanup efforts to the detriment of the volunteers and the animals.  Oh, yeah, and they also tried to stop reporters from having access to the areas where they are doing things onshore.  AND there are reports that the survivors from the explosion (let’s not forget that explosion and the 11 deaths) were pressured by BP to NOT TALK.

So WHY, OH, WHY is BP still at the helm?  The government says its because under the law, they are “responsible.”  No shit they are.  But being the “legally responsible party” does NOT mean you are going to ACT responsibly.  For example, if you hit me with your car and it is your fault, you are responsible for my injuries.  Does that mean YOU get to select my doctors, make my appointments, decide on my treatment without ANY input from me? HELL NO!  It means that you will PAY for MY doctors; you will be FINANCIALLY RESPONSIBLE for my damage.  Oh, Obama administration, you are really messing this on up as badly as is imaginable.

So who would I PUT in the driver’s seat? Maybe a government appointed task force, or an Oil Czar.  Or the smartest engineer at Shell.  Or Kevin Costner’s brother.  I don’t know that answer at this moment, but give me 32 days of monitoring a colossal mishandling by BP, and put me in a position the EPA is in, and I could give you an answer post haste.

So let’s get on with this already.  Let’s GET SERIOUS about it at last.  Let’s stop pretending that Nature can take care of herself.  Because Nature is no longer dealing with herself, thanks to the unlimited Corexit that BP, with the EPA’s approval, let’s not forget, has now mixed in with the oil.

And by all means, DO INVOLVE THE LOCALS.  They know their marshes, their tides, their complex ecosystems better than an Big Oil man or anyone from Washington.

And put the talk of BURNING out of your minds, BP.  It only shows how out of your minds you BP folks are.

This post was originally published on www.nolanotes.com on May 22, 2010.

Gulf Oil Spill, or An Order of Magnitude

“The following is not public,” reads the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Emergency Response document dated April 28. “Two additional release points were found today in the tangled riser. If the riser pipe deteriorates further, the flow could become unchecked resulting in a release volume an order of magnitude higher than previously thought.”

I really am not that much more calm today than yesterday.  Truthfully, I am more upset, angry, worried and lost than I was yesterday.

This is the second weekend of Jazz Fest, and I enjoy listening to WWOZ on my drive in to work.  Today, the sweet sound of music was too happy for my somber mood.  That same damn sinking feeling post-Katrina has returned.  This disaster is of such a magnitude, and the people responsible so slow in their response, that it again boggles the mind and is hard to even fully grasp.

Each day, no, every hour, the news is worse.  The winds are turning in the wrong direction; fourth and fifth leaks in the pipeline are discovered; oil is reaching Plaquemines Parish, St. Bernard Parish.  It is harrowing.  And in many ways worse than Katrina.

The politics of the spill are too much for me.  Why did Obama wait, not unlike Bush, A FULL WEEK to get actively involved in the spill?  How can his administration have trusted the word of BP?  After all the lies the bankers told, can the administration have expected but that another big corporation wasn’t going to admit to the full gravity of the situation up front? And all the while, that oil is spewing; seeping; pushing its way to our lands.

BP now admits it can’t contain the spill.  It’s best estimate is that it can build another drilling rig to go to the well to divert the flow that will be ready in three months.  THREE MONTHS?  Is it serious?  Because mid-July is smack dab into hurricane season.  Surely nothing more can go wrong during that time of the year.

There is serious concern now that the wellhead (entry spot of the well) may deteriorate such that the oil will stop flowing  through the pipeline (and thus be subject to more control) and will start to instead spew directly into the water.  And if THAT happens, its estimated that 2.1 MILLION GALLONS OF OIL PER DAY will spew into the Gulf.

So, simple math, folks. THREE MORE MONTHS (and since that estimate is from BP, I’d put it closer to SIX or until the well empties), of 2.1M gallons per day gives us 189 million gallons of oil, give or take, pumped into the Gulf by mid-July.

The effect? How does one even begin to assess this?  Let me try.  Let’s bring this home so it’s relateable.   My brother is a commercial fisherman.  Well, my brother WAS a commercial fisherman.  He’s been doing this for about 15 years, and he bought a new(er) boat 3 months ago.  He fixed up the boat when not fishing and put it in the water for the first time last week.  Today, he (along with all the other fishermen in the Gulf area) was instructed to pull his traps and boat out of the water.  He fished primarily in St. Bernard Parish. That’s done. Already. DONE.  By tomorrow, the Gulf waters surrounding St. Bernard will be full of oil.  He’s already been told that there’s no fishing on the right side of the River. ALREADY.

My brother, and all of his thousands of counterparts, will have no income after today.  No income, no job, no profession, no livelihood.  These are not corporate folks that will be kept on the books while things “work themselves out.”  These are folks that have no income coming in after today.  They started the week like any other, having been lied to by BP just as the media and our government was, and now they are on The Dole.

Were these fishermen going to share in the gross (and I do mean GROSS) revenues BP was to earn with this oil production?  Ha ha ha.  Of course not.  Will they be made whole by BP for this disaster?  Realistically, no.  My brother and his fishing brothers are meeting with an attorney on Monday.  There will be a class action law suit.  That should last, give or take, a decade to resolve.  Let’s assume my brother’s take from the lawsuit was magically 100% of his loss (again, ha ha ha).  He won’t take that to the bank.  No; first he has to pay his attorney.  That will be 30 to 40%.  So AT BEST in about a decade my brother will get about SIXTY PERCENT of his loss.  So how does that help him eat today?

I understand some of you will say, Hey, tell your brother to get another job already! Well, he will, or course.  You can’t eat on NO INCOME FOR A DECADE.  But my brother didn’t go into a profession that was dying or on the decline.  He invested in a stalwart industry. And. Now. It. Is. Gone. No warning. No preparing. GONE.

And let’s not forget that Louisiana identifies itself with food. SEAFOOD.  We aren’t talking just about eating it.  We grow it, catch it, cook it, celebrate it.  We are not prepared for Nutria Burgers as the mainstay dinner.

Which dovetails into another big industry in this State: Tourism.  No seafood and screwed wetlands doesn’t make this the Sportsman’s Paradise it’s known for.  So, hotels, restaurants (they get the double whammy), convention centers, airlines, and related tourism folk are also now in jeopardy of a lost career, or a move out of the Gulf area.

The Alaskan spill of 1989 left the environment fully scathed.  There’s still little to no life activity in that water as it had been prior to the spill.  Oh, and that litigation?  Exxon settled in 2008.  TWO DECADES later.  There is reason to believe, to be highly concerned, that the Louisiana seafood industry is dead.  Even as I type it, I don’t believe it.  IT CAN’T BE.  But oil and animals don’t mix.

Which dovetails right into our wetlands. Dear God. This is a more bleak picture than the seafood situation.  The Louisiana marshes and wetlands and barrier islands are ecosystems unto themselves.  And they systematically have been raped by Big Oil for as long as oil has been an industry in Louisiana.  All the State oil and gas leases have a provision in them that requires the oil company to rebuild, replenish, FIX the drilling area back to how it was pre-drilling.  And this provision has been systematically ignored by the State for as long as oil has been an industry in this State.  So, Big Oil and Government have been failing us for decades.  And what has that failure meant? Well, along with the effects of hurricanes, it has meant the stripping, reducing, thinning, lessening of our wetlands.

And now this spill.  Our fragile wetlands are about to get a shock that may just bring them to a veritable end. Why?  Because the ecosystems that give them their life are about to be wiped away.  And without those ecosystems, the entire wetland becomes just a swath of bare (if not already dead) trees.  And once the trees die, there are no more wetlands.  Well, at that point New Orleans will be the barrier island for the rest of the country.  We truly will be America’s Wetlands.

My only hope is that, as my friend over at Blackened Out suggested, MAYBE because this is sweet crude oil (about as thick as motor oil) and not the sludgy, thick, tar-like oil that leaked in Alaska, MAYBE it won’t adhere as strongly, MAYBE it can be cleaned up more quickly and with less devastating effects than those we saw in Alaska.  My worry, however, is that the sheer volume of the spill will outweigh the benefit of it not being a thicker oil.

So pardon me if I am edgy these days; if my step doesn’t go to the music of Jazz Fest; if I no longer give a rat’s ass about the stupid, and clearly unconstitutional, Arizona immigration law.

This post was originally published on www.nolanotes.com on April 30, 2010.

Hollygrove Market

I was in upstate New York recently and my friend made the most delicious dinners.  She puzzled over what to do with white beets.  I thought to myself, “You buy things before knowing what you’ll cook with them?” But then she explained that she’s part of a Community Supported Agriculture, or CSA.  Each week, she goes to a local farm and buys a pre-filled box of local fruits and vegetables.

The salad she made with those beets was the best beet dish I’ve ever eaten.  I was inspired.

I returned to NOLA and sought out our own CSA.  Alas, we do not have one.  But, we do have something similar at Hollygrove Market.  Every Saturday morning, the market sells CSA-style boxes (or bags) of local fruits and vegetables from several local farms for $25.  I’ve been three Saturdays in a row.  They open at 10am and usually sell out of boxes within 2 hours.  They also sell other fruits and vegetables, fresh breads, and dairy products.

Here’s what was in this week’s box:

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Three pears, six satsumas, a bag of brown jasmine rice (instead of white popcorn rice), a bag of black-eyed peas (my choice of peas or beans), two ears of corn, a zucchini, a yellow squash, two patty pan squashes, two tomatoes, two green peppers, a bag of okra, and a container of white button mushrooms.

I’ve never cooked with patty pan squash.  And I have found that I love the thought of being given the opportunity of working with something new, something that’s not too daunting.  And I love even more that most of the what’s in each box are things I’m familiar with, even if some are things I’ve never cooked with before.

And for the last two weeks since we started getting the boxes, we’re eating more fruits and vegetables.  We’ve eaten out just once in the last two weeks, and that includes having had company in town to feed!  THAT is a big deal.

So, are you looking for fresh and delicious local fruits and vegetables?  With maybe a slight twist that pushes you to try new things?  At a price that is more than worth it?

Then get to Hollygrove Market next Saturday and get in line for the best kept secret in the city right now.  I’ll see you there!

Four Years is Enough For Me

Four years ago.  That’s what’s been abuzz in New Orleans on the news, radio, twitter.

NPR did a story Thursday that will be published this Sunday in the New York Times Magazine.  I tuned in midway through the story, the story about Dr. Pou and the deaths at Baptist Hospital, a story every New Orleanian is very familiar with and has a strong opinion about, on both sides.  Several minutes listening, I thought, ‘Is it today?’

No.  The anniversary was not yesterday.  Nor today.  It’s tomorrow.  The 29th.  The day the storm hit land in southeast Louisiana–the night the levees broke.

It’s very hard for me to hear Katrina stories, to watch Katrina documentaries, to read accounts of the storm.

My immediate situation, my Katrina story, is not a horrible one.  I have relatives, and clients, who cannot say the same.  I have heard many stories of Katrina experiences.  Some that make me cry for the unsung heroes, others that make my teeth set on edge for the ‘what-can-I-get-for-free-from-whomever’s-got-a-handout’ mentality.

But those four-year-old stories of what happened during the storm, the standing water for the ensuing weeks, the utter and complete failure of our local, state AND federal governments?  Folks, I can’t hear it any longer.

I am done.  No more.

Yes, it was bad. Very fecking bad.  I do not in any way minimize the horribleness of those that suffered worse, those that lost everything, those that died.

But that was four years ago.

Life in New Orleans has moved on.  I know it is important to keep the Katrina story alive in the minds of Americans so that we can continue to get the federal support we desperately need.  But what NOLA does NOT need is to sound like a city of victims that cannot or will not help themselves.

Why is it shameful to acknowledge that schools are being rebuilt better and more advanced?  Because some schools aren’t coming back?  That isn’t a good enough reason to me.

Why is it shameful that not all New Orleanians who wish to again live here do not?  Because they found better jobs in other cities?  The same can be said for folks all over this country today due to the economy.  Isn’t it the responsible thing to seek out the location that will best serve you and your family?  My husband and I were facing the question of relocating out of New Orleans BEFORE Katrina.  NOLA’s been losing its youth to other cities for as long as I can remember.  Is blaming it on Katrina at this point even valid?

My point is this, lest I am not being clear:  We need to stop wallowing in what’s done and over and focus still on what’s yet to be done.

The point is no longer how long someone sat on a rooftop waiting to be rescued.  Or about Bush’s inane response (along with every other politician I heard or saw addressing Katrina).  Or about whether or not we even rebuild.

The point now is, how do we finally get the Charity Hospital issue resolved and a new facility underway in the city?  What on this earth will it take to get our Cat 5 levees?  When will the Corp of Engineers be deemed incompetent and a new agency put in place to do right by the levees we have and still need?  Can we elect a mayor this time ’round that can truly work with the City Council and move us forward?  When will the corruption, in politics, in tax evasion, in government contracts, end?  How can we keep the recent (and positive) influx of young, educated professionals moving to NOLA and staying here?  How can we create jobs and housing that will allow those that wish to return the opportunity, at long last, to do so?  How can we get crime under control?  Is it possible to even dream of trusting local leaders ever again?

Yes, the clips of NOLA underwater are compelling to look at.  Yes, it was a disaster of epic proportions.  Yes, New Orleans is still needing much effective political support and leadership.

But, at least for me, it’s time to stop painting NOLA as a victim and instead, at a minimum, as an out-patient that’s making great progress.

Because the heart, soul and spirit of this city cannot be drowned, even when her neck is stood upon in floodwater.  And I have no doubt, none, that New Orleans will, in time, be better than she’s ever been.  Prior to Katrina, it was felt that NOLA’s hayday was behind her.  It was just a foregone conclusion that her biggest industry was tourism and we had to accept that large business was no longer a part of the NOLA professional culture.  Katrina changed that.  And it is my firm belief that her best days are yet to be seen.  And if that is BECAUSE of Katrina, well, that’s one helluva silver lining.

This post was originally published on www.nolanotes.com on August 28, 2009.

Recycling an Old Habit

One casualty of Katrina was curbside recycling.  In Jefferson Parish, until last month, the Parish, about once a month, would arrange for a location where folks could drive to drop off recyclables.  I think even less was offered in Orleans Parish.

I hate to admit that for the past four years (oh, the guilt), I have not been recycling.  And even though I started a worm bin to not add vegetable clippings to landfills, I have been adding all manner of other, far worse, items.

So when I read that Jefferson Parish was no longer doing any free recycling, I can’t explain why, but I acted.  Finally.  I went to Phoenix Recycling’s website and signed up for paid curbside recycling.  And for a mere $15 a month, I am recycling more than the Parish ever took for free.  They take newspapers, the bags the newspapers come in, cardboard, plastic.  Really, they take all but plastic hangers, plastic grocery bags, and glass. The pick up every other week.

And in the FIRST week of recycling, we reduced what went to a landfill by TWO large kitchen garbage bags.  That’s 104 bags of trash from my home alone.  My small family of three.

So, are you like I was–still not recycling becuase it’s no longer free?  Do your conscience a favor, go to Phoenix Recycling, pay the $15 and recycle to your heart’s content.