Sunday, May 16, 2010

Katrina fifth anniversary

Po Boy Views
Phil LaMancusa
All The Kings Horses
Hey Jude
Hurricane Katrina: what can I say that hasn’t been said ad nauseam? What can I tell you that you haven’t already seen on ‘Treme’? That we were some of the last ones to leave and some of the first ones back (and that’s with putting in over five thousand miles on the road)? That when we left the city was broken, we thought beyond repair, and when we came back, it was to a battered but unbowed wreck, mugged by nature, left to drown when levees didn’t hold, occupied by the military and ravaged by civil disobedience? Yes.
Yes, we came back to take a sad song and make it better. What else could you do after a wash the size of 16 Manhattans bitch slapped the Gulf Coast? 50,000,000,000 gallons of water from broken levees in 80% of New Orleans alone and alone we found ourselves; 500,000 citizens displaced, blown to the four corners. “Crying won’t help you, prayer won’t do you no good; when the levee breaks, Mama you’ve got to move”.
The waters shredded all boundaries with its destruction: economic, social, political and racial. Patricians and plebeians alike perished and providence had no regard for the pureness or poorness of a person’s soul; we all took the hit. All at once, we all became very fragile and extremely… mortal.
For the first nine months back we swept our own streets until the mayor signed a company for five times the cost of pre Katrina times, recycling became a distant memory, light poles were out and eighty percent of the city was in darkness, coffin flies blackened the air and trash and rotting refrigerators lined the street. No mail delivery. Remember? Debris piled up stories high, our stories piled up like psychic debris, we came back not because we wanted to; we came back because we had to. In prescience how could we not have come back? Unthinkable. Would we abandon a wounded comrade? A dying relative? A beaten home team?
We rolled up our sleeves and got to work putting back together the city that care forgot; we were a city of motherless children coming back to care for our home--we are still orphans of the storm--it’s been three steps forward and two steps back for five frigging frustrating years. It’s as if greener pastures are not in our futures.
The mayor said that he wanted the recovery to be driven by the economy; ergo rents doubled. The mayor said that the city wanted everybody back; and so they closed and eventually tore down the projects and homelessness tripled.
We developed three different strains of Katrina coughs; predictably, we were told that there was no such thing. We knew about lootings, rapes, bodies and gun battles between police and citizens; blithely that was all swept under the rug and whitewashed.
The fuster cluck of the repairing of miles of sewer pipe and fresh water lines and gas pipes and streets, oh the streets. Get this, the administration said that, purposely, they, and this is five years in, only went around repairing twenty percent of the streets that accounted for eighty percent of the traffic; that traffic being commuters. I personally don’t know who these commuters are and I also don’t know how, in five years, we have only been able to fix a paltry twenty percent.
Five years in, we have cell phone towers in our streets that serve no function; we have electronic parking meters (even in less affluent sections of town) with increased rates, property is being taken away under the guise of imminent domain, still almost 60,000 residences on the blighted list, new hospitals in the works while storm affected ones remain shuttered and the majority of the so called ‘recovery effort’ being accomplished by volunteers and faith based groups. Five years in and we are still a city racially divided four ways from Sunday.
Do you want to talk about drugs and violence? Want to know the murder statistics and how we are still highest per capita in the country? Don’t get me started.
Five years in and we’re still the country’s step-child; should another storm or disaster occur we will still be crying ‘po mouf’ to our neighbors. We are still in no position to offer succor to others should they need us. The great American city.
Five years in and we wouldn’t live anywhere else in the whole damn hemisphere and although our optimism flags at times, we are here for the long haul; we are among others that feel the same. At our home we pay private recyclers; our neighbor composts. I work the voting polls and participate in the process in which we elect our officials, I reserve the right to bitch about our inequities. We have a new mayor and hopefully our city is on its way to a better future: physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually.
There is a philosophy that tells you that only by your cognition does the universe actually exist and that when you close your eyes it no longer does; that when you put your head down for the final sleep it will be gone. Poof. In the meantime all that happens is illusion spurred ahead by greed; the grand scheme that goes on within you and without you is here for your temporary education, enlightenment and transcendence.
That existential crap only goes so far until you may realize that, even if true, you have this one life to live; that you still bleed when cut, that you still cry when hurt and that you still are inclined to live a full, happy, productive and honorable existence. Even though it appears, at times, that the cards are stacked against us; even though we take pistol whippings by the fates; even though when the going gets tough(er) we are inclined to get going. To experience New Orleans is to experience love; for me, to live here is to want to make it better.
“The minute you let her under your skin, then you begin to make it better”
“The minute you let her into your heart, then you can start to make it better”
To be continued…

Friday, May 7, 2010

Big Easy Picks 2010

Big easy picks
Best Television Production Yet Starring New Orleans
HBO’s Treme, first of all, is NOT a documentary. It is a fictional story told about a real time; that time being three months after the Gulf Coast’s decimation by hurricane Katrina. It’s characters are based on real people and the real people are based on characters and they run a gamut: Rich man, Poor Man, Beggar man, Thief. Doctor, Lawyer, Indian Chief with a Chef and WWOZ DJ thrown in. Treme is a ‘you love it or you’re still sore from the last hurricane to enjoy’ program. I’m not sure that it will play in Peoria, where they’ll probably need subtitles but, check it out. Local Sundays at 9pm. Local musical performances and recognizable storyline.
Best Guilty Summer Pleasures
That too but…the Casino at City Park for a butter pecan cone under the oaks on a hot Summer afternoon is almost as good as good can be and …. a trip to Angelo Brocato’s at 214 N. Carrollton Av is simply a giddying experience and the iced creams and confections are nothing if not bordering on sensual; however, after reading Sara Roahen’s hunger inspiring Gumbo Tales I became a Hansen’s Sno-Blitz Sweet Shop (4801 Tchoupitoulas St) disciple and have joined the ranks of knowing New Orleanians that wait each Spring to watch for the updated sign outside updating the years that they’ve been in business that signals the beginning of their business year (now having been open 71 years). In Hansen’s you may wait in line because there are ‘no shortcuts to quality’ and the original snow making machine still operates at it’s own pace and the syrups are house made and new flavors are always surfacing to our amazement and enjoyment. Open 1 til 7 every day but Monday
The Very Best Local Cookbook
Books about our local foods have been written for over a century and a half and there is not a runt in the litter. Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana kitchen is where Creole/Cajun became cool for the rest of the world. Written in 1984, it’s in it’ 91st printing, it took two years to write because at the time he was not measuring any ingredients. Paulette Rittenberg stood next to him and cooked and wrote and tested, bless her heart and patience, consequently all of his spice mixtures (for every dish) are broken down by ingredient. The Remoulade Sauce is the blueprint for every one you’ll have today in New Orleans, color photos on how to make a roux and how to blacken a fish. Every basic recipe and I mean every basic recipe. Check out the Sweet Potato Pecan Pie and the BBQ Shrimp. $28.99 new but working copies can be had for less.
Best Unadvertised Restaurant
Café Maspero 601 Decatur St. at Toulouse not to be confused with Pierre Maspero which pales, has been open since 1974 and run by the same family from inception. The philosophy is simple; large portions, small prices, no frills.
The very best Muffelatta in the city; served hot, individual size and there is more filling than bread. Seafood platters as big as your head, $1.00 daiquiris and house wine; tap Abita in frozen mugs and a great onion soup among other offerings. No credit cards, no reservations, no dessert, no blaring televisions and no waitress in a uniform explaining the daily specials and telling you their name and that they’ll be your ‘server’. Cost conscious, brisk, casual with the occasional celebrity or walk in party of thirty. Open 11:00 am-10:00 weekdays 11:00 pm weekends. Closed Christmas and Thanksgiving.
French Quarter Computer Café in operation
Oxymoron? Pretty much. With the closing of the Bastille and other private ones that couldn’t hold on after hell and high water hit (not to mention escalating rents and naive management) The French Quarter Postal Emporium at 1000 Bourbon St. has been the only place to send anyone in need of computer time, fax services and mailing services. Into this breach comes That Internet Café On Toulouse, 717 Toulouse (off Royal toward Bourbon) to be exact next to Glass Magick. 522-2020. Summer hours are 7am until 2:30. They’ll be offering access, sales repairs, fax and tutoring. Again another locally owned and operated and in need of support in these trying times.