Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Living in New Orleans

I've been remiss in not linking more to Poppy Z. Brite. The author of Liquor and Prime, and her chef husband, has moved back to New Orleans. It's all good, so start at the top and start reading. And buy her books. Liquor is a damn fine read and while I didn't enjoy Prime as much, my opinion seems to be in the minority. She'll have a third one out this Spring or Summer - she's doing final edits now.

What's it like, back in New Orleans?
It's kinda like living in The Stand. We are definitely the Boulder Free Zone, and the Feds are Randall Flagg lurking over the mountains (though the highest mountain in Louisiana is only 500 feet). We don't know what he will do, but we doubt it will be good. Where's our Mother Abagail, though? Will Mitch Landrieu go into the wilderness and live on sticks and berries until he has a vision to send Oliver Thomas, Eddie Sapir, and Jackie Clarkson to Washington to be consumed by the Hand of God?

- It's real easy to park just about anywhere.

- It's easy to go to restaurants, if there are any open ones you want to go to.

Mood is occasionally cranky:

The guy's e-mail address is included in the print edition and Chris asked why I didn't e-mail him. I said, "Because I don't think I could say anything to him but YOU FUCKING DICKHOLE WAD OF RANCID FUCKJUICE AFTERBIRTH." Which would be satisfying, but points just don't get made that way. However, the astonished and admiring look on Chris' face as he asked me to repeat the insult imparted its own brand of satisfaction. No one has ever impugned my ability to cuss.

Also, our mayor is a backpedaling liar....

I also think his plan to force the hotel and tourism industry to share its wealth sounds vaguely communistic, but if I say that, you'll really think I'm a crank. So I didn't say it.

But when she isn't writing or swearing at idiots, she's checking out the old neighborhoods:
If you've read any of my recent books, you know something about the Lower Ninth Ward. If you haven't read the books, you've probably seen the neighborhood in the news lately. Very likely you've seen Lakeview too. Only in driving around looking for my Spiritualist churches over the past few days has it really hit me how many other New Orleans neighborhoods, just as devastated or nearly so, no one outside the city has ever heard of. Hell, some people in the city haven't heard of them. Earlier today I told a guy I'd cut my hand on Fiberglass while taking pictures in Hollygrove. He said, "What's Hollygrove?" It isn't that New Orleanians are ignorant about their city, but that there are so many wards, pockets, and casbahs, each with its own peculiar history, many of them overlapping. (For instance, if Rickey was a snootier type, he'd say he grew up in Holy Cross rather than simply the Lower Ninth Ward; however, G-man, whose house was on the other side of St. Claude Avenue, did not.) I want to share some of these neighborhoods using the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center's excellent neighborhood "snapshots":

“In the 1800s, Tremé was a prosperous, ethnically diverse community. In the 1960s, the Tremé’s thriving African American business district along Claiborne Avenue was destroyed to make way for the new I-10 interstate loop. With many long-time residents, Tremé is still an incredibly rich community with tremendous cultural roots and an amazing ability to persevere.” [Read more in the Neighborhood Snapshot]

As the former location of Storyville, Tremé is the cradle of jazz. Pre-K, it contained the African American Cultural Musuem and the important Seventh Ward Creole restaurants Dooky Chase and Willie Mae's Scotch House (which won a James Beard award earlier this year). Owners of these restaurants say they plan to reopen (though Willie Mae is in her 80s). Tremé sustained major flood and wind damage. Most of the areas I've seen are empty, though not completely deserted; some houses have been gutted and people are moving back in. There are still desperate signs spraypainted on some of the empty houses: PLEASE HELP. 20 PEOPLE. WE NEED FOOD. The historic black Catholic church, St. Augustine, sustained $400,000 in damage, but is operational and putting together a new church board, which will include my extremely forceful and capable friend Laura.

Click Poppy Z. Brite.


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