Friday, October 28, 2005

Is Chris Rose doing alright?

Read below: This seems like the kind of thing that might get you into trouble, but I guess the Picayune is so frustrated with the whole Katrina situation that they are letting Chris Rose say whatever the hell he wants... Enjoy. This may very well be taken off the internet soon:

The buzzards are swarming to pick at the pieces of New Orleans culture left in the ruins
Friday, October 28, 2005
By Chris Rose
This is only my second column here in the esteemed pages of Lagniappe but I fear it may be near my last.

The reason is not what might seem obvious: Poor job performance.

No, the real reason is that, in a matter of weeks, there, in fact, will be no events to report in these pages. No sports. No festivals. No parades. No music. No food listings.

It appears that while this city drowns under water, negligence, helplessness and poverty, the civic scavengers from other states are circling around us, trying to pick at the rotting corpse that is New Orleans.

The most obvious culprit is the sleazy and verbose mayor of San Antonio, Phil Hardberger, whose gleeful dance over our communal devastation almost makes Tom Benson look like a nice guy. He says the Saints belong to his city now. Done deal. And he's probably right.

Then, of course, the wags in Las Vegas announced that they would be happy to host Mardi Gras this year and why not? Since that city has done its best to turn New York City, Paris and Venice into theme parks, why not let them have the greatest free show on Earth?

Problem is, nothing in Vegas is free -- unless you lose a fat wad at the craps table and then they give you some steak and eggs for breakfast.

I just want to see the looks on the Vegas high school band tuba players when somebody tells them they have to march six miles every night for three weeks.

And then we have Austin, Texas, which will be hosting the Flaming Arrows Mardi Gras Indian celebrations next year. An event, which I can only assume, will be steeped in the grand themes of typical Indian parades -- culture, history, neighborhood, family, corner bars and go-cups.

If the Indians thought they had trouble with New Orleans cops, wait until a couple of Spy Boys get liquored up and start blocking downtown traffic in their beaded finery.

Iko, Iko, pod'ner, and off to jail we go.

And Galatoire's is opening in Baton Rouge. Personally, I can't imagine a city that is in more need of a four-hour Friday lunch consisting of a Godchaux Salad and seven martinis. But, are you kidding me? Galatoire's in Red Stick?

What are they going to take from us next? Certainly there's more of the carcass left. For instance, contrary to the graffiti on his house that says "R.I.P. Fats," it turns out that Fats Domino is, in fact, still alive, so certainly Branson, Mo., ought to come down here and scoop up the Fat Man so he can join Mel Tillis and the Captain and Tennille up there on the strip.

I hear that folks in Topeka are going to start burying their dead in above-ground mausoleums as a way of boosting their tourist industry.

And since the brimstone ministers tell us it was New Orleans' accommodation of gay citizens that caused the hurricane in the first place, maybe we'd better send Southern Decadence abroad as well.

I'm picturing Salt Lake City for that one.

Just who the hell are these people who are trying to pick and choose among our cultural touchstones and lay claim to them in their towns?

I mean, some are just plain stupid; I give the Baton Rouge Galatoire's eight months survival, a year at most. I mean, are there really enough alcoholic former queens of Carnival in Baton Rouge to keep that place afloat?

As for San Antonio: It's galling. I know you probably think so, too, so I'm doing the public service of giving you the mayor's phone number so you can apprise him of your thoughts on the matter.

It's (210) 207-7060. In case you're stuck in the '90s, the fax is (210) 207-4168.

Give Phil a call. See what else he needs from us. Like, maybe a Ruth's Chris Steakhouse? Or maybe the carousel from City Park. Or, what the hell -- why not see if he just wants to come over and cart that whole damn park away and put it on the Rio Grande.


Oh, that reminds me: They can take that guy, too. What the hell. As long as we've got our front stoops, a couple of guitars and some Abita Amber, I guess we'll be OK.

Or did I just hear that Miller bought Abita?

Anyway, that's the end of my rant. My time here is done. That's because the Las Vegas Sun is going to start publishing Lagniappe in its paper starting next Friday.

So thanks for all your support for all these years and hopefully our paths will cross again some day. Say, maybe next week at the Bridge City Gumbo Festival in Tuscon.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

ciao, harriet~

Harriet Miers has withdrawn her nomination.

Can't wait to find out what she was covering up for the president. After all, we all know that the statement:
"she had resisted surrendering internal documents, including legal advice to the president, because to do so would have interfered with the independence of the Executive Branch."

really means:
"she resisted surrendering internal documents that would implicate the president in serious wrong doing."

Can't wait to see what kind of ass crony nominee he replaces her with. I hear Jenna Bush is still looking for a teaching position. How about letting her sit on the court for a while? That girl needs some structure.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

One art - for all you fellow book lovers

John Biguenet ran this piece in the NYT today, but it's a TimesSelect protected piece. Thankfully, RJ was kind enough to copy and paste it into an email for me.

I post this piece in its entirety because it captures the feeling I have regarding my books. Everytime I'm in a bookstore, I'll see a title and think, "Yeah, I've had that... I wanted to read it... I left that at home after finishing it... I remember that trip when I read that book... I remember reading that at Bryn Mawr... I remember crying on the train when I finished that book... I remember the person who encouraged me to read this... I remember meeting that author... I remember how much that book meant to me when... I remember how this book helped me when I never thought I'd get over... I remember falling in love when I read this... I remember reading this by flashlight during Hurricane Andrew... I remember reading this by the light of the street lamps on the highway outside Atlanta... I remember looking up from this book and being shocked by the Queen Anne's Lace in Gettysburg... I remember reading this book when I traveled to visit Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges... I remember reading this book immediately after finishing graduate school... I remember reading that book in a hotel room on the way home from Bryn Mawr graduation... I remember reading this book every Mardi Gras season at least 2 or 3 times...."

In remembrance of particular moments in my life, I most remember the books that marked those periods and then I realize those very treasured books are bloated by water and covered in mold.

I don't have a clue how many books I've lost, but it's got to be in the thousands. I saved my books and often brought them back to New Orleans where I would lovingly place them on bookshelves, beside my bed, anyplace. Over the past four years, I felt my books were probably safer in NOLA than they would be as I moved around the Northeast. And they were until August.

I have been meaning to thank everyone who purchased items for me (or burned cds for me) from my wish list. I am going to write a handwritten thank you note to all of you and promise that. I keep waiting for life to slow down just a little bit, but I think it's clear that won't happen. I need to make time and I will. But for now, I have to thank all of you. It has meant so much to me that you would reunite me with old friends. I'm okay with losing my childhood bed, childhood home, all my photographs from my birth til age 25 (25 on are safe in Brooklyn); but I am still coming to terms with losing my library. It's something that makes me feel blank inside. This may sound ridiculous to you, but try to lose everything and see how you cope. In light of the death and destruction, it isn't much, but books have always been my repository for memories and my safety blanket. I'm trying to focus on what I've learned and what I've retained, but right now, I just want my old copies of the Anne of Green Gables series. And my copy of the complete poems of Elizabeth Bishop. Read on. Much love from me.

Pulp Fiction
I had always thought that when you lose everything, the irreplaceable mementoes of life must be the hardest to part with. And dredged up from the muck left by the receding flood, such things, ruined beyond repair, do wound me — the spontaneous gift of a beautiful bowl bestowed for no reason one evening by a friend now long dead, the self-portrait with green teeth by a second-grader now grown into his twenties, the battered music box that served as the first token of a love that has outlasted more than just this most recent disaster. But I could not have guessed that of all the things lost in the flood, my mold-encrusted books would weigh so heavily upon me.

When I kicked open my door the first time we returned to our house after the hurricane, what caught my eye was not the heavy sofa that had floated across the living room to totter upon the stairs, nor even the veil of mold that shrouded every surface. What I fixed upon was the copy of "Mary Reilly" my friend Valerie Martin had autographed for me that now lay at my feet, its pages black and waterlogged. The novel had been shelved at the top of the bookcase with other prized volumes by admired writers; I realized immediately that sometime during the three weeks my house had remained flooded four feet deep, the bookcase had pitched forward into the water.

So I knew the soggy pile of books sprawled across the floor and discolored by the mold must include the whole set of Janette Turner Hospital's stories and novels I had been reading my way through this past summer, the collection of poetry John Balaban had insisted I take as a gift at a conference we both attended, the inscribed copy of Helen Scully's first novel, the volumes by Angela Carter I had found here and there over 20 years, the boxed set of Tolstoy's diaries I'd requested in place of a fee for a favor I had done a publisher, novels by Tim Gautreaux and Tom Franklin and Steve Stern and Ha Jin, Michael Henry Heim's translation of Chekhov's letters, Edith Grossman's new translation of "Don Quixote." Though I was surrounded by tens of thousands of dollars of damage, what pierced my heart was the swollen paperback of "The Tain," the Irish epic, which Marsha and I had discovered in a British bookshop on our first trip to Europe 30 years ago.

The ruined books, heavy with water and slippery with mold, clung to one another. It was difficult work, lifting them into a garbage can to haul to the curb, then flinging them, often one by one, onto the common trash hill my neighbors and I have built. In fact, the ribs on my left side are still tender from the effort to finish the job this past weekend.

I keep reminding myself it's foolish to regret a lost book. All but a few of those I've thrown away are probably available in new editions, in a library, in a used-book shop somewhere. And a book is just a temporary transition, after all, between two minds, the writer's and the reader's. So what have I lost, really?

But each book had its own story of how it had come to rest on one of my shelves. "The Tain" and the other volumes we found on that first trip to Europe came home in Marsha's yellow suitcase, the one we emptied of clothes as we traveled to make more room for books unavailable in those days in the States. The American Merchant Seaman's Manual had been my father's. The thin volume of poems by grammar-school students, including the first poem ever published by a promising young versifier named Wystan Hugh Auden, was the very touching gift of an organization I had served that knew of my love for his later poetry. Now nothing but pulp, they have a new story to tell me of how quickly things pass. (And, of course, my own books rotting among the work of so many other writers have their own lesson to teach me about the glory of this world.)

One of the books I lost was "The Complete Poems of Elizabeth Bishop." Her villanelle, "One Art," repeats a line I've learned is true: "The art of losing isn't hard to master." But she insists, over and over again, it's never really a "disaster." I know she's right about that, too — though surrounded by my past, corrupting page by page, it's a difficult truth to accept.

stoop conversations

More thoughts from Chris Rose via

The elephant men
Stoop sitters can't talk about anything but Katrina
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
Chris Rose
Every night, we gather on my front stoop. We are multiple combinations of jobless, homeless, family-less and sometimes just plain listless.

We sit and some of us drink and some of us smoke and together we solve the problems of the city -- since no one in any official capacity seems able or inclined to do so.

We're just one more committee howling at the moon. We are a civic life-support system.

It began with close friends and neighbors, gathering as we trickled back into town, comparing notes and stories and hugs of comfort and welcome home. But the breadth of visitors has widened.

One night, while I was sitting with a couple of friends, a guy pulled up to the curb in an SUV and regarded us carefully. As the passenger side window rolled down, I assumed it was an old friend stopping to say hello, so I stepped up to the door.

Turns out, it was a total stranger. He said: "Displaced dads?" He had a six-pack of Corona on the front seat and he was just driving around randomly, looking for someone to connect with, someone to talk to, something -- God help us -- something to do.

We nodded. Yeah, we are men without their women. Women without their men. Parents without their children.

But not without beer.

And he got out of the car and he sat with us for hours and we told our stories to each other and asked about each others' families, now spread across the planet, and when it was over we had a new friend. A displaced dad. Just looking for a place we used to call home.

We stoop-sitters tend to get very wry and blend dark humor with our rants against the machine, but sometimes it gets very sad.

We often deal with First Timer Syndrome. As my immediate neighbors trickle back into town, one by one -- either just to clean up and move on or to move back in for good -- they generally end up on my stoop. And they often cry.

It's the first time they've been back to town and they are shaken to their very core at what they've seen and smelled and we grizzled veterans of this war try to provide shelter from their storm.

They apologize for losing it but we tell them that many tears have been shed here on this stoop and they are ours and it's OK. It happens to all First Timers. Hell, it happens still.

They're easy to spot, the First Timers. They either sob or they sit silent and sullen, the occasional pull on a bottle of beer, with very little to add to the conversation of the night.

The next night, they usually come back, and they are a little better. One day at a time. Ain't that the way of life around here?

We sit around night after night because some of us are unable to sit still in a restaurant for 90 minutes or aren't ready to go back to the bar scene. Many can't concentrate on reading and television seems like an empty gesture so we talk, and we talk about the same damn thing over and over.

We talk about it. The elephant in the room.

I suspect many folks have sat with us and thought, upon going home: You guys need to get a grip. You need to talk about something else. You need to get a life.

That may be, but I, personally, have been unable to focus on anything but the elephant. I have tried to watch TV or read a magazine but when I see or hear phrases like "Tom and Katy" or "World Series" or "Judge Miers," my mind just glazes over and all I hear is the buzz of a fluorescent light. That is the sound of my cerebral cortex now.

I can't hear what they're saying on TV. I don't know what they're talking about. I think: Why aren't they talking about the elephant?

Once, in an out-of-town airport, I searched desperately for something to read about the elephant, but we have been tossed off the front pages by other events. Finally I found a magazine with a blaring headline: "WHAT WENT WRONG" and I thought, finally, something about us.

It turns out, though, it was People magazine and "WHAT WENT WRONG" was not about FEMA or the levees or the flood, but about Renee Zellweger and Kenny Chesney.

And the fluorescent light goes zzzzzz.

One newcomer to the stoop one night said something along the lines of, "Can you believe that call at the end of the White Sox game the other night?" And you would usually think that such a statement made in a group of drinking men would elicit an argument, at least -- if not a bare-knuckle brawl -- but the fact is we all responded with silence.

We're a porch full of people who don't know who's playing in the World Series and don't know what movies opened this week and don't know how many died in Iraq today.

We are consumed. We would probably bore you to tears. But it is good therapy and we laugh more than we cry, and that's a start, that's a good thing, that's a sign of winning this war, of getting this damn elephant out of our city -- out of our sight.

. . . . . . .

Columnist Chris Rose can be reached at; or at (504) 352-2535 or (504) 826-3309.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

flooding didn't discriminate

This article from the Times-Picayune discusses the neighborhoods where death was concentrated after Katrina. Chances are as many people died in Mid-City, Gentilly, and on the lakefront as they did in the Lower Ninth Ward. 70122, my zip code, saw between 35 and 71 deaths. I am lucky that my neighbors survived the disaster, even if some had to escape via helicopter.

I hate to even pick my brains to think of all the faces I saw in the grocery, at the coffee shops, libraries, and church - people I saw everyday and never knew by anything other than their faces and greetings - that have died horrible deaths that could have been prevented.

Add these casualties to the toll the Bush administration has created in the Middle East. There's a special place in Hell for you, GWB.

Update: The Times-Picayune has published a map that shows where the deaths occured.

Will it come to this?

The following is the closing of an article in the Times-Picayune on a forum held in Lakeview regarding the damage caused by the broken levees. I think from now on, I am going to talk about the disaster in relationship to the flawed levee system. It wasn't Katrina that destroyed my parents' house, it was the breaks at the 17th street canal and the London Canal. Let everyone sue the hell out of the government. Where the hell were they? Frankly, anything that stirs up this country is worth engagement. And the only thing the Bush administration responds to is money. So pay up, suckers.

Read on:

Insurance was a dominant topic, among speakers and shouters alike.

State Rep. Peppi Bruneau, a Republican whose Lakeview home flooded, provoked the loudest applause of the meeting when he exhorted listeners to call state Attorney General Charles Foti and urge him to file a class-action suit against insurance companies if they refuse to let homeowner's insurance cover what, he said, wasn't a conventional flood.

Arguing that the high water in Lakeview resulted not from rain, but from a levee flaw, Bruneau said it falls outside the normal definition of a flood and that, as a result, the damage it caused should be covered by homeowner's insurance, especially for people lacking flood coverage.

"Here, you had no water coming over the levee," he said. "You had water coming through the levee."

Thursday, October 20, 2005

when you get caught between the moon and New York City

I feel as alive and perky as that song. Today, I woke up before 7:30 and hopped out of bed. No dragging feet. I took my shower, got dressed and even put on a little makeup (what?). Nerb and I walked to 5th avenue for coffee (and a muffin for him). Enjoying the clear, brisk air, the walk was just so pleasant. Especially with a warm cup of coffee in hand. We laughed and chatted on the train and there was almost a spring in my step as I got off the train and walked to work listening to Patty Griffin on my ipod.

But upon turning off the ipod, all I could think of was that easy listening favorite, Christopher Cross and his song for the movie "Arthur" (full disclosure: I've never seen the movie, but could probably sing this song in my sleep). For the first time in ages, my body doesn't feel heavy and it wasn't a challenge to get out of bed. I could have skipped down the street today. In late August, I wondered if and when I would ever feel this way again. And I still have mean red moments, but I'm trying to keep it together.

Today I didn't have to try. I just wanted to sing out loud.

Monday, October 17, 2005

the kids are alright

mom and dad are settled in their Royal Street apartment. i said goodbye to my mom on an A train heading to JFK today and this evening she called from the new New Orleans, while enjoying a glass of wine in her courtyard.

I told my brother that it's nice to have something new to adjust to that is actually positive instead of horrifying and upsetting. I'll have another round of that.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

home is where you hang your hat

sorry to be awol, but mom is here and life is good.

more soon. be good.

Friday, October 07, 2005

your morning subway update

yes, it took the (not so) credible threat of terrorism on the subway to knock katrina off the pages of Crazy Eights.

This morning, the Q train was less than half-full. I don't know if this is due to the threat of 19 bombers with baby carriages or because it is Friday or because it's overcast. You decide.

At any rate, there was one NY police officer in my station and the same "homeless" person watching over us all. You've heard my ludicrous scheme that the standard homeless people in the subway are actually NYPD or FBI, right?

Hey, it's not like I actually believe that, but it makes me laugh and these days, I'll take what I can get.

Especially in light of pending destruction via terrorism or natural disaster.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

laughter is the best medicine

For those of you that know me personally, this line in the NYT article regarding the new "terrorist threat" (cough - creating a smoke screen to divert us from Rove at the grand jury, DeLay, FEMA contracts, etc - cough) made me laugh out loud and you will agree that I can hardly make it to work with less than three bags much less one small bag.

"Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly did suggest that riders not bring backpacks, briefcases, baby carriages and luggage if they can do without them."

Also, is the Comissioner planning on helping all the single moms with 2+ kids on the commute all weekend? Have fun dealing with that mess.

I am going to Yale for the weekend with my mom. Enjoy the commute, folks. Beware the briefcases. Geez.

rather than engage, just give them a copy of this quote

The next time someone asks me something as stupid as "what did New Orleans and Louisiana do to deserve this?" or "Is it true that Louisiana is a Satanic state and people practice the Voodoo?" I will direct them to this quote from a New York Times article. I only wish there was a photograph of this wise lady from Lakeview, but I can see her blue hair and pink mumu from here.

A church pastor, she said, had told her that the destruction was an expression of God's displeasure with the city's fun-loving reputation.

"I told him if it's so sinful, then how come Bourbon Street survived and we didn't?" she said, clutching her Chihuahua.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

yeah, martha stewart never slept here and neither did the faint of heart

I liked this and thought I might share it with folks. I found it on I stayed home today to take care of the aforementioned cold. I was sick of sounding like a TB patient at work and sick of feeling like crap, so I decided to come home and sleep it off. I did and have found a little peace of mind that has been missing since the whole Katrina disaster.

I kinda want to walk to the park, but I don't want to push the fragile state of my immune system. My mom is coming in on Friday night. I cannot wait. I am so sad my dad can't come out as well, but he has to go back to work on Monday and we are not going to push it when it comes to employment.

Anyway, I didn't want to be sick during my mom's visit so I decided to take the day off to recooperate. It's amazing how calm your day is when you do not begin it by hopping on a subway that feels more like a sardine can. I love living in NYC and believe me, I will testify in Congress about the beauty of public transit, but I will not be sad the day I end up living in a small town and get around on my bike. Seriously, Hanover, New Hampshire, wanna start up a writer-in-residence program for me? I am all for it.

Anyway, a day away from the masses was certainly in order. My patience with people has been fraying ever since Katrina. Every thoughtless, insensitive comment has gone straight to my stomach and while I become less surprised daily by how idiotic most people are (and - daily - happier to have been born in the South), it just isn't a healthy way to live. Because all those morons have no idea how ridiculous their words and actions are - and for the most part, they really don't care. That's how we got this president and how this nation is in the pathetic state it's in.

Whew. It's good to step back and acknowledge that I'm not going crazy.

An email came in from a friend whom I hadn't heard from since the disaster. What a salve. Simple words from friends have a way of comforting one. The echoing refrain of endurance is something we're all sharing. It's one part denial, one part "what else can we do but go on?" and one part love for the city and how it has marked us to be strong for it. How can we be mad at others if we do not also endure and stand tall as New Orleanians? We've been kicked around by this country forever, and frankly, I don't think any of us want to take it anymore. If this disaster doesn't change the way you live your life, you have no heart.

Cajun country responds

From, one of my favorite ladies from the Living section (oh, who am I kidding? I love all those ladies.)

Joie de SurVivre
By Suzanne Stouse
Staff writer

LAFAYETTE - And just why, again, is this man smiling?
This man, head of emergency planning for Charity Hospital, whose house in Lakeview drowned while he spent six days at work in bureaucratic hell, watching "all we'd planned for fall apart"?

And why this couple, who work for New Orleans' House of Blues, whose everything-in-this-world Katrina washed away?

And this woman, a pediatric nurse at Tulane-Lakeside Hospital, whose Metairie house went underwater while she worked through the nights lofting sick babies into helicopters by the light of a doctor's headlights?

Well, really.

"How can you not smile out here?" asked Orleanian Mike DeAgano at the Festivals Acadiens in Girard Park. The recent two-day celebration of Cajun music, food and culture, in its 31st year, bore the banner "250 Ans et Toujours Grand Debout (250 Years and Still Standing Tall)" to commemorate the Acadians' Grand D�rangement, their expulsion by the British from Nova Scotia starting in 1755.

"We know a little bit about forced migrations around here," says main stage impresario Barry Ancelet, an author, folklorist and professor of Francophone studies at the University of Louisiana- Lafayette who has been amplifying appreciation of Cajun music and culture for more than 30 years. "When bad things happen in this culture, the Acadians learn from their history.

When something like this comes along, the old stuff comes roaring out.

"In their new frontier, the French settlers learned to depend only on their own efforts," says Ancelet, pointing to his as well as ULL professor Carl Brasseaux's research on the subject. "And the Cajuns, heirs of this fierce sense of independence, have continued to rely on their own strategies for survival in Louisiana."

The response to crisis or tragedy is the same: Cajuns turn to each other.

"When something bad happens, you group together," he says, "talk about things, network the community's resources. Ramasseries, for example, gathered members of the community to bring in a sick neighbor's crop. Today, somebody's roof blows off, you get together to fix it.

Somebody's sick, you have a benefit dance, you send some cooked food. This is what you do -- the only thing you know to do.

"We responded that way to Katrina -- as we did in 1927, after Audrey, Hilda, Betsy, all of them. Thousands here culled their closets. Every remotely mobile makeshift cooking contraption was mobilized to barbecue and boil and grill and fry food until the MREs began to arrive."
But Cajuns do not persevere on hard work and generosity alone.

"You have to dance, to sing, tell stories, play music, as a socially-affirming event," Ancelet says. "And we've known this for a long time."

Two weeks ago at Banding Together, an outdoor Cajun/zydeco Red Cross benefit with heavyweight headliners including Michael Doucet and Zachary Richard, Ancelet told the crowd that some people may have questioned the wisdom of a rousing concert "at a time like this." He reminded them that "the first thing our ancestors did when they got here was jump off the boats and start dancing on the dock."

Ancelet admitted that, "We also initially questioned whether it was responsible to hold this festival in the face of this tragedy." But then he came to his senses.

"This year," he said, "I've come to see Festivals Acadiens as a giant benefit dance. There were thousands here who needed a break."

Ancelet makes it clear to a visitor that he heartily disapproves of hurricane parties that take place before a hurricane hits. Those, he says, are for "idiots." After a hurricane is the time.
"Then you can generate help," he says. "That's what we're about."

Around 11 a.m. opening day, the crowd is delightfully slim. In the small Heritage Stage tent ("Dedicated to Rufus Thibodeaux and Harry Hypolite"), slide guitar virtuoso Sonny Landreth is chatting with the 150 or so people who fill the place to capacity. New Orleans artist and guitar/dulcimer player Amzie Adams is there too, recalling "how the Cajuns got here: They were refugees, like us."

Across the way, close to the tent manned by the Krewe des Canailles (roughly, mischief-makers), it's a fais-do-do, straw-hatted old-timers in folding chairs claiming the shady spots around the oak trees, families plopped under tarps (yes! like the Jazzfest That Was), eating boudin and crawfish sausage po-boys and Gator-on-a-Stick and listening to main-stage performer Kevin Naquin, leader of the Ossun Playboys, announce a turn by "Mr. Paul Frug� on the pipes!"

The young people will come "once everyone gets awake -- around noon," a festival worker says.

The early birds had heard Barry Ancelet offer a rousing bienvenu and a "This is for you, New Orleans!," and pitch the purchase of "les T-shirts" for the cause.

"Katrina took a shot, and we're still here," he tells them. "But you gotta wonder if Fats Domino is ever going to play 'Let the Four Winds Blow' again."

Shouts of "aiiieeeeeeeeee!" ring out as friends run into friends. Somebody says "This is the first time I've laughed since that Sunday."

In the shade of the main stage, Tim Butcher, the Charity emergency management director, says he had decided, "If I had a pulse today, I was going to be at this festival." He warns that this conversation will be over the minute Balfa Toujours starts to play, "and I'm going to have to dance."

He talks about thinking for the first couple of days after the storm that the city, state and federal emergency structure he had helped work on for three years "might actually work." By Wednesday, "it had fallen apart completely." On Thursday, he started the begging, calling every official to be found, "but the very top chain of command had broken down." They ran out of food. Then the diesel fuel to run the generators to save the preemies and the criticals. All told, he slept "about six hours."

And then Butcher, this very large man, starts to cry. Not bitter tears, not sad. Thankful ones, flowing with the recollection that, "Every single person from the CEO to the housekeepers was a hero. Not one complained." When the helicopters and the armed boats finally came, "everybody, regardless of his job, grabbed patients and got them on, got them out."

"In the history of the Cajun people there's always been hardship, always been loss," says Butcher, a Lafayette native who's now living in Butte LaRose. "Whether it was the people who came through Le Grand D�rangement or yellow fever or hurricanes, one thing that remains is the music and the spirit of the people. That's allowed them to come back, to be happy."

And then the family Balfa comes on, and Butcher begins to dance. Hard. Kicking up dust with his friend Sandra Robertson from Atlanta. And laughing.

"This is the heart and soul of Louisiana, this right here," announces Charles "Chopper" Brady, the House of Blues production manager just-married to Andrea Gorman by Justice of the Peace Barbara Broussard, of the town of Broussard, at the park's gazebo on a cypress pond.

Committed to marrying eventually, the couple had bumped up the wedding date only two days earlier, when Brady went to get a copy of his birth certificate and realized the place gave out marriage licenses, too.

Before a small cluster of friends and family, on a day the temperature hit 100 degrees, saxophonist Dickie Landry played "Hear Comes the Bride" on a harmonica he'd just bought at a garage sale. The bride, with dark eyes and curls and looking for all the world like Longfellow's Evangeline must have, wore a swirling skirt and camisole.

"We are head-strong: this is NOT going to kill the people of Louisiana," the groom had told a visitor before the ceremony. One big reason, says Brady, who lost two houses in Gentilly: "You hear the bad stories -- mostly false -- and then you go to a place called Comeaux's on Kaliste Saloom Road and the gas prices aren't high at all and I thank the guy for understanding and he chases me down and gives me my $20 back."

One of the weekend's more poignant moments might have come Saturday on the main stage when Terry Huval and Jambalaya brought out Bruce Daigrepont and his band as unscripted "special guests."

Daigrepont, of Metairie, has been a mainstay on the Cajun music scene in New Orleans since 1980 - in fact, back in the early '80s, Daigrepont and Allen Fontenot represented the sum total of the Cajun music scene in New Orleans - and for many years he has catered to local Cajun dancers, moreso than the tourists, with his regular fais do-do at Tipitina's.

Clad this day in a black Tip's T-shirt, Daigrepont and his mates ripped into several songs, interspersed with a heartfelt dialogue about the band's recent travails. Like so many New Orleans-based musicians, Daigrepont and his band find themselves suddenly out of work (if not homeless and out of work), and his appreciation for this opportunity to play music again was genuine.

Later, after crowd favorites Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys wrap up "Ardoin Medley," they segue into "Marie Mouri (Marie Has Died)," a poem written by a slave in St. Martinville that the band found in the Breaux Bridge library and set to music by guitarist Sam Broussard. The beginning sounds almost like a dirge, sad bagpipes-on-the-bayou. But then things pick up.

There's an address to the New Orleans people, telling them how the Cajuns will bring them back, with jobs, with anything they need. How the band will be back as well -- with a Maple Leaf gig planned for the first weekend in October.

As the white buckets for the Acadiana Arts Council's Project HEAL (Helping Employ Artists Locally) pass from hand to hand, Heritage Stage producer Patrick Mould, a Baton Rouge chef who moved to Lafayette to make room for New Orleans friends until they rebuild, echoes the talk of "not being able to imagine Louisiana without New Orleans," of "the dishwashers, the hostesses, the thousands who lost jobs in the hospitality and other industries." He promises, again: "We are here."

A little while later, close to quitting time, a hard rain starts to fall, but the people stay put. It's not enough to shut this party down.

As their ancestors did 250 years ago, as their new friends do today, they keep dancing.
Staff writer Suzanne Stouse can be reached at

Blue Tarp Town

ROSE: Flying over a blue tarp town
Flying over a blue tarp town

Collective memories of loss and perseverance bond us together

Chris Rose

The first time I came back to New Orleans after Katrina, I'll admit that the whole specter shook me to my core. After spending eight days reporting in the city, my hands were shaking and I had lost about 10 pounds. It was time to take a break.

As I drove to Baton Rouge to catch a flight, I pulled off at the first interstate exchange with any life to it - Laplace - and went to the McDonald's and got a Big Mac, a fish sandwich, large fries and a large coke.

I inhaled the stuff as a I drove and, two exits later - Sorrento or somewhere like that - I pulled off and went to the McDonald's there and got a Big Mac and a large coke to sustain me for the rest of the drive, my own personal take on "Supersize Me."

After a brief respite with my wife and kids in Maryland, I returned to the city for more.

The second time I left New Orleans, Armstrong Airport was open and again my hands shook as I drove away from town but when I settled in my seat as we went aloft, my troubles, too, stayed behind on the ground.

I looked down over the region as we rose and - maybe you've seen pictures of this - the sea of blue color beneath me was nothing less than awe-inspiring.

At first I had this vision that I was flying over Beverly Hills until I realized all that blue beneath me was not swimming pools but roof tarps and coverings. It is the color that bonds us in these times, maybe even more than that weird purple hue that Rex, LSU and K&B seemed to conspire to make us love so many years ago.

The Blue Roof Town. Man, there's a great country song in there somewhere.

There are a lot of heartache songs in this whole ordeal, no doubt assisted by the syncopative double-whammy of Rita/Katrina. Somewhere, right now, someone is writing a song that will make Tim McGraw a million dollars; I just hope that someone is from New Orleans.

On my most recent trip back to New Orleans, earlier this week, I was waiting for my connection in Memphis and listened while the gate agent called the names of standby travelers to come forward: "Passenger Cheramie. Passenger Bettincourt...."

The gate agent's Tennessee drawl mauled these names but it was a wondrous thing, to hear these beautiful French names being called and to know that our people were coming home.

Settling into their seats, almost everyone turned to the stranger next to them and asked: "Have you seen it yet?"

It. That is our home. That is our place.

Such a haunting quietude consumed the plane as we descended over Lake Pontchartrain. You could tell that most of the people on the plane were coming home for the first time, and instead of the usual world-weary travelers burying their noses in paperbacks or trying to catch a last wink of sleep, everyone craned for looks out the windows to see what "it" looks like now.

It felt like a plane full of kids on their first flights, like they had never seen such a vista from the air before. And, of course, they hadn't.

I wanted to pipe up: Man, you should have seen it a month ago; it was so much worse. Or maybe tell them all: It's not as bad as you think it's going to be.

Or I thought I could harness more practical advice from recent experience and tell them: Whatever you do, DO NOT open your refrigerator. Ever. Again.

But, even though I have one of those profoundly annoying personal compulsions of talking to (at?) strangers all the time - particularly at inappropriate moments - I found myself lingering on some advice whose providence I have long forgotten (and seldom followed), but which seemed so apt for this anguished moment: "If you cannot improve upon the silence, do not speak."

Words of wisdom, to be sure. At a time like this, a flow of platitudes from a self-absorbed dilettante veteran of the War of 2005 - a dilettante with shaky hands, no less - is not what anybody needs to hear.

So I kept my mouth shut and let the passengers' heads wrap around what was about to happen to them when they got out of the plane and drove to their homes for the first time.

For some, it will be a foul-smelling but mildly comic discovery that they forgot to empty their Diaper Genie before they left. For a friend of mine who accompanied his mother to their home off Paris Avenue in St. Bernard Parish over the weekend, it was the discovery of two tenants in the rental side of her shotgun double - two tenants who had been dead for 33 days.

Wrap your head around that.

For those who return to the area and those who do not and those who never left, these are our collective memories now, our marks of distinction and suffering, small stuff like Aunt Ida's meatloaf sitting in your fridge for five weeks or big stuff like dead people on the other side of your living room wall.

Like our blue tarp rooftops, these are the bonds that we share forever. They are the bonds that will hold us together.

Columnist Chris Rose can be reached at

Monday, October 03, 2005

hold all calls

Ah hab a cold. [This is what I sound like]

I guess everything has caught up with me. Rachel, thank you for calling. I will be in touch soon. Probably email tomorrow. Tonight, after THREE HOURS on the subway, I decided to cancel all plans, rent "Fever Pitch," cook a simple dinner and knit. Drew Barrymore helps considerably, but I would love to evacuate my sinuses.

In other news, mom and dad went back to the house this weekend. I'm trying to slightly downplay this until I see pictures and hear more about it. I think mom and dad are sick of talking about it.

Bryn Mawr diploma? Gonesville USA.
Dartmouth diploma? OK shape. Who knew.

But the only other thing that survived (thus far) from my room is my Mater statue which was covered in mold, but cleaned off nicely. Marc's bed floated and his guitars (which were sitting atop the bed) had no water damage. Who knows what 4 weeks of climate insanity has done to warp them, but we'll see.

But sweetness and kindness is still much appreciated. I am hacking up my lungs like a TB victim. Good times.