Hopefully you’ve been following my column on Mid-City Messenger, now into its second year. I’m doing my best to keep up a regular weekly rhythm, with fresh content every Monday, alternating between prose and photos. I’ve now got my own tag on the site, so check it out.
I’m happy to announce I’m writing a column for Mid-City Messenger. Here’s the first installment: “Happy New Year, Egg Roll Man.”
I was quoted in this recent article by Robert McLendon:
As residents started to trickle back into Mid-City after Hurricane Katrina, people looked at the mess around them and came to a realization: The storm may have been responsible for the wreckage, but the city was broken in many ways long before it made landfall.
Inequality. Exclusion. Low expectations. “It was a wake-up call that there were a lot of longstanding problems that people had just gotten used to,” said Bart Everson, who, along with his wife, was one of the first to return to the neighborhood.
Everson and his neighbors started to meet to talk about how they could change things, how they could make their neighborhood and the city more inclusive. Out of those meetings, and a blog manifesto that Everson cranked out in the early post-storm days, came the neighborhood’s master plan.
The article goes on to detail the disappointing implementation (or lack thereof) of the city’s neighborhood participation program.
But speaking of that grassroots planning process I helped jumpstart, it recently came to my attention that the Mid-City Recovery Plan, drafted by residents in 2006-2007 independently of any government sanction, is in danger of disappearing from the public web.
In the interest of posterity, I’ve uploaded this important historical document to Scribd:
This was true grassroots democracy in action. Did we get everything we wanted? Not by a long shot. Did it make any difference? I’ll let others judge.
Some details of this process were covered in Karl Seidman’s 2013 book, Coming Home to New Orleans: Neighborhood Rebuilding after Katrina. See page 177 ff. The passages about the Mid-City library branch make for especially poignant reading, in light of the recent announcement of its imminent (and thankfully postponed) closure.
Nov. 16, 2013: I officiated a civic tree-blessing ceremony on the bayou. We had a real-live fire dancer and Big Chief David Montana led us in singing “Indian Red.” Still can’t believe this really happened. It seems remarkable that someone like me, without any relevant credential, would be invited to do something like this. Many thanks to Jared Zeller et al for pulling this together. And thanks to Michael Homan for taking these photos.
Continue reading “Tree Blessing”
It’s come to my attention that the Episcopal Diocese is planning to close Grace Episcopal Church on Canal Street in the first Sunday in January. This would be a major blow in my opinion. Below is a letter to the bishop urging him to reconsider this decision. Though sent on behalf of my role in FOLC, I feel a strong personal connection to Grace as I’ve attended so many meetings there. My daughter had a wonderful time at Grace Child Center until it too was closed by the diocese under circumstances which I never fully understood. I find church politics very confusing. The Executive Board of the diocese is meeting this Wednesday; I sincerely hope they can find a way to keep Grace open.
Dear Reverend Morris Thompson,
As the President of Friends of Lafitte Corridor, I am writing to you to express how important Grace Episcopal church is to my organization and to many other organizations across the City. This church is far more than a space for worship, it is a place that inspires residents to give back to the community. By hosting and advertising many community meetings and functions that contribute to the improvement of our society as a whole, Grace Episcopal is a true gem in New Orleans and should not be closed. My organization has had monthly meetings here for over three years. I have attended numerous citywide meetings and neighborhood meetings at this venue as well. This church brings communities together to help address societal issues, and if closed, would leave many residents and organizations at a loss for a gathering space. Therefore on behalf of the Board of Friends of Lafitte Corridor, I am requesting that you reconsider your decision to close such an active and important church.
Friends of Lafitte Corridor
Cc: Reverend Canon Mark Stevenson
Some mornings the journey to the workplace is a boring old slog. But not usually, not for me. I try to make a point to stay alert to the world around me. I am usually on bike or foot, which is an advantage. Also, I live in the visually rich and colorful city of New Orleans. Even so, I can get in a rut. And I can be jolted back to alertness. Some mornings are just plain galvanizing.
Yesterday morning was like that, like a psychedelic trip of epic proportions.
And then, at Jeff Davis & Tulane, 10:30 AM: The most surreal sight of a decidedly surreal day.
Maybe you need to view large to appreciate.
Did someone slip some LSD in my oatmeal this morning?
There is an unfortunate pattern which sometimes emerges in local reportage, wherein community groups are incorrectly depicted as opposed to economic development. In reality, most community groups merely want to be engaged in the development process to ensure the highest quality outcome. I’ve seen it happen before, and so I get a little nervous sometimes.
Happily in this morning’s paper we have a different scenario. It feels like we got out ahead of the story for once. Rather than being framed as obstructionist we are actually taking credit for generating investment. The reality is of course more nuanced than a single newspaper article will convey. I can’t say more without undermining the win, so I’ll shut up. You can read the story, in which I am quoted, and decide for yourself.
And don’t forget to read between the lines.
Continue reading “Mid-City Market”
Yesterday afternoon I heard the sound of a brass band. I stuck my head outside and saw the Krewe of Palmyra coming down Alexander to make a stop at Banks Street Bar.
I thought I’d seen it all. I thought I knew what was going on in my neighborhood, at least, but I guess New Orleans still has a few surprises for me. This is the sixth year for Krewe of Palmyra but I never knew of them before.
So there I was in my bathrobe taking some pictures and one of the second liners had the audacity — the effrontery — the unmitigated gall — to make fun of my scanty attire. Mind you, she wasn’t wearing hardly any clothes herself, so I hardly felt she should criticize me. Also, I want to go on record that I did pull on a pair of undies before leaving the house.
Apparently there’s some overlap between Palmyra and the Krewe of Space Age Love. According to their website, “In early June we participate In The Krewe of Palmyra no more parades in Mid-City and another reason to party protest parade.” I had to read that five times before it made sense.
They were using the same float they used in the Krewe du Vieux parade. Someone was supposed to remove the penis to make it more “family friendly” but they never got around to it. Oh well.
Sometimes I really love this place.
I don’t believe I’ve mentioned it, but the house next door to ours was finally purchased. I believe it went for around $40K after sitting on the market for a year. The initial price was twice that. It needs a lot of work, which is underway. The new owner’s intention is to renovate and sell. The house is comparable in size to ours. If it sells for around the same price ($250K) it should be a good return on investment.
So once again we are living next to a construction site, which kind of sucks — but it sure beats the alternative. That house has not been occupied since the floods of 2005, at least.
Here are some pix.
The work crew consists mainly of three guys of Honduran origin. They like to listen to classic rock on the radio. They patronize the ice cream truck. They seem to know what they’re doing.
Today I saw they were putting up Tyvek. That brought back memories. Three years ago, at our old location, work on the house next door stalled out for months. (Same as our house, actually, just later.) Some of the house wrap came undone and would flap in the breeze. Because our houses were so close together it was like the flapping was right in our bedroom. It was driving Xy crazy, and finally I had to run out with a ladder and a staple gun and secure the errant wrap.
Here’s a little neighborhood detail I recently noticed.
The posts surrounding the yard of an old house on Banks Street are the same as a single post near the front gate of Cypress Grove Cemetery on Canal Street.
I guess it’s just a case of a product being purchased from the same source, but still I find it a little weird and intriguing. I wonder who made the posts, and when. Are there other examples around the city? Around the country? And what’s the story with that single post at Cypress Grove? It appears to serve no purpose.
The pattern on the post looks like a stylized face to me but I’m not sure that’s intentional.
This sign is on a house on Canal Street. I’m not sure but I strongly suspect this may have been placed by a guy calling himself shaman_nation who popped up on the Mid-City discussion group and started posting the most inane conspiracy drivel I’ve ever read.
He’d post some links and then add:
But, I’m sure there’s a whole bunch of stuff we need to worry about before the FIXED VOTE…
IF IT WEREN’T FOR THE FACT THAT WE HAVE NO REAL VOTE AND NO WAY TO CONTROL A GOVERNMENT THAT HAS GONE MAD WITH POWER AND GRAFT.
One neighbor very politely tried to make the point that such assertions were off-topic.
Imagine you’re at a meeting in which everyone is dicussing agenda items relavant to How to Fry Bananas. And you are stand on your chair shouting about DOOR WAYS !!! DOOR WAYS !!!!
Does that make any sense, to shout about door ways in a meeting about frying bananas?
This email group or listserv is about the quality of life in MidCity. Crime stats, zoning, water main leaks, what number to call when VooDoo parkers block your driveway, etc. Not about affecting changes in how this country’s Government operates.
Also, please stop shouting. ALLCAPS is generally considered the equivolant of shouting and in a forum such as this listserv is considered rude.
Of course he had one answer for all such criticism. He accused them of being part of the conspiracy.
Thanks for the lying scam BS about all caps…
Oh, that’s right MID CITY IS THE ONLY PLACE IN THE US WHERE THE VOTE ISN’T FIXED.
SURELY, THE FIXED BLACK BOX VOTE THAT HAS BEEN PROVEN DOESN’T EFFECT MID CITY.
There’s a mix IT’S NOT ALL CAPS. JUST LIKE THE BS YOU POSTED TO SCAM PAST A FIXED VOTE.
LOL, bananas… we are voting on bananas… SURELY A FIXED VOTE HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH BANANAS OR ANYTHING THAT SUPPOSEDLY COMES TO A VOTE.
AMAZING, There always seems to BE SOME REASON THE FIXED BLACK BOX VOTE NEEDS TO BE IGNORED.
Fascists, that need to be on trial for Crimes Against Humanity, and since WE ARE AT UNOFFICIAL WAR – based on lies/torture/rendition/etc – TREASON via subversion of the vote. THE ONLY POWER THE PEOPLE HAVE.
These exchanges led Michael to post the following which still cracks me up:
Since MCNO is now the forum for voting conspiracy theory, I would like to add that I have some serious questions about the Kennedy assassination. Single bullet? YOU ARE FOOLING YOURSELVES PEOPLE OF MID-CITY!!!. I also have good evidence that the annual Mid-City bonfire that used to be so much fun was squashed not because of permits, but because of secret documents Lee harvey Oswald buried in the walls of Thurgood Marshall (Beauregard) UNEARTHED DURING THE RESTORATION POST FLOOD which proved that Jacqueline Kennedy choked Marilyn Monroe with a banana purchased from Mr Okra. I SAID IT—MR OKRA!!!!!
Need I add that the URLs on the sign don’t work?
As previously mentioned, HBO’s Treme is recreating the 2007 March for Survival. I’m trying to “drum up” some support for recreating the Mid-City contingent. In particular I’m hoping someone with a snare drum turns out. As you can see in the photo below, the Mid-City contingent included a snare drum in honor of Dinerral Shavers.
I wish I knew who the guy with the drum was. I remember Ashley had a snare too…
Note also people were wearing white. I hope we can recreate little historical details like that.
OK, herewith is the official call from Jeniffer Farwell, president of the Mid-City Neighborhood Organization.
Honor Dinerral Shavers, Helen Hill, and all the other loved ones lost to violence this Saturday (Feb. 5) as an extra for the show, Treme.
This march will be filmed for the show, but it also gives you a chance to express continued outrage with violence problems that persist in our beautiful city and the failures in education, recreation, and other programs that perpetuate a culture of violence among the youth of the city.
Furthermore, it gives Mid-City and its surroundings national coverage, especially when we carry our Mid-City yard signs and/or wear Mid-City t-shirts.
Wednesday morning I will have the details on where and when to meet (early Saturday morning; somewhere in Mid-City).
If you want to participate, please email firstname.lastname@example.org as soon as possible, and send this to all your friends. Treme MUST have everyone’s names and contact info before the event – preferably by Thursday.
If we get 50 or more people, Treme will make a $500 donation that will be used for a neighborhood get-together later this year.
I plan on being there.
I guess this would be a good place to recount my Treme experience thus far. I was a little disappointed that I didn’t actually get to speak to the writers after all. It seems that by the time I got into the loop, things were already pretty far along. That’s too bad, because I flatter myself to think I might have had some insights that could have informed the creative process — but oh well. I did get to speak to Karen-kaia Livers who’s doing specialty casting and helping assemble extras for the recreation. Maybe she passed some of my pearls of wisdom on to others. As for what’s in the works, I really don’t know much, except that I understand Dinerral Shaver’s sister Nikita will be the only speaker depicted at the rally. I don’t know if she’ll play herself or if it will be some other actress or if maybe they’ll use archival footage. Also, I understand the overarching aim will be to portray a moment of unity, which I applaud.
Perhaps you’ve been inspired by seeing the people of Egypt unite in mass protests this past week. The 2007 March for Survival is the closest thing to that I’ve seen here in New Orleans, or anywhere in the United States. Though it was born of pain and outrage, in some ways it represents our city at its best. Here’s your chance to reenact it.
This is my favorite coffee cup.
I like the neoclassical architectural detail, which of course can still be seen at 3625 Canal Street.
I believe Citywide Mortgage is defunct. Out of idle curiosity, I did a quick net search while drinking my coffee this morning and turned up the following…
Continue reading “My Favorite Mug”
For what it’s worth (probably not much) ever since my daughter was born we’ve approached the New Year a little differently. The new year just before she was born happened to be the last time the bonfire on Orleans Avenue raged in all its wild untamed glory. After that the bonfire was tamed and then extinguished. Though I loved the bonfire, I understand the danger, and I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to take an infant into that chaos. So, for the last three years, we have lit a single candle in front of our house at midnight. With whatever friends are present, we all run around the candle in a circle three times. I’m happy to say I learned this magic ritual right here in Mid-City. Just imagine if everyone here did something similar. It would be like a miniature, distributed bonfire. No one could ever shut it down, and we’d be known as the craziest neighborhood in the city.
I recently noticed a small backyard shrine in my neighborhood.
I wasn’t quite sure what to make of it at first. I thought maybe it was related to Vodou or Santeria. Then, last weekend, I noticed the owner had put up a sign (English and Spanish) saying “Welcome to the Shrine of Santa Muerte.” The gate was open and you could go into the yard and visit the shrine.
The sign rang a bell. I seemed to remember reading about the Mexican government suppressing this religious expression sometime in the last year.
Sure enough, this Wikipedia article explains Santa Muerte is (maybe) a syncretism between Catholic Christianity and some indigenous Mesoamerican beliefs. Santa Muerte has been underground for a long time. Fascinating stuff.
Her day is November 1st, which is of course the Day of the Dead. If you care to pay your respects, perhaps you can visit the shrine in Mid-City and leave some cigarettes or fruit. I haven’t spoken to the owner and I really have no clue what’s appropriate beyond what I’ve inferred from reading online.
I’m not sure of the propriety of disclosing the exact location publicly. I’m thinking it’s probably alright, but I’ll err on the side of caution for now. If you really wanna know, contact me privately.
On Friday, with a little time to kill, my daughter and I stopped by one of the many cemeteries clustered in our neighborhood.
I’d been in this one before, but I came through a different gate, so I had never seen the name “Dispersed of Judah.” I hadn’t noticed it was a Jewish cemetery, though several Hebrew headstones make that abundantly clear.
And I had not seen one particular monument, the tallest there, or taken heed of the story it tells.
This monument was erected in honor of a young woman named Virginia Lazarus.
The grief of her parents must have been tremendous. The river side of the monument bears the following inscription:
In cherished memory of our dearly beloved and precious daughter Virginia, who was called away in the fullness and freshness of her glorious young life on October 27th, 1897, aged 18 years 11 months.
Her nobility of character endeared her to everyone. Her presence filled our home with sunshine. Her absence leaves it in impenetrable gloom. Our weeping hearts yield her the tribute of eternal grief.
But there is more to the story. Her father is commemorated on the uptown side of the monument.
In cherished memory of my dearly beloved husband Henry L. Lazarus, who passed away on Nov. 2, 1917, aged 64 years.
A native of Syracuse, N.Y., but a resident of this city from boyhood, he was an eminent lawyer, an upright, God-fearing man, a devoted husband, father and son, a staunch and loyal friend.
If everyone to whom he lent a helping hand should bring a blossom to his grave he would sleep beneath a wilderness of flowers.
That loving inscription was obviously written by his wife, Virginia’s mother. She is commemorated on the downtown side of the monument.
beloved wife of Henry L. Lazarus
July 13, 1853 — May 28, 1931
It would seem that when she passed away, there was no one left to memorialize her. No fancy inscription — just her dates of birth and death.
I was already moved to tears. Then I saw the lake side of the monument, and I learned that they also suffered the loss of three infant children, one in 1876, one in 1877, and one in 1885 who lived for nine days. Virginia must have been born in 1878. After that I was devastated and amazed. So much love, so much pain. I never knew a stone marker could convey such sadness.
There’s a row of small stones placed on the front of the monument that suggest I’m not the only one who has come and read these inscriptions.
I think I may have hugged my daughter a little tighter than usual after that.
Later, I did a little internet research. It seems there is a Virginia Lazarus memorial scholarship at LSU. Could it be the same person? I don’t think so — turns out it’s actually the Adrian Virginia Lazarus scholarship. That name led me to a recent obituary:
Beverly Albert Lazarus March 3, 1926 – August 28, 2010 • Beverly died on Saturday, August 28, 2010 at Chateau de Notre Dame. She was born in New York to the late Abraham and Lilly Albert. She attended Brooklyn College and worked in the retail business as a buyer for A&S Department Stores. Beverly was married to the late Eldon Spencer Lazarus, Jr. for 54 years living in New Orleans. She easily acclimated herself to the New Orleans lifestyle and loved to show her southern hospitality. In New Orleans Beverly was the buyer for Gus Mayer’s Children Department and Godchaux’s Department Store. She was preceded in death by her beloved daughter Adrian Virginia Lazarus, and her brother Henry David Albert.
Note that last sentence. That makes two daughters who passed away before their mothers here in New Orleans — both named Virginia Lazarus. What are the chances?
If any relatives read this, please know that you have my deepest sympathies.
Update: My old high school friend Georgie, who does genealogy for fun, tells me that indeed, the latter Virginia is related to the former. Virginia (1878-1897) had a brother Eldon Spencer Lazarus Sr who had a daughter in 1908, who was also named Virginia Lazarus. He also had a son, Eldon Jr, and Eldon Jr had a daughter named Adrian Virginia Lazarus. Apparently all three daughters died before their mothers. That is heartbreaking.
Also I have to note that I am currently in the middle of reading “Story of Your Life” by Ted Chiang which seems to be about a mother who outlives her daughter. Coincidence? I certainly hope so…
1025 Bienville St Suite 5
New Orleans LA 70112
Dear Mr. Marcello,
My wife and I recently purchased a house nearby, and we have been very happy to see the renovation activity at 4337-4339 Banks Street. In fact, I supported the zoning change you recently sought for that property, though some of my neighbors did not. I believe a commercial designation is appropriate at that location.
The only reason I’m writing is to provide a friendly reminder that there are regulations regarding lead paint removal. I noted today that sanding efforts are underway. It is my hope hope that you will follow the legal guidelines. In fact we hope you will take whatever steps are necessary to ensure lead paint does not further contaminate the neighborhood.
I am enclosing a photo of my daughter so that you will understand my concern. Lead is especially harmful to children, and our daughter was diagnosed with poisoning last year. That is one reason we sold our old house and bought this new one.
Obviously we wish to protect her from further exposure to lead and are willing to do whatever it takes to ensure her future health and safety. If you wish to discuss this matter further please contact me at your convenience.
Now that school’s back in session and my daughter’s back in daycare, I’m back to riding on the Jeff Davis bike path each morning on my way to work. That takes me past Comiskey Park and a sad tableau of signage for a community center that never materialized. I thought to myself a couple times over the past couple weeks that I should stop and take a photo. It would be one of those shots that tells much of the story all by itself.
Then, yesterday morning, I opened the paper to discover Eliot Kamenitz beat me to it. Imagine — scooped by a professional photographer.
So on the way home yesterday I snapped my own version. Better late than never.
I remember in late 2006 that a company named DNA Creative Media approached Mid-City Neighborhood Organization with a somewhat unusual proposition. They wanted to make a “reality show” about building something in New Orleans. One idea being floated was a community center at Comiskey Park in Mid-City, but they were also looking at other sites. MCNO rallied a bunch of neighbors to turn out and greet the producers when they visited Comiskey on November 29th of that year. I stopped by on my way home from work to support the cause. Many neighbors had made signs with slogans like “DNA + Mid-City = A Perfect Match.” In short, as a community we pulled out all stops to land this deal.
Apparently the producers were impressed by the warm reception. In some other neighborhoods they’d visited, people were more skeptical.
Perhaps we should have been more skeptical too. The whole thing struck me as bizarre. But remember, we were still in full-on recovery mode. Our future was far from clear. We were still living in a surreal landscape of destruction. We were desperate.
For a while things looked like they were proceeding according to plan. It was announced that Louis Gossett Jr. would host the show. Neighbors developed a wishlist for features they wanted to see. Soon, plans for a beautiful community center were unveiled. Here’s a description from the neighborhood discussion group:
The center will be a 2-story building which will include an indoor NBA-sized basketball court; a 4-station kitchen with commercial grade appliances (to be used for cooking classes and demos); and a general purpose room for meetings, theater, dance & exercise. A state-of-the-art computer lab with Internet access will encourage research by students of all ages as well as allowing families and friends still divided by the Katrina evacuation to keep in touch by email. The contract between DNA and the City was signed on February 6th. Demolition of derelict buildings on the site and construction of the new center is planned for later this year.
You can even listen to Damon Harman of DNA describe the project.
Some preliminary work began. In May of 2007 I took this photo.
Some time after the piles were driven, work stopped. In October we read in the paper that the project was bogged down in governmental red tape. In March 2008 we learned that DNA was filing for bankruptcy. They were also facing a lawsuit from Paul Davis National, the contractor (based in Wisconsin) they’d hired. Paul Davis claimed DNA still owed them money for work completed.
And that’s brings us back to yesterday’s article by Masako Hirsch and Gordon Russell. It seems the City of New Orleans will have to pay the $700,000 owed to Paul Davis National.
Doesn’t seem quite right, does it? What I have to wonder — was the whole thing a scam from the beginning, or was it an “honest” bit of incompetent business, or did this run afoul of the global economic downturn, or did government bureaucracy slow things down so much it wrecked the project?
We got some heavy rain Sunday morning. It caused widespread street flooding throughout New Orleans. I know our street certainly flooded. I used the panorama feature of our new camera to take this picture.
Of course it is better viewed at a larger size. You may even want to examine the original full size photo, but you will have to scroll horizontally for that one unless you have an extremely large monitor.
I remember when the rain was pounding down, and I was looking out the window, and I said, “Rain like this always make me nervous because the streets might flood.”
Our house guest replied, “I like it when the streets flood. It’s fun.”
“Well, it’s not so fun if your car gets destroyed.”
“I can tell you how to avoid getting your car destroyed. Park it in your driveway.”
Which just goes to show that sometimes and eleven-year-old can be smarter than an adult, because I really should have moved our car to the driveway right then and there. Instead I waited, and when the water indeed began to rise, then I decided to move the car. The water came up quick, and the whole process was rather harrowing. Eventually I did get the car to higher ground. Given the vehicle has something like 13″ of ground clearance, I might not even have needed to move it, but why take chances? Several of our neighbors got water in their cars that morning.