June 23, 2010

New Orleans: Hurricane Season!

Hurricane Season is underway again. Just six months each year of your life in New Orleans. It hovers in the back of your mind, and you try not to miss the TV weather. Nowadays, the weather report also includes graphics updating the flow of BP oil in the Gulf and new tar ball landfalls. There are interviews with folks working at cleanup efforts or with others who’d normally be at work in various fishing or tourist industries. Folks are calling their friends: Hey, my cousin’s gonna be on TV!

Maybe on the drive to work you pass by the workers who’ve not yet quite completed reinforcing the levees that hold back the water of Lake Pontchartrain. And wonder, will they be ready if there’s a big storm? It’s been nearly five year since Katrina. How slow can they be? We’ll take a bit of a drive, with pix I took in June….


That’s the lakeside reinforced earthen levee above, and London Avenue Canal pumping station. New Orleans’ canals are designed to carry water pumped out of the city to the lake. During hurricane Katrina, rising water in the canals breached levee walls, undermined their supports and poured into the city. This big new pumping station – which is complete! - will close its gates, then keep the water level in the canals from overtopping the walls by pumping it through big black pipes into the lake. The lakeside levees do the heavy work of keeping rising lake water out. DSC05899









The lake bastion includes this wall that places the West End Harbor Master, boat slips, apartments, marine businesses, yacht clubs, and boat house apartments outside the protected area. This wall segment has been torn down and is being rebuilt.


A marina boat house and New Orleans Marina today.DSC05896







Remembering boats still aground in the marina one year after Katrina; brand new Orleans Yacht Club.New Orleans Marina






We lived in New Orleans for seven years, and each summer we’d sort of enjoy the tropical storms, happy that we’d all escaped something worse. Mandatory evacuations happened every year but one. Each was a precaution, no storm struck until Katrina. All the “get outa town!” routes have advocates, and everybody’s got a favorite routine, even those who simply don’t leave till the last minute - only to get stuck in traffic jams. Hey, it’s happened to us, leaving as the first rain fell! We’ve gone northeast (bad! that’s a common storm track, it chases you with downpour for days), and to the sunny east (where TV doesn’t show much New Orleans news). Our favorite was to head toward Hattiesburg and re-curve through Jackson to Monroe, LA. There, the weather’s clear and they’ll give you a meal at the campground. You can chat with others about the troubles, and locals knock on your door to offer pies or pastries.

There are always those who stay, too.

We happen to be in Monroe now – Monroe County, Michigan, that is! We’ll be thinking of y’all down there and wishing you a good summer!

June 15, 2010

New Orleans Renewal: Five Years After Katrina

Some figure that 75% of New Orleans residents have returned since Katrina devastated the city. No one really knows. Maybe the 2010 census will tell us. But how does the city look today? Well, it’s a mix. Old neighborhoods with large and small colorful historic homes began to look prettier and nearly normal last year, and look even better yet this year! Streets are being repaved all over town. The old low income neighborhoods are struggling - it’s hard to tell which homes are occupied, which not. Legendary housing projects (sturdy but ancient brick buildings torn down to strong community protest) have been replaced with a period look. Will they be as resilient? Newly landscaped parks are lush. Folks flock to as many colorful neighborhood and French Quarter events as ever. 

Above, I’m standing in the area where this levee broke. The repair ended about near the grey roof, though the levee stretches toward the city. Homes were covered to the rafters, where many cats retreated and survived.      

I took a walk through the part of Gentilly where we’re staying on Pratt, along the London Avenue Canal. Like many others, this neighborhood is  a mix.  New homes are scattered among vacant lots, abandoned houses or incomplete building projects.

Maybe the  owners of this boarded-up home may not have decided what to do. But they’re supposed to cut the lawn!




Bright orange numbers sprayed on the curb indicate that a home has been or will be demolished through a Road Home program. Demolition goes on, but slowly. Funds are pretty much depleted.





A family home comes down in hours.




An elementary school takes longer.DSC06040







The house for sale was renovated (not built new) and has been flipped twice. Across the street, a group has stopped to learn about residents’ experiences. They may be summer students or a church group. Church groups did a HUGE amount of work in the city. Tourists usually come along in vans. The bus tours have become infrequent since the neighborhood cleaned up!

This gutted home might be rebuilt. Only a slab remains near a cleared lot and an abandoned home. NO Slab Trees House 









But this community aims to come back! Two large, new private schools demonstrate the commitment.

Now, hurricane season is here again, turning attention to weather reports and evacuation route discussions. Lots of folks are eating or freezing all the seafood they can, to support the fishermen. We went to Mandina’s on Canal Street. The restaurant began as a Sicilian grocery in 1898, and was rebuilt after Katrina. It is a great place for people watching – here you can see true Old New Orleans gentry and many local characters! 

NO Mandina's Meal Blog


Counter-clockwise from bottom, ONE roast beef      po-boy split evenly between K.C. & I, Kathi’s shrimp remoulade salad with an order of grilled shrimp, and Chuck’s fried oysters with pasta.

That’s New Orleans: When in doubt or       uncertainty, party!

June 4, 2010

New Orleans Return

We drove into New Orleans a week ago with the usual nostalgia for friends, the city where we worked, and our favorite things to do here. There’s an almost welcome feel in the humid air. Vivid green grass surrounds the bayous and Audubon Park oaks. Bright morning yields to afternoon thunder, with sun reflecting on rising grey clouds on the horizon. Sometimes the whole sky darkens, with sudden lightning, gusty rain and thrashing trees! NO KCs House from Levee

It’s our third summer stay with K.C. & Kathi, at last in their new super-eco-friendly house next to the “repaired” London Ave. Canal. Since Katrina, every house in New Orleans, new and old, has a story. From FEMA trailer through design, sluggish government programs, red tape, construction,  nefarious contractors, multinational workers, delays and beer, at last it stands completed. We helped install furniture and more last summer. Whew! What  a lot of Ikea! The place looks super, construction trash gone, landscaping started. Tiny frogs in the garden climb to the upstairs porches. There’s a glimpse of our rig at the side.

It’s a cool house. Remind you of anything? Try this view of the front.  

Let’s move in closer. Try to ignore the cat boxes in front of the mural:







The yellow cross in the first picture is a clue. And the Plimsoll numbers on the blue wall above. OK, the yellow cross is a flag. Recognize it? (Answer at the end of the post.) The maritime theme suggests a steamship! The mast is Chuck’s work. He fixed it up and gave new life to a salvaged sailboat.

Kathi & K.C. are among many that wisely, I think, built raised homes, but they recently found out they don’t qualify for an elevation grant because they did not elevate their original house! Who would, after it was under water for weeks? It was yet another change in recovery programs rules, the sort of thing that’s plagued residents for five years. But they have a large yard! A program to reclaim the city enabled our friends to acquire the lot from a neighbor’s razed home to the right, and two lots to the left have been cleared, but not yet been developed.

NO Gotta Dance

There’s always something going on in New Orleans, and if there’s music, someone’s gonna dance! We’ve enjoyed a Christy and the Rascals performance in Slidell and Irish slow jams at Noel’s house. And good food!

DSC05905 DSC05904                DSC05907

A N’awlins favorite - Voodoo BBQ! They opened a first location in 2002 on Mardi Gras day along the St. Charles Ave. parade route, and have been expanding ever since. Meats are dry rubbed with local spices and slow smoked, as they say, to perfection. Sad to admit we picked up ours at WalMart in Harahan. With a side of gooey macaroni salad, and no regrets! Ooooeeee! That is fine stuff. Too bad I can’t smear some on the page and deliver it to y’all. But it’s gone!

This Times Grill catfish po-boy has SEVEN filets and sweet potato fries. 

I’ll mention that there are tensions here, too: Louisiana is the first state impacted by the BP oil spill, Katrina recovery is still in process, and hurricane season has begun. They expect a rough one.

P.S. It’s the Swedish flag.