June 2007 Archives
So I'm watching the local news, which is all about high-cost cleanups and demolishing blighted buildings and how the city is cracking down on new definitions of debris (now that almost two years' worth of trash has been picked up, you can actually see that there are still a lot of stranded boats on the streets, so I guess those are next in line to go...), and a Pizza Hut commercial comes on, which reminds me: There's a formerly flooded and now burned out eyesore of a Pizza Hut on Claiborne Ave. that has been part of the grim Central City scenery for so long now that I can't even remember it ever being open, but my friend told me it was indeed once a thriving business, and I just wonder, who the hell is letting it sit and rot like this? Sure, it's possible (though not likely) that it was a locally owned franchise, in which case who knows where the local owners went to after the storm (and you can hardly blame them for abandoning that particular ship). But regardless of ownership, don't the powers that be at Pizza Hut Corporate Headquarters have some interest in cleaning that place up or at least knocking it (the rest of the way) down? I mean, isn't having that familiar brick building with the red roof all boarded up like that bad for the brand? (This line of questioning, of course, extends to all the slowly rusting Golden Arches and grocery stores as well...).
I'm not naive enough to think that these companies can be shamed into cleaning up their messes or anything, but you'd think it'd be in the best interest of the company's image to deal with it. Maybe they just don't know about it. Maybe the city needs to tell them. I think I'm going to if they don't.
Here's a good point (made my someone other than myself): after all this (disingenuous) talk about the inherently transient nature of mobile taquerias, here we have a bricks and mortar building being left to rot by one of the most venerable, recognized chains in the country. Is that the kind of "commitment" Congemi is looking for, I wonder?
So I think Louis Congemi, the Jefferson Parish City Councilman who proposed the ban on taco trucks, clearly has some trust issues.
These are his words, according to the Times-Picayune story:
"We have a number of Hispanic restaurants that are located here in our parish that have made a commitment," Congemi said. He suggested the mobile vendors might leave for another disaster zone that attracts Latino workers. "They're on wheels for a purpose. They're not here for permanency."
I don't say this about many people, but I believe Congemi may be in need of Dr. Phil's services. He does not seem to understand that every worthwhile relationship requires making a leap of faith at some point. I think that when you're dealing with a taco truck, after 20 months, it's probably time to make that leap of faith, Congemi. This is no fast food drive thru we're talking about here -- these guys are *keepers*, the kind of truck you'd want to introduce your parents to. Maybe others have left you in the past. And maybe these taquerias bear some resemblance to some other fly-by-nighter who's wronged you in the past. But you have to heal. You have to move on. And you have to have faith that not every truck is eventually going to leave you for some better disaster.
Few things wrought by Katrina have been more appreciated than the many taco stands that sprouted up across the city, and yet Jefferson Parish officials have decided to shut down many of these within the next ten days.
"Parish Councilman Louis Congemi proposed the crackdown, saying that the vendors clutter parish streets, that they pose safety and health risks and that they are mobile, fleeting operations that don't show any commitment to doing permanent business in Jefferson Parish."
Wait, what? If buying a $45,000 truck and driving it out into the wastelands to feed construction workers fantastic, affordable food for the past 20 months isn't a commitment, I don't know what is. For some of these guys, the taco truck has been the first step toward opening a permanent business -- it's naive to think this new law will expedite that process for more of them, but I'm hoping it will.
A lot of people I know around here are pretty jumpy about hurricane season this year, in large part because of the free pass we got last year which no one dares assume we'll get two years in a row. I don't think that people are necessarily bracing themselves for another Big One, but most people I know are making more detailed evacuation plans than they ever have in the past.
At my workplace, this means lots of Hurricane Preparation meetings, which go something like this:
VP of Strategic Something-or-Other: So, the emergency phone line is set up, correct?
Staffer: Yep, yes sir, that's been set up alright.
VP: Excellent. Great. Thank you. So the outgoing message leaves instructions for our staff in the event of en emergency?
S: Right, yes. That's the idea, anyway. But there's a small issue, see ... Patty set up that voicemail last summer, and, well, when she found out her insurance wasn't going to cover the damage to her house from Katrina, she left New Orleans somewhat abruptly, and, well, no one thought to ask her about the password to the voicemail, and anyway now we can't seem to find out what it is...
VP: So what does the message say now?
S: That we're in a state of emergency and have activated our disaster plan. Oh, and that we're closed for business...
My favorite Hurricane Preparedness tip, from the staff newsletter:
"If you must evacuate: Pack enough clothes for five days. Don't forget underwear."
Last week I had a delightful lunch with several friends at Willie Mae's Scotch House in the Treme -- three of us "made" our June birthdays around the same time, as they say in the local parlance, and so we decided to make a group celebration of it. And there was much there worth celebrating -- the stacks of buttered bread that came whether or not you'd ordered anything, the unsweetened iced tea (sweet tea being a southern and not a New Orleans thing), and the smothered pork, smothered veal and smothered chicken to name a few things. But probably the most welcome sight was the "Open" sign on front of the once-flooded-but-now-rebuilt corner restaurant. (I wrote about the rebuilding here.)
Across Orleans Ave., there were less welcoming signs on every door of the still-boarded up Lafitte housing projects. Granted, the blue notices that were duct-taped to the doors were probably intended for the activists who last year fought to have the units reopened, and not necessarily for the residents who once lived there, but still, they bore a decidedly hostile tone:
NOTICE: You are hereby notified that you must leave HANO (Housing Authority of New Orleans) property immediately and not return to the site without prior authorization from HANO. As to any persons what have or do enter the site without prior authorization from HANO, HANO will pursue all legal remedies it has, including but not limited to 1) summoning law enforcement officials to have such persons removed and/or arrested as a trespasser 2) seeking a restraining order/injunction against such persons...3)seeking an award of money for any damages against them...and 4)if such persons claim to have any right of occupancy, taking actioan to terminate any housing assistance they are receiving, and/or lease you may have with, from, or through HANO."
This has a remarkably different tone than that which was reported from HANO in a recent Times Picayune story about how the housing authority is now trying to track down some of its former residents and move them into different properties :
"HANO is especially interested in tracking down residents who before Katrina called the Iberville, B.W. Cooper and Guste complexes home. Those complexes are open and welcoming back residents who were forced from the city after the city flooded.
The Guste complex in Central City has 82 new homes that feature central air conditioning, carpeting and, in many cases, balconies.
HANO has asked "any and all" families who lived in its complexes before Katrina to call (800) 955-2232 and provide a current telephone number or address. Those calling after business hours may leave a recorded message.
HANO had 5,100 families living in traditional complexes before Katrina. More than 1,400 families have returned, and HANO said it has nearly 400 vacant apartments ready for occupancy. Former residents get first crack at them."
First crack -- but only if you never tried to move back into your old apartment, that is ...
Yesterday I get an e-mail from a friend now living in Athens, GA: "From the ATH to the NO" said the subject line, and it was a plug for Christopher's Liver, an Athens act I'd never heard of before playing at a club I'd never heard of before somewhere in Mid-City.
Now, outside of festival season, Mid-City is still not a thriving center of commercial activity, although the residents over that way seem to have been making a pretty remarkable recovery of late. But I'd never heard of this "The _____ Underground" club before, and I was as curious about that as I was about the bands scheduled to play there. (That said, how can you not be curious about a headlining band that calls itself "Why Are We Building Such a Big Ship?").
Anyway, thanks to the false confidence inspired by Google Maps, we headed over that way, forgetting that New Orleans' peculiar logic is impervious to Google Maps, so we drove around on the wrong side of Esplanade for a while looking for the right place. In a testament to how little it takes to constitute a "happening" in post-K New Orleans, we immediately assumed the small group of four or five young people standing on a street corner smoking cigarettes was the band on break and pulled over in front of them, but we couldn't see any clear signs of a club nearby. "Are you a bar?" we asked them, which cracked them up until they realized we were serious. "Oh, wait -- I know what you're talking about," one of them said. "You gotta drive the wrong way down this one way street over here and then take a quick left then another left and it's a big house on your left..."
Turns out that's exactly where it was, and while we missed the shows -- they have to end them pretty early because, as the proprietor, a local writer named Gabrielle Reisman, pointed out, the "underground" part of The ______ Underground is for real (and if you're an employee of the City of New Orleans, nothing you've read in this aforementioned post is true) -- it was so fantastic to see a bunch of punk-rock-ish looking young kids hanging around such a perfectly unlikely garage-turned-venue as the bands packed up their tubas and accordians and laptops-turned-instruments.
It made me feel like all this time that I've been whining and wondering, New Orleans has already been coming back in lots of little corners that I haven't even conceived of yet.
Last week we tried to go see "Away From Her" at Canal Place cinemas, which is the only thing that passes for an art house in New Orleans - kind of odd, considering it resides across from the food court in the only mall in Orleans Parish. But whoever's in charge there does a fine job of bringing in the best of mainstream as well as offbeat features, even if they still haven't figured out how to make decent popcorn.
We got the movie starting time wrong and had some time to kill, so we decided to walk around the edge of the French Quarter for a little while, remarking on the distinctly different caliber of summertime tourists who thankfully appear content to remain within its parameters. Anyway, we yahoo-watched for too long and were then too late to get seats together for the movie, so instead we sat in the parking garage looking over the Mississippi as an enormous barge made it's way around Algiers Point--not on a dime, exactly, but its nautical equivalent, for certain. It was like looking down at a toy train set where some kid plunked a piece from wrong set altogether right into the middle of it.
The barge was bigger than all of the wharfs together, at least a couple of city blocks long, and the longer we watched it, the more we marveled at how a) a giant hunk of metal can float b) a giant hunk of metal has to make its way around probably dozens more points like this one before it makes its way back to the Gulf and c) this is how we've been moving goods around for centuries, and as excruciatingly slow as it seemed, apparently there's still no better or faster way.
We watched the ship head toward the far bank and then cut off the engines, allowing the back end (the stern?) to float faster than the front to get it heading in the right direction. Even from a parking garage a half-mile away, the river's crazy currents are visible, and you could tell that the driver/captain was working with them to get the ship properly lined up. A little tugboat snuck past the ship while it was still turning, which seemed both brave and stupid, as the ship was probably ten times the size of the tugboat, cargo included. The whole thing took about 10 minutes.
Talk about hairpin plot twist -- better than anything the movies had to offer for sure.
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Terry Teachout on the arts in New York City
Andrew Taylor on the business of arts & culture
rock culture approximately
Rebuilding Gulf Culture after Katrina
Richard Kessler on arts education
Douglas McLennan's blog
Art from the American Outback
For immediate release: the arts are marketable
No genre is the new genre
John Rockwell on the arts
Jan Herman - arts, media & culture with 'tude
Apollinaire Scherr talks about dance
Tobi Tobias on dance et al...
Howard Mandel's freelance Urban Improvisation
Focus on New Orleans. Jazz and Other Sounds
Doug Ramsey on Jazz and other matters...
Jeff Weinstein's Cultural Mixology
Martha Bayles on Film...
Greg Sandow performs a book-in-progress
Exploring Orchestras w/ Henry Fogel
Harvey Sachs on music, and various digressions
Kyle Gann on music after the fact
Greg Sandow on the future of Classical Music
Norman Lebrecht on Shifting Sound Worlds
Jerome Weeks on Books
Scott McLemee on books, ideas & trash-culture ephemera
Wendy Rosenfield: covering drama, onstage and off
Chloe Veltman on how culture will save the world
Elizabeth Zimmer on time-based art forms
Public Art, Public Space
John Perreault's art diary
Lee Rosenbaum's Cultural Commentary
Tyler Green's modern & contemporary art blog