We woke up to a much clearer, albeit chilly morning. We huddled, shivering again in the yard of lowernine.org, but this time with sun on our faces. All three groups were sent to their previous locations. Van 2 to work on Royal Street to work on insulation and sheet rock. Van 3 to reinforce floors, rebuild walls, etc. for a sad shotgun house on Deleray Street. I returned with Van 1 to work on the floors of a home on Gordon Street.
We encountered some bottlenecks in work because we had to lay special board to serve as a foundation for a tile floor throughout the home. The board is like woven concrete, which means we do not to lay cement for the base. But is heavy and needs to be cut to fit in many places. Through the lack to tools, extension cords, goggles, masks, etc., there were some delays, but spirits remained intact. The long-term volunteers working with us provided a certain international air. Liam, the workhorse, from South Korea; James, the heartthrob, from England; and we’ll add the wise and acerbically funny Eileen, from the nation of Nevada.
To the eye, Van 2 probably made the most headway, as it is easy to follow the progression of installing insulation and walls. And Van 3 clearly had the grimiest work situation as they were working with old rotten and termite chewed wood.
Our group, Sam and Casey’s Van 1 also suffered from the fact that we had to take Van 1 to the shop to get the windshield installed before the trip home. A previous replacement was clearly not properly sealed. And given the realities of post-Katrina New Orleans, the nearest Ford dealership on this side of New Orleans is in Slidell. Casey made the trek across the City to Metairie and I followed to pick him up. And because this is New Orleans, a simple windshield replacement will take a day; well, as it turns out — more.
While I was out getting much needed Ibuprofin, James packed all of the vanless students into the back of a pickup and took them down to where the Industrial Canal flows into the Mississippi for a picnic lunch. The hazard did not escape me; however, the fact that I missed it was quite annoying. They had a memorable lunch, snoozing on the levee, although many returned with distinct pink patches of skin.
At 4:00pm our group walked one block to Ronald Lewis’ House of Dance and Feathers. The rest caught up with us and we spent the next hour being educated and entertained by the unofficial mayor of the Lower Ninth Ward. From a childhood on Deslonde Street to his current home on Tupelo Street, Lewis roots in the Lower Ninth grow deep. From laying streetcar track, to union organizer, to community leader, Ronald’s passion and determination flow throughout Dan Baum’s Nine Lives. Meeting him will make reading the book all the more meaningful.
The House of Dance and Feathers is Ronald’s collection of Mardi Gras Indian and second line paraphernalia from groups in the local nine. Again, it reflects Ronald’s gritty pride in his neighborhood and the distinct African-American culture that it holds. Ronald took half of the class into his museum (although it had climbed into the mid 60s, he had the heat on), while his granddaughters entertained the rest in the backyard. Then we switched. Afterwards we took pictures and said our goodbys until next year.
As I left the yard, I encountered a French-born anthropologist from Brazil. She is studying the relationship between the Indians and similar neighborhood groups in Brazil. I gave her a ride into the City so that she could catch the streetcar to Mid City. I showed her the location of the Backstreet Cultural Museum in Treme, where Sylvester Francis maintains a larger collection reflecting the traditions of his neighborhood. I dropped her off in the Quarter and suspect that we’ll cross paths again on Super Sunday or St. Joseph’s Night.
In the evening, the students feasted on spaghetti and salad and returned to the French Quarter. I joined up with friends Burt Feintuch and Gary Sampson, who are working on an illustrated book of interviews with New Orleans musicians. Appropriately enough, we met at Bullet’s Sport Bar on A.P Tureaud Street in the Seventh Ward, for Kermit Ruffins’ longstanding Tuesday night gig. From Kermit’s showmanship to some fabulous guest vocalists, to the grill of barbecued meats outside (yes, I did), it did not disappoint. In addition to neighborhood folk and tourists, the audience contained Derek Shezbie, trumpet player for Rebirth, and actor Wendell Pierce, the hapless Antoine Baptiste on HBO’s Treme. Gary, who has never been to New Orleans, was clearly living a photographer’s dream. Hopefully, I will get to talk to him at some point during his visit. As it approached 10:00 pm, we left the Tuesday night revelry and headed our different ways.