Up on the Roof Wednesday, Mar 16 2016 

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Orientation at lowernine.org, March 2016

Our first work day broke beautifully and although the previous day’s activities should have taken their toll, most members of the New Orleans class, leaders, and alumni seemed eager to get started with lowernine.org. We met in the courtyard of lowernine.org for orientation and to be introduced to our crew chiefs and lowernine.org staff. Laura Paul, executive director of lowernine.org, described both the extent of damage done in the Lower Ninth and the significance of continued volunteer efforts to bring the neighborhood back.

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House on Flood Street, March 2016

The group roughly split in two, with half going to Flood Street and the rest at lowernine.org. The house on Flood Street looked familiar because we had a crew working on it a couple of years ago. It is pretty close to be handed back to the owners, save some scraping and painting of interior trim. At lowernine.org, the work was a little more pressing, as last week’s rains exposed some leaks in the roof. As a result, the students there divided between removing old roofing material and filling the new dumpster in the lot across the street.

Happily, the students appeared reasonably well equipped to handle the tedium, the dirt, and the sun. Nevertheless, everyone was glad to take a break for lunch. Most brought sandwiches hastily made in the morning, while a few others visited the taco truck parked at Claiborne Avenue and Tupelo Street (excellent choice, by the way). As has also become a tradition, we gathered on the Mississippi River levee at the end of Reynes Street next to

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Roofing at lowernine.org, March 2016

the shuttered Holy Cross school. The spot affords a grassy area (watch the fire ants!) from which to view downtown, the shipping coming up and down the river, and the rising surge of water flowing down from the flooding upstream. Leaving that spot might have been the hardest part of the day.

The work began to wind down after four and everyone eventually made it back across the Industrial Canal for much needed showers and spaghetti dinner prepared by the leaders. Afterwards, the four groups would be to their biggest challenge of the day: the fifth running of the French Quarter Scavenger Hunt.

The brainchild of former students and trip leaders, Kyle Murphy and Maddie Sadowski, the scavenger hunt has become a highly competitive way to orient students to wonders of the French Quarter and the City that tries to contain it. Kyle has run the contest annually, since moving to New Orleans in 2012. And he uses his local knowledge and good-hearted sadism to refine it each year.

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French Quarter Scavenger Hunt, 2016 edition

The object is for each group (this year the Baby Dolls, Baratarians, Meters, and Zulus) to take an identical list of forty plus clues, scramble about the Quarter documenting each found item with a cellphone photograph, and meet in front of St, Louis Cathedral in two hours. Kyles is the sole judge of the correctness of the visual evidence. The tie breaker is the best photo of  Bill Ross look-alike, for which I serve as judge. The winning group wins breakfast on me, to be delivered on the Saturday morning before they depart.

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Bill Ross look-alike, March 2016 [selfie by Morgan Baumgartner, left]

Although the archives are somewhat sketchy in the regard, Kyle and I believe that the previous record had been 33 or 34, but of course we lack evidence to support or refute such malleable facts.In addition, the tie breaker had never come into play. This night changed all that. When tallied, the first group scored 34, another 33, and the Meters and Baratarians came in with an astounding total of 38 points. When all was said and done, the Meters had the best Bill look-alike. So the 2016 trophy and breakfast goes them. And it would go down in the record books; that is, if we managed to keep any.

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Lunch on the levee, March 2016

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Driving to New Orleans Friday, Aug 9 2013 

In 48 hours, I am going to do something I’ve never done before: drive to New Orleans from New England.  Every spring for the past seven years, I blithely (not really, I worry about them a lot) have sent van loads of my students along the same path I will follow. Because I usually fly, I’m left to experience the trip vicariously through their discussions and journals.

louisiana-sign-realThis trip will be different. I’ll be travelling with my son, Stuart, who is relocating to Los Angeles. And we’ll be driving a loaded Toyota, not a 12 passenger van. And, we won’t be driving straight through.

My first trip to New Orleans, way back in 1977, was by car, but it too was different. First, my cousin and I were driving from Eastern North Carolina and not Northern New England. We did the auto equivalent of sauntering, travelling from Charleston, SC, to the Sea Islands, to the Okefenokee Swamp, to the Florida Panhandle; well, you get the picture.  It was also summer and we thought it would be a good idea to cut costs by tent camping. The humidity throughout the South, but especially in New Orleans, was stifling, as usual. But if you stepped out the tent to try to get some air, you’d be attacked by robin-sized mosquitoes. I remember taking a tepid shower at 3:00 am just to try to cool off. It didn’t work. And that was before two days exile in Baton Rouge, courtesy of a broken clutch cable.

JAX_breweryWith that as a basis, I was not impressed with New Orleans or Louisiana (I still have mixed feelings about the rest of the state). The waterfront had not been cleaned up. The Jax Brewery was a vacant shell. It was interesting, but dirty and smelly and I felt no compelling reason to go back. However, destinies are seldom built on first impressions; this will be my 13th trip to the Crescent City. It will be my son’s first, but I have assured him that he is not required to share my love for the City. I know.

The southern detour is because I’ll be attending a conference in New Orleans, which coincidentally, is the main reason I went back to the City for a second and third time. And it was on that third trip, just days before Katrina, when I fell madly in love with the place. I’ve also set aside a day to volunteer in the Lower Ninth with a small group of stalwart conference-goers.  As a result, Stuart will have plenty of chances to explore. Obviously, I have a myriad of suggestions, but I want him to have a chance to experience it on his own terms. There will be time in the evenings for us to enjoy food and music and the less touristy things the City has to offer.

So, before daybreak on Sunday morning, we will embark on Bill and Stuart’s Excellent Adventure. And I’ll try to keep you updated on our road trip to New Orleans and then, on to Southern California.

The End of the New Orleans Class…for this Year! Thursday, May 23 2013 

Graduation at University of New Hampshire was this past Saturday and I had a chance to say goodbye to a number of former students. It also marked the end of the spring semester and the close of the eighth installment of the New Orleans class. For the past couple of years I’ve been on the lookout to see if the class became old hat to me or if I would tire of annual trips where I spend a good deal of time herding college students. Neither has come to pass.

Congo Square in Armstrong Park, March 2013

Congo Square in Armstrong Park, March 2013

I can accept some credit for that, as I constantly tinker with readings, assignments and course topics. The students also help, as each class has its own personality and just enough challenges to keep me on my toes. And then, there’s New Orleans itself, which has shown great promise and progress, but still displays the dysfunction and trials that haunted it prior to  Katrina. Thus the City remains a mutable  tapestry of wonder, beauty, and unapologetic chaos.

The trip to New Orleans over Spring Break is the centerpiece of the course. The weeks prior are concentrated on providing a basis of knowledge for the trip: the geography; history; music and culture; literature; and its own special language, or more correctly, languages. I call it “New Orleans boot camp,” grueling, but rewarding when it’s over. It provides the factual pegs upon which students can hang their experiences once they get back to New England. The second half of the class provides the opportunity to meld the facts with these experiences. We use them analyze what we saw, what we experienced, and use them to interpret for ourselves both the wonders and harsh realities of New Orleans. What may have been romanticized before the trip is tempered by stark truths. However, most students still come to the end of semester with a love for the City.

Lower Ninth Ward, March 2013.

Lower Ninth Ward, March 2013.

As much as the trip is central to the course, it seemed even more so this year. Previous classes have worked in neighborhoods from the Upper Ninth to Carrollton, as well as in Slidell, LA and Waveland, MS. And we almost always stayed at locations distant from the work site. This year, we had the opportunity to work with lowernine.org. About a third of our group stayed there and the rest at nearby All Souls Episcopal Church. For the most part, our work was but a few blocks away in the Lower Ninth. Students generally find the work rewarding and eye-opening, but if their trip journals are a good indicator, which I think they are, this experience was a game changer. They undoubtedly embraced the sights and sounds of the French Quarter, but afterwards they returned to the blight, the potholes, and the poverty. When they returned to family and friends who asked: “What were you doing there? Isn’t it fixed yet?” they had answers buoyed by fact and steeped in experience. That is why we will be returning to the Lower Ninth next spring.

And no, a week is not enough, but that is all we have. I return home every year regretful of the many things that they didn’t see: a parade on St. Charles; Audubon Park; Super Sunday; St. Joseph’s Day; the jazz mass at St. Augustine’s; or a steaming hot Domilise’s oyster po-boy. I always vow to do better, but time and calendar always conspire to thwart me. Then, there’s the challenge of getting thirty students from two different locations, to one spot, on time. In addition, most of the students are underage, which in the new “improved” New Orleans, means they are unable to take in Kermit Ruffins at the Blue Nile or Rebirth at the Maple Leaf. And to paraphrase the old World War I expression: “How do you get them to Magazine Street once they’ve seen Bourbon?”

Second line on Broad St., March 2013

Second line on Broad St., March 2013

But I have learned that every year I get everyone back to New Hampshire safe and sound, it is indeed a good year. And this one certainly had some highlights for the class:

  • Second-lining on a Sunday afternoon;
  • An evening with Paul Sanchez, Arsene DeLay, and Vance Vaucresson in Gentilly;
  • Meeting with Ronald Lewis (and his granddaughters) at his House of Dance and Feathers on Tupelo Street;
  • the French Quarter Treasure Hunt;
  • Zydeco Night at the Rock and Bowl; and
  • Saturday morning at the French Market and on Royal Street.

I stayed a few days later, so I had an opportunity at add to my list of highlights. These included: Super Sunday; meeting JoAnne Guidos at her Kajun’s Pub; attending jazz mass; getting to the know the Holy Cross neighborhood in the Lower Ninth; the Dirty Dozen at Tipitina’s; St. Joseph’s Night; the Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Parade; attending the New Orleans Ladies Arm Wrestling competition at One-eyed Jack’s; going to a St. Joseph’s altar at a bar; and, of course, the aforementioned Domilise’s po-boy.

This is long-winded way of saying: “It doesn’t get old.” In fact, I’ll be back to New Orleans for a conference in August, but even when I’m there, I’ll still be looking forward to next year’s class and trip over Spring Break.

End of the Week Monday, Mar 18 2013 

Friday morning meeting, lowernine.org, March 2013

Friday morning meeting, lowernine.org, March 2013

It is always with a certain sadness that the students approach the final workday of the week. They are tired. They have eaten (a lot of) food they are not used to. They are sleep deprived. And when you are in the Lower Ninth, one is constantly reminded of  the overwhelming need for continued assistance in rebuilding.

I joined the group at our last morning meeting at lowernine.org. Emily  handed out the assignments, which changed a bit. They needed six volunteers to help urban gardener and activist David Young with drywall and orchard irrigation. Yes, you read that correctly. He is setting up his home to house volunteers and those whose lives are in transition. And he needed to tie into a water source to irrigate a citrus grove, one of several groves and garden plots that he has scattered throughout the Lower Ninth. I asked for two volunteers from each van and helped ferry them across Claiborne Avenue to the hardest hit part of the neighborhood. The rest returned to their previous assignments.

Locating the water source for an irrigation system, Lower Ninth Ward, March 2013.

Locating the water source for an irrigation system, Lower Ninth Ward, March 2013.

I have also noticed that things seem to slow down on Fridays, and understandably so. For the most part, students are engaging in far more physical activity than normal. And there is that distraction of one’s last night in New Orleans before a 1600 mile drive back to campus. As it turned out, two of the groups were told to quit work after lunch. They went to see where the main levee break occurred and  Brad Pitt’s “Make it Right” homes. After our last lunch on the levee, my group continued to  cut and lay tiles until three; we then started packing up supplies and equipment to take back to lowernine.org for the weekend. We took a few pictures and said goodbye to Gerald and his father, who owned the home we had been working on, and to Eileen and Liam, with whom we had

With Clarence and Gerald Bridgewater, Gordon Street, March 2013.

With Clarence and Gerald Bridgewater, Gordon Street, March 2013.

worked all week. The three guys working on the irrigation soldiered on until nearly five, coming back muddied and exhausted from breaking through a sidewalk to connect to a water source.

Before heading into the City, the groups was treated to a feast courtesy of the fried chicken chain “Raising Cane’s.” The owner is good friends with the father of one of our students. As a result, we had chicken fingers, assorted sauces, cole slaw, Texas toast, and beverages delivered to All Souls. Everyone seemed quite satisfied and, more importantly, we didn’t have to cook!

I made it in in time for the Molly’s on the Market St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which I almost always go to, even though it always comes

The “Irish Zulus,” Decatur Street, March 2013.

off lame, but with just enough goofiness to be entertaining. My favorite new (to me) unit was the Irish Zulus, who wore orange wigs, grass skirts, green or orange tights, and were in white face. I also got a shot of lowernine.org volunteer coordinator Emily who was fronting of the Muff-a-Lotta’s, another local “marching” unit.

I met the Hot Seven team at Cafe du Monde where I treated them to beignets and beverages as the reward for winning the Great French Quarter Scavenger Hunt. It was actually quite self-serving of me, as I hadn’t taken the time to eat there myself for four or five years. It was delicious, as usual.

We parted ways, as I like to give them a certain amount of space, especially on their last night. I headed over to a normally quiet bar in the Marigny, but with the St. Patrick’s Day weekend, it was rockin’. I sat at the bar and enjoyed (some of) the karaoke. Then I noticed a guy at the bar about three stools down. He

"Van Two," near the French Market, March 2013.

“Van Two,” near the French Market, March 2013.

opened a leather bag that was tied to his belt and took out a three foot long boa, the snake, not the thing made with turkey feathers. He let it wrap around his hand and crawl up and his arm for a few minutes and then, with some difficulty, got it back into the bag. I’m sure my eyes expressed my surprise, but the other folks at the bar just kind of shrugged and went on drinking.

After midnight, the entire gang met back at All Souls, slept quickly, and woke up to pack; me for a weekend in the Marigny, they for the trip home. I just needed to pile my stuff in the trunk of the rental car, while they had to get ten people and assorted bags into each van. After a while, it began to take on the appearance of making sausage, so I left to explore a little bit around the Holy Cross neighborhood and then drove in to meet up with them at the St. Louis #1 Cemetery in Treme. I arrived early and walked around to

St. Louis #1 Cemetery, Basin and Iberville, March 2013.

St. Louis #1 Cemetery, Basin and Iberville, March 2013.

locate tombs I wanted to share with them. So, one by one, I gave tours to the three groups and sent them into the Quarter for a glorious Saturday morning and later, to catch part of the Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Parade. And because I was meeting up with a friend for the latter, we said our goodbyes and headed in different directions.

Postscript: as of this writing, all of students are safely back in New Hampshire and presumably attending class again. I’m sure there are many stories about things that happened on the return trip that I don’t know about…and probably don’t want to.

The Scavenger Hunt Thursday, Mar 14 2013 

HQ, lowernine.org, Lower Ninth, March 2013.

HQ, lowernine.org, Lower Ninth, March 2013.

Day Three. Still breezy and cool, but with beautiful blue skies. Great weather for either working or kicking around the French Quarter and we did both. I was late for morning meeting when I tried to get into my car while talking on the cell phone — I hit the panic button on the key to the rental car and, well, I panicked. After what seemed like an hour with the drive through crowd at McDonald’s staring at me, I figured out how to get the alarm to reset.

I stopped by lowernine.org for a brief visit with Emily, who was at work for the first time this week. She is old friend from our Operation Helping Hands days and is the main reason we are here, working with lowernine.org. Afterwards, I headed over to Gordon Street where we were waiting for the proper tools to lay a tile floor. Van 3, over on Deleray was also in a holding pattern. However, Van 2 over on Royal was going  great guns, installing insulation and sheet rock.

IMG_0290Casey found out that the window in the van had been replaced (they forgot to call on Tuesday), so he, another student and I drove across to Metairie. On the way, I took them by Musician’s Village in the Upper Ninth, where I had worked in 2007. It looked great, quite functional, lived in, and like it had been there for longer than a few years.

We returned to find the work situation much the same. We positioned tile and tools to be ready, but the much -needed equipment did not materialize until late morning. Eileen and I decided for the group to take an early lunch break, because it would be crazy to mix up a batch or mortar and then leave it.

Some of us picked up poboys on the way, from a business establishment that would seem weird anywhere else. But in New Orleans, you just stand and say, well yeah, one stop IMG_0330shopping for poboys and retreads make sense. We carried our lunches over to the levee overlooking the river and the Industrial Canal. Across the river was the port/industrial area of Algiers and upstream you could make out the spire on St. Louis Cathedral.

It appeared a minor midweek slump had set in, which is normal. The group was a little less animated and tired of waiting, but after lunch and a snooze on the levee they were ready to learn how to lay floor tiles. We mixed up some mortar and after instructions and a demonstrations we rotated in and out of setting a layer of mortar and carefully placing and spacing the ceramic tiles. We only had tools to work in one room, but everyone tool a turn. Hopefully, we can get enough tools on Thursday to work in three rooms at once.

IMG_0352After work, the girls called dibs on the showers so four of the guys went over to part of the Lower Ninth where the break in the Industrial Canal did the most damage. I rode across from Tupelo Street and was amazed at the desolation and abandoned homes so far away from the canal. It was a constant reminder of those who have not returned and how much work is left to be done. When I got to my traditional starting point, the intersection of Tennessee and Galvez, I was stunned to see the footing for a home to be built on that very corner. Where a disembodied stoop had for years lay as a monument to government nonchalance and inactivity; where I have begun every tour of the neighborhood since March 2006. Next year there will be a family living in the shade of those live oaks.

After cleaning up, I left the students to their taco night and went into the City to meet up former students Kyle and Kendra, both to catch up with them some more and to enlist them into serving as judges for the evening’s contest. For a couple of weeks, Kyle has been working on a French Quarter Scavenger Hunt to challenge the students’ knowledge of New Orleans and to get IMG_0360them to see the City in a new or, at least different, light. We met the six groups of four at 8 pm in front of the Cathedral. We gave each a sheet with 35 things to search for, photograph, and bring back in two hours.  For example: take a picture of the Crescent City Bridge, take a picture with a bachelor/bachelorette party, take a picture of a street name that can be found in a jazz song, and take a picture of a Bill Ross lookalike. I would judge the last one as a tie-breaker. Kyle and Kendra, as residents of New Orleans, would judge the rest. The winning group would receive a trip to Cafe du Monde for beignets and coffee.

While the class tore through the French Quarter, startling tourist and residents alike, the judges and I rested a window seat at Molly’s on the Market. Again, it was a wonderful chance for us to talk and catch up. It also gave the leaders a chance to take some time off from their charges. We got back together in front of the Cathedral a little after 10. Kendra and Kyle judged the evidence and each group scored 20 or better, but the Hot Seven brought home the championship with 26 points. And none of the look-alike photos looked anything like me. Each of the groups is to create a slide show of their quest for class next Thursday. I can’t wait.

Not surprisingly, on the heels of such an evening, the whole bunch was ready to head back to the Lower Ninth for a good night’s sleep.

Rainy Monday Morning Monday, Mar 11 2013 

All Souls Episcopal Church, Lower Ninth Ward, March 2013.

All Souls Episcopal Church, Lower Ninth Ward, March 2013.

We’ve been in New Orleans about 36 hours and the weather has caught up with us. There are showers around this morning and there’s a good chance of thunderstorms in the area. It looks like our first day working at lowernine.org will be affected in some way or the other.

I’m sitting in a McDonald’s in Chalmette. The sun is not quite up. The service is friendly, but the term “fast food” is relative here. Fox is on TV; country is on the radio. One is reminded of being in Southern Louisiana when a patron crosses himself before eating his sausage biscuit.

Where to start: it has been an interesting and challenging weekend. Van number 2 got here first and settled into their accommodations at lowernine.org. I picked up my friend Kyle on the way in from the airport and got into the Lower Ninth about 6:00 pm in the evening. We went through the walk through at the All Souls Episcopal Church and Community Center just as Van number 1 arrived. The third van came in a couple of hours later.

IMG_0167The accommodations should be a challenge. Cots and air mattresses in the common areas. The problem is, we have to stow all bedding and belongings during the day because it is a community center. And more challenging: 33 volunteers (including 12 from the University of South Carolina) and two showers with spotty hot water, to say it nicely. We worked out a schedule for showers and kitchen use with the USC folks and the work week will tell how well it works.

I appropriated the privacy of the small library, which seems right. Group 1 stayed back a while to orient the incoming group, while Kyle and I headed into the City. The first agenda item was something to eat; the food court at the airport was but a distant memory. He wanted a poboy I wanted the briny taste of a muffaletta. Kyle told me he had read of a “new age” poboy place on Conti off of Bourbon. That sounded kind of like “military intelligence” of “jumbo shrimp,” so I had to bite, so to speak.

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Queen of the second line, March 2013.

It was in the back of the Erin Rose bar; the dining room as about 10 X 10 feet and the menu was intriguing to say the least. I had a “Hot Muff”, a cross between a Cuban sandwich and a muffaletta and Kyle had something that involved sucking pig, I think, but it looked as delicious as mine tasted. While we were waiting with a group Asian twenty-somethings with Texas accents, when in walked this apparition; what I can only describe as a tricked-out, professional second line dancer named Jennifer Jones. As weird as that was, I had just seen her on a repeat of Anthony Bourdain’s “Layover” a couple of nights before. Kyle ate as I tried to talk to her and eat my sandwich at the same time. I took her picture and ventured forth to find the St. Joseph”s Parade — and lost. By the time we were ready to stop and watch it, it seemed to have melted away into the quarter and the after parade dinner/dance.

Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Tipitina's, Uptown, March 2013.

Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Tipitina’s, Uptown, March 2013.

While most of my students explored the French Quarter for the first time (with the few blocks on Bourbon to find eats I had pretty much reached my quota for the trip), Kyle and I headed uptown to catch the Dirty Dozen Brass Band at Tipitina’s. And it did not disappoint. While the personnel had shifted slightly from the last time, the heart and soul remained the same. They started at 11 pm; right on time for a 10 pm show and played through to 1 am. Because of the time, I crashed on Kyle’s sofa in Broadmoor.

By the time got to the Lower Ninth, the students were slowly emerging from their sleeping bags. We went to the local Walmart to buy groceries and provisions. And things continued to move slowly. We finally headed out late morning, with two of the groups exploring Armstrong Park and Congo Square on the edge of Treme. Afterwards, we all met at the Parkway Bakery on bayou St. John. Yes, poboys again. This time we went old school. I studied the menu over and over to find something new to order. The choices were myriad, but when you’ve tasted near perfection it’s hard to waiver; I went with the shrimp, fully dressed and a Barq’s. The wait was long, but it was worth it.

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With New Orleans class veterans, Kyle Murphy (2009 & 2011) and Kendra Hanlon (2010 & 2012), second line, March 2013.

Afterwards, most of us caught the beginning of the Keep ‘n It Real second line. It was overcast, but warm. The music was hot and the growing crowd was fully engaged. The students, Kyle and I were joined by another former student, Kendra. We all went well beyond the turn onto Broad Street. The students eventually peeled off while the three veterans soldiered on to the first stop before turning back.

We took in some music on Frenchmen Street: the ceremonial first Sunday afternoon at the Spotted Cat. We sat in Washington Square Park for a while, taking in the playing children, passersby, and chatty homeless. We met the entire group at the Praline Connection where students were introduced to the Afro-Creole menu and warm service. Among the etouffee, the ribs, the fried chicken, the red beans, and jambalaya were many smiles and full bellies.

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Dinner, Praline Connection, March 2013

I dropped Kyle off and headed up to Gentilly where we had been invited to a concert by Paul Sanchez at the Gentilly Baptist Church. Sanchez, along with singer Arsene DeLay and a couple of others gave us an hour and a half of mostly his songs, including a number of tunes from his musical “Nine Lives.” The students were rocking with the message of love and renewal and I got here some of favorites like “Fine in the Lower Nine,” Rebuild, Renew” and “Foot of Canal Street.”

The students, of course, headed back downtown. I followed them only so long to take a short walk on Frenchmen. I was tired form the second line and the clapping and the people watching. But I was not hungry. I had wisely taken the key so I headed back to All Souls, took a shower that might have been a degree or two warmer than body temperature and took it easy until they returned. I have to pace myself.

Besides, today we start to work.

Warning: my posts during spring break are usually the product of short blocks of down time, combined with reduced access to the internet. Because of time limitations (and poor eyesight) I most assuredly do not catch all typos and misspellings the first time around.  I apologize and please bear with me. I do hope to get around to correcting them during a more leisurely period.

New Orleans Geography 101 Wednesday, Mar 6 2013 

UNH, Thompson Hall in the snow

UNH, Thompson Hall in the snow

In New Hampshire right now we are experiencing wet, sloppy snow and rain. It and the wind will continue for 48 hours. By the time it ends, you, students in the New Orleans class should be in the Mid Atlantic heading south towards the Crescent City.

With GPS and Google (we won’t mention the geographic fiction of maps  that Apple produced and withdrew), I feel as though has been a spatial disconnect from one’s orientation and the century’s old art of producing two-dimensional geographic representations, i.e. maps. It does remind me that long before my longstanding boycott of Exxon-Mobil (since they escaped culpability for the Exxon Valdez oil spill), I was a huge fan of Exxon road maps. I collected them; I archived them; I studied them.

This mania is clearly passe in a number of ways; however, I think it is important for you to be able to picture where you are, both in terms of the trip southward and when you are in New Orleans. I have advised your leaders to take you west, away from the population centers on the east coast. This will put you going through much of Pennsylvania and seemingly endless chunk of Virginia before you enter Tennessee. Although, this will keep you from east coast traffic jams and a myriad of tolls. The proposed route is as follows, using Google maps. Envision this route in the context of mountains, road signs, and chain restaurants along the way. Before you know it; you’ll be in New Orleans.

New Orleans neighborhoods

New Orleans neighborhoods

Once you get to New Orleans, you need to have a good sense of where you are in the City. And New Orleans Online has a wonderful collection of New Orlean maps. Just as Ignatius Riley traipsed around New Orleans in A Confederacy of Dunces, they should help you be aware of what it means to be in the Lower Ninth, the Marigny/Bywater, the Garden District, or the French Quarter. When in New Orleans, it is as easy as remembering that St. Bernard lies east of New Orleans (in the Lower Ninth we’ll very close), Lake Pontchartrain is to the north, the Mississippi lies to the south, and Jefferson Parish guards the western border. It is tidy, compact and portions of it are under sea level.

St. Louis Cathedral, March 2010.

St. Louis Cathedral, March 2010.

The French Quarter is much smaller still. It WAS the city for the first hundred years, and it continues to span from Canal Street to the West, Rampart Street to the North,  Esplanade Avenue to the East, and the Mississippi forms the southern border. Across those borders lay the Central Business District (west), Treme (north), the Marigny (east), and Algiers/Jefferson Parish (across the river).

I’ll leave it for you to discover such places as Uptown, Mid City, and Gentilly. We will be heading to each of those, but it up to you to be able to fix them on a map. Like Ignatius, you’ll find that each nook and cranny of New Orleans holds it owns charms and surprises, both good and bad.

Humor Among the Ruins: March 2006 Friday, Feb 17 2012 

Artist George Rodrigue's Blue Dog Store, Royal Street, French Quarter, March 2006. The first Carnival after Katrina. In honor of Mardi Gras.

Storm damaged home near the Orleans Marina on Lake Pontchartrain, March 2006. Note the daylight coming through the damage to the first floor.

St. Patrick’s Day in New Orleans Friday, Mar 18 2011 

It hit me that this is my sixth St. Patrick’s Day in a row in New Orleans. I guess it’s getting to be a habit. Happily, blue tarps are no longer the color of choice. Green is back!

Hickory Street, March 2011.

I did figure out a neat trick the Mississippi River Bridge toll takers have. Three days in a row, I have had to give them a large in bill. On the Mass Pike, the toll taker making six figures might get mad. In New Orleans, they smile, say thank you, and then hand you 19 one dollar bills.

I knew it was going to be a good day when I got in the car and WWOZ was playing a lovely version of Hoagy Carmichael’s “New Orleans.” And then in honor of St. Joseph’s Day (March 19th), they moved to Mardi Gras Indian tunes. When I got to the work site I parked along the curb, rolled down the windows and cranked it up.

By the time I got to Hickory Street, both groups were fully engaged in house painting. As promised, Molly saved the detail work on the front porch for me. A win-win: the job I like best, close to the tunes. The morning flew by as the students were much more engaged than the day before. And that is when the “po-boy effect” kicked in.

Post lunch nap, March 2011.

Some of the students packed lunches, as did I. As much as I love them, a daily diet of po-boys is a bit too much. As it is, I’m thankful my doctor doesn’t read this blog (if you stumble upon it Dr. J, I sometimes make things up). But for many of the rest, it was predictable: lunch > po-boys > sandwich induced stupor.

In talking to the residents, I did learn some important information. On St. Joseph’s night, the Carrollton Hunters, one of the Uptown Mardi Gras Indian tribes, begin there evening right here on this end of Hickory Street. And the homeowners have welcomed me back to watch. Last year it was St. Bernard Avenue, but this year I’ll be Uptown for the spectacle.

We made it through the afternoon with most of the first coat done on both houses. We packed up the gear for Molly and Duncan and headed back to St. Raymond’s to wash brushes and eat out final dinner there. It was Volunteer Appreciate Night and Duncan opened the event with a beautiful statement on the importance and meaning of volunteerism. Who, knew? Under that tough, New Jersey exterior is an old softee. And then one of the homeowners who told her story about losing literally everything. It got a little preachy for some of the students, but it had a big impact nevertheless.

We filtered back to Madonna Manor to shower and get back into town the downtown St. Patrick’s Day parade. It’s smaller and more erratic than the ones over the weekend, but tries to close the gap with liquid refreshment consumption. And if appearances were any indication, the French Quarter crowd was in “high spirits.”

Chelsea and Kelley on the firetruck, St. Patrick's Day, March 2011.

The Zulus got stuck in traffic on Elysian Fields, where the police close the street to let the parade through on Royal Street. Everybody but Tom got out. Somehow some of the girls got talked onto a firetruck from Baton Rouge and spent much of the parade helping firemen throw beads to inebriated parade goers. Not one of those things that happens in the average town on the average day. The other groups enjoyed walking around or listening to music.

The silliness lingered long after the parade had passed, but the evening was beautiful. Most bars along Frenchmen Street were packed, but the best place was on the sidewalk, in the warm air, listening to the distinctive sounds coming from each doorway.

Saturday Morning Sunday, Mar 14 2010 

The groups were ready earlier than I expected. They followed me into the city, where we found places to park the oversized vans on the street near Faubourg Marigny and the Quarter. I walked them down Frenchmen Street to Deactur and then to Jackson Square. There, I gave them their orientation: where they were; where not go; what there is to see on a Saturday morning.

And it was a spectacular morning. The locals and tourists alike glad to see a nice spring day, although it is still a bit cool by New Orleans standards. As they explored the French Market, the street performance on Royal Street, etc. I grabbed lunch at Mena’s Palace. Hopelessly predictable: red beans and rice and fried chicken. I sat at the bar and was shocked when I did not get at least one “baby” from the waitress; then I realized she was from Ireland. Had a nice chat with my meal.

Mid afternoon, I met up with students at the intersection of Louisiana and St. Charles uptown for the Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Parade. Even though it is more family-oriented than many things in New Orleans, I don’t think the students were quite prepared for the moderated excess. There was one hapless breast flasher, hundreds or drunken Irishmen seeking kisses, and tons of beads, throws, cabbages – yes, cabbages. And about the time the parade was over, we learned that the last van had arrived safely in Marrero.

After some burgers, the newly-reunited class went into the City for Saturday night. As they explored the Quarter, I took in a couple of sets of clarinetist Ben Schenck and the Panorama Jazz Band at the Spotted Cat. A wonderful blend of klezmer, New Orleans jazz, and Caribbean rhythm. The place was backed, so I skipped out on the new incarnation of the New Orleans Jazz Vipers and took a walk around the Quarter. Lasted maybe two blocks on Bourbon Street and then returned to my car via Decatur. On the way, I ran into jazz pianist Steve Pistorious, who had just been at UNH with Michael White two weeks ago.  From the sound of it, they are very eager to return to New Hampshire.

I took advantage of the empty quarters in Marerro to shower, get settled into bed, and wait for the groups to return. And I waited, and waited…and waited. Happily, everyone got in safely and I able to close my other eye and get a few hours of sleep.

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