The Final Hours Saturday, Mar 19 2016 

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Students working with David Young, March 2016.

I’m finally taking a breather. Sitting in Community Coffee drinking my third cafe au lait today. I wonder if this has something to do with my trouble sleeping? I am taking a pause before some serious Mardi Gras Indian activity tonight,  as it St. Joseph’s Day; even though the date is more closely tied to the Sicilians, it is the Indians’ prime night for masking. That will be followed by some music and tomorrow, even a larger gathering of Indians. For now, I’ll enjoy the relative quiet of the coffee house.

About an hour and a half ago, I saw the 19 students and five student leaders cram their luggage, sleeping bags, beads, and themselves into four minivans for the 1600 mile trip back to New Hampshire. They’ll be leaving the warm weather of the past week for possible snow in Virginia and back home in New England. Many were wistful about leaving, but you could almost hear the gears switch from beignets to books and homework.

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Work at Flood Street, March 2016.

Thursday was St. Patrick’s Day, but celebration would have to wait; work assignments remained the same. The Zulus got more involved in construction on expanding David Young’s aquaculture system. On Friday, he took them on a tour of his organization’s gardens, orchards and ponds that are scattered throughout the Lower Ninth Ward. The crew working at the lowernine.org house finished much of the shingling of the damaged portion of the roof. Only the weather on Friday kept them from finishing the task. The Baratarians primarily continued prep work over on the home on Flood, but by the end of the week more of them had the opportunity to do some painting. The same held for the crew on Delery Street

Thursday night brought the Downtown St. Patrick’s Day Parade. We gathered at the intersection of Royal and Esplanade to watch this relatively modest, yet spirited parade. Afterwards, most of the students followed the parade into the French Quarter, while most of the leaders stayed in the Marigny. The air was heavy, yet thunder showers failed to chase revelers of fof Bourbon Street. Folks got to bed a bit later than most nights, but then, they had a partial day of work left and it was predominately a wash out.

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Backstreet Cultural Museum, March 2016

As the students crossed the Industrial Canal on Friday afternoon, they left the Lower Ninth, the taco truck, the sandwiches from the Arabi Market, and fine folks at lowernine.org. However, before they kicked around New orleans one last night, I took them to the Backstreet Cultural Museum, a Treme landmark just a couple of blocks from the community center. The museum holds dozens of beautifully crafted Indian suits and second line memorabilia. In addition, our guide had masked as an Indian for several decades and was a wealth of information about both the suits and the tradition.

While many students headed over the the Warehouse District, I met up with former student and leader Theresa Conn and her UNH roommate. We went to Adolfo’s, a highly regarded Creole-Italian restaurant on Frenchmen Street. We began with mussels in a garlic sauce. The entrees were magnificent, literally topped off with the chef’s “ocean sauce,” a peppery creation with a mound of crab meat, plentiful shrimp and crawfish tails.

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Kermit Ruffins, March 2016

After dinner we parted ways and I crossed the street to see trumpet player/vocalist Kermit Ruffins at the Blue Nile.He played a healthy collection of his best-known songs, but as the clock rolled past ten, I knew I had to go back and get some rest. More storms had rolled through so that I had to dodge showers while walking back to the community center.

Because the students had done most of the cleaning of the community center on Friday afternoon, there was little to do Saturday save packing the vans. Everyone went into the Quarter for one final time, mostly to finish shopping for souvenirs and visit the French Market. The Meters got a late start, because as

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The Meters, March 2016

winners of the scavenger hunt, they received a breakfast on me. I picked the Flora Gallery and Coffee Shop on the recommendation of Kyle Murphy. It is a funky place on  the edge of the Bywater at the intersection of Royal and Franklin. The service was a bit slow for a group our size, but I believe the students appreciated both the relaxed time and the resident cats, before getting back in the van for the trip.

I met all four groups back at the community center at noon to see them off. They left on time without a hitch. And now I can begin worrying about their well-being on the return trip. It will be great to see them in class on Thursday, but for the time-being, I’m going to enjoy a couple of days of down time.

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Flora Gallery and Coffee Shop, March 2016.

 

 

 

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Hump Day Thursday, Mar 17 2016 

After ten years of doing this, some rather strong patterns emerge. That is not suggest to the group any one year is like that of any other. However, once mid-week arrives a sort of funk surfaces. The adrenaline of the trip and an action-packed Sunday has worn off. The realization work in the service others is not glamorous nor worthy of decoration. And perhaps, the most important, this long strange journey is halfway over. Then it’s back to Durham, NH and the resolution of this current semester.

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Hannah painting on Flood Street, March 2016

Tuesday is the the precursor to this realization. Trip participants are free from the first day jitters, the uncertainty, and the awareness that you are taking directions from someone you never met until 10 minutes earlier. By Tuesday, students feel more comfortable and sometimes, perhaps too comfortable. You can become too sure of yourself, discover workarounds, or that nice shady spot to retire to when it gets hot.

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Scraping and sanding on Delery Street, March 2016

In addition, Tuesday brought some minor changes to assignments as one group moved to a nearly finished house on Delery Street to prep and paint trim and porch railings. The rest of class continued scraping and painting on Flood Street and roofing on the lowernine.org house.

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Brian, Emmy, Bryan, Tess, and Emily. Veterans of the 2014 NOLA trip, March 2016

The class ordered poboys, muffalottas, and other fare from the Arabi Grocery for a picnic at the Chalmette Battlefield, the site of the Battle of New Orleans (January 8, 1815). The food and weather were both glorious. After work that afternoon, the students visited the hardest hit part of the Lower Ninth, where blocks of homes were swept away by the massive breach in the levee on the Industrial Canal. In spite of the collection of colorful and innovative homes build by Brad Pitt’s foundation, among others, an increased reality of what took place in this area was sobering; and it helped the students connect viscerally with why they are here.

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Mowing around the beehives at Capstone, March 2016

Wednesday brought some more changes to work assignments, as part of the roofing crew moved to work with David Young, founder of Capstone, which grows fruit and vegetables, raises animals, and produces honey on vacant lots in the Lower Ninth. Its products help connect residents of this “food desert,” where there is not a supermarket within miles, with fresh healthy food. They worked making minor repairs, mowing vacant lots, and fashioning a filtration for aquaculture. The other groups worked on their ongoing projects.

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Dr. Emilie Leumas with Lina, St. Louis Cathedral, March 2016

While their day was beginning, I took one of my student to meet with Dr. Emilie Leumas, Director of the Office of Archives and Records for the Archdiocese. She gave us a tour of the historic Ursuline Convent and the St Louis Cathedral; the information she provided us, as well as a videotaped interview, should provide my student with plenty of information for her video project on the history and cultural significance of the cathedral. And it provided me with a chance to see and experience things I had never seen in all of my visits to the Crescent City.

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No caption needed, March 2016

After work and and a good washing, the UNH crew reconvened at Laura Paul, the Director of lowernine.org, for the volunteer cookout. In addition to enabling students to meet homeowners and be swarmed by neighborhood children from this historic Holy Cross district of the Lower Ninth, it provided them culinary treats, as well. Chuck, a long-time volunteer, cooked up a cooler full of the largest crawfish I have ever see. He rounded out the boil with potatoes, corn, brussels sprouts, mushrooms, and an artichoke. And if that were not enough, the person on the grill was Stan Hays, a “Chopped Grill Masters” finalist and co-founder of Operation BBQ Relief, which has provided over 35,000 meals in norther. Louisiana in the past week. Even after chowing down on the crawfish boil, the assembly laid waste to burgers, hotdogs, and some amazing barbecued chicken. A passing thunderstorm passed to our north as we enjoyed a warm, humid convivial evening just blocks from the Mississippi.

It was a good day.

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Lowernine.org cookout, March 2016

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

Spring Break 2016 Tuesday, Mar 8 2016 

In a few days we will be heading to New Orleans to volunteer with lowernine.org during spring break. And I don’t underestimate the sacrifice that you are making when compared with what some of your fellow Wildcats will be doing at the same time. The work itself will be memorable. You will be tested. You will learn new things. You might for an instant wonder why you are there. But I can guarantee that you will come away with an appreciation of a great city, the challenges that it faces and, more than anything, a love for the people who live there.

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Orientation with Laura Paul, lowernine.org, Lower Ninth, March 2013.

In addition, your leaders and I are planning activities to fill the time when you are not working. And we think you’ll like the results of our brainstorming. Here are some examples of what is store for you, that is, after that 1600 mile drive from New Hampshire:

Saturday, March 12th – arrive in NOLA early afternoon; go directly to Irish Channel St. Patrick Parade; check in @ Community Center afterwards; dinner with your group;

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Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Parade, March 2013.

 Sunday, March 13th – Jazz mass @ St. Augustine’s, 10-11:30am (optional); Keep ‘N  It Real Second Line (schedule TBA); dinner at Lil’ Dizzy’s, 5:30pm; Hot 8 Brass Band@ Howlin Wolf, 10pm (entrance covered);

Monday, March 14th – Arrive @ lowenine.org, 8am; lunch on the Mississippi River levee in Holy Cross; French Quarter Scavenger Hunt, 8-10pm;

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French Quarter Scavenger Hunt (finale), March 2013.

Tuesday, March 15th – Visit to Chalmette Battlefield @ lunch, weather permitting; and visit to Bayou Sauvage, after work:

Wednesday, March 16th – House of Dance and Feathers, lunch or after work; cookout at Laura Paul’s house, 6pm;

Thursday, March 17th – Downtown St. Patrick’s Parade, Royal Street, starts at 6pm; Rock and Bowl, Zydeco Night, 9 pm (entrance covered);

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Glen David Andrews with UNH students at the Rock and Bowl, 2008

Friday, March 18th – Backstreet Cultural Museum, after work (entrance covered) and St.Charles Streetcar to Carrollton and dinner at the Camellia Grill;

Saturday, March 19th – Cleanup at the Community Center; Bill’s breakfast with scavenger hunt winners (my choice); Saturday morning in the French Quarter in its glory; Congo Square Rhythms Festival, Armstrong Park, 11am (free).

Sniff, sniff. Head back to New Hampshire.

 

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    Members of the 2015 New Orleans class with Errol and Esther Joseph, March 2015.

Gardening in a Food Desert Sunday, Jan 25 2015 

David Young, Lizardi Street, June 2014.

David Young, Lizardi Street, June 2014.

Like many places in the Deep South, New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward is a food desert. In the years after Hurricane Katrina, there are no grocery stores selling low cost, fresh vegetables or unprocessed food. Residents who do not own a car must take a cab or a bus ride with transfers to buy food from the Walmart in Chalmette, Louisiana. But there is growing momentum to do something about this injustice. And a retired police chief from small-town Indiana is one of those tackling the problem.

David Young came to the Lower Ninth about six years ago to help build houses. He returned to Indiana, but it didn’t stick. Young returned to the Lower Ninth and has lived in New Orleans ever since. He built his first garden on the lot next to his home. It was a foreclosure that he purchased through the bank. Young soon realized that many of his neighbors had little access to fresh vegetables, so he expanded his operation. Today, he grows food and has planted orchards on 26 lots throughout the Lower Ninth. His nonprofit, Capstone, helps supply vegetables and fruit to those in need. That is, with the help of fellow nonprofits, volunteer labor, and some honey bees.

Harvest at the garden on Lamanche Street, June 2014.

Harvest at the garden on Lamanche Street, June 2014.

Many of the lots belong to lowernine.org, a local nonprofit which is dedicated the rebuilding and the long-term recovery of the Lower Ninth; it has turned the land over to Young until it is needed for building homes. The largest sublet is 12 contiguous lots on Lamanche Street — the “farm,” which houses most of the vegetable gardens. Young’s aim is food production, not model gardens, but the result is a huge improvement over the jungle-like growth that overwhelms many abandoned lots in the Lower Ninth. And from these lots Young has harvested and given away hundreds of pounds of food on an annual basis.

Obviously, Young has a hand in maintaining the garden plots, orchards, goats, and chickens that are part and parcel of Capstone’s activities. At the same time, his work is dependent of the labor of long-term volunteers, as well as short term volunteers from church groups, college campuses, or those who are just passing through New Orleans. In 2013, four guys from the UNH New Orleans class worked with Young to connect irrigation for a new orchard on North Roman Street. They worked all day breaking though a concrete walk, but the work and inspiration they drew from David Young energized them. As dirty and tired and blistered as they got, they were dying to go back to finish the job.

Bee wrangling on Andry Street, June 2014.

Bee wrangling on Andry Street, June 2014.

Oh, and the bees. Although I’m sure that Young had little notion that he would become an urban farmer, I bet he had even less an idea that he would become a bee wrangler. When he first started his gardens, Young noted a dearth of honey bees, so he installed a hive. Young’s bee-keeping skills were increasingly called upon as residents discovered hives of bees in abandoned houses or attics. When summoned, he suits up, looks to secure the queen, and generally moves the entire hive from where they are not wanted. As a result, Young now has over 20 hives going throughout the sites managed by Capstone.

And as Young looks to provide fresh food for the community, the bees are a powerful ally. The raw honey is highly sought after and its sale contributes mightily to finance Capstone’s community gardening. In fact, there is a waiting list whenever Young retrieves the bees’ sticky product. I’m on the second pint of Capstone honey and have put myself on the waiting list for the spring harvest. And believe me, it is well worth it.

For information about David Young, Capstone, and raw honey from the Lower Ninth Ward, check out Capstone’s website.

Rainy Days and Tuesdays Wednesday, Mar 12 2014 

For the first time in years, we had a full bore, no doubt about it rainy day. Needless to say, our group did not go back to siding Steve’s house in Backatown. Instead, we went to John’s house on Deleray Street, literally across from Jackson Barracks. The other groups were already working indoors, therefore work would not be affected — or so we thought.

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John’s house

John has been renovating this house for about a year. He has done a loving and meticulous job at bringing out its beauty and promise. However, working alone, he literally hit the wall when it came to, we’ll, the walls. Between installing awkward sheets of board, taping, mudding, sanding, etc. it is extremely time consuming and not a one person job. And that is where lowernine.org comes in.

We were able to bring a group in of largely inexperienced students to do work that takes a while but is easy to learn. While the guys installed Sheetrock, the rest of the group worked throughout the house doing multiple layers of prep work. It didn’t take long to see substantial progress made. Both John and Bob, our crew chief, seemed pleased. The other grounds continued to work at tiling and installing Sheetrock in other parts of the Lower Ninth.

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Chalmette National Battlefield

And while we worked in poured. Clearly, this would not be a levee lunch day, so I proposed we meet at the Chalmette National Battlefield. Even in the rain, we could go through exhibits and drive around the site of the Battle of New Orleans. Inauspiciously my car was parked on the side of the street in what had become a five inch deep puddle. As a result, I had to remove my shoes in order to get into the car. The battlefield, which is marshy on the best of days, was not much better. We ate lunch; some walked around in the rain and mud; but evyone got a lay of the land, at least.

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Ronald Lewis with students

Everyone returned to their respective tasks and had productive and rewarding afternoons. About four we broke for the day to make our annual pilgrimage to Ronald Lewis’ House of Dance and Feathers. And just as in our visit to Kajun’s pub, it was useful that we had just finished reading Nine Lives. So, they got to meet Ronald AND gain a better understanding of the lace where they are working and staying.

Everyone went back and cleaned up. We ate our first dinner at Camp Hope which was not bad. After dinner everyone descended on a small Baskin Robbins in Chalmette where they overwhelmed the poor young woman running the place alone. They were patient, and from what I understand, tipped generously. Some went back to Camp Hope to chill while the rest of went into the City.

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Aura Nealand and the Royal Roses

I walked about for a while before settling in for a couple of sets at the Spotted Cat. It has become so crowded I don’t get there as often as I used to, but one of my favorite New Orleans musicians, Aurora Nealand, was performing. It was crowded, but not wall-to-wall people. Her band was tight and she was her bright and exuberant self on the clarinet and soprano sax. A wonderful close to a day that some might call a washout, but to us, it was anything but.

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.

You Ought to Be in Pictures Friday, Mar 15 2013 

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Mateen, cutting tile on Tupelo Street, March 2013.

As the work week waned, the student volunteers are just hitting their stride. Van 2’s sheetrock work on Royal Street is amazing. Even though it seems that every time I pull up to the house they are taking a break. They guys have been working with Tim to measure, cut and hang the board, while the girls have been mudding nail pops and seams between boards. It can be painstaking work, but they will likely be leaving before the next crew is left to mud and sand several times over.

Front room, Royal Street, March 2013.

The Van 3 crew on Delery seems to be settling into work on a mess of a house. A lot of it has involved removing and dumpterizing rotted and termite-eaten boards and studs, cleaning an overgrown lot, and listening to crew chief Darren yelling at them. A Ninth Ward-native, Darren works like a demon, and it took a couple of days for the students to realize that he wasn’t usually angry with them, he just had one notch on his volume control — eleven. They’ll come away with some great memories of week of work in the Lower Nine.

My group continued to cut and set the cement-like underflooring and laying tiles, although the lack of buckets and trowels or having a dedicated tile cutter slowed us down considerably. I took care of the former with a trip to Home Depot; for the latter, we worked out a deal with the South Carolina Gamecocks working with James on Tupelo, taking turns on lowernine.org’s only tile cutter. A couple of the guys take the measurements and walk over with the tiles to make the cuts. It is not the most efficient, but it’s what we got and it works. We had another breezy lunch on the levee and returned to laying floors.

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Post lunch rest on the levee, March 2013.

Mid afternoon I received a call from my UNH colleague Burt Feintuch, who is here working on a book of interviews with New Orleans musicians. He brought with him Gary Samson, former UNH photographer, who is providing photography for the book. The day they arrived, we attended Kermit Ruffin’s Tuesday night show at Bullet’s Sports Bar. They were between photo shoots for the book and Gary wanted to take some photos of UNH students hard at work during spring break. And who could deny a photographer between photo shoots with “Deacon John” Moore and John Boutte? We were able to get a few shots of students on two work sites before quitting time. Even though I try to document events with my compact Canon, I can’t wait to see Gary’s work.

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The uneasy intersection of college students and spicy crustaceans, March 2013.

After cleaning up, we went for a cookout at Laura’s house, deep in the Holy Cross neighborhood of the Lower Ninth. It included lowernine.org staff and long-term volunteers, students from UNH and USC, and some of the home owners that lowernine.org is working with. Laura had a huge pot of gumbo, rice, and salad. One of the homeowners brought two enormous poboys. Van 3 brought several pies for “Pi Day,” March 14th — it’s great travelling with nerds. I added 15 pounds of fresh boiled crawfish. She had a beautiful and over-sized backyard with a view towards the levee. We ate, talked, laughed, played volleyball, and stood around a fire pit that James had fashioned out of a dryer drum. And most importantly  we got meet and talk to the folks that lowernine.org had helped get back into their homes.

After dark, about half of us went to Rock ‘n Bowl, off of Carrollton on the other side of New Orleans. It is one on the few music venues that is not 21+, which is good when you are travelling with a majority of first and sophomore students. And most important, it is the only place that I know of where you can listen to a Grammy nominated act while bowling. As usual, it reflected well on this idiosyncratic city, where college students meet with tried and true two steppers. Where zydeco and gutter balls commingle. The students’ bowling games appeared slightly better than their two stepping, but nevertheless, they had a great time. And so did I.

Guys vs. the girls Rock 'n Bowl, March 2013.

Guys vs. the girls Rock ‘n Bowl, March 2013.

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.

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