|Fedex delivered a king cake in a box|
from Gambino's Bakery in New Orleans.
|The Roman god Janus as depicted on an ancient coin.|
- I want to walk more. That means 10,000 steps a day.
- Read more books this year.
- Write every day.
- To remember my resolutions throughout the year (but wait - I don’t recall last year’s resolutions!)
I’m traveling with two teacher friends of mine - Michelle and Lauren. They both convinced me it would be a good idea to celebrate Winter break and my birthday in New Orleans. So here we are at the Palace Café on Canal Street.
|New Orleans has been governed by the Spanish,|
the French, and the Americans in its long history.
Here's my unofficial list of things to do in New Orleans for first-time visitors:
|An example of a census record as it looked like in 1930.|
I was going through old papers, and I found this family project I had done based on the 1930 United States Census, that my friend Bonnie Bess Wood encouraged me to complete.
At the time, my great-aunt Ida Killman Spiehler had spent some time with me during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, and because of our close proximity, I learned a lot about my maternal family tree. I wanted to learn more about my family, so I started to put together details. Thankfully, my Aunt Sandra, (who was also Ida's niece and my mother's older sister), had already done a lot of work. So we teamed up and created a fuller picture of what life may have been like in New Orleans, Louisiana from the turn of the century, to the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, leading up the 1930 census.
Here is the letter I wrote to my Aunt, a kind of gift I had given her after I had done some genealogical research.
Dear Aunt Nen*,
A Story Gleaned from the United States 1930 Census
I wrote the following ‘story’ based on information from the United States 1930 Census**. It’s neat what you can find out from genealogical research!
When a Census Taker Comes A-Knocking
On April 17, 1930, in the Gentilly neighborhood of New Orleans, Louisiana, Mr. Frederick Schell knocked on the door at 5141 Arts Street (Between Elysian Fields and Franklin Avenues, and a few blocks South of Dreux Avenue) to get information for the United States Census (being conducted that year).
This is what I found out by looking at the Census record (Combined with stories you had told me):
Mrs. Albertine Killman answered the door, and she told Mr. Schell that she was 41 years old and that Mr. Francis Killman, Sr. was the head of the household, her husband. They had married on July 9, 1913, when Albertine was only about 24 years old, and Francis was almost 30. Francis, Sr. was 46 years old at the time of the Census, and he worked a salaried job as an engineer at the local ice plant*** to provide for his family who lived with him on Arts Street. Mr. Killman had been in the Navy as a youth as a fireman first class from 1908 to 1912. His first assignment was on board the U.S.S. Colorado.
|U.S.S. Colorado (circa 1908)|
The Killman family paid $18 a month for their rent ($509.07 in 2018 money) and did not own a radio of their own. They had four children who, in 1930, were all in school. It costs 7 cents ($1.07 in 2018 money) to take the streetcar to school.
The Four Killman Kids (My Grandmother and You, Aunt Nen)
Everyone in the family was born in the United States, but Albertine’s parents, Margaret Frank, and Friedrich Burkhardt, were born in Frankfurt, Germany. They emigrated from Germany circa 1860.
Francis, Jr. was the oldest at 16 years of age, Frederick (Or, Freddie, as he was called) was 13, Ida was 11 and Dorothy was 7. All the children were in school at the time this census was taken, and the entire family spoke English.
Two months after this Census was taken by Mr. Schell, a tragedy struck the family. At approximately 14 years of age, Freddie drowned in the Seabrook area of Lake Pontchartrain near the neighborhood of Little Woods.
I was home for the Summer. We went to the Café du Monde in City Park 🌃. A kid eats a beignet with glee. One rule when eating a New Orleans-style powdered fried cake - always eat it with glee.
For many years as a kid, I would go with my family
to the "truck parade" on Mardi Gras day on Veterans
Highway in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana.
For me, New Orleans Mardi Gras wasn't really celebrated in New Orleans. We went to Jefferson Parish, secured a spot on Veterans Highway in Metairie, a few miles west of the Orleans Parish line.
On this strip of highway, folks set up ladders on the neutral ground (the grassy median). We got there early, lugged ice chests filled with sandwiches, cola, and liquor (for the adults).
In the Metairie version of Mardi Gras, the first parade is run by the Krewe of Argus (compared to the Krewe of Rex which runs on Saint Charles in New Orleans). Argus is an interesting choice for a Mardi Gras pleasure krewe. Argus is the mythological creature with a thousand eyes - so he can sleep but keeps several eyes open. The signature Argus float is spectacular in my memory - a bust of the many-eyed giant flanked by papier-maché peacocks.
Maybe I caught the undies and bra at Argus? I don't remember.
I went home for Mardi Gras. I recorded a boy dancing in the street before the parades started.
#boy #igersneworleans #mardigras #slowmotionvideo🎥#protectthedeck #louisiana #photography #louisianalife#nolaevents #sashayaway #travel #neworleans #nola #music#premiumnonskid #charleston #fishthedifference via stonesoferasmus.com
|There is foliage in the background.|
|There is no public transportation across one of the longest causeways in the world|
The Airport is an IslandLast Spring I came home to visit New Orleans to attend a friend's wedding. At the airport, I had to rely on my friend to pick me up. There is no viable public transportation link from the airport to the Garden District of New Orleans. It is technically possible but I could not comprehend the bus schedules. Later I learned the E2 — the Airport Express — leaves the airport but takes commuters to the parish line — where Jefferson Parish and Orleans parish meet. From there an Orleans bus goes downtown, but not after 7:00 and not on weekends. I needed to go Uptown, not Downtown. And it was Easter weekend. When I lived in New Orleans I had an apartment next to the Saint Charles Streetcar line. I boasted to my family that I would buy a monthly pass and go to work on the streetcar. While this is technically possible — and my boast was simply because I thought it so green to take the streetcar -- the reality is the wait is long even during rush hours. The car stops every four blocks. While managing the center strip of the street, the streetcar has to manage intersections and very often the conductor would get off to buy a cup of coffee at the corner store. I think every time I did take the streetcar to work I was never late, but the commute usually included me walking to school until I saw a streetcar puff-puff puffing and I ran to catch it — which amounted to me walking ten blocks or more. Once on the car, I saw a student whom I taught, a wiry kid with a penchant for snoozing in my class. I was a high school teacher at the time. I saw him seated on the car bench and asked him if he lived near. He said no. He took the bus from Saint Rose and connected to the streetcar. His route is possible. But it is a rather long ride. He said it took him an hour and a half to get to school. Now I realized why he was snoozing during first period.
The Improvements of the RTATransit in New Orleans is improving. The bus stations now have glossy signage and the bus and streetcar lines have new number indicators showing their routes. The RTA, which is the transit authority that operates New Orleans buses and streetcars, has recently received new management and public monies after Katrina have boosted its ridership and capital improvements. If only the good things that were happening to RTA buses could happen to the rest of the region. I was also happy to see that the city was awarded Federal funds for an extension of the streetcar line to connect the Union Passenger Terminal to Canal Street. It is easy to see how much greater the city would be if it were to continue with such stimulating transit links.
Transport for New Orleans, a local transit advocacy blog, imagines a city of New Orleans with amazing public transit service. I reproduce the fantasy map here.
This is the City Imagined As it Should Be: Connected!
North and South Remain DividedIt is an egregious oversight in public planning that there is no public transit link between urban New Orleans to the south and the suburban parish of Saint Tammany to the north. And as I mentioned above, the region's two urban parishes, Jefferson and Orleans, are linked at only anemic waypoints. I was reminded of this serious missing link during the evacuation of Hurricane Isaac that hit Louisiana and the Gulf Coast in September. An NBC news article reported that middle-class residents have the mobility and the extra income to evacuate on their own while the city's poorer residents must rely on public transit and public shelter to seek refuge. With the economic downturn nationwide, it seems to me that people in times of emergency look to public services like buses to get them to safety.
The city lacks fundamental transit links between its major population hubs. In 2011 it is estimated that 236,000 people live in Saint Tammany Parish while a combined total of 793,380 people live in Orleans and Jefferson Parish. Not only is there no link between New Orleans and its northern suburbs, there is also no public link connecting the State's capital, Baton Rouge, to either New Orleans or Saint Tammany -- or anywhere else. It is bad enough that during hurricane season there is a major disparity in who can evacuate and who can't -- it is also mind-boggling that the civil parishes totaling the bulk of Louisiana's population cannot make a more concerted effort to link its quickly growing northern parishes with those south of the lake.
A major reason for the gap is the large estuary, Lake Pontchartrain. The lake is traversable in two spots, one a twenty-four mile causeway linking the city of Metairie to the quaint lake town of Mandeville. Both cities are huge residential areas. The other link is an interstate highway that links Slidell to the eastern side of New Orleans. What this means is if I live in Saint Tammany Parish, stretched out across the shores of the lake, and I wish to commute to New Orleans, I have to either own a car or hail a cab. Most people who commute own their own car. 42,000 cars cross over the double-span bridge each weekday.
The Bubble EffectThe problem stems from each parish acting as its own bubble. The New Orleans metro area is serviced by six parishes that have no clear public interconnectivity whatsoever. The bubble effect reaches the level of absurdity, for example, when shortly after Katrina, it was discovered that the man-made levees that act as the city's primary flood defense system, are often gerrymandered. On one side of the 17th street canal is in New Orleans and on the other is in Jefferson Parish. Two different entities of the levee board that oversees the system, control what is in effect one levee, but since it comprises two civil parishes the oversight of the levee suffers from severe redundancy. Each civil parish has its own public transportation system, its own levee board, its own public schools, and public library systems. Orleans and its neighbor Jefferson share linking transit lines at few junctions, but for the most part the city is a divided transit and public services nightmare. If I live in Lake View, a neighborhood of New Orleans, I have to take two different parish buses just to get to the mall. None of the parishes connect. Saint Tammany does not have a public transportation system at all. The parish website indicates that there is a transit system it calls goSTAT. But there are no dedicated lines. There is no timetable. Residents have to call ahead of time to request a line. The costs are reasonable. For three dollars (roundtrip) a commuter can go up to ten miles, but over that the price jumps to five dollars, and for trips over twenty-six miles, the cost is eight. But this is only within the parish lines. A commuter living in Slidell, for example, who calls goSTAT cannot call for a roundtrip ticket to the Algiers Ferry or the Union Passenger Terminal in downtown New Orleans. The system is two-tiered, one for rural residents and the other for the parish's urban areas. If I call for a ride, it is a first-come-first-served basis, and I cannot expect transit will be expedited in the case of an emergency.
A dedicated bus line over the bridge connecting the state's populated northern parishes to the city of New Orleans and its urban cluster seems to me a no-brainer. Never in the history of the state has there been one single public bus that has traversed the twenty-four mile causeway since its first span was built in 1956. To take a taxi from the airport to any city north of the lake costs one hundred dollars. From the airport to downtown is thirty-three dollars.
It may seem that what I am arguing for is a rather easy problem to fix. A dedicated bus route would boost the interconnectivity of the region. Call it the Lake Pontchartrain Express. It would go from the Lakeside Mall in Metairie to the courthouse in Covington. That's one possible route. A car garage could be built for commuters to park-and-ride. One has already been built next to Macy's, so it seems a no-brainer.
I think the city has to allow for more inter-parish transit links. It is insane that a trip that would take me twenty minutes in a car would take over an hour by bus. By car, it takes roughly twenty-five minutes to cross the causeway bridge. Thousands of people every day rely on the bridge to allow easy access to work and an easy return to the suburbs. But this option is for those with cars.
|White Flight: the Red and Blue represent White/Black, respectively|
The Not In My Backyard approach prevails. A bus link? No way. The reason given: it will bring riff-raff and crime to the suburbs. This is code. Beneath the fear of crime is the fear of integration.
New Orleans remains strangely segregated -- but not in ways at first obvious. Public services are funded mostly by property taxes. So areas with more expensive properties bring in more cash which includes more areas outside of the city center than within it. Public libraries are more visible in every parish except New Orleans. Transit is shut off from the rest of the state. It is a miracle that the streetcars are getting re-introduced. But this is mostly because it will boost tourism. When it comes to the people, the reality is the city is left behind.
The hypocrisy is that on a public level people say they want to rebuild New Orleans. But when it comes to basic public services, the city is cut off. I think creating a transit link on the Causeway would be a step in the right direction.
1. This link would serve as a symbolic "first start" to connect the metropolitan region.
2. It would create more jobs.
3. Not everyone owns a car. People rely on public transit.
4. There needs to be a regional transit authority that governs the metro area.
I don't see how the creation of public transit between New Orleans and the North Shore would cause a rise in crime rates. I think the city will continue to decline if it is not given the opportunity to connect to its surrounding resources. The region cannot exist as a bubble. If the tragedy of the collapse of the levee system in Katrina can serve as a fable, then let us not propagate the tragedy by continuing to limit New Orleans when such a simple way to connect the region is possible.
If my student can get to his school faster, if an unemployed waiter in the Bywater sees a job opportunity in Mandeville — and can get there! — if a tourist without cash for a cab can get to the Superdome if I can take the ferry, the streetcar, and a bus to my Momma's house — any of these ifs would be realized if we just ifED a little more.
A woman peers out the window
on a subway train (near Coney Island).
|An Ignatius Reilly Mardi Gras float |
rolls through town / Image credit: Flickr
― Ignatius J. Reilly“I am at the moment writing a lengthy indictment against our century. When my brain begins to reel from my literary labors, I make an occasional cheese dip.”
Anthony sits at a wooden table at the Balcony Bar, a place that looks regal during the daytime but becomes the center of considerable brouhaha at night. Having had a few cocktails, we sit together eating bar food. Anthony feeds me a French Fry. Carrying a tray with hamburgers, Andrew almost runs into a cadre of revelers who are talking so loudly the entire building seems to close in on itself with the noise. We sit and attempt conversation. This is our city every night. It has been a year and a half since leaving New Orleans. Having returned home for eight days I leave again with renewed something for the Crescent City. Martin says Nola (as locals call it) is the best city. He's right.
|The Make-a-Wish Virgin|
I got on the car at Willow today, near the Nix branch of the New Orleans Public Library, God I love that small municipal library with few books but tons of character. I'd work here.
There were only three riders today on the Saint Charles Streetcar, so I sat at the back. The conductor's seat is located in both the front and the back of the car.
Summertime is New Orleans's downtime. Everyone's at the corner pub downing a bitter IPA or a soft Magnolia lager known to be pretty damn tasty.
|Dorothea Lange, "Migrant Mother"|
Few people had radios in their homes and most middle-class citizens rented. My maternal grandmother grew up in a house on Ursulines in New Orleans and her family paid sixteen dollars a month for the rent.
Today, renting is not so run-of-the-mill, at least, from my perspective. Two of my friends bought in the last several months, one a thirty-something with a professional job and the other, a couple, who bought a house after renting for thirty-five years. Wow.
I used to joke that I would never own. Who wants to cut grass? I am not really keen on mortgage notes. If I can't pay the bill I rather be evicted than post foreclosure.
Renting is the only vestige link I have to my ancestors.
Is that the real reason I rent?
I decided to rent long before I knew Grandma lived in a rental and didn't have a radio.
Renting is the only Bohemian side to my pretty complacent, post-MA existence. Renting says, "Hey! I am free, sort of. I may have tons of student loans to pay off but at least you're not going to take my house (because I don't have one!).
There are obvious downsides to renting. The landlord is number one. Most complaints by renters can be traced back to the landlord. She doesn't fix the leak. He never installed that new water heater. Ya da ya da ya da.
Like, have you ever had your landlord walk in on you naked (yep, that's me)? What about when you are leaving an apartment, have you ever had embarrassing moments with what I like to call the prospective-tenant-old-tenant-landlord triangle?
It goes like this.
Your lease is up. You got a raise. So you decide to take a bite out of the icing and do a "moving on up" gig. You get a better crib.
Your last paying month is rather raunchy. You know you have thirty days. So you pack up slowly. You think you have all the time in the world.
The landlord leaves a message that he's showing the apartment. Cool. You haven't stepped outside all day, so you take a walk to the local coffee shop. That day goes by fine. You are a little creeped out that the prospective tenant may be sizing up YOU rather than the PLACE, but you never met them, so who cares.
It's a little worse, though, when the prospective tenant, you, and the landlord meet up despite your best attempts at preventative medicine.
The door knocks. It's your landlord with a twenty-something wanting to look at the place. "Hey, can I show her around?"
"Sure," you say.
All of a sudden you feel naked and you wonder if everything is put away. Neat. In order, as if this is a blind date or something.
"So, how do you like living here?" she nonchalantly asks?
"Oh. Yeah. It's great." The landlord eyes you to shut-up but you keep going. "I love it. Here. It's great." And just when you think you're home free, you say something like, "Except for the showers. It's like running a marathon in there." Dammit. SNAFU.
"Well, I'm just going to show her the laundry room."
"Bye." The landlord gives you an even worse evil eye than before. You put your head down in shame and go back to whatever renters do in their rented apartments.
Have you experienced any odd triangulations with your landlord? Feel free to post and share! (See that comment button down there? Use it. Don't be a lurker).
|A view of Carrollton Avenue from the streetcar|
At the intersection of Palmer Park and Carrollton, the palm trees end and the oaks begin (but they end too, further down and over on St. Charles).
I came to New Orleans after ten years (more or less, with a brief hiatus abroad) living in St. Benedict, Louisiana.
There my life was directed by an horarium (literally) and circumscribed by a 1200 acre loblolly and part deciduous forest (we had both low-lying magnolias and tall proud pines).
I was a seminarian destined to be a Benedictine and a priest. But, that career choice did not quite bloom into a permanent life decision. My advent into the secular world was a half transition.
I had a car and a bachelor's pad but I still worked for the Church - a la the Christian Brothers.
I like to say my last two years as a civilian have been my own Teach for America.
I turned in my last lesson plan last week, said goodbye to my adorable students, and have decided to rid myself of Nola.
The next few weeks will be a transition time for me.
If you've been a faithful reader of stones of erasmus, I thank you.
I will continue to post, of course. I disconnected my home Internet so my online forays are limited to iPhone 3G splendor and desperate dashes to the corner hot spot (password: shangrila).
I'll try to document the transition to the best of my ability.
Be assured unsolicited words of encouragement are welcome.
P.S.: I'm not sure where I'll be living in the Big Apple but I'm eyeing anywhere along the Red line in the Bronx or even Morningside Heights. I've even considered Staten Island, Jersey City, and Harlem.
|Nude Descending a Staircase|
Hang out at a bar
Hang out at a house (bar)
Both are pretty much the same choice in a city that looks with suspicion on people who don't drink.
If you tell your friends you're not drinking tonight, they'll inevitably say, "Oh, you don't drink?" and then whisper to each other, "Is he an alcoholic?"
Now, those who drink a lot are certainly prone to rules. If you hang out at bars, you'll find it's common practice to treat the bartender like a god. Don't mess with her (or him). Or you'll be kicked out.
Walking down South Carrolton Avenue near the Riverbend on most nights in the Spring, it is easy to find people outside drinking, grilling, walking, drinking - the local bars are filled and people are sitting out on patio decks in front of restaurants (this city has more food than the Vatican has indulgences) or coffee shops.
There's a grocery store near Dante and Cohn streets where people get a six pack: people ride their bikes along Carrolton, drink a bit, eat crayfish at the Fly (the park behind the Audubon Zoo). My buddy's getting married this coming weekend. He's having his birthday at the fly, a cozy municipal park with an unobstructed view of the Mississippi River.
A bit of nostalgia pervades this post.
This post is a valediction of sorts. I'm saying farewell. So, I conjure up images of a city.
New Orleans sleeps. The denizens here are notorious for the eazy but we still show up for work and we still dress snazzy when the occasion merits it.
It's funny. For a city that places emphasis on laissez-faire, it's easy to deconstruct that concept and rather interpret the city as rather insular and rigid.
We do party here. But our festivity borders on the vicissitudes of human suffering. Just today, a man doused in a sheen of silver paint loiters in front of the Robert's on S. Claiborne Avenue. He looks like a misplaced French Quarter performer. He shuffles around the parking lot as if lost.
On Facebook, a random user bemoans an LA Times article that paints a laissez-faire city more interested in the beat of tourist dollars and the mambo rather than collaborating to stop the oil leak in the gulf.
"Oh, we don't deal with crude oil, just the end consumer's access to gasoline."
Why so angry? The city is a paradox. When the mirror is put to the Cresent City's face we balk and turn our convivial nature to indignance.
Here the party scene is a masked insouciance for opting out of social responsibility. What can you do but pop another shot, neat? I think I finally understand Walker Percy's quote about dispelling anomie with a glass of bourbon. He must've lived here!
We love our traditions and culture (laissez-faire) but fail to wake up from our Mardi Gras slumber and DO something.
Our city is beautiful. The city struts herself like boys on a bar. We pop dollars (at Liuzza's last night, a feverish 30 something women showed we here stash of dollars she saved for her vacation here) and a group of petroleum engineers in front of John Besh's August raved about food but wouldn't even answer a question about the danger of oil exploration. The metaphor for the city (a parallax view) is of the nude descending a staircase.