Guest Blogger Dawn (aka FQP) on anarchist posters in the FQ

Recently a friend posted some photos she’d taken of several placards recently posted in the French Quarter/Marigny area. A conversation ensued and I asked her to write up something about her opinion of the message the posters were broadcasting. Dawn is a photographer and has lived in the city off and on for most of her life beginning when she was a child. Shortly after Katrina, she made New Orleans her permanent home and lives in the upper ninth ward.

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I walk often in the Quarter trying to take shots of New Orleans from a local perspective, rather than usual shots you always see from vacationers. As I was walking on Decatur I happened to come across one of those sticky posters you see slapped on a pole or whatever happens to be at eye level. The image that I first saw was of a machine gun…an AK I believe it is. As I stopped and read the poster I was rather flabbergasted at its words.

Now at first appearance, if I was a tourist this would scare the shit out of me. In fact, even as a local I was determined to find out a bit more. Who is this posting this??? What is their supposed message? At a time when we will have many tourists here for Mardi Gras, I am still trying to form an opinion.

After going to their website nolaanarcha.blogspot.com and reading, it seems to me they are very much at cross purposes and contradict much of their own observations and rants.

On one hand they are promoting the poor, and make some very valid points on the problems with New Orleans. I actually agree with several of them in regard to our housing problem. I have been touting the idea of selling houses that are left abandoned for $ 1.00, require them to bring the house up to code within 3 years, live in it for 5 and then be eligible to sell it. This program worked extremely well in areas such as Detroit and a small town called Sanford, Florida where I used to live myself.

Then on the other hand they become bigots and racists by grouping this as a race war with posters such as this one:

This is in response to the new curfew which would be in place to keep those 16 and under out of the French Quarter after 8 pm unless accompanied by an adult or going to/from work. This curfew is in effect for ALL children no matter their race…Why then does the website and poster seen here make it a race issue? It’s not about race, it’s about everyone’s safety considering the rise in crime in the entire city. To say a curfew “ Effectively teaches kids to get used to living under permanent Martial Law” is bullshit to me. Many cities across America have curfews! You can bet they don’t have the crime stats we do in New Orleans.

The website and the person’s message that the city is trying to create “White Zones” does nothing but ferment attitudes that have been in place for way to long in this city. It seems to me that to cry and whine (along with a bit of a warped attitude) because things are now being rebuilt, laws that benefit everyone are being put in place, and communities are becoming much more diverse than in recent times sends an extremely unrealistic message of what New Orleans is all about.

The website conflicts many times in its articles. On one hand they advocate for the poor, the homeless, green initiatives and how new programs are revitalizing the neighborhood, but then goes on to say it’s the white population only that is benefiting. The Author’s anger comes across to me as if he is very much stuck in a time warp that really doesn’t exist today. His posters are in places that are
extremely diverse. To group people or to try to make tourists think that it’s only the black population that are in these zones is ridiculous to say the least. I live in one of these zones….I am living next to not less than 5 houses that are considered blighted and abandoned. I pay an outrageous price for my rent just like the author of the site. I battle New Orleans crime, fear of walking my dog, sitting on my porch and corrupt politicians just as he does. However, I am White. Where does this put me in the Anarchists eyes?

I had posted this poster and it’s URL to get other’s take on the site on a G+ post and received mixed opinions. I am only one person, and this is only my opinion, but I think residents should be aware of this message being sent to the masses.

Guest Blogger “Fireproof”: An Insider’s View of the Tour Guide Licensing Controversy

© Charlotte Hamrick

Every day throughout our country, citizens discuss history and culture. They argue their viewpoints and opinions about history and the important events that have influenced our lives. Over coffee at cafés, in checkout lines at grocery stores, and in staff break rooms people talk about history.

No one inhibits this discourse. No one has to prove expertise to join discussions. People are simply exercising their First Amendment rights. No one dictates who may or may not share his or her views or stories. There is an exception to this freedom in some cities. Some city administrations have decided that there is group whose right to free speech should be constrained. In New Orleans, and five other cities, that group is tour guides.
The mayor of New Orleans has declared that strict regulations for a tour guide license are necessary to prevent tour guides form harming tourists. This viewpoint has led to fingerprinting, police records checks, drug tests, a knowledge test and residency requirements.
Mr. Mayor, support your opinion that tour guides may be a menace. Tell us how many tour guides have lost a license because of a felony conviction. How many have been rejected because they failed a police records check, or have been convicted of lesser charges such as purse snatching, public drunkenness, or battery of any kind? Show us the factual foundation for statements that are an insult to the tour guides of this city.
The city of New Orleans should stop regulating and licensing tour guides because:
Guides are not city employees; private companies hire them.
The city’s knowledge test of 100 questions is an inadequate tool for determining the knowledge or ability of an applicant to give tours.
There are a minimum of twenty-seven tour operatives, two nonprofit organizations, and one federal agency conducting walking tours once or twice a day. There are at least eight van companies, four bus companies, four carriage companies, three bike companies, a kayak company, and a Segway company conducting one or two tours a day.
The city lacks the personnel to consistently enforce its rules and regulations for these. Lack of enforcement breeds disregard and contempt for the law.
The city uses fingerprinting requirements to generate income. It requires guides to use a city agency at the airport for $50.00. This service is available for $19.00 – $20.00 at other sites in the metro area.
The concept of a “one stop shop for permitting and licensing” is a farce. Guides must go to the taxicab bureau for a photo, to a facility for a drug test, to the airport for fingerprinting. The new guide must go to still another site for a “knowledge” test.
The city contributes nothing to the training, competence, or knowledge base of tour guides.
Tour planners and tour operators employ guides. The success of their companies depends upon their ability to identify and train high performers who are knowledgeable, flexible, and personable. The income of their companies depends on the competence of their guides. Thus, tour guiding is a “self – cleaning oven.”
 
Tour guides do not have intimate contact with tourists. Anyone seeking intimate contact with tourists can explore licensing by the city as an escort. See the Municipal Code, Chapter 30, and Article 7: “Escort Services.”
In summary, the city is not an effective agency for testing, monitoring, or enhancing tour guide performance. The city’s regulations are a tariff on free speech.
Boston, Philadelphia, San Antonio, Las Vegas, and San Francisco, do not license or regulate tour guides. Six cities in the U.S. license and regulate tour guides. New Orleans is among the unfortunate six.
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“Fireproof” is a New Orleanian who loves her town.

Guest Blogger Sandy Rosenthal: Stopping Katrina Myths From Becoming Household Knowledge

Sandy Rosenthal with her son, Stanford

On Halloween Day, six years ago, I realized I had to do something about the myths that were taking root and quickly becoming established fact about the New Orleans flooding during Katrina.

Nine weeks after the levee failures and deadly flooding, I applied my skills (and my 15-year old son Stanford applied his) to respond to many myths, but mainly, the myth that the residents of greater New Orleans understood the risk they faced from hurricanes and thus were stupid for living there.

My most recent Huffington Post article was a Myth Buster revealing that even the most insistent calls from public officials to New Orleans area residents to evacuate for Katrina did not warn that the levees could break. A commenter called ‘royalcroc’ left what seems to be a sarcastic comment aimed at the victims of the 2005 flood.

It is totally sane to live at sea level and rely on bending moment resisting walls pounded into clay for protection from 20 foot storm surges; as opposed to either stout earth levees or T-Walls.

Engineer and blogger Matt McBride left a comment so creative that, with his permission, we have reprinted his comment here as its own post.

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The issue at hand is not the particular type of design of the walls or levees. The issue is whether the citizens of the greater New Orleans area were fully informed of the risks arising from the inadequate engineering of those walls and levees. And the answer is they were not. What would that warning have looked like? I suppose it would go something like,

“We, the Corps of Engineers, have full scale testing that shows the millions of dollars of I-walls we have constructed along the outfall and Industrial canals will likely fail below their design heights. As a result, we have commissioned a stem-to-stern independent review of these life-safety devices, including their original design assumptions for the soil mechanics underlying them. That review has found those assumptions and our calculation methods to be overly broad and dangerously simplistic. There is a better than (very large number near 100) percent chance one or more of these walls, which back on peoples’ homes all over the metro area and protect hundreds of thousands of citizens from over a dozen feet of flooding, could collapse when they are supposed to be holding back floodwaters, causing Lake Pontchartrain to flow into the city. This could happen even in a category 1 hurricane.

“Because of this deeply serious situation we have requested “X” billion (where “X” is some suitably large number) dollars from Congress in an emergency supplemental bill to address these grave failures of engineering, design, and construction on our part. In the interim, we are moving forward with emergency repairs to bolster the areas the independent panel feels are the weakest. The emergency supplemental bill will also provide funding through various FEMA programs for those citizens who wish to raise their homes to do so on an expedited basis. In addition, we have formed a task force with FEMA’s flood mapping program to quickly revise New Orleans-area flood maps to reflect this scenario, since the current flood maps – which act as implicit warnings against what we thought were ‘safe’ conditions – are obviously incorrect. Flood insurance rates, due to the unique circumstances of this situation, will not change, and policies will be made available to citizens whose homes lie within this newly designated floodplain at substantially subsidized rates. Local municipalities will receive additional funding to deal with this unanticipated and extreme change in their floodplain management policies.”

Such a warning, or something like it, would have come out at the beginning of every hurricane season and been a part of all the local TV channels’ specials, as well as the Times-Picayune’s usual series of articles around June 1st. It would have spawned numerous investigative series. It would likely have resulted in multiple civil court cases, and certainly would have gotten Congress’ and the White House’s attention. You would have seen hundreds, if not thousands of homes being raised over 10 feet in the air every year. You would have had a massive debate in the national sphere about whether this was money worth spending. And the Corps’ prestige would have lay in tatters. That – putting all the facts out there in plain English and seeing the massive consequences that would result – is what would constitute fair warning and would produce an informed populace.

But that didn’t happen – ever.

Some of it came to pass, but only after the storm, when hundreds lay dead and the city was brought to its knees.

So please stop pretending that the people of New Orleans and the surrounding parishes were adequately warned and were thus foolish to live where they did, and currently do. It is offensive and odious in the extreme, and only reveals your own ignorance and lack of compassion. –Matt McBride

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New Orleanian Sandy Rosenthal is the founder of Levees.org.

Guest Blogger Sam Jasper: On Writing in the Wake of Katrina

On Writing in the Wake of Katrina

I watched CNN on Sunday for a long time, following the path of Hurricane Irene, worrying about relatives and friends who were in various states along the storm’s expected travels. As it became clear that the inland flooding from overflowing riverbanks would be by far the greatest danger to them, a tiny part of me jumped into a familiar anxiety mode, while another was outraged by the screaming coverage on television. While I pray for the families who lost loved ones, and I do empathize with the people, and there are many, who lost their homes, I was nevertheless annoyed by the continuous loop of video showing a lifeguard station in New Jersey coming off the sand and running into the boardwalk. That video was followed, on a fairly regular basis, by a photograph of a park bench, half hidden by water perhaps 3 ft deep, that the anchors kept looking at in amazement remarking that it had moved—all the way across the street. They were nearly dumbstruck with awe. I meanwhile remembered the endless loop of people on roofs, helicopters with little kids hanging in baskets and, of course, one bit of footage of a looter that was looped like the yarn on my grandmother’s crochet hooks around every other bit of footage as the levees broke six years ago. The coverage was frustrating and more than a little infuriating.

Doubtless there is someone in one of those states looking at the destruction Irene left behind and screaming with fury at the looping footage that doesn’t tell even a tenth of the story.

As Katrina headed in towards land, we had left on the Sunday afternoon before the storm after flipping a coin. Not the best way to make a decision, but one that we admit to as it is true. Under a sound roof in Alabama, we watched that looping footage, switching stations frantically to get more information, maybe better information. What was happening to our city, to the people in it? As the video of water coursing through neighborhoods started, we were shocked.

Then came the reports of what was happening in the Superdome, at the Convention Center, on roofs and overpasses. People. Lots and lots of people waiting for help. Some asking for water, just some drinking water. Reporters saying there were bodies floating near the overpasses. This in our city. Our country. Another couple days went by and we decided to return home after scouring nola.com for other news, connecting with some people, finding comfort in communication, being told we were crazy to go back. We were told it was the Wild West, it was a catastrophe of monumental proportions, it was illegal. We put the map on the dining room table, plotted a route home that would take us north through Hattiesburg and Bogalusa, a route that took us about 150 miles out of our way. We’d buy gas along the way wherever we could find it. We couldn’t sit watching the video loops another minute. We felt compelled to come back and at least make an attempt to help.

As we headed south to the Sunshine Bridge in order to come up 90, we hooked up with some other New Orleans-bound travelers. All of us with the same compulsion to get back, to pitch in. We talked a lot when we stopped for gas or supplies about what we’d do if we couldn’t get into town. What if all the exits were blocked by Guardsmen? We all decided to risk it. As we came north, the southbound lanes looked like something out of a Steinbeck novel. People with furniture tied to the roofs of their cars, passengers sitting on tied down mattresses in the beds of pickup trucks. Not a vehicle was moving. A giant parking lot full of frantic people and a few of their possessions. We wondered where they were planning to go, but we kept heading up toward the city. In the lanes next to us were a few National Guard trucks, humvees, and some personnel. We and the other couple traveling in their car were the only civilians we saw. We got to our exit and miraculously it wasn’t blocked. There was no one around as we approached our house. It appeared that there was no one anywhere. We saw no chaos other than a house in the middle of an intersection and downed trees and power lines everywhere. We lived on the Westbank at that time. We had been lucky. Just the other side of the river it was an entirely different story.

After a quick recon around the neighborhood, we found out who was home, and there were several. We gathered all the news we could, but the information void put us into an alternate reality: we only knew what we saw or what we heard in our little area. It was that way for people in other neighborhoods as well we found out later. We found out that a food distribution point was going to be set up at Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras world so the next day we went to offer our services. The people on Powder Street needed medication. The lady by the levee was hooking up with animal rescue folks and needed our dog crate.

Our power was out but the phone line miraculously still worked. We had brought enough gasoline in with us to get us back out if that’s what we thought we should do. Instead we poured it into a generator that our neighbor had and we shared that generator one hour a day. I still had a dial up modem in my computer so I rigged a connection to a dial up number for AOL in New Mexico. It worked. On September 12, 2005 I wrote my first mass email explaining what we were seeing here at that time. I wrote every couple days after that well into March of 2006.

I was asked what it felt like to write during that time. Necessary. That’s how it felt. It was necessary. It was eminently clear that news coverage was limited at best. That people in other parts of the country were getting barely a piece of the story. While I certainly couldn’t give a view of the entire city, I could absolutely tell people what was going on in my neck of New Orleans: what we had, what we didn’t have, when the power was expected to come on, where the food distribution was and who was distributing it.

After one week my mailing list swelled to over 200 as people forwarded my emails to each other and dropped me a line asking to be included on any future updates. AOL was convinced that I was running a gigantic spam operation, so I wrote them and explained where I was and what I was doing. They relented, allowing the emails to go out, and eventually the mailing list grew by another 50. I was getting emails from locals asking if we could check on their houses and post photos, I was getting emails from people outside of the country asking what they could do, I got emails from friends and others asking what they could send and how to send it as the post office wasn’t in service. I was getting emails from people saying that the original mail had been forwarded ten times until it reached them and that their thoughts and prayers were with us.

What started as a simple “we’re okay don’t worry” email had morphed into an on the ground news dissemination system and people wanted the information, not the stuff they were seeing on the news. They wanted the stories of what we were doing, who we had met, the incredible generosity of some guys who drove through the night to deliver much needed goods. We eventually managed to photograph several houses for people who couldn’t get back, and although it was slow going on dial up, we sent them out. It eventually got to a point where we could no longer send individual thank you emails, there were too many and our generator time was too short.

I said earlier that it was necessary to write at that time. It was. Not just because the news coverage was initially so bad, but because once that first email went out the responses we got sustained us. I am not sure how we would have managed those first few weeks without the support of all those emails. People we didn’t know were keeping us going when all we wanted to do was cry. A bond was forged with those strangers on my computer screen. I kept writing. They kept responding, and I felt a duty to continue sending out updates.

Many people sent boxes of supplies. Others sent vitamins and tasty things. They all came with notes of support, often with cash in them, and all with a comment about the frustration of trying to find a tangible way to help in that moment. So many kindnesses to balance the unfathomable cruelty of Katrina. It still chokes me up.

I had always written, an article here, a story there but nothing as regular as the emails written at that time. As the anger mounted and the sadness dropped us into pits of despair, the words were there being read somewhere by someone who cared even if we didn’t know their name. They met the people in my neighborhood, the people helping out. They heard the stories of the noble sons who’d stayed with their elderly, ill mothers. They heard the stories of lost people and our panic over their whereabouts. They heard about little triumphs and major hurdles. They heard about the heat and the exhaustion, the jubilation of power being turned back on, our first sight of Jackson Square covered in satellite trucks and humvees and old bandages instead of artists, and how many nails a tire can absorb before it becomes unusable.

In the writing of those missives I found the strength to cope with what I was seeing around me, and if the responses were to be believed, I was giving the people who read them a more realistic view of what was happening here during that time. Interestingly enough, six years later, sometimes those emails swirl through my consciousness with the tenacity of a CNN video loop.

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Sam blogs at New Orleans Slate and is a contributing author and co-editor of A Howling in the Wires: An Anthology of Writing from Postdiluvian New Orleans. Her emails chronicling the days after Katrina can be read at Katrina Refrigerator.

Guest Blogger: Jhae Dupart on NOLA Blogger Marcia Wall of 411 NOLA

“On St. Joseph’s Day a few years back, a man and a woman stumbled upon our celebrations at St. Augustine.  I was serving food from our altar and asked them if they wanted any.  They asked me what the cost was.  I replied that there was no cost and began explaining to them the customs and traditions of St. Joseph’s Day.  They were thrilled to be with locals and partake in our traditions but noted that if it weren’t for mere chance, they never would have found us.  

 I understood what they were saying.  I am a world traveler and search out local culture when in a new place but find that tourist guides don’t do much to help me with that.  Both before and after Katrina (but especially after), people from all over the world hunger to know New Orleans like locals do.  I am a resourceful person, so I always end up getting the inside scoop but realize that many travelers don’t have the skills or time to research a place.  411 NOLA aims to remedy this for our visitors.  I want to connect people to each other, to make travel about genuine communication between people and cultures.

 Although the site is popular with people from out of town, many locals love it too.  We are a city smitten with itself like no other.  There is so much to do, so much local talent, so many hidden opportunities…people want a place where they can learn about it all.  ” ~ Marcia Wall

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Marcia Wall is the creator and administrator of 411 NOLA, a local website dedicated to all things New Orleans for New Orleanians and visitors alike. This profile of Marcia is the first in a planned series about  New Orleans bloggers: who they are, why they blog and  what they talk about. The formats will be eclectic, including interviews by myself, interviews by others and profiles by guest bloggers like the one you’ll read today by Marcia’s former student turned friend, Jhae Dupart. The NOLA blogosphere has grown by leaps and bounds since I began blogging in 2005 and I discover new-to-me bloggers almost every week writing on a myriad of subjects from politics to fashion to lifestyle and everything in between. I hope you’ll enjoy this wonderful tribute to Marcia that Jhae has shared with us and I hope you all as readers will participate by making suggestions as to which bloggers you’d like to see profiled here.

~Charlotte, NOLAFemmes creator and administrator

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I met Marcia Wall in 2000.  I was a sophomore at the University of New Orleans, and she was the instructor of the English course I took that summer. Her class centered on interactive discussion of taboo topics like gender and sexuality, making it a like no other I’ve ever had.  But her innovative approach to education isn’t the only thing that makes her a standout.  Marcia, a writer, educator, photographer, performer, activist, and founder of 411 NOLA, is a unique blend of talents that make her a welcome and integral presence in the NOLA community.

Marcia is originally from the South but grew up in California.  After graduating from college in Santa Cruz, she moved to San Diego.  But wanting to live some place that “oozed creativity,” she relocated to NOLA twelve years ago.  She quickly fell in love with the culture – “[not] just festivals, good food, and good music, [but] the close-knit feeling of the city, its ethnic and religious diversity, its sense of pride and determination, and the way each neighborhood is almost a city unto itself.”  As someone with both Southern and Sicilian Catholic heritage, Marcia found NOLA’s diverse community a perfect fit.

Her first job here was teaching English at UNO.  Since then, her focus as an educator has taken many roles, like life coach and consultant for educational programs.  To Marcia, education is about empowerment.  In her words, “I can’t teach anyone anything.  I can only help them to realize that they already know everything they need to know.”  Likewise, as an activist, she strives to enable herself and others to have a positive impact in the world.

Marcia is a modern-day Renaissance woman.  She always envisioned herself as a writer and, after school, as a photographer.  She also developed a knack for performing, transitioning from reading her funny essays on stage to creating her own hilarious comedy routine, which she’s performed at venues across NOLA, San Diego, and Los Angeles.  On top of all this, Marcia continues to dabble in other creative outlets – designing jewelry, making bath and beauty products, and experimenting in the kitchen.  As she says, “Being an artist is about manifesting one’s vision and sharing that vision with the world.  It’s about giving the world the gifts that the Creator gave you.”

It is her relationship with the Creator that sparked the inspiration for her most recent venture – the 411 NOLA website.  “One day, after I had finished doing a big consulting job for an educational program for developmentally challenged adults, I prayed to God and asked what I should do next.  In an instant, the whole idea for 411 NOLA unfolded before me.  I saw in my mind’s eye what the site would be like.”

411 NOLA is a rich info source for all things NOLA for visitors and residents alike.  Since coming online, the site has evolved to include articles, guides, recommendations, links, lists, photos, as well as an events calendar, a visitor’s guide, slide shows, products, contests, freebies, and opportunities for writers and artists.  Marcia attributes the success of 411 NOLA to faith and hard work.  When I asked how she feels about the site’s progress, she responded simply, “So far so good.  Thanks J.C.!”

Marcia, ever the visionary, is already looking to expand the features available on 411 NOLA.  “We would like to create a 411 NOLA video channel that highlights up and coming NOLA performers (of all kinds).  We are trying to develop a program that will allow users to send postcards of their adventures in NOLA directly from the site.  Later on, we hope to offer more merchandise and to host live chats and performances with NOLA writers, artists, personalities, musicians and the like.”  As the site evolves, she will continue to follow her inspiration from God.

I can’t help but be inspired by the breadth of Marcia’s talent and character.  She embodies the diversity of spirit and delightful quirkiness that makes NOLA one of a kind.  In all that she does, she continues to make NOLA a richer, more vibrant city.

Marcia Wall lives in the French Quarter with her two cats, Gracie and Boo.  When she’s not working on 411 NOLA, she enjoys traveling, cooking, exercising, and Sunday services at St. Augustine Church.  To find out more about her photography, see her photography website at See It My Way Photo.  To find out about her upcoming performances, “like” Cia’s Comedy Corner on Facebook. Follow 411 NOLA on Twitter.

Amy Winehouse in the black for real this time

Amy Winehouse died today, and you can read all about it on the righteous Huffington Post obituary that reminds us her demise was just a “slo-mo car crash.”

Her death is not altogether shocking, but it is disturbing nonetheless.

In a sense, her artistic marketability stemmed from a bad-girlification of 1960s soul music.  She was a skinny, tatted-up tough girl from working-class London, with big hair and a voice to match.  Her struggles with (or seeming acceptance of) drug addiction only enhanced her reputation as a true entertainer, one with moxie, attitude, and presence.

Fans relished her bad behavior, cheering lyrics like “You love blow and I love puff” (Back to Black”) and “I told you I was trouble / You know that I’m no good” (“You Know That I’m No Good”).  Her refusal to go to rehab was celebrated in a Grammy-winning song (“Rehab”), in which Winehouse admits to suffering from addiction and depression.

This glorification of mental illness and self-destructive behavior sends mixed messages to those who also struggle with these issues.  Winehouse’s drug use was not only acceptable but legitimized by her celebrity status.  This was a double validation:  Her drug use fed into her being perceived as a rock star, and her being a rock star forgave her drug use.  And now she’s dead, and no one’s surprised.

So what does it take to remove the idolatry from substance abuse?  The wasted talents of Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, and many others including Amy Winehouse now, have all developed into a tragic mythos of “forever young,” without acknowledgement of what really ripped these creative beings from our midst.  The real scourge is untreated illness, the exaltation of which prevents honesty, recovery, and true grit from being communicated to a public sold on the dangerous cheapness of entertainment.

Cold War Memories

Recently, I was in San Antonio for work,  teaching a computer class at a community college just outside the gates of the Kelly Field Annex. This facility was Kelly Air Force Base prior to the military base re-alignment. Kelly AFB has been a part of aviation in the United States since 1917. During WWII, Kelly was an important maintenance depot for many of the big planes of the Army Air Corps, such as the B-17, B-25, and B-29 bombers, as well as the C-47 cargo planes. The Texas version of “Rosie the Riveter” worked at Kelly during the war:

By 1944, Kelly’s workforce had grown tremendously. In 1939, old Duncan Field had 1,100 civilian employees and only 10 military personnel. By 1945, over 15,000 civilians and 16,000 military worked at Kelly. During World War II, nearly 40 percent of the workers at the field were women. “Kelly Katies” were the Kelly counterparts to “Rosie the Riveters”, women everywhere who did non-traditional work, contributing greatly to the successful war effort. They worked in nearly every shop at Kelly, including engine overhaul.

After the war, when the USSR emerged as a perceived threat to US national security, Kelly continued to function as a big-plane maintenance depot for the USAF. That’s where the photo above (and my childhood memories) begin. The photo above is a B-58 “Hustler” supersonic bomber. It’s on display outside of the now-privatized portion of Kelly AFB. This sleek, delta-winged beauty set numerous supersonic speed records.

The B-58 also carried enough nuclear bombs to destroy a city.

The B-58 was, in many ways, one of the stars of the 1964 Sidney Lumet film, Fail-Safe, a cautionary tale of technology and nuclear destruction at the height of the Cold War.

That’s the world I grew up in as a small child. Too young to fully appreciate the Cuban Missile Crisis as it happened, I was typical of many pre-teen boys in the late 1960s/early-1970s who immersed themselves into the military hardware used to support the US side of “Mutually Assured Destruction.” The notion that the opposing sides of the Cold War were capable of destroying almost all life on the planet was pretty overwhelming; it was easier to wrap one’s head around NASA’s spacecraft and the technical specifications of planes such as the B-58.

Deployed from bases in Texas, Arkansas, and Indiana, the B-58 was a prominent part of the US strategic nuclear “triad” (bombers, missiles, submarines) during the Cold War. An expensive plane to manufacture and operate, the B-58 was superseded by the less expensive (and more effective) B-52, and eventually replaced by the FB-111.

The General Dynamics FB-111 “Aardvark” was the aircraft that replaced the B-58 in 1970. The mission of the FB-111 was described so vividly in one book about military aircraft in the 1970s that I remember it to this day. The FB-111 was deployed so that, in the event of war with the Soviet Bloc, it could “spin the mountains of Eastern Europe into glass.”

“Into glass.” Nuclear wasteland. Not only did we build these things, but we put bombs in them and threatened to end the game for everyone. If anyone under forty wonders why so many baby boomers decided to “turn on, tune in, drop out” during the Cold War, just take a look at these aircraft.

There were definitely some by-products of worrying that the world would come to an end in a nuclear fireball. The Space Race was a direct result of wanting to “beat” the USSR. The technology developments that produced planes like the B-58 led to all sorts of advances in civilian aviation. Human beings work well under pressure.

Still, I’m glad that my sons (now 23 and 17) grew up in a world with out Civil Defense air-raid sirens, fallout shelters, “duck-and-cover” drills, and bombers like the FB-111. They pick up the phone and call my mobile, and I answer from places like Bucharest, Romania, a city in the former Soviet Bloc. Yes, they still have to take off their shoes and belts to get on a plane, but the odds of something bad happening to them on that flight are nothing compared to the days of “Fail-Safe.”

For all we have to work on in terms of being stewards of this planet, we’ve at least managed to get past Mutually Assured Destruction.

Maison Blanche!

My third book in Arcadia Publishing’s Images of America series will be out on Halloween. It’s titled Maison Blanche Department Stores.  The book is a 128-page photo-history of the Maison Blanche chain, which opened its first store in 1892, and was absorbed into Dillards in 1997. Starting with the flagship store in the 900 block of Canal Street, the chain operated seven stores at its peak. Maison Blanche (“MB” to locals) was one of the places to shop all year round, but most importantly, at Christmas time.

Arcadia’s Images of America books are 128 pages and usually include 200-220 photos and/or illustrations. Naturally there’s always a bunch of photos that don’t make it into the book, for one reason or another. I’ll be sharing some of these photos here at NOLAFemmes as the release date approaches.

So, to start this off, here’s a shot of Maison Blanche on Canal Street from 1948. It was shot by Franck Studios, who did a lot of the legal and architectural photography at the time.  The first five floors of the building, designed in 1908 by Sam Stone, were the store itself.  The upper floors in the two towers were the “Office building,” which counted a number of physicians and dentists.

The neutral ground on Canal still has its four-track streetcar configuration; the two outside tracks were torn up in 1957.  A Perley A. Thomas “green” streetcar approaches the intersection at Dauphine St., headed inbound on the Canal line.  Across Rue Dauphine from MB is the second location of the Katz & Besthoff Drugstore chain (K&B).  The first K&B opened two blocks down, in the 700 block.

The small building directly to the left of the MB building in this photo is the S. H. Kress building.  Kress’ was a “dime” store, offering basic dry goods at discount prices.  The store closed in the early 1990s.  The Kress building was acquired by the group looking to convert the MB building into a hotel in the late-1990s.  The building is now the parking garage for the Ritz-Carlton Hotel, located in the MB building.

Got a question about Maison Blanche? Do you have a MB memory? Share them with us here in comments.

Weird Shit from the New Orleans Public Library

Weird Shit from the New Orleans Public Library

Volume 1: Absurdistan (2008)

When I moved here from New York, I was so excited about making a new home for myself I gave very little thought to what “home” actually meant.  It took exactly one week for me to start missing things: first bagels, then pizza, then more substantive things, like walkable sidewalks and meetings starting on time.

I tried to create a comfortable space in my house that would bring me daily reminders of what I love about New York, like subway maps and photos of my family.  Yet there was always an unsettled quality about this space, and it wasn’t for a while that I realized it was because I had no books.

I had left all of them in New York, thinking that it wasn’t worth the schlep (meaning “haul”; Yiddish aphorisms are another thing I miss about New York)for an indeterminate time of staying in New Orleans.  But their absence weighed on me, so I had to take action.

I went to the Alvar Street branch of the New Orleans Public Library, where I was assisted by an elderly seersucker-clad man with an impressively loud “indoor voice.”  Apparently, the only document they need from potential patrons is proof of residency, which in my case was the envelope from my latest bank statement.  I could also, the desk attendant stage-whispered conspiratorially, have addressed and mailed an envelope to myself.

But I was not out for such tricky business, and armed with my new card I set about exploring the stacks.  I found some curious organizational methodology to the shelves at the Alvar Street branch:  In the nonfiction section was the King James Bible alongside the Frommer’s Guide to the Mid-Atlantic States and an exposé on Mao Tsedung as the mastermind of the Cold War.  This was not exactly the Dewey Decimal System of my youth.

I decided to see what the DVD section had to offer, and boy were there some gems.

Nestled between a documentary on Mardi Gras Indians and a collection of Pedro Almodóvar’s films, and below the greatest hits of Ravi Shankar, was a German film called Absurdistan.  Billed as “Fellini-esque” and “lusty,” the movie called out to my sleazy arthouse impulse.

I checked it out, in addition to some short story anthologies and that documentary on Mardi Gras Indians.

Absurdistan turned out to be a bizarre Russian-language romantic dramedy that parodies the classic Aritstophanes play “Lysistrata.”  That work was of course the one in which the women of Athens persuade the men to end the Peloponnesian War by withholding sex until they call a truce with Sparta.

In Absurdistan, an Eastern European village of the title name is threatened by a broken water pipe that has left the citizens unbathed and unable to tend properly to their industries, which appear mainly to be baking, shoemaking, and bee-keeping.  The only people who can fix the water pipe are the men of the village, who are so lazy they make time only for drinking tea and having sex.  According to the film’s narrators, “the men maintained that their virility was famed all the way to Samarkand…The men busied themselves with proving their reputation” while “the women tried to stop the village from going to the dogs.”

The film’s protagonist is a young woman named Aya, who, despite her lust for her boyfriend, Temelko, convinces the other women of the village to withhold sex from their husbands until the water pipe is repaired.  Eventually (spoiler alert!), of course, it is, as the men simply cannot survive without sex.

The film suggests that women hold the power in the village of Absurdistan, as they do in life, because men are so thoroughly motivated by female sexuality.  However, this power is situated within an overly simplistic gendered paradigm that actually disempowers women in relation to their own sex lives.

Firstly, in Lysistrata, the women clearly suffer from abstinence.  They constantly remind each other why they are imposing celibacy upon themselves, in order to prevent women from defecting from the cause.

The women of Absurdistan show little compunction about their decision to withhold sex, and only a scene depicting an orgiastic performance betrays any untapped physical desire on their part (with the exception of a shot in which the women snuggle with each other as they fall asleep, a behavior not unlike the communal bathing the women did before the ban on sex was enacted).  This performance is later shown to have been a trap for the men of the village, and therefore not trustworthy as a reflection of the women’s experience of celibacy.

Absurdistan’s women are in this way denied sexual agency.  Yes, they choose not to have sex with men.  But their sexual pleasure is deprioritized to almost a non-issue in this film.  Sex is clearly for the benefit of the men.

This dynamic is exemplified within the relationship between Aya and Temelko, who are virgins.  As adolescents, they call upon the spiritual advice of Aya’s grandmother, who forbids them from sexual contact until the stars align appropriately.  They must wait over four years for this event, which ends up coinciding with the sex ban.

Although these two characters are presented as outliers in the film – Aya is the gutsy ringleader of the other women and Temelko is the only man who returns to the village after attending school in the city – their actions are consistent with those of the other characters.  Despite her grandmother’s promise of cosmic (and orgasmic) euphoria for the lovebirds, Aya withholds sex from the agitated Temelko, subjugating her own romantic and physical desires at the expense of the male libido.

In a somewhat convoluted plot twist, Aya becomes troubled when a traveling showgirl tries to seduce Temelko.  Time with the girl in her bedroom is the prize for a carnival shooting game, which Temelko wins.

The girl barely talks at all, and is featured only giggling, posing provocatively, and undressing.  Her value is in her physicality and what bodily pleasures she might provide for the sex-starved men of the village.

Indeed, the reason she is in the village at all is due to the enterprising game-owner, who believes rightly that he will profit from the conditions of the village.  The showgirl’s sexuality is commodified and sold in this way; her body is exchanged for the few coins it costs to play the game.

What is truly disturbing about this character is how little she seems to care.  Sex is assigned a high value in the village, where the men cannot seem to survive without it.  Yet for the showgirl and her traveling companion, it is something given away casually as a carnival prize, like a giant teddy bear.

It is possible that the way sex is treated in this circumstance is not so different than the way it is between the husbands and wives of Absurdistan.  Sex has a transactive quality in both, only with the showgirl it is more explicit.  In the village, the women also use sex as a bartering tool, specifically to get the men to fix the water pipe.

However, this interpretation does not really complicate the question of female power.  The women are still giving up something in exchange for getting something else.  In fact, the only arena in which female power is unquestionable has to do with Aya’s grandmother.  Her directive for Aya and Temelko to wait until having sex is obeyed.  This is truly an example of power:  How many teenage boys do you know who would agree to wait four years until the “stars are in order” to lose their virginity?

Also, the premise that the women are unable to fix the water pipe themselves is itself problematic.  They are able to do everything else that village governance requires, yet the men are mysteriously more competent in this regard.  Additionally, girls do not appear to attend school in the distant city; this privilege is extended exclusively to the boys of the village.

So at the end of the day, the library gave me a lot to think about, and I can’t wait to share the other weird shit I find there.  For now, I am scheming how to get my family to ship me some good New York bagels.  Because it’s really not home without books or bagels.

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You can read more from Arielle on her blog, Shtetl Chic.

Guest Poster Dawn Allison

I read the following essay on Dawn Allison’s blog, Dawn Breaks, and I thought, “I have to share this with my NOLAFemmes readers!” It is such a beautiful and powerful essay on body image and how, with experience and (dare I say it) age, we tend to make peace with our self image and embrace just how amazing our bodies really are.

Dawn’s great-grandfather was a Louisiana native and relatives from both paternal and maternal sides of her family were transplants to New Orleans.  Her father introduced her to the city when she was 15 years old and she’s had an ongoing love affair with the city for 32 years now.

She’s the mother of 4 and grandmother of two.  Dawn was a contributer to “Louisiana In Words” which was published in 2007. She describes that experience as “incredibly humbling because there were so many “real” writers who contributed”. Hey, Dawn, I’ve got news for you. You’re a “real” writer too.
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Letter To My Body

This is different… a bit weird, really. But I’ve written a letter to my body after reading Kate’s who was inspired by Andrea whom she found at Plus Size Models Unite. As awkward as it is, it really is a wonderful idea.

Dear Physique,

I’ve been so hard on you. You didn’t do one thing to deserve all of those hateful, negative feelings I had toward you. I apologize for that.

In the beginning, you and I were fine. We spent so much time outside doing fun things. I was so excited to take you places—sometimes I would forget to dress you but a neighbor lady would call to let my mother know that I was playing outside in my birthday suit. I was only two years old so I hope you understand.

You did great things before I learned about fear. When my uncle wanted to show me off to his new bride, he took me to the golf course and asked me to do back-hand-springs. I asked him how many. “As many as you want,” he said. You flipped on command. I stopped when I felt dizzy. My uncle smiled and said, “I counted 14.” I’m sorry I didn’t appreciate you letting me do those cool tricks when I was 8 years old.

The day I fell out of a tree and broke your arm was the day I quit being fearless. My world became a more cautious place at age ten. At age 12, it became a very self-conscious place. I put limitations on you. I didn’t even like looking at you.

I know you overheard so much of what was said about you…about your size, your weight, your shape. You would have preferred that my mind hadn’t bought into all of that but like a wimp, I did. You never wanted to do anything wimpy. That was all me.

I tried to force change on you. I looked at glossy magazines covers and wished your bones poked out like the beautiful, hungry models. I did exercises I learned in a book titled “Thin Thighs in Thirty Days” hoping you would cooperate.

But you didn’t want to be thin. You wanted to be strong.

I finally understood that around the time I turned twenty-five. I’m sorry it took me so long. I quit wishing your legs would grow longer and thinner because for whatever reason, God designed you to be strong. I let that settled into my soul one day and realized that you could carry people out of burning buildings if necessary. It made me feel like I had purpose. It made me smile.

Thank you for being so fertile and carrying all those babies. I don’t fully understand why you had to suffer Hyperemesis Gravidarum and take me along for that ungodly ride…but you survived it. We both did. Charlotte Bronte did not. As difficult as it was growing babies, you birthed them like an athlete. If birthing babies was an Olympic Event, you would definitely have qualified. You produced plenty of milk to nurture babies. I never once woke in the night to prepare a bottle, thanks to you. You allowed me to snuggle and feed and sleep, all at the same time. For nine years total. My kids benefited from your goodness.

I wish I had been as good to you as you were to me. The body-image thing haunted me for far too many years and you took the punishment for it. The year I turned 40, my mind finally saw things your way. Something about my granddaughter coming into the world reversed all of that negativity. One day she caught a glimpse of my behind and said, “I see your hiney. It’s beautiful!” And that was all it took.

In a world filled with heartache and stress where people eat Lexapro, Zoloft, and Prozac like candy, you’ve allowed me to thrive on nothing but chocolate and a great endorphin rush to help combat the blues. You’ve allowed me keep doing cartwheels after ACL Reconstruction on both knees, not to mention the Lumbar Discectomy and Laminectomy. If I had been successful at making your thighs thinner, you wouldn’t have bounced back from these things like you did because studies show that strong quads give us more God-given pain relief. You must have known I’d need it someday.

It amazes me that you still want to run and play and ride mountain bikes after all of that. You keep things interesting. I really do love you. You’ve been so very good to me.

I finally learned to listen to you and discovered that you prefer a workout called Leg Hell over the Thinner Thighs thing. You crave intensity no matter what your size. Today I am sore from the work-out you did yesterday. As we speak, you are repairing all those micro-tears in the muscle fibers. I made sure to feed you plenty of good food to help the process because if I’m lucky, I’ve still got half a lifetime with you.

Thank you for putting up with me.