Super Bowl sleight-of-hand: Jackson Square remains open, Louis Armstrong Park is closed

NOPD Supt. Serpas, Mayor Landrieu, Councilmember Palmer, and other city officials at Armstrong Park’s re-opening on 11/18/11.

While City Hall has lived up to its word that Jackson Square would (technically) remain open to the public throughout the Super Bowl media activity, that policy does not apply equally to Louis Armstrong Park.

The NFL Honors ceremony, a two-hour prime time awards special event, will be held at the Mahalia Jackson Theatre on the evening prior to Super Bowl XLVII (Saturday, 2/2/13). And although the city’s official press release indicated that Armstrong Park would not be closed to the public in preparation for this event until Wednesday, 1/30/13, the park has, in fact, been locked up tight since Monday, 1/28/13.

Locked gates have been keeping the pubic out since Monday, 1/28/13.

Isn’t it particularly unfortunate that the one place designated by our city to recognize its jazz heritage isn’t available to the public — visitors and locals alike — at this time when our city is celebrating its moment in the media’s spotlight?

A tented red carpet now stretches from the St. Ann Street arched main entrance to the park all the way to the Mahalia Jackson Theatre; its construction reportedly started on Thursday, 1/24/13.

Here’s the thing: New Orleanians lived around 61 filming projects last year (without issue or incident). The current media activity in Jackson Square has been equally undisturbed… and yet, Louis Armstrong Park is closed.

So why is the park closed for a full week’s time for a one-night event?

20130130_093451Initially I’d thought that it’s because the city didn’t want to maintain security/a police presence, but now I suspect that there’s an even simpler explanation: because there’s nothing for the visitors to buy there, it’s been sold out for a private event, denying the public reasonable access without a second thought.

In discussing this casually online, one friend suggested that possibly it was a measure to steer our city’s visitors to destinations more directly aligned with the Clean Zone’s objectives and boundaries; he added that the enhanced police presence in the Clean Zone would also reinforce this theory.

Another friend replied, “[It’s] more like without a first thought — not a second one. It seems right now that we (the folks) are all in the back row for the big show.”

One can only wonder how much the city is being paid for this week of exclusive use and hope that those funds will eventually serve the public-at-large in a meaningful way.

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gumbo: a brief history

So when the Times Picayune decided to cut and run, to 3 days a week, I cancelled my subscription and started daily delivery of The Advocate. After 6 weeks I can honestly say I do still enjoy getting the daily paper. Of course they are not alike – I miss the Thursday (now Wednesday) TP food section and the daily obituaries, but aside from that I am enjoying the Advocate. One columnist who makes me laugh every day is Smiley Anders – even if you don’t get the Advocate, you can read his column online. Another interesting finding is that The Advocate reports on political issues before they happen, unlike the TP which reports on Baton Rouge politics after the fact. Case in point the recent privatization of OGB was addressed in the Advocate before it actually happened, and there was no mention in the TP until after it happened, and even then it was a tiny blurb buried in the Money Section.

But I digress. The Advocate has a Thursday Food section, and it nowhere near competes with the far superior TP food section. However there was a great story this past Thursday on the history of gumbo in Louisiana that bears repeating here. Cynthia Nobles writes an occasional column on Bites of History, and this week she deftly and succinctly describes the lineage of gumbo and how it has evolved over the years. The text is below:

Bites of History: Gumbo

Photo by Cynthia LeJeune NoblesMagpie Cafe's Seafood and Okra Gumbo has a secret ingredient -- espresso coffee.

CYNTHIA NOBLES

November 14, 2012

The next time you pull out your gumbo pot, consider that gumbo was invented in Louisiana and that it has been simmering on local stoves for almost 300 years. And be proud that the gumbo your family enjoys is a collaboration of various cultures.

But who actually cobbled together that first cauldron of gumbo? That question is always heatedly debated.

One theory has it that gumbo was invented by Choctaw Indians, who were known for cooking a stew that, like gumbo, was made with bits of everything. They also ate kombo, sassafras leaf, which was powdered to make the thickening ingredient filé, that eventually became a crucial gumbo ingredient.

Another school of thought is that gumbo started out as bouillabaisse, a French seafood soup of fish, broth, olive oil and saffron, which was popular in Old New Orleans. Some historians believe that after a century of cooking with nontraditional ingredients, the soup was no longer recognizable and had turned into a new dish known as gumbo.

We know for sure that roux, the thickening agent made from oil and flour, did come to Louisiana from France. But at some point, did some classically trained French chef in New Orleans decide to thicken bouillabaisse with roux? Unfortunately, we’ll probably never know.

An extremely popular scenario is that the earliest form of gumbo came to Louisiana with slaves. The Creole/Louisiana word “gumbo” is derived from the word for okra in the central Bantu dialect of West Africa. That region was home to many of the first Louisiana African slaves, who brought with them a love for spices, smothered greens and stews, and whose okra was originally known at “ki ngombo.” The word evolved into “quingombo” and was later shortened to “gombo,” then “gumbo.”

Another nod to the African connection is that Louisiana slaves in the 1700s ate their okra with rice, calling that dish ya ya.

The first documented evidence of gumbo appeared in the early 1800s, and the dish was then described as a soup made principally of (ta-dah!) okra and rice.

Other ethnic groups that landed on our shores are responsible for gumbo ingredients that today we consider standard. The Germans who settled the German Coast 40 miles upriver from New Orleans in 1721 were wildly successful farmers, and their andouille, the heavily smoked and seasoned pork sausage, became a mainstay of rustic country gumbos.

When the Spanish took over the colony in 1762, they brought chaurice, a spicy smoked sausage, along with a love for the use of tomatoes, onions, garlic and parsley. The Spanish were also lovers of ham, and a look at Lafcadio Hearn’s “La Cuisine Creole” (1885) shows that ham, not sausage, was commonly used in New Orleans gumbo at the time.

Seafood gumbo became popular after the arrival of yet another group of immigrants. In the late 1700s, Louisiana’s Spanish government needed to strengthen defenses against the British, and so recruited a group of fishermen from the Canary Islands not only to protect the colony, but also to help produce food.

Known locally as Isleños, these folks settled along Louisiana’s marshes and coast, where they fished enormous amounts of shrimp, crab and oysters. It is believed that their effort is a key reason why seafood gumbo grew so popular in New Orleans.


Although the Acadians did not actually invent gumbo, this group of hearty peasants certainly enhanced it. Avid hunters, the outcasts from Nova Scotia threw their game into iron pots and combined it with okra and hot spices from slaves, Native American filé and herbs, German sausages, and French roux. In the beginning, they actually served it over grits, not rice.

Often cooking with ingredients that were not at their freshest, the Acadians made their gumbos dark and thick, and seasoned them with a comparative heavy hand. Today we call that style of gumbo-making Cajun gumbo, while New Orleans’ more delicate tomato-laced seafood gumbo is considered Creole.

It is generally believed that the modern classic gumbo, a roux-based soup with seafood or meat and optional okra, filé, and tomatoes, was refined by slaves and common housewives, the two demographics who often had to make do with inferior food. And because so many ethnic hands contributed to gumbo’s ingredient list, this savory, comforting, complex and downright mysterious stew has come to personify the word “Creole.”

There’s little argument that it’s the dish that most visitors identify with our region. And it’s the one thing most think they have to have. Gumbo is so identifiable with our state that the Legislature even adopted it as Louisiana’s official cuisine.

So there is no doubt that gumbo, in all its glorious versions, is south Louisiana’s culinary rock star. And does it really matter who invented it? We’re all just glad that someone did.

Sources: Africans in Colonial Louisiana (Hall, 1995), New Orleans Cuisine (Tucker, 2008).

Cynthia LeJeune Nobles is a member of the Newcomb College Culinary History Writers Group and the author of LSU Press’s title “The Delta Queen Cookbook.” You can contact her at noblescynthia@gmail.com.

So yes the Advocate has some redeeming qualities, and coupled with all of the online resources and investigative bloggers of Southeast Louisiana, one has a plethora of sources to mine for information. Plus I still get to sit on my porch on on my sofa with a cup of coffee and read the paper every day, feeling the newsprint and hearing the crinkles as I fold the pages.

Post script: One addition to the TP I find absolutely horrible is the addition and prominent placement of James Varney on the Opinion pages. Varney is a hack – why on earth they replaced Stephanie Grace and the other op-ed writers with him, a former TP SPORTS REPORTER,  is beyond me. Just look at this piece by him: what makes it even more incredulous is how arrogant and belligerent Varney gets in the comments section. He could really be a big contributing factor to bring down the TP if he continues on unmuzzled. Good grief!

Jackson Square needs maintenance and patrolling, not superficial ordinances.

Under a new ordinance proposed by City Council President Kristin Gisleson Palmer at the request of Mayor Mitchell J. Landrieu, people would be allowed to walk through the Jackson Square pedestrian mall (the open space surrounding the fenced-in square itself) from 1:00 AM to 5:00 AM daily, but it would become illegal to stop, stand, or loiter during that period of time.

NFL Football Season Kick Off Parade on 9/9/10. (Photo by Kalen Wright, all rights reserved.)

After the nationally televised NFL extravaganza kick off concert event in Jackson Square highlighting the New Orleans Saints’ home opening game on Sept. 9, 2010, the 22-member Jackson Square Task Force was convened to address a myriad of community concerns. A report of this group’s recommendations was presented to City Council’s Governmental Affairs Committee on 2/7/11, including the following:

…Jackson Square is not a frozen piece of history.  Instead, it’s a vibrant residential, commercial and tourist hub that is under increasing pressure because of its popularity.  As citizens of New Orleans, we have an obligation to act as stewards of our urban and architectural heritage, particularly those of great significance.  It was in this spirit that Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer convened representatives of the area’s residential, business, institutional, municipal, and religious communities, so that we could come together to discuss ways to protect and preserve this space.

The carefully deliberated recommendations include designating a Special Events Point Person, assigning dedicated round-the-clock security, implementing consistent maintenance activity, and improving sanitation by designating a single entity to be responsible for that task.

In total, the group made 15 recommendations almost two years ago; to date, only one has been implemented (banning vehicles from the pedestrian mall). While the proposed ordinance may superficially address some of the concerns cited, an ineffectual closure of the pedestrian mall for a few hours’ time each day was not among the recommendations.

Smoke from the marsh fire in New Orleans East resulted in an eerily deserted Jackson Square at 2:00 PM on 8/30/11. (Photo by Kalen Wright, all rights reserved.)

If “tourism is ‘a perception-driven business’,”as stated by Landrieu spokesperson Ryan Berni, why is our city’s administration refusing to implement genuine and visible improvements to enhance Jackson Square? Why do the most recent actions by our elected officials instead suggest what could be described as being a conscious effort to create a “Constitution-free” zone in the French Quarter?

Sunset over Jackson Square and the St. Louis Cathedral as viewed from a balcony of the Lower Pontalba Building on 10/15/10. (Photo by Kalen Wright, all rights reserved.)

Last month, the American Planning Association named Jackson Square as one of the nation’s 10 great public spaces for 2012. Attempting to ban loitering at Jackson Square for a period of four hours daily will not preserve “its timeless design, historic and cultural significance, and views that encompass some of New Orleans’ rich architectural heritage.”

Mayor Landrieu and City Council, is this really the best that you can do?
Please focus on providing much-needed services (sanitation, maintenance, and security) that will improve the quality of visiting our city’s historic heart instead of proposing ordinances predestined for (wholly avoidable) legal challenges.

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Update 11/29/12 The Governmental Affairs Committee is presently tentatively scheduled to meet at 10:00 AM on Monday, December 3, 2012, at City Hall’s City Council Chambers, 1300 Perdido Street. It is believed at this time that the two ordinances regarding Jackson Square will be discussed and considered at this meeting. Voting regarding these ordinances could occur at any subsequent City Council Regular Meeting; the next is scheduled for Thursday, December 6, 2012. For additional information, please see the New Orleans City Council Calendar.

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Update 11/30/12Good News: Proposed ordinances re: Jackson Square’s pedestrian mall to be withdrawn

stopping the press

It arrived this week. The current bill has been parked on my kitchen table in plain sight and every time I look at it what initially began as a simmer has developed into a boiling anger. I was on the fence about what to do, but as of today, my mind is made up. I am dropping my subscription to the Times Picayune.

Lets look at the math. The current monthly daily paper rate is $18.95. The publisher thinks they are giving its subscribers a deal by reducing the rate two whole dollars to $16.95 a month – a price for less than half of a paper subscription. I’ll give it to them that the Sunday paper does indeed cost a bit more, so I’ll pay them no more a half off rate of $9.47 a month for 3 days of newsprint. But I’d better not hold my breath, hah. Anyone can plainly see that the rate is exponentially increased for an inferior product. Why on earth would anyone in their right mind support this blatant money grab?

Now lets explore the quality. The paper has been circling the drain over the past year. Take the sports section for example – I like to relax at home with a sporting event playing in the background on TV, baseball being one of them. All this season, the major league schedule in the sports section has been hit and miss; lately all that appears in the “If you want to watch it” section is “Regional baseball coverage”. No times, no teams, nada. Other affected sections are of course the abbreviated Monday Metro section, the notable gaps in the real estate transfers, the sketchy political coverage, the printing of irrelevant national fluffy news stories that have no relevance to New Orleans, and the gradual loss over time of newsworthy substance.

What before was a central repository where one could skim the newsprint quickly for the days events – the television schedule, the clubs and restaurants, what current politician is treading the walk of shame and who should be contacted because their loved one recently died has now been completely decentralized. Citizens will be forced to get into the habit of consulting various different resources such as local television broadcasts and websites, Gambit Weekly, WWOZ, NOMENU, and the multitude of newsworthy and politically current southeast Louisiana and southern Mississippi blogs such as The Lens, Slabbed, American Zombie, C.B. Forgotston, CenLamar and Uptown MessengerAdvance Publications and the Newhouse family are deluded to think that loyalty to a 3 day a week paper and a sub-standard and barely navigable website will supplant the many resources locals will have to tap into to make up for the news void the other 4 days of the week. The drawback however in tapping into multiple resources is having to sit down at a computer or thumb through a smart phone to find the current news and events, which is much more time consuming than reading newsprint. Our time is much more valuable than that, so why would we pay a hefty sum for the 3 day a week inconvenience of a mound of irrelevant content? This dearth of CURRENT information will also serve to cut us off and hasten the decline in local commerce.

The saddest thing is, with the loss of a daily paper, New Orleanians will become disconnected from the world, especially the population that aren’t wired to the internet. Maybe that is the goal – to marginalize us down here as unimportant, and unworthy of the information that makes the rest of the country tick. After the failure of the federal levee system in 2005, the seed was planted elsewhere that we don’t matter, hence the blatant disregard we’ve experienced which in this particular instance is coming from a greedy corporation that is deluded in believing they are providing us our “news” . This is atrocious – this region is one of the last bastions of a unique American culture and we will fight to the death to survive, despite all the “outsiders” such as Newhouse who dare to think we don’t matter anymore.

I appeal to everyone within earshot of this blog – we don’t need to support a piss-poor news source. We don’t need to enrich Advance Publications and the Newhouses beyond their $7.63 billion dollar worth by subscribing to a shell of the former Times Picayune. All we can hope for is the aggregate local outrage will cut Advance off at the knees rather than suffer the insult of the occasional newspaper. Hopefully another benevolent entity will step up to the plate and resume a daily publication that centralizes all of newsworthy and current events affecting New Orleans. For now, I’ll enjoy saving the annual $203.40, but believe me I’d gladly resume payment in return for a daily newspaper. We deserve much better – consider stopping the press and stop paying for this pseudo paper!

Help support CODOFIL

As a result of the recent budget cuts during the 2012 Louisiana state legislative session, coupled with a line item veto, CODOFIL, the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana has felt the impact of a $100,000 cut in their funding. This amounts to a 40% reduction in its operating budget. So the organization is holding an online fundraiser, seeking a $1.00 donation from 100,000 Cajuns, Creoles and friends of the French language in Louisiana to maintain its budget and continue its outreach supporting the use of French Language in Louisiana.

If you are interested in the organization and helping CODOFIL reach its goal, please consider following this link to support their mission: to offer Louisiana’s citizens, whether they be of French ancestry or not, the opportunity either to learn French or to enhance and utilize the French they already know; and to explore, understand and support Cajun, Creole and Francophone heritage in Louisiana for the cultural, economic and touristic benefit of all its citizens. And here is a link to the CODOFIL Facebook page – thanks!

Additionally, please allow me to raise awareness for a second, worthy association that promotes the French language and culture in Louisiana namely Action Cadienne. Please consider this organization too as part of the efforts to preserve the Acadian heritage of Louisiana.

New Orleans City Park Annual Spring Garden Show

My latest “holy grail” has me looking for French mulberry shrubs, also known as beauty berry, specifically the Callicarpa americana var. lactea or French mulberry white cultivar. For some bizarre reason which I cannot explain, all of the shrubs in my landscape have white blooms – I didn’t intentionally start out that way, but that’s the direction its headed. Plus french mulberry attracts birds and is very easily propagated despite their relatively short lifespan (8-10 years). I’ve been calling nurseries and searching websites, but this shrub described by Dan Gill in his Louisiana Gardener’s Guide has proven elusive. So I thought perhaps I could get more information or even find a vendor selling this plant at the City Park Garden Show this morning, and brought my camera along for the ride. 

The parking lot across from the Botanical Garden has been paved!

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One of the beautiful entry gates, by Enrique Alférez

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More sculptures by Mr. Alférez

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At the entrance to the botanical garden was a table where volunteers were offering Friends of City Park memberships

To the right of the entrance were sections where vendors were selling flowers, garden supplies and garden decorations

Boudreaux’s Woodworking Shop was there – I own one of his comfy porch rockers

Bonsai!!!

A pretty shadow box of flowers

There were children’s activity tents, and a section where volunteers with the Botanical Gardens were selling plants

Bromeliads and orchids were available for sale

LSU Ag Center was holding gardening discussions – this mornings presentation was on bee keeping, and there was a table where attendees could ask gardening questions and obtain a soil sample mailing for $10.00.

I then strolled around the gardens to take in the beauty…

The Rose Garden

Century plant

The cactus greenhouse

Tropical rain forest greenhouse

The butterfly garden

Still no luck on finding the white Callicarpa, but now I have a few more leads…wish me luck on my quest!

Historic French Quarter and Faubourg Tremé defaced with graffiti advertising Coca-Cola products

It is my opinion that the City of New Orleans is being pimped out promoted at an unprecedented level (to a degree that gives rise to what could be described as “neighborhood fatigue”). Such heavy promotion rarely occurs without unintended consequences: for example, illegal, ugly, and damaging guerrilla marketing campaigns. This kind of defacement is unconscionable and must be addressed immediately.

The following is a letter I sent this evening to elected officials and law enforcement; I’m tired, so it was brief and to the point.

Spray-painted stenciled graffiti advertising a Coca-Cola product in conjunction with the NCAA Men’s Final Four event.

Honorable Mayor Landrieu, Councilmembers Palmer and Clarkson, and NOPD 8th District Commander Walls:

The attached photos depict advertising associated with the NCAA Men’s Final Four event for Coca-Cola products — spray-painted on sidewalks and pavement (including flagstones) in the French Quarter and Faubourg Tremé (and perhaps other) neighborhoods in our city. I ask, is this really how we want companies to behave when our city hosts national events?

This advertising is also prohibited by a recently adopted New Orleans ordinance:

Sec. 134-128. – Advertisements on streets, telegraph poles, etc., prohibited.

(a)  It shall be unlawful for any person or entity to post or paint advertisements of any kind on any street, sidewalk, public buildings, utility poles, light standards, street signs, parking meters, trees located in public right-of-way or traffic signal standards.

(b)  Any unlawful posted or painted advertisement on any street, sidewalk, public buildings, utility poles, light standards, street signs, parking meters, trees located in public rights-of-way or traffic signal standard shall be seized and removed.

(c)  It shall be the responsibility of the Department of Sanitation or the Department of Parks and Parkways to devise a system of removal for such signs.

(d)  It shall be unlawful to distribute or cause to be distributed any commercial product samples, commercial advertising brochures, leaflets pamphlets or commercial literature of any kind on the streets and sidewalks of the city, except as otherwise provided in this Code.

(M.C.S., Ord. No. 24452, § 1, 6-2-11)

Source: http://library.municode.com/HTML/10040/level3/PTIICO_CH134SI_ARTIIIRE.html#PTIICO_CH134SI_ARTIIIRE_S134-128ADSTTEPOETPR

Spray-painted stenciled graffiti advertisement on flagstone surface for another Coca-Cola product.

Can you please reply to this email indicating how you intend to address this defacement of public property?

Thank you for your time, consideration, and prompt response.

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It is regrettable that there isn’t an easy solution or means to expedite addressing such issues promptly when they arise. Situations like this will be ongoing concerns; the hope is for action on the part of our City’s Administration that will yield consistent improvement. While some of the factors that cause defacement or damage can be abated, vigilance and timely remedies must be implemented.

Likewise, the consistent enforcement of existing and new ordinances will also determine the degree of success experienced in addressing these issues over time. While private property owners can be compelled to take action to address, for example, structural or blight issues, there is no similar mechanism available to compel the city to address such defacement promptly or focus on enforcement.

Stated simply, the most significant difference between historic beauty and hazardous decay is cumulative, uninterrupted neglect. The continued degradation of the historic heart of New Orleans cannot remain unaddressed, particularly if one considers that our amazing city will be in an ever-increasing spotlight while hosting the 2013 Super Bowl and celebrating its 300th Anniversary in 2018.

In loving memory of Charlie: LAST CALL…

Charlie Smith, Jazz Fest Day 2 2009. Photo by Michelle B. Kimball © Preservation Resource Center, Advocacy Dept.

We’d met on an intermittently drizzly day in the heart of  the Vieux Carré in January 1992, when I’d stopped to check out the poetry he was peddling at Jackson Square. He watched me reading, not saying a word, then turned and rummaged through a couple of banker’s boxes and pulled a short story he’d written titled “The Girl in the Black Trenchcoat” from a manila file folder which he handed to me with flourish as a greeting gift. The story obviously wasn’t about me (as we’d not yet met), but it resonated immediately. I still have those three type-written pages in a box of keepsakes, safely tucked away.

We were kindred — he’d recognized it from the get-go, and I’m still grateful that I was smart enough to roll with it (despite my New-to-New-Orleans wariness) until I eventually realized that he was absolutely right. I’ve never been good about keeping in touch with people as time passes and the scenery changes, but I somehow managed to keep in contact with Charlie over the years in between then and now, and he welcomed me back when I returned to New Orleans.

If love were enough to keep anybody on this side of the daisies, Charlie would have been a formidable, wry, growling, mischievous, and lively raconteur forever — a one-man court jester/Greek chorus hybrid who’d never pull a punch when he had something on his mind that needed to be said out loud. This man was family to me; he’s the reason why I took up deviling local politicians and community figures as my most favorite sport, and his ability to speak the oft-overlooked yet simple truth of a situation will continue to inspire me. I was delighted when he decided to throw his hat back into the lobbying ring and by the artful descriptions he’d craft for his most recent clientele; as the only lobbyist inducted to date in the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame, he was truly legendary, unforgettable, and unique.

I’m happy that the last time we kept lengthy company (blissfully grazing at a pig roast party at Pravda on Lower Decatur), he got to see me use my two minutes of  unanticipated and impromptu face time with Louisiana State Senator Edwin R. Murray to my best advantage… Charlie just smiled and looked proudly amused as I excused myself from the conversation we’d been enjoying to address Sen. Murray directly after he’d taken the seat at our table across from me. Sen. Murray was visibly stunned (as if he didn’t know what had just hit him), and one could also see my date’s brain cells colliding as he watched me snap from relaxed & casual to being a political creature with a three-bullet-point agenda in the blink of an eye, securing a follow-up meeting on the spot. The guy I’d been seeing back then is history for all the right reasons (I remember noticing Charlie watching him quietly and I could see that he’d thought that the guy couldn’t keep up with me), but Sen. Murray hasn’t forgotten my name since, most likely because I’d been in Charlie’s company that evening.

I only knew Charlie after he’d paid his dues and cleaned up his act, and I loved him as I found him — I can only imagine who he’d been in the years prior from the stories he’d occasionally share. I’m pretty sure that I’d have liked him, had I known him “back when,” but I also suspect that I respected and admired him more for his having learned how to live beyond all of that. I think what I loved the most about him was that his smile always reached his eyes and I believe that this was true because of everything he’d experienced, not in spite of.

Here’s who Charlie was, in his own words from the introduction to his first poetry collection, before he chose a different way to go about living his life:

I was sitting, actually I was lying — passed out — drunk and stupid, in this place called the “Copper Bar” next to the Las Vegas Hilton at about three in the morning when this hooker woke me up and handed me my wallet. “You’re sure lucky I’m an honest hooker,” she said. “Don’t bother to count it, you’ve got $1,400 in there; I didn’t touch a thing.”

I thanked her and she said, “Look, it’s obvious to me that you don’t know shit from beans about Vegas or your wouldn’t have been so dumb as to fall out in this place. I’m off duty so what say I show you the ropes around town and you can throw me a chip every now and then… I mean, I just saved your ass $1,400 and all.”

She was right on all counts so we had a drink, and she showed me around Vegas. During the course of the night, or morning (there’s not much difference in a city that doesn’t recognize time), she told me her story.

She said she was a housewife in one of the Carolinas and, having read one too many Vivas or Cosmopolitans, had decided that she wasn’t getting her share of Life’s multi-orgasmic climaxes so she got together all the green stamps she could from her checking and savings accounts, left her hubby a note (just said “Bye.”), checked on a Greyhound Bus and headed to Las Vegas.

On arriving, she discovered that she really loved gambling and had no marketable job skills. It didn’t take her long to run out of money, so she turned to hooking for a living. Life can be hard on you anywhere, but in Vegas you’re operating at a higher rate of speed than anywhere else, and she was due to leave town soon. But, she told me, “At least I’ll have enough material for my book.”

I told her I also wrote, not books but poetry, so she told me what her title was going to be (with some people, titles come first). She said, “Since it’s going to be based on my life, I’m going to call it I GOT OFF THE BUS TWO YEARS AGO, AND I’M STILL WAITING FOR LAST CALL.”

To me, that’s the best title for hard living I’ve ever heard. The people I know, the street people, politicians, entertainers, bartenders, etc., are all waiting for the last call. I haven’t seen her book out so maybe she won’t mind me using her idea. She probably won’t see this book, either, so I guess we’re even.

This is dedicated to all the people who think what I write. The poems were almost all written in some confused state of mind, and a drunk that thinks in iambic pentameter can feel awfully silly the next morning when he looks at what’s been scrawled on the napkins, but that goes with the territory. I thought some of the poems would make great songs and had a flirtation with that idea, but nothing ever came of it. Maybe something will develop sometime or another.

Or maybe it won’t, but as Mr. Vonnegut might say, “So it goes.”

(From Still Waiting For Last Call… © 1987 by Charlie Smith)

Charlie’s Jazz Fest Cape, Jazz Fest Day 2 2009. Photo by Michelle B. Kimball © Preservation Resource Center, Advocacy Dept.

Thanks to the magic of the ether and pixels, some of Charlie’s songs can be enjoyed here: Charlie Smith’s Songs.

Via a post from Charlie’s daughter on Facebook: “The service will be held at Jacob Schoen & Son funeral home [3827 Canal Street, New Orleans] on Tuesday, March 6, 2012, with visitation beginning at 5:00 PM until 8:00 PM, and then a service held in the chapel at 8:00 PM. Black is always the first choice at funerals, but we think LSU apparel would probably best honor Daddy, so please feel free to break out your purple and gold. This will be an obviously sad occasion, but it should also be a time to celebrate his life. We are not quite sure about the charity to donate to in lieu of flowers, but will post that when we know.” (Me? I’ll be wearing a Jazz Fest shirt, celebrating my memories of Charlie when he’d wear a flamboyant purple cape inscribed in gold lettering with “Defender of Arts / Pets / Historic Preservation / Coastal Restoration / King of Jazz Fest.”)

In closing, I offer this from the poignant-yet-funny write-up by political editor Clancy DuBos of The Gambit titled “Charlie’s Way”: “I once wrote that if Charlie didn’t exist, we’d have to invent him. Suffice it to say that Louisiana politics is cleaning up its act, which makes Charlie’s exit from the stage timely — but the story will be a lot less fun to watch without him.”

His obituary can be viewed here: Charles Leslie Smith — September 9, 1942 – March 1, 2012.

Unexplained Nostalgia on Race Street

Last Saturday morning I was delighted to see my favorite New Orleans home featured in Inside Out, the Home and Design supplement to The Times Picayune. I’ve driven past this house/compound on Tchoupitoulas and Race more times than I can count and always wished I could see inside so it was a treat to be able to see some of the rooms inside and read about the family who owns it. Problem is, as beautiful as the feature is, there wasn’t nearly enough photos of the courtyard that can only be glimpsed through the beautiful wrought iron gate facing Race Street. It left me hungry for more!

I’ve wondered about the family who lived there and was happy to learn how much they love the house. It’s owned by the Semmes’ family who painstakingly restored the compound that includes a townhouse, slave quarters and cottage arranged around a central courtyard. They bought the property about 30 years ago and Mr. Semmes says,

“When I started looking around here, there were many more old houses and warehouses than there are today, but it was clear change was coming. There was just this feeling that you wanted to reach back and hold onto it before it slipped away.”

When  I look at this place I feel kind of nostalgic in a way I can’t explain or describe. New Orleans is filled with beautiful historic homes – grand ones and humble ones – but there’s always been something special about this home for me. Over the past 3 or so years I’ve taken a few snapshots which I’ve posted here. I hope you like them as much as I do. (Click to embiggen.)

Rebirth on the Bayou

Almost seven years after it was swamped by Katrina, St. Genevieve Catholic Church on Bayou Liberty has been rebuilt. I pass the church on my daily commute, so I watched in January 2007 as they demolished the old church , built in 1958. I have followed and chronicled her rebirth for the past five years .

On January 15, 2012 St. Genevieve opened to her parishoners. It was a beautiful thing to witness.

This is what she looked like before Katrina

During the groundbreaking in October of 2010, parishioners were asked to place a small amount of dirt from their home into the groundbreaking hole in celebration of their unity.

The doors to the church were donated by Dr. John Breaux and were produced in Honduras. They depict the history of the parish from the time it was a mission until the present new church.

In 1852, a brick chapel was built by Mrs. Anatole Cousin on land she donated.

In 1914, Father Francis Balay renovated the old church and rededicated it

In 1950s another Bayou Liberty Church – St. Linus – was merged with St. Genevieve

In 1958, a new church building was built and dedicated Dec. 28 by Reverend Joseph Rummel.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina destroyed the church. Immediately following the storm, Mass was celebrated under an oak tree for several weeks and then in the parish hall.


It was such a good feeling to see the old steeple rising toward the heavens again

The original stained glass windows are used in the new church (photo by Slidell Sentry News)

The altar looks out over Bayou Liberty

The old Chapel is shown here after the church was razed

And now the Chapel is once again united with the church

After Katrina, St. Genevieve’s pastor is quoted as saying: “The church is not the building, but the people, we are the church.”
~ Reverend Roel Lungay

I salute the strength and faith parishioners of St. Genevieve and congratulate them on this long-time coming occasion.