LEJ's Blog

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Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

L. E. J. covered Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (2005), and the 2010 British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico for Consumer Affairs.com. He is a contributor to Gambit Weekly, New Orleans Magazine, SCAT, Baton Rouge Advocate, Advocate Magazine, The Times-Picayune, and Country Roads Magazine, and the books FRENCH QUARTER FICTION (Light of New Orleans Publishing), LOUISIANA IN WORDS (Pelican Publishing), LIFE IN THE WAKE (NOLAfuges.com), and more. Johnson is a former Merchant Seaman, and columnist at Les Amis de Marigny, New Orleans; and African-American Village. Attended Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, and Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship at Piney Point, Maryland. Winner of the Press Club of New Orleans Award for Excellence, 1991, and given the Key to The City and a Certificate of Appreciation from the New Orleans City Council for a Gambit Weekly story on murder in the French Quarter.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

An Interlude / July 2014

Yours Truly in a Swamp,
Monthly e-column by
Leonard Earl Johnson, of Lafayette and New Orleans
July, 2014

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An Interlude
by Leonard Earl Johnson's editor 

Yours Truly in a Swamp, Part Three of Trains, Festivals, Funerals and Food, e-column by Leonard Earl Johnson will be late this July.

Mr. Johnson beat his computer to death over multi-use mouse pad issues and awaits arrival of a new machine.
Mickey Easterling at her funeral, New Orleans

In the meantime we suggest re-reading archival columns. Perhaps parts one and two of Trains, Festivals, Funerals and Food (good telling of two recent New Orleans funerals).

LEJ was last seen grumbling, boarding Amtrak's Sunset Limited ~ West, in Lafayette. Bound for Houston and Los Angeles.

Sunset Limited, Westbound photo courtesy of Amtrak

Leonard Earl Johnson, Houmas House 
Photo-credit,  Maureen Brennan
"Bet your last dollar he will be drinking in the barcar somewhere between Los Angeles and Big Swamp City, New Orleans," opined L. A. Norma. 

Though headed out in the wrong direction, LEJ will turn around and arrive on Frenchmen Street, New Orleans, in time to join the panel of distinguished judges drinking and adjudicating at the Hemingway Looking-alike Contest, Sunday, July 13, at The  Maison (on the day before Bastille Day)!

Please join us, and remember LEJ's motto: 'One Whiskey One Vote!'

LEJ is the Hemingway wearing a sailor's cap
Photocredit: Sunday Parker, 
New Orleans Hemingway Contest, 2013
- to be continued -

Copyright, 2014, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved

Free Interlude music 

Sunday, June 01, 2014

George Dureau: Part 2, Trains, Festivals, Funerals and Food / June 2014

Yours Truly in a Swamp

June 2014


a monthly e-column by 

Leonard Earl Johnson
of Lafayette and New Orleans

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George Dureau: 

Trains, Festivals, Funerals 
and Food
~ Part two ~

by Leonard Earl Johnson

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George Dureau, 1930~2014,
before the Freeman Courtyard Gates, co-created with Ersey Swartz,
at the New Orleans Museum of Art
Photo credit: George H. Long

George Dureau 
was a New Orleans parade-master like most of us would be, if we could. 

He was born in New Orleans and became an artist renowned in his hometown and abroad. His work graces iconic metropolitan spaces like the walls at Gallier Hall on Saint Charles Avenue (in 1862 City Hall, when New Orleans fell to Farragut's landing party). His rendering of Artemis, Greek Goddess, twin of Apollo, tops the pediment at Harrah's Casino on Canal Street. And his works rest in museums around the World.

"Show me someone with those credits," L. A. Norma said, flicking a Camel Cigarette from the steps of the Patrick Taylor Library at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, "and we'll both be looking at some-great from Big Swamp City, New Orleans." We are here for Dureau's memorial starting inside momentarily. The Library is tucked behind the Confederate Museum, housing swords and remnants of New Orleans first Carnival. Commenting once on the old museum's dreariness, Dureau said he would do it as a"Roman romp."

Why he didn't romp too far from home. 

Like they say in France, "Why travel when you are here!?"

Dureau grew up along Bayou Saint John and never moved too far away. "I lived in twelve houses," he told Otis Fenneley, in a You-tube video biography by David Zalkind. The three are standing on Frenchmen Street outside FAB, Fenneley's Faubourg Marigny Art and Books. Fenneley was not born here, but both men are true sons of New Orleans and longtime friends. Zalkind in earlier days clerked at the bookshop. 

"The elder artist stopping on his bicycle ride through his epic memories to visit his old friend and shopkeeper," Norma whispered.

Fenneley constructed a window-memorial from some old charcoal sketches and fragments of broken sculpture. It faces Chartres street traffic and the tourist-popular Praline Connection restaurant and candy store across the street. 

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Dureau attended Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. Then came back to his succession of, "Thirteen homes - if you count the last one," Norma whispers.  

Once he lived in an exquisitely dilapidated mansion on Esplanade Avenue. Another time, in a large second-floor space overlooking Cabrini Park (the dog park in the Quarter) from a curved gallery over a street-level book store named Kaboom (post-Katrina, moved to Houston). Its erudite owner was famous in the neighborhood -- as Dureau would say, opening his hands beside his large face, "For knowing more about everything than anyone else cared to know."  

 George Dureau Memorial, Friday, April 18, 2014. Taylor Library Auditorium, Ogden Museum of Southern Art

Cover by Robert Mapplethorpe

New York photographer, Robert Mapplethorpemade Dureau's portrait during a visit arranged by Arthur Roger. It is reproduced on today's memorial program. Arthur Roger Gallery exhibited both men.

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In his strikingly handsome youth, Dureau drove an open-air black Jeep with his raven hair and beard flowing in the wind-stream. And when he grew older, he sold the Jeep and rode a bicycle daily around the Quarter.

His career began as a window dresser at Kreeger's Department Store on Canal Street. And his most productive years were lived in the Quarter. Variously near such notables as Ruthie the Duck Lady, who once told Dureau, he remembered with glee, "George, we are almost all gone." 

Also nearby lived Clay Shaw (acquitted of killing JFK). And William Fagaly, longtime curator at the New Orleans Museum of Art.  Fagaly, along with the English art critic, Edward Lucie-Smith, played significant drums in Dureau's parade. 

Later he met Kate Nachod, who worked as a research librarian at the Louisiana Supreme Court on Royal Street. He walked her from car to Court. "A famous artist makes me breakfast," the smitten Nachod told her friends. She watched over him in his final years. The two effectively adopted each other. 

His was a life lived large, with his last breath drawn -- thanks to Nachod and the Arthur Roger Gallery drumming fans, friends and admirers for funds to do so -- in a nursing home in Kenner. "The place of airports and final departures," Norma whispered, under The Library's cathedral ceiling made from hundred-years-old cypress.

Kenneth Holditch, Tennessee Williams Professor Emeritus at the University of New Orleans gave eulogy remembering he had delivered the same for Dureau's Mother's memorial. "He asked I do this for him, today."

Dureau moved effortlessly amid the classy milieu of Uptown parties and Downtown romps, and on-the-Lake soirees at the sprawling palace of the late Mickey Easterling.  Both died in 2014, around age 83 / 82, during the time of Louisiana's great music festivals in New Orleans and Lafayette. Otherwise they would have attended each other's funeral. And then gone off to hear the music.

George loved I Want A Little Sugar In My Bowl, Nina Simone.  "It was always playing at his studio, I am told," said New Orleans dapper physician / TV-commentator on civic health, Doctor Brobson Lutz, though born in Mississippi, another true son of NOLa.  Lutz is considered the go-to guy by many in the press. You may recall him quoted in the New York Times after Hurricane Katrina, prescribing a beer and seeing to it the only two bars open had ice. A noted art collector, Lutz displays Dureau's work in his Uptown offices, and keeps a prized triptych in his French Quarter dining room. We talked at Mickey Easterling's feast and funeral.

"That's a new take on the old New Orleans' adage about eating meals while discussing eating-meals, huh?" ~ L. A. Norma.

Lagniappe du jour

Wynton Marsalis, Eric Clapton, Tashma Hall, Sweet Papa Don Vappie, Alley Jackson, and more.

~ To be continued ~
Copyright, 2014, Leonard Earl Johnson
All Rights Reserved 

T-Shirts, Koozies, LEJ.org icebox magnets

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Mickey Easterling: Trains, Festivals, Funerals and Food, part 1 / May 2014

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Leonard Earl Johnson was off 

a few weeks
recouping from much over-doing.

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Yours Truly in a Swamp

a monthly e-column by Leonard Earl Johnson
of Lafayette and New Orleans

Mickey Easterling:

Trains, Festivals, Funerals and Food
~Part one~
by Leonard Earl Johnson
"Rest in Peace"

Amtrak's Sunset Limited bound for Los Angeles

Mickey Easterling
Corpse Tableau
Mickey Easterling's Last Party,
Saenger Theater, New Orleans.
April 2014, at age 83.

Our train from Laughingyette arrived in New Orleans three days before opening day of this year's gigantic gorgeous, gorging French Quarter Festival. It has grown some from that first one in 1984.  We have been to them all!

First conceived to divert world attention from street work being inflicted on little French Quarter streets for greater mobs said to be coming to Town for the New Orleans 1984 World's Fair -- the only fair in history not attended by the hosting head of state, Ronald Reagan.  

The mobs were thinner than promised, and the World's Fair went bankrupt. Still, promoters built housing where there had been abandoned warehouses, and others built art gallerias, museums and cafes.  Bankruptcy for some, and a rising Phoenix for others. 

A cruel scribe at TIME magazine wrote that Fall: 

"New Orleans gave a huge party and no one came..."  

We came. We loved it. But the masses? Like Frank Lloyd Wright said when America failed to embrace his designs for public housing, "Them asses," took their lead from President Reagan and stayed home.

Back then, at the old Snug Harbor on Frenchmen Street, a poet who'd had enough Fair-despair painted this above the urinal, "Nuke The Fair / Who Needs It". 

We had all had enough dry-landers bad-mouthing our very good sense of good times. We are New Orleans!  

The Fair finally folded its tent. In bankruptcy. Designed to embarrass some and make others rich?  Who cared? Whee-the-people enjoyed the party.  Still do. And TIME magazine is out of print!

"Only improvements I ever saw were inlaid plaques praising the wisdom of The Mayor, City Council, and the hard-hat company installing the brass plaques," L. A. Norma said.

"It worked," our favorite cabby/poet/actor remarked, "today's Festivals lur'em by the millions with the eternal promise of a little help from our strangers."  

Saxophones wailed like Sirens from-the-rickrack.  

Our driver pulled the cab to the curb on Canal Street, in front of the Saenger Theatre and said, "America's floundering masses heard our answer and every day rain from airplanes like beads at Carnival time."

We Festigate!

For food, music, and seeing old faces and new faces asking directions of colorful local us.  Not so much these days. Like Jazzfest before, alas, success is measured in large numbers only. Mostly?

"And good times," Norma said. 

For the good times this season we took two trains, attended numerous music events, two funerals and ate more meals than good health actually requires. 

The Corpse Tableau Funeral of Mickey Easterling

was tastefully celebrated in the refurbished Egyptian / Spanish / 1920-ish lobby of the Saenger Theatre, a luxurious space built for motion picture arts and more. 

The Saenger is what was called an "Atmospheric," where clouds rolled o'er the ceiling and stars twinkled in the sky. They do again. Grand Dame, Mickey Easterling was noted for her work restoring this palace after Hurricane Katrina, as well as giving bicycles to urchins at Christmas.

New Orleans Advocate: 
Video Mickey Easterling Funeral. 
(slow downloading but nice after the long wait)

Easterling was a short lady with a sharp tongue and a two-foot-long silver cigarette holder.  "A perfect match for Katrina restoration," Norma said, plunking her cigarette butt into a plump, oven-like receptacle with a long neck topped by a single open eye. 

Easterling gave lavish parties that allowed smoking.  "It is my damn house," she was quoted saying by New Orleans Museum of Art Director Emeritus, E. John Bullard, who was not in attendance because of art-award ceremonies in Baton Rouge.

"Many never smoked, and never left her parties early," Mr. Bullard said with an engaging grin.

The press fell all over itself reporting Easterlings' story. In so doing they came closer to New Orleans' heart than they did with the ones about the World's Fair. 

"Our charming decadence, as if it had not been seen before," L. A. Norma said. 

(Beloved Uncle Lionel Batiste, drummer, singer, music man exited the stage standing beside his casket, in 2012. YouTube video of his Secondline. Note the number of celebrants is big as a Mayor or President's funeral, 
faster download, too.)

Our cab driver, his T-shirt proclaiming, "My Parents Went to New Orleans, and All I Got is This Lousy I. Q.," left his cab at the curb and skittered inside to say good by, drink Champagne, down a few fried oysters on a toothpick, some cracked crab in puff pastry dishes, and eggplant splashed with Crystal and Tabasco pepper sauces. 

Mickey would have loved it, everyone agreed.  She sat at final court on a park bench flanked by greenery.  Cigarette in one hand, a fluted Champagne glass aloft in the other. A trademark brooch set with diamonds reading, "BITCH" was pinned to her silk blouse.
- to be continued -

Part 2

Copyright, 2014, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved


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Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Easter on River of Bourbon Street / April 2014

Yours Truly in a Swamp

April 2014

Monthly column by 

Leonard Earl Johnson
of Lafayette and New Orleans

* * *

Easter on the River of Bourbon Street
Leonard Earl Johnson


Dedicated  to the memory of New Orleans artist and parade master

George Dureau
passed April 7, 2014, at 83
"Our parade grows shorter" ~ L. A. Norma

Pink Rabbit for New Orleans, Poydras Street. 
Artists: Trisha Kyner, David Friedheim
After Mass, L. A. Norma and I left the witch-hat-towers of Saint Louis Cathedral, and headed for the soaring balconies of Bourbon Street, where we were lifted on the chaliced wings of whiskey, served from temporal cathedrals named, Oz, and Bourbon Pub. 

There are many Ozs and Pubs on this street, but these two are dance-halls flanking the intersection of Bourbon and Saint Ann. Once they were populated exclusively by gay men. Then gay men and gay women. And now -- especially when balcony seating is open -- adventursome folks reading the National Geographic and taking Sea cruises.

The dance-halls stand as a demarcation between Reader's Digest tourists, on one side ebbing back towards Canal Street; and those tourists who yearn to venture towards the gentrified mysteries of the lower Quarter, Faubourg Marigny, Treme', and Bywater.

We took seats on the balcony above 
the Pub's swinging shingle, and watched
Courtesy of French Quarter Festivals 
the masses with arms upraised in jubilation of Christ's Resurrection, or for beads.

Touched by Easter's spirit and the elfin Mr. Booze, we saw Jesus walking down this street of sin. He wore a crown of thorns over His long black hair. 

He wore sandals, too, and was naked save for a loincloth cut like the one in the paintings. He was thin and looked like He might be Filipino, but mostly He looked like Jesus. Everyone on the balcony thought so.

True to The Book 

He was slumming with local rabble, and reveling in their Easter experience. As they did His.

"Well, theirs is a damn sight better'n His," L. A. Norma said, tapping her fingers along the tiny silver figure on her crucifix necklace. 

"I say skip the crucifixion, forget fasting, and go straight for the Resurrection."

Everyone laughed, glowing in the clear and righteous wonder of her thought.

A few years back, a few blocks up the street, Chris Owens, an elderly Bourbon Street dancer with staying power, conducted her annual Easter Parade. Grand-master was David Duke. A brass band made up of midgets played, while elder ladies of the snatched-bodies cult, and a half dozen or so young bunnies in pastel furs marched and rode atop convertibles. The bunnies threw underpants to the crowd. 

Among this human eddy, none gave any notice whatsoever to the walking Jesus.


a tourist family standing against the downstream wall of Pete Fountain's (now Club Oz), directly across the street from where we sat. 

The father was wide-eyed. The girl, about seventeen, waved up to us. The pubescent son giggled and hugged his mother. Then along came Jesus headed straight for them. 

The tourist mother looked offended. She gathered her brood and paddled them off down the street. Jesus did not seem bothered by their departure. After all, He wrote the book on forgiveness. 

The sinners went on about their sinning.

Then the Pope appeared on the Oz balcony. He stood directly above where the tourist family had been, dressed head-to-toe in yellow and white satin. He blessed all who passed beneath him. He looked across the river of Bourbon Street and blessed us, too. We waved, and he motioned us over. We crossed the street and took our seats at the Pope's table.

We looked back at the Bourbon Pub balcony. The Pope, ever wise, said, "You cannot see yourself on the balcony you have just left." We had all had a lot to drink. The Pope handed out Wild Turkey and water. "Holy Water, from The Holy River," he said.

Three real nuns, in old-fashioned black-and-white habits, came trotting down rue Saint Ann, returning from a later mass. They passed our intersection headed towards Cathedral School. The sea of sinners parted. We cheered.

"What would they think of seeing Jesus?" L. A. Norma asked of no one in particular. She leaned over the balcony rail and yelled to the crowd below for Carnival beads. A photographer looked up and took her picture. I yelled down asking if he had seen Jesus. "No," he shouted back. Would he like to? "Yes, of course, yes!"

The Pope lay his hands on my shoulders, and said, "Watch that woman, do not let her fall over the communion rail." Green Carnival beads landed on the Pope's pointy hat. They looked interesting, but he took them off and tossed them to two college boys on the street below. Norma told him the two boys should have opened their pants. He frowned and said sternly, "This is not Carnival!"

I said, "It is not Laughingyette either," but the Pope did not hear me -- he was gone to find Jesus.

Norma looked past my forehead, and talked of far-ranging things.

The Pope returned without Jesus. He was balancing fresh drinks and passed them round the table."He can not be found in this wicked den," said The Pope, handing me a Wild Turkey and water.

When we looked up from our drinks we saw Him again. He was at our old balcony table across the street waving. We waved back. His naked arms were lifted heavenward. His loincloth flapped in the whiskey-flavored air. The man with the camera jumped and shouted, "Your cross, your cross, show us your cross!"

Jesus looked down and bellowed: "Don't you know what holiday this is? It is Easter, I have no cross!" 

When I wore a younger man's beard 
atop the Presbytere coupla, Jackson Square
The Pope, assorted communion-rail leaners, and other followers passing on the street below shouted, "Is it Carnival?" 

It wasn't.  It was Easter on the River of Bourbon Street.


Copyright, 2014, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved
(A version of this story first appeared in the mid 1990s)




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