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Leonard Earl Johnson (photo credit Frank Parsley) covered Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (2005), and the 2010 British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico for ConsumerAffairs.com. He is a contributor to Gambit Weekly, New Orleans Magazine, SCAT, Baton Rouge Advocate, Advocate Magazine, The Times-Picayune, Country Roads Magazine, Palm Springs Newswire 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.

Monday, April 01, 2019

Aussies on the Train from New Orleans / April 2019

LEJ's Louisiana

Yours Truly in a Swamp

A monthly e-column by Leonard Earl Johnson, 
of Lafayette and New Orleans, Louisiana
 E-mail: Subscribe@LEJ.org
 Archives: www.LEJ.org  

April 2019

Aussies on the Train from New Orleans


 Marjorie Lawrence,

in the Lagniappe Section,

Down under!

*  *

by  Leonard Earl Johnson
© 2019, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved

An Australian couple we had met ~ earlier, aboard Amtrak ~ waved from across Boulevard Jefferson, and the huge new blue-and-yellow Dat Dog Building.  Behind them sat the double engines of Amtrak's Ole #1The Sunset Limited, headed West out of New Orleans.  

The two engines are powerful steeds.  Their livery is blue and silver with a thin red racing stripe.  This is a clever interpretation of America's colors.  Red, the most unstable pigment in the rainbow's palate, is reduced to the smallest surface.  While, blue ~ the most stable ~ has the larger canvas. White, the hardest to keep clean, is perfectly morphed to a grayish silver ~ painterly low in light-value yet loudly echoing the tricolor's white.  

Slowly the engineer opens his whistle, and sends forth an electric scream.  He is calling back the smoke-break passengers. 

Amtrak #1, Sunset Limited,
on Louisiana's 

Coastal Cajun Prairie.
Photo: Mark Konikoff

Under Lazy Gulf Coast Skies

 Only the first engine starts moaning.  The second is reserved for helping climb the mountains at El Paso, Texas.  Next, the baggage car, followed by two Pullman sleepers, a restaurant car, an observation car ~ with huge windows ~ and the last two, day coaches, snake off to The American West.  

The Aussies de-trained with intent of staying behind. They are now standing with L. A. Norma at the Cypress Street crosswalk, in front of the Rosa Parks Transportation Centre a centre where taxies, trains, buses (City, cross country, and tourist) all converge.

~   ~   ~ 
We are sitting at Rêve Coffee Shop's sidewalk tables, eating a great biscotte and drinking harsh black coffee without chicory.

Norma is informing the Aussies of such oddities in the culture of Louisiana as, "No chicory in the coffee outside of New Orleans."

"And horns?" she adds. "Horns! The quintessence of New Orleans' music! 

"There are no horns used in the music of Zydeco or Cajun.  Here they use the German-introduced accordion for wind. Or the downswing of the rubboard, which local blacks just made up all by themselves."

These differences are exactly what has brought our Aussie friends off today's Sunset LimitedWest.

They are on one of those famous ~ often once in a Lifetime ~ Australian journeys to the Upper Earth. They arrived in California by plane, and have been months taking trains across the whole continent, into Canada, and even, once, flying to Europe and back.  

After a week in New Orleans they decided to stop somewhere outside of Big Swamp City.

"To see the countryside," the man says. They chose Lafayette, "Hub City," to French Louisiana. 

The Alamo      /      courtesy San Antonio, Texas
All three join me. They are talking of World travels.  "Our intent was to go as far as Turkey..." says the man.  The woman finishes their sentence, "...but because of today's troubles we did not."  

Both of them had lost ancestors in 1915.  "At Suvla Bay, on the Aegean Coast of what was then the Ottoman Empire," during Australia's starcrossed entry into World War One. One of history's most costly and pointless wars.

"That's the way our boys used to see the world," the woman says.  "Pretending they cared about Europe's wars ~ some still do, I guess." 

The train aboard which the Aussies and I first met was named, City of New Orleans.  It carried us all the way down from Chicago to New Orleans, for French Quarter Festival (April 11 - 14, 2019) and the fabled 
Touro Synagogue's Jazz Shabbat (April 26, 2019)Today we are happily meeting up again in Lafayette, where I am helping these friendly Australians find a phone with an Uber app ~ more compatible than the Australian one on their phones.

Pamplona's sangria in production

Ryan, a bartender from Pamplona Tapas Bar, down the street, came out of Rêve holding a steaming cup of coffee and an open phone. 

He offered to call Uber. Then suggested simply driving them to their rooms at the Mouton Plantation ~ which happened to be near his house in a section of Town ~ across the tracks ~ where large older homes give shelter to bartenders and travelers off whistling trains.


few days later, I went to Amtrak's website to check the train the Aussies were booked on to San Antonio, "By God Texas!"

"We can not miss stopping in 'By God Texas'," they laughed ~ mimicking American accents as they have learned them in Louisiana.  

Over Pamplona's award winning paella, and a bottle of Spanish wine, I told them of being five years old, staying in a hotel across the street from The Alamo. Our Parents out to dinner. 

Mouton Plantation.                                                       Pamplona's Terrace. 

Oldest Brother, age eleven, was our commandant apparent. For behaving well our Parents hid our clothes and rewarded us with footlong hot dogs and French fries from room service.  A pretty dandy reward for three little boys.

Done with the dogs, and freed from nudity restraints, we crossed the street in  hotel bathrobes, and pushed open the huge doors to the Alamo. 

I remember the floor was dirt.  It was a stable, my oldest Brother told us.  

"There were no guards?" Norma rose, asked and answered into her own wine glass.

"America had yet rearmed-to-the-teeth, and started shooting it out in schools, movie houses, and along highways and streets.  

"Today, you would be trespassers, shot, arrested, tried by Texas Homeland Security, and imprisoned in a for-profit prison, for Life! 

She raised her glass, "Antonio López de Santa Anna, save us!"  She says this while glancing gingerly about the room for Texans.  "They often send their bagmen here," she says, settling back down in her seat.


The Amtrak website had no information other than services were down at every stop from Los Angeles to New Orleans, in both directions.  It advised us to call "1-800-USA-RAIL, for more information." A long wait on hold got me to a recording suggesting I check for further information on their website, Amtrak.com

Back on the ole website I again tracked the train all the way from Los Angeles to here and back.  At each stop the information was the same, service down, check the 800 number.

I don't know how our Australian
 friends got on down the line. I suspect they took the Greyhound Bus, with its new airline-inspired seating.  Recently I took Greyhound from Big Swamp City, and never again.  Am-trickle may disappear for a few days, and close the diner before we board, and never know exactly when they will be anywhere.  But they don't cramp your legs. 

"And you get to meet Australians," Norma added.

I wrote an e-mail to Amtrak, asking about the days of the missing trains. They responded with the following letter.  I have no idea what offensive anything they are talking about.  I don't write that way, and surely "Where's the train?" is something their delicate customer service representatives have heard before.

I wrote back asking whatever did they mean.  I have yet to hear.

Amtrak's strange letter:
Dear Customer,

Thank you for writing to us.

We are unable to respond to your inquiry at this time.

An automated mail reader that shields our customer 
service representatives from certain offensive language 
intercepted your communication. We respectfully request 
that you either visit Amtrak.com to re-submit your comments 
or contact us at 1-800-USA-RAIL to speak to one of our 
customer service representatives.

We apologize for any inconvenience 

and hope to hear from you soon.

© 2019, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved.
Lagniappe du Jour,



*  *
~   ~   ~         ~   ~   ~

Marjorie Lawrence
~ 17 February 1907 – 13 January 1979 ~

by Leonard Earl Johnson

1946 NBC Radio introduction 


the Australian 'folk anthem' 

Waltzing Matilda

to an American audience

Marjorie Florence Lawrence

CBE Order of the British empire

An Australian soprano

particularly noted as an interpreter of Richard Wagner's operas.
She was the first New York Metropolitan Opera soprano to perform the immolation scene in Götterdämmerung by riding her horse into the flames as Wagner had intended.

She was afflicted, by polio, in 1941 ~ at the height of her career ~ She made a comeback in 1946 that included introduction of Waltzing Matilda to the American audience.

Her life story was told in the 1955 film Interrupted Melody, in which she was portrayed by Eleanor Parker, who was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance as Lawrence.

Later, Lawrence served on the faculty of the

School of Music, at Southern Illinois University ~ Carbondale,
my alma mater, and where I came to know her.

Four years after her NBC Radio comeback, I was five years old and contracted polio, like Lawrence,

after returning with my Family
from a trip to Mexico.

As a young college boy I showed no symptoms of the disease ~ unless you counted being drawn to older women who sang Wagner while being rolled around on a reclining board.

I liked her, and she remembered my name. I last saw her in the early 1970s, at the New York Metropolitan Opera's touring company production of Aida, in Memphis, Tennessee.

Back in Carbondale ~ back in the Fabled Sixties ~ Lawrence had nailed the supporting role of Amneris ~ Aida's rival for the Royal Ramhorn of Radamis ~ while pushed around stage on a leaning board with wheels!

~   ~   ~

Comments and corrections are welcome, click here.
Altgeld Hall, Music Department, 
Southern Illinois University
~    ~   ~
Tommy Emmanuel - Waltzing Matilda
*  *  *
Waltzing Mathilda / Tom Waits
*  *  *
~ a song about the famous song, with lyrics ~

Suvla from Battleship Hill.jpg


For more 

L. E. J.'s Louisiana, Yours Truly in a Swamp  
go to www.LEJ.org

© 2019, Leonard Earl Johnson, 
All Rights Reserved.
* * * * * * * * * * * 
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and such falderal ...

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LEJ's Louisiana, Yours Truly in a Swamp
is a monthly e-column @ www.LEJ.org
~ Hosted on GOOGLE Blogger ~
and periodically 
at Les Amis de Marigny, New Orleans,
publication of the
It is written by Leonard Earl Johnson
of Lafayette and New Orleans, Louisiana
Archives: www.LEJ.org
© 2019, Leonard Earl Johnson, 
All Rights Reserved.
Some parts of this month's story were published in a lesser form in 2017
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