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Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

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 Consumer Affairs.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.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Ten-year Post-K Review, Update / September 2017



Yours Truly in a Swamp
September 2017
by
Leonard Earl Johnson,

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The Ten~year Post~K Review, 2017 Update
by Leonard Earl Johnson
~ Dedicated to the People of Houston ~
Courtesy of Patricia Brennan 
The train pulled in to New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal on 'Katrina Day,' August 29, ahead of schedule and exactly ten years to the day after Hurricane Katrina (and three weeks later, Rita) thrashed the Louisiana coast.  The year of The Storms was 2005.  The year of the train was 2015.

We were back in Big Swamp City, New Orleans for a month of August-filled days remembering that day we had turned the lock on our front door at Squalor  Heights ~ my Faubourg Marigny garret ~ never again to gain the life we had lived there. 


Katrina racked up the largest storm-loss in American history ~ including 
Superstorm Sandy and Hurricane Harvey, though Harvey is expected to be calculated upward ~ and ushered in a time too painful for poets or politicians.  Now we are beyond that.  Take heart, Houston, it will get better. 


We know how you feel in Texas.  We are bonded deeply as Death dancing with itself ~ locked in the arms of Hope and Resurrection.  We slid on and off Louisiana's slippery Road Home, after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and finally we found peace decamped to Acadiana.  Happily we rebooted to a Life of eating potato salad in our gumbo, and traveling Amtrak's iron road in and out of New Orleans ~ and occasionally to Houston. 


"
Not a bad way to live," L. A. Norma says, exhaling her personal Camel carbon-footprint. 

~ ~ ~

Big Swamp City is better than ever

Courtesy: Rosa Parks Transportation Centré
It is re-populated with thousands of newer versions ~ even glamorous movie-making versions of ourselves eating, drinking and schmoozing in hundreds more restaurants, cafes, coffee shops, and bars.  We sit with these newest New Orleanians, talking movies as if we were the largest movie-making state in the Union. 

Well, we were before Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and his hired band of giddy Beltway advisers whittled us back down to backwater movie plantation size. 

"Bible-thumping, budget-juggling, selfish 'Out-of-Town Bobby',L. A. Norma says, throwing her arms towards the sky then folding them back on herself. "A chameleon, drooling for the White House An elitist maharajah changing colors and spoiling the dreams of all the rest of us little untouchables!"

We talk with these new movie people as if we know their business as well as we know the bars on Frenchmen Street.  Recently we even ate dinner aboard the Sunset Limited with a charming film ingénue relocating, "From L. A. to LA."  For movie work! Holy cow!
* *
"Things have changed," Norma says, "but I still see plump Ignatius almost every time I ride the bus." Norma is speaking of A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES protagonist, Ignatius J. Riley, in John Kennedy Toole's knee-slapper novel.  It captures pre-K. New Orleans perfectly. 

Today's Ignatius uses e-pads and smart phones in ways that would have caused his earlier incarnation's heart flap to flutter, and his New York City girlfriend to launch another tour de force awakening Wee The People of The Swamp.

* *
Two years after Katrina, a young writer we know, and his Wife rented Squalor Heights, and had a baby.  We decamped to Cajun country. 

We had first arrived in the Hub City of Lafayette during the evacuation for Katrina, and just in time for Hurricane Rita ~ the bigger of the 2005 storms. Rita hit Acadiana three weeks after Katrina and pushed the Gulf of Mexico up over New Orleans broken levees a hundred miles away ~
 for a second time in a month.


"It's non-global-warming," Norma said, puffing on a Camel Cigarette.


No, we were being punished for our Sins, said hateful radio preachers.


"Like Job," Norma said, "punished by his fickle Gott.  Like Louisiana politicians ~ who do love giving us a good lashing."


My new rooms in Acadiana are in an old railroad hotel where once Elvis Presley stayed ~ 'The King of Rock'n Roll' prefered traveling by train. Around the corner is an Amtrak stop, where I catch the Sunset Limited to Big Swamp City once or twice a month. I live a new Life, where I'm both gone and present. A fine metaphor for an old man.

LEJ signing at the Cabildo wearing a kiss from GiO,
the loveliest of Bourbon Street dancers.

* * *

Early during the Katrina evacuation we found New Orleans columnist Chris Rose speaking one night at a kind of teach-in at the Acadiana Center for the Arts, on Vermillion Street, in Lafayette, where I was teaching creative writing to the scattered of the storms.


Rose
said, the storm news was so vast and life-changing that it would be an above-the-fold story ten years into the future.  Now it has been twelve years.  Look at the front page ~ if you can find one ~ and see if the story of Katrina and its diaspora are not still there, above-the-fold.

* * *

In the decade-plus since Katrina blew us across the Atchafalaya Basin, and Rita welcomed us to Acadiana ~ forty thousand New Orleanians came with me ~ I have learned differences between things I hadn't known were things. Like bousillage and boudin.


Bousillage is a mud-and-moss building material favored by early Cajuns and current restorationists. Boudin is a rice and liver sausage equally favored and eaten at gas stations and crossroad stores all across Acadiana.


More than a million Louisianians were scattered by the winds of  '05. Thousands remained in Texas, and a popular bumper sticker appeared on Houston's freeways saying, "Be a New Orleanian wherever you are!"


Houston, your dispossessed are Houstonians, too, wherever they are. It will get better.

Your comments and corrections are welcome: Comments

Lagniappe du jour,

today





"Great telling of New Orleans character and characters." ~ L. A. Norma

~  ~  ~
Copyright, 2017, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved

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and such falderal ...

Available at FM Books and Art, Frenchmen Street, New Orleans
*
If you wish to read any month's column go to www.LEJ.org anytime. 
They are posted on the first of each month and polished for the next few weeks. 
*
*
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

© 2017, Leonard Earl Johnson, Rights Reserved.
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© 2017, Leonard Earl Johnson,

All Rights Reserved.

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

House of the Rising Sun / August 2017

Yours Truly in a Swamp
August 2017

House of the Rising Sun
~  Of Scholars, Brothels, and Drink  ~
by
Leonard Earl Johnson
www.LEJ.org

* * *
L. A. Norma crushed her cigarette on the old dormer window's wooden ledge, then dribbled coffee grounds from her cup over the scar. "Coffee, best damn restoration there is," she said.

We are in the kitchen at Squalor Heights, my pre-K garret apartment in the Faubourg Marigny Triangle, between Esplanade and Elysian Fields ~ on the downstream edge of the French Quarter.


Norma pulled down the window and led us down two flights of in-and-out stairs.  First flight was behind a locked door, and under cover of wall and roof.  The next two were outside, exposed to the wind and rain. 


Squalor Heights was only up one floor, but the second floor was up three flights ~ a ventilation feature of antebellum Louisiana houses. 


It was a typical Spring day dotted with rain. The year was 2005. We were steeped in search of the past, with no thought to possible Summer hurricanes. I will only tell you the outside stairs blew away later on the very day I last climbed them, as Hurricane Katrina came ashore on big clawing cat's feet ~ but that is another poem. 


This day's story is about heel-and-toeing it into the nearby faraway French Quarter, and eyeballing addresses ~ like a private gumshoe ~ that might have been, "That House in New 'Or-leens' They Call The Rising Sun."


We first learned about the Rising Sun in the Fabled Sixties, from a popular song by British-rock invaders, Eric Burdon and the Animals. They made New Orleans dance in our heads and pants! 


The irresistible siren of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll has called many an Illinois college boy to all-night drives in pursuit of a randy weekend among the fleshpots of adult themed ports. 


*


Diligence at the Historic New Orleans Collection's Williams Research Center ~ and a ten-cent martini lunch at Bacco, down the street ~ netted three addresses with possible connections to the House of the Rising Sun

The staid Historic New Orleans Collection itself owned one of them at 535-37 Rue Conti. Once the address of a hotel named House of the Rising Sun.


"That's a clue," Norma said, over her second martini. 


Today the site is a proper exhibition and storage annex to the Williams Research Center, around the corner, on Rue Chartres. This annex is cause for much speculation about, "That house in New 'Or-leens'."



*

The Williams Research Center was an experience for me like college must have been for those who actually attended classes rather than driving to New Orleans. 

Hard, but comfy straight-backed wooden chairs sat around well lighted tables, inside a room quiet, clean and serene ~ save for the occasional scholar bobbing about bumping into furniture while in pursuit of his own elusive truths. 



T-shirt
"Must you make such a racket?" L. A. Norma asked one young man. 

The lanky youth glared back and said, "Yes!"


We left for our ten-cent martini lunch break, accompanied by the Williams Center's Pamela Arceneaux, who assured us with the authoritative voice of research librarian's everywhere: "No ironclad evidence existed of any such 'Rising Sun' ever existing."


"What of that name on your building long ago?" Norma asked. "What would you know of that?"


Actually she would know a lot. Arceneaux has written on the subject of prostitution in New Orleans ~ a City licensed profession until WWI ~ and been quoted on this 'Rising Sun' topic in recent books and magazine articles. Because?


During the  annexe's renovation a multitude of rouge pots and wine bottles were discovered under the building, discarded over the past three or four hundred years. Naïve dry-landers in distant publications concluded these were indications of a certain joie de vie giving further rise to legends of The Rising Sun.


Not so fast, saith Pamela D. Arceneaux :

"I have made a study of the history of prostitution in New Orleans and have often confronted the perennial question, 'Where is the House of the Rising Sun?' without finding a satisfactory answer.

"Although it is generally assumed that the singer is referring to a brothel, there is actually nothing in the lyrics that indicate that the 'house' is a brothel. Many knowledgeable persons have conjectured that a better case can be made for either a gambling hall or a prison; however, to paraphrase Freud: sometimes lyrics are just lyrics."

Not to mention that one would likely find discarded rouge pots and wine bottles under most buildings in New Orleans.


The second site we found named Rising Sun was an 1800's coffee house, at #9 Old Levee Street ~ now 115 Decatur. 



Captain LEJ.org

From my experience ~ as a Son of the Sea ~ I am inclined to place my brothel bet on this upper Decatur neighborhood.  Before 2005, I recall it was populated with bars friendly to the needs of Sailors in from the Deep Blue Sea.


The third site was 826-32 Rue Saint Louis. It is listed in BIZARRE NEW ORLEANS, by Frank G. Fox, as having been owned, from 1862 to 1874, by Marianne LeSoleil Levant ~ a name that loosely translates from French to English as, 'Rising Sun.' 


"There's that name again," Norma said. "Maybe the term is generic for something? Like 'up with the rising sun and off to Sea', or someplace."


"Maybe," I said, "But my money stays on the coffee shop at 115 Decatur.


The newest candidate ~ what is now the Williams Center's  annex ~ was destroyed by fire in 1822. 


Though it had been a hotel by the name, House of the Rising Sun, for the preceding thirteen months before the fire, it is not thought to have been a house of ill repute. (It was a 20th Century parking garage, in 1992, at the time of purchase by the Historic New Orleans Collection.)


"So some of those wine bottles came from drunken motorist and parking attendants?" Norma asked like Plato.
*

History can be a fickle pickle, and no more confirming evidence than that exists as to where ~ or even if ~ such a house existed.



"I think it still does, several do," Norma said, as we stepped out on Rue Chartres. She lit a Camel Cigarette, and through its smoke puffed out, "Ask the man who would be Governor, former Senator David Vitter!"


~ 
A version of this story first appeared in June of 2005 ~ 

Copyright, Leonard Earl Johnson, 2017, All Rights Reserved


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~ more ~
Lagniappe du Jour,
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~ You Tube
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50 years later
~ you tube 

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Pamela D. Arceneaux


~  ~
Historic New Orleans Collection

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*
 Sam Rey, "Meet Me in New Orleans"
Sam Rey's masterpiece Song of New Orleans after Katrina ~ You Tube
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© 2017, Leonard Earl Johnson, 
All Rights Reserved.
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Go here For  


and such falderal ...

*
If you wish to read any month's column go to www.LEJ.org anytime. 
They are posted on the first of each month and polished for the next few weeks. 
*
*
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
© 2017, Leonard Earl Johnson, 
All Rights Reserved.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
*

Note: LEJ, 29 August 2008, in ConsumerAffairs.com

New Orleans: Three Years Later
A Katrina refugee pays a return visit

By Leonard Earl Johnson