LEJ's Blog

My Photo
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.

Friday, August 01, 2014

Hemingway: Prt 3, Trains, Fests, Funerals and Food/August 2014

The Hemingway wearing a sailor's cap, and his beard tucked in
is L. E. J., 2013 Hemingway second-placer
photocredit: Sunday Parker

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

August, 2014

Hemingway: Part 3, Trains, Festivals, Funerals and Food,
(actually it never ends)
This column is dedicated to
Lionel Ferbos
he appeared in a cameo as himself on TREME' (HBO),
was a featured player at the Palm Court for years, and
the oldest regularly performing New Orleans musician at the time of his death
last month at 103

by  Leonard Earl Johnson

We arrived in New Orleans aboard Amtrak's Sunset Limited, delayed hours behind an elderly freighter with a faulty braking system. They stopped, we stopped. They waited, we waited. I do not know if the freighter ever got where it was going but we did not get to bed till midnight.

Next Day

"Praise the day!" L. A. Norma said, as our cabbie dropped us on Jackson Square, in front of Dickie Brennan's newest, Tableau. A fine dining establishment carved from the once large lobby of le Petit Theatre Du Vieux Carré (America's oldest operating community "theatre"). 

"It happened," Norma lamented. "Amid chagrin-launched parties attended with fleeting concerns, it happened. Now clearly for the better, the little empty lobby became the big Dickie Brennan's new kitchen and bar."

Change Happens. Even in Louisiana.Take New Orleans esteemed restaurant name, Brennan. Those who regretted attaching it to the Little Theatre's lobby -- and those who did not care -- have now made the new bar a gathering place for nearby do-wells partying in their three-centuries-old City Centrum. "With the likes of us," L. A. Norma said, laughing with a couple of Metairie-ians celebrating their first anniversary, "waiting for the curtain to go up." 

"Amid the faux marble and leatherish decor of yore," giggled the pretty young Metairie-ian wife to her beaming yearling husband. They were staying up rue Royal at the Hotel Monteleone, and traveling about the Quarter by pedibike rickshaw.

* * *

Presbyter, Jackson Square, New Orleans
"Ground Zero," Norma said, with a wave of her hand towards Jackson Square, "for Louisiana Europeans, and Africans." 

Sounds of the Pfister Sisters came from the back of our skulls. Memories of their harmony wafting from a stage built during French Quarter Festival on land that was once the settlement's military parade grounds. It floated up to our table on the second floor corner on an early Summer day that felt like the best of all possible Summer days.

Lionel Ferbos   1911 ~ 2014
YouTube video by Ricky Riccardi
Tonight, we finished our wine and Oysters Maison, a new fabled dish at Tableau, and led our new friends two doors down to Sylvain ~ where they sometimes remember your name

Tennessee Williams would have loved the Sazeracs here. And the youthful gathering round the pockets of elders, in the best of ways that never change. 


LEJ's San Fermin Story,
Running Bulls New Orleans Style
Hemingway's looking alike contest at The Maison, on rue Frenchmen was everything you could want of a Hemingway-looking event. Silly and worth doing.

Roxie Le Rouge was burlesque's dancing perfection at the party. Delicious, though she looked nothing like Hemingway. She brought dancing up to a sexier place than even a Baptist could imagine. Three cheers from here to her! 

Chris ChampagneNew Orleans finest story teller, stand-up comic, should always be heard -- or read. He prints his tales in book form. A help for non-native speakers. Champagne is one of us, and one-a-those-funny-guys talkin' about us, too! You can catch his act all around Town, and likely next year at Hemingway.

I drank Wild Turkey Rye donated by Hemingway candidates responding to my Judge-like motto, "One Whisky One Vote." A certain kind of judge, that is. Did I tell you I was a judge of this contest? And, as it turned out, an unlikely contestant, too.

Papa LEJ, 2014
Photo Credit: Frank Parsley
"When Hemingway was your age," Norma said, "he'd been dead eleven years!"

Winner was John McElroy, from Arizona via Los Angeles. "A film guy," said L. A. Norma.

Downtown, weeks earlier, the real Judge Ginger Berringer gave the real somber former mayor Ray Nagin ten years, and restitution. For Armstrong Park's clay footed statues and free Super Bowl flights. (Berringer did not get those things, unlike me, she is not that kind of judge.) Those were some of the charges against the former mayor.

"And those damnable oversized garbage cans too big to fit in the Quarter," L. A. Norma told our favorite cabbie on the way to the train station.

"Hemingway would have loved the day. But he'd have gone fishing down in Plaquemines Parish," the cabbie said, dropping us on the platform side of Union Station, near the gates to the Westbound train.

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

* * *

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

* * *

George Dureau: Part 2 

Trains, Festivals, Funerals 
and Food

by Leonard Earl Johnson

* * *

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. 

* * *

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."  

 Program from George Dureau Memorial 
Friday April 18 2014, Taylor Library Auditorium, Ogden Museum of Southern Art
Cover by Robert Mapplethorpe

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

* * *

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.

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

T-Shirts, Koozies, LEJ.org icebox magnets

Thursday, May 01, 2014

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

* * *

Leonard Earl Johnson was off 

a few weeks
recouping from much over-doing.

* * *

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," 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 Parish 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
Part 3

Copyright, 2014, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved


* * *