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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 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.

Saturday, December 01, 2018

The First Christmas After Katrina / December 2018

Santa LEJ.org and the train from New Orleans  /   Photo credit Mark Konikoff

LEJ's Louisiana
Yours Truly in a Swamp
Monthly e-column @ www.LEJ.org
Leonard Earl Johnson,
of Lafayette and New Orleans
Archives: www.LEJ.org

~*~     ~*~     ~*~

     LEJ.org, 2005      /      Photo Credit: Frank Parsley

The First Christmas After Katrina
by Leonard Earl Johnson
December 2018

© 2018, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved.
Originally published in 2005 in a slightly different version

The year was 2005, the month was December.  The bar was on Saint Charles Avenue, in Uptown New Orleans.  It had recently reopened after The Storm, and had tried since Thanksgiving to coax Yuletide spirit from the flood-weary City.  Their effort had been great, but their task had been greater.  

The water was finally gone, but so were most of the customers. In time the bar would fill again with song. But not this shirtsleeve warm night, December 17 ~ nearly four months after August 29, 2005.

The streetcars were all silent.
Everywhere in Town, neither stop lights nor street lights blinked a bright red and green.  Military convoys made up all the traffic moving on this or any other street.  Now and then a lone vehicle scurried down a darkened street towards some destination not obvious to onlookers ~ had there been onlookers.    
NOLa After Katrina   /   Coleen Perilloux Landry

Along most every street, houses lay splayed open like huge fish with their innards spilled out for the world to see.  Occasionally a cascade of generator-powered Christmas lights poured over some brave heart's intact gallery rail. They cast faint light on refrigerators sitting along the curb wrapped in industrial strength tape and the sickeningly sweet smell of a Mafia funeral.

Inside the bar, blue snowflakes hung from rafters, along with toy gray helicopters lifting little plastic refugees from little blue-tarped roofs.  The bartender sported a red baseball cap with cotton pasted around the rim of the bill.  A tiny silver bell dangled from the front.

A great effort, indeed! But the bell rang hollow and the bartender looked weary, like some Papa Noel rescuing the hopeless with promises of gifts not always delivered.

I had come to this bar to meet an old friend who had just arrived in Town, aboard an Amtrak special composite called the City of New Orleans, Extra. It came all the way from Chicago, that broad-shouldered behemoth at the other end of the railroad line. 

He rode this train to show support for Arlo Guthrie's Friends Benefit Tour for Louisiana Musicians

The train stopped for fundraiser concerts ~ "Out on the southbound odyssey / train pulls out of Kankakee / and it rolls past houses, farms, and fields..." ~ all the way to New Orleans

This night my friend and I are making our donations at the tour's last concert, at Tipitina's on the corner of Tchoupitoulas Street and Napoleon Avenue.

~*~      ~*~     ~*~

I opened the French doors and spotted my friend at the far end of the bar.   He was clearly overdressed and over served, too.

He wore a camel hair topcoat, a gray wool suit, with a white cotton shirt and a red silk tie.  A fast-pace cold Chicago outfit, in a Storm slowed warm New Orleans parade ~ a parade none too swift in the best of times. These were not the best of times.

A mural behind the bar twinkled with tiny blue lights sprinkled over a snowy hillock of white deer nibbling mistletoe berries dotted among the evergreen trees.  The mistletoe berries were represented by tiny red lights.

"Mistletoe is poison," my friend was telling the bartender, in his booming Chicago voice, "and its berries should be white!"

A beer representative from Saint Louis, Missouri was also behind the bar.  He was wearing a sport coat that looked to be made from Anheuser-Busch labels.  He was passing out samples of Red Wolf Beer.  My friend took one and lifted it in my direction.  I moved down the bar and accepted the brew.

"Must be a Santa after all," my friend boomed to the largely empty room.

From a green felt-covered table, an elderly couple often seen here before The Storm, looked up and smiled.  No one was dealing. Their cards were laying face up. 

We tipped our beer towards them. They were wearing evening clothes and his gold studs were set with diamonds that flashed back at the mural. She was ash blonde, well-painted, and wearing a red sequined gown.  She unzipped the gentleman's tuxedo.

My friend and I both said in stage whisper that she was an expensive date.

The man laughed and asked, "How better to spend my FEMA money?"   She laughed, too, and slapped him playfully.

"Where is the vice-squad?" my friend asked in a real whisper. 

The bartender sat down two more Red Wolfs and said, "At the Canal Street Brothel, in diapers with Republican senator, Vitter the Titter." 

We all laughed, enjoying thinking of the sexual peccadilloes of our betters.  Peccadilloes not yet widely known, but destined to become an election issue a few years later.  

My friend was in his cups, and hanging his observations with the heavy tinsel of Chicago bluntness. "Christmas in New Orleans is not like going over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house, is it?"

"It is not, but it's a good system," I said.  "We are 'The City That Works!' "

He snorted at my irony putting Chicago's famous motto up against New Orleans' easy-going work ethic.

"Cops protecting brothel patrons," I said, "and people in evening clothes entertaining themselves for free."

We both looked at the couple and laughed.  My friend muttered, "Maybe not free, but a lot less than the cops charge." 

The beer rep handed us two more Red Wolfs.  He wanted to finish and leave.  My friend asked him, "Shouldn't you call this stuff  Red Riding Hood?"  None of us were sure what he meant by this but we all laughed the laugh required of our station.

The beer distributor gave us two full six packs of Red Wolf and smiled.  "Please, I gotta catch a plane back to Saint Louis."

The bartender said, "Allow me to put that on ice for you."

I got up to go to the restroom as my Chicago friend yanked a hanging blue snowflake from its tether. He bellowed at the bartender, "What fathead told you to hang blue snowflakes in this swamp-flooded city?"  

The bartender was startled and blurted back, "The fatheads in Chicago who own this bar!"  Of course he did not know he was talking to fathead number one.

The Saint Louis beerman smiled weakly and moved towards the French doors.  Through the glass we saw a waiting limousine with rental license plates.  The man in the tuxedo fell from his chair. The woman in red helped him to his feet and they stumbled outside balancing themselves by holding on to articles of each other's clothing.  They lunged into the limo and motioned for the beerman to join them.  He shrugged and climbed in.

Coming out of the restroom I dropped a quarter into a slot machine. The last of my FEMA money whirled away.  I did not care.  It was Christmas Time, and my friend was in Town to wine and dine us for three fat days.  We had known each other since the Fabled Sixties, since college daze in Carbondale, Illinois, where the train had stopped to play a concert.  He liked having, as he puts it, "A writer bum for a friend."  We liked having a rich one.

In a wastebasket beside the slot machines, I spotted seven paper teddy bear tree ornaments.  Each had the name of someone lost in Hurricane Katrina written across its belly. 

I picked up one and read the name, "Senegal Breaux."  I gathered them all and put them in my shirt pocket. 

Back at the bar I sipped my beer in silence. The bartender smarting from my friend's harsh words, punched up Linda Ronstadt singing Blue Bayou, on the jukebox.  He pushed a remote-control button next to the cash register and a lone gray toy helicopter opened its bomb bay doors and let red and green glitter fall in our beers.

We stood to leave and my friend told the bartender to keep the remaining Red Wolfs, and gave him a two-hundred dollar tip and his business card.  "Tell those fatheads in Chicago to go jump in Lake Michigan.  New Orleans is in a swamp, not a snowy wonderland!"

Outside, my friend stared at the empty curb.  "Where the Hell's my driver?"  

I say, "Forget it, let's walk."

He slipped out of his topcoat and handed it to a bewildered man in dirty blue jeans and a t-shirt that read: "FEMA, Find Every Mexican Available."

We walked along past mounds of rubble towards Tip's. My friend accepted a paper teddy bear and held it up to ambient Christmas light.

"Ah, Christ, what am I supposed to do about this?" Then he handed it to a pair of passing National Guardsmen. 

"Let's distribute them like handbills,"  he said.

It seemed all those who were in Town that night were also headed to Tipitina's.  

We started singing, "We three kings from Orient are..."  

When someone asked, "Where is your other king?" we handed them the teddy bear named Senegal Breaux, and kept on our way. "Bearing gifts we traveled so far..." ~ 

~*~     ~*~     ~*~
Your Comments and Corrections
are welcome: 


Contact me at Subscribe@LEJ.org  if you want on the list ~ that may get a monthly e-mail notice of each new column.  If you wish to read any month's column they are archived at www.LEJ.org. Each new column is posted on the first of each month and polished for the next few years. 
Hope you do, I love talking with you,
Leonard Earl Johnson,
Columnist to the elderly and early weary. 

~*~     ~*~     ~*~

Lagniappe du Jour: 

~ Santa LEJ.org meeting the train from New Orleans ~
Photo credit: Mark Konikoff

Copyright, Leonard Earl Johnson, 2018
All Rights Reserved

Thursday, November 01, 2018

New Orleans Film Festival / November 2018

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LEJ's Louisiana 
Arrow Hand Labor Next Right Turn Straight
Yours Truly in a Swamp

Monthly e-column @ www.LEJ.org 

Leonard Earl Johnson,
of Lafayette and New Orleans

~*~     ~*~     ~*~

~ The Big Splash ~
The 29th Annual 
New Orleans Film Festival
                                                       Photo credit:   Scott Billington

November 2018

by Leonard Earl Johnson

© 2018, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved

"If you can not have a good time in New Orleans, 
you can not have a good time." 
~ L. A. Norma

~*~    ~*~    ~*~

Amtrak's Sunset Limited from Los Angeles, California, and points between, pulled into New Orleans one-half hour late.

"Early," L. A. Norma said, "by great-again American standards." She lit a Camel Cigarette, and bid farewell to two young women from Los Angeles we had met on the train. Black, pretty, actors traveling to Big Swamp City for 2018's Film Festival. Dedicated this year to women and minorities in the film industry.
The first night was at the one-hundred-this-year Orpheum Theater, on the edge of the French Quarter, and across Roosevelt Way from the historic Hotel Roosevelt.

Screening: GREEN BOOK, a film with lore galore. A true story about black 1960s jazz sensation, Dr. Don Shirley (Mahershala Ali), and his white driver, furloughed Copacabana bouncer, Tony Lip (Viggo Mortensen) touring the American South
"Redux DRIVING MISS DAISY," Miss Norma said.
The title 'Green Book' comes from a book published in those days (1962) that listed hotels accommodating black travelers in the Jim Crow South.

Filmed in New Orleans, the audience of self indulgent locals and dazzled out of town-ers were gleeful at seeing clearly that scenes depicting 'elsewhere' below the Mason Dixon Line had actually been filmed on the very stage where now we watched the film ~ the Orpheum stage.

"Sort'a like the Morton Salt girl," L. A. Norma said, in her best stage whisper. All around us, heads nodded and throats murmured concurrence.

Some scenes were shot at the grand old Hotel Roosevelt, across the Way. Some were at the spectacular Houmas House Plantation.

After the screening and panel discussion, director, Peter Farrelly, cast members in attendance, the story's author, Nick Vallelonga (in real life the Son of the Lip), and a thousand jubilant movie fans Second Lined behind the Kinfolk Brass Band up the aisles and out the door to Canal Street, and marched along the edge of the French Quarter to the Jung Hotel ballroom ~ to one hot-food station with a very long line!

Heavy true story, wonderfully told with humor and gravitas.

New Orleans has been anointed by MovieMaker magazine as the finest after-party festival. Easy to believe!

Some after-events were private, on riverboats. Some were open in green gardens. Others were atop post Katrina skyscrapers stretching defiantly above the reach of any future swirling Seas. And some let you beat your feet on the banks of the Mighty Mississippi River.

We plotted to attend but two of these parties, Opening Night and Closing Night. Others tempted, but so did deadlines. We ended up doing three. Parties, that is ~ deadlines still linger.

RIVER BANK ROLLER BOOGIE, at Riverfront Park ~ a green linear space along the Mississippi River where once cargo ships tied up and stevedores labored.

Dressed in Fabled Sixties disco party motif this event-spectacular was particularly appealing.

"Tonight's cargo?"
According to L. A. Norma,
"Wee the 'm/f movie-fan' people."

Open to anyone with the price of admission. It was a night of New Orleans' love for sale ~ Just pay that price and climb those stairs to paradise . . .

Or, in this case, an elevator. All under the remaining roof covering concrete floors of an otherwise demolished warehouse. In gentrify-chic Faubourg Marigny ~ alongside America's flowing heart artery, the Mississippi River. Wow, as they say in Los Angeles.

Open breezes washed up The River all the way from the Bay of Tampico. Ships passed in the night. Roller skaters, too. Cage Dancers danced. Music from the Fabled Sixties wafted over the water. The camera's perfect light, in the Land of Dreamy Dreams.

* * *
One thing any film festival is, is a trade show exchanging finished products and budding ideas. A place to meet filmmakers from afar and near.

The two ingénues who rode in on the train from Los Angeles were seen again at the Prytania Theater (Big Swamp City's only remaining free-standing one-screen movie house) for the powerful Steve McQueen directed, WIDOWS ~ as good as thrillers get.

Plot: Women made widows by Chicago Police gunfire. Thrown together in a desperate attempt at gaining power and actualization behind their own guns, and the leadership of widow number one, Viola Davis.

* * *
Another day, we met with Louisiana director/scriptwriter, Zack Godshall, who returned to Louisiana from California a few years ago, looking like the boy-next-door belonging more in front than behind the lens.
Zack Godshall in short hair days

Now, with academic status (associate professor) at Louisiana State University, he sports an artist-philosopher's length beard and hair befitting his status as the most-popular-film-professor in Baton Rouge.

"Could a toga be next?" Norma asked, blowing Camel Cigarette smoke over the Saint Charles Avenue balcony.

Godshall's first narrative films, LOW AND BEHOLD and LORD BYRON, premiered at Sundance, and were praised in The Atlantic, and The New York Times.

Today, at the 2018 New Orleans Film Festival, he is screening a class project. A series of little films called HOGWASH. 

~*~    ~*~    ~*~

At the VIP Lounge, on the second-floor of Festival sponsor, New Orleans Advocate, we talked with Michele Benoit and Glen Pitre. In 2003, film critic Roger Ebert acclaimed Pitre "a legendary American regional director."

Known as the original Cajun film makers, they created the wildly popular BELIZAIRE THE CAJUN ~ Louisiana's first locally produced high-production feature film, in English. "Our first films were in French." It premiered in 1986 at the Cannes Film Festival.

We could see but a few of the over two-hundred and forty films screened during the Festival's two half-weeks bracketing one fat weekend. And still find time to party. MovieMaker magazine way understated the temptation!

Outstanding and not to be missed:

Played to two SRO screenings


American-Australian coming-of-age drama.  Based on Garrard Conley's 2016 book of the same title.  It was scripted for the screen and directed by Joel Edgerton. 

The film stars Lucas Hedges, Nicole Kidman, Russell Crowe, and Edgerton.
  With a cameo by gay South African born, Australian music sensation, Troye Sivan.

It follows the Son (Hedges) of Baptist preacher parents (Kidman and Crowe) 

who force him to take part in a gay conversion camp.  He is, at long last, 
saved from further shaming by his loving ~ converted ~ Mother.  

Redemptive, uplifting, fabulous! Don't miss it.

~*~    ~*~    ~*~
Closing party and film

Directed by T.G. Herrington and Danny Clinch.  Writer: T. G. Herrington.

The Film played to a packed house at the Contemporary Arts Center, on the last night of the Festival.

After a panel discussion everyone regrouped for Cuban food perfecto, and music from both lands, at Buktu / Revolution Baron Thalia Street.

The well done film follows New Orleans famed Preservation Hall Jazz Band as they retrace their musical roots from NOLa to the shores of Cuba seeking a connection between the two musical cultures.

Preservation Hall
A hometown favorite. Featuring Preservation Hall's current jazz tuba master, business manager, and leader of the band, Ben Jaffe (pictured here on the bass).

Their trip to Cuba follows in the large footsteps of his late Father, and Preservation Hall founder, Allan Jaffe, who made a similar journey of discovery many years ago.

We loved the film.

Allan and Sandra Jaffe with son Ben.
(Photo courtesy Preservation Hall)
A little something extra:
Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Ben Jaffe were performing guests of honor, two years ago, at Touro Synagogue's annual Jazz Shabbat ~ the one Jazz Fest event I try to never miss.

At the Shabbat 'after party' I had the chance to utter that once in a lifetime line to Ben Jaffe, "I knew your Father, and he would be proud of you."

~*~    ~*~    ~*~
On the train out of Town, a middle-aged man in the club car wearing a light blue seersucker suit and black t-shirt, handed me his card stating he was 'A Cannabis dealer from Colorado.' He was on his way back from Atlanta, he told us, where some Easter Island like stones were found indicating the World's population needed to be cut back to one-half a million. This was the first I'd heard of this, but I had been in New Orleans at the movies.

Your comments and corrections are welcome: Comments

Lagniappe du Jour

 without the standard theatrical run, provided the film otherwise complies with Academy rules. 
~*~    ~*~    ~*~

Too many to see, too many to write about!

Here are a few notables among notables ~ with links 

The Chloe Wine video that preceded all screenings

an ad, a short film,
 a delicious must taste masterwork

PROJECTION was done by Mekanism advertising agency
of San Francisco, California
for Chloe Wine Collection in the United States.
It was released in April 2018.
~    ~    ~


Alfonso Cuarón Netflix Movie

Academy Award®-winning director and writer

Sold Out Thanksgiving Weekend Openings
Limited Theater Release ~ East and West Coasts
 The Hollywood Reporter ~ November 25, 2018

~ ~ ~

~    ~    ~

A film by Joel and Ethan Coen
(Actually six great little films about yee ole West) 
~ The legendary Coen Brothers ~

~    ~    ~


Rodrigo Dorfman film

 Winner: NOFF Best Louisiana Feature Award
~    ~    ~

Director: Berry Jenkins
based on James Baldwin's novel by the same title

~    ~    ~

Dum spiro, spero
(North Carolina state motto in Latin)
French: Tant que je respire, je l'espère

A film by the English title, about Bakari Sellers,
North Carolina rising star politician 
~ Sellers was present at NOFF screening and question session ~

~    ~    ~

Director: Lily Keber,  Producer: Lily Keber, Stephen Rose
DP: Zac Manuel,  Editor: Jane Geisler
NOFF award: Best Cinematography Prize (Louisiana Feature)

~    ~    ~
Bending Lines: 
The Sculpture of Robert Wiggs
DP: Matt S. Bell, Allison Bohl Dehart,   Editor: Allison Bohl Dehart, Peter Dehart

~ Bending Lines / Vimeo trailer ~

~    ~    ~
NOFF Vimeo memento video ~

~ * ~       ~ * ~        ~ * ~
The Star Sisters singing 
~ not a part of the 2018 New Orleans Film Festival,
simply here for your entertainment ~

Copyright, 2018, 
Leonard Earl Johnson
All Rights Reserved

Your comments and corrections are welcome: Comments

For more L. E. J.'s Louisiana, Yours Truly in a Swamp go to 
w w w . L E J . o r g

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

Coming December 1, 2018 



~    ~    ~
© 2018, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved
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