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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.

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Easter on The River of Bourbon Street / May 2017


Carnival Esprit   /     Janice Turk

LEJ's Louisiana, Yours Truly in a Swamp

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May 2017


Easter On The River of Bourbon Street

BY  Leonard Earl Johnson
© 2017, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved

2013  ~  Spring  New Orleans,                       Photo-credit:   Jessica ReeTull



L. A. Norma and I left the witch-hat-towers of Saint Louis Cathedral, and headed for the soaring balconies of Bourbon Street. 

There we were lifted on the chaliced wings of whiskey served from temporal cathedrals bearing names like Oz and Bourbon Pub

There are bars named Oz and Pub on many streets in this World, but there is only one Bourbon Street. It is in New Orleans' French Quarter, and it flows downriver towards Big Swamp City's first Faubourgs

It is there, inside Faubourg Marigny, the street's name changes to Pauger, after Adrien de Pauger, the French engineer who designed the colonial streets of New Orleans ~ in use today, and the only grid system in Town.

The two dance halls flanking Bourbon Street ~ where it intersects Saint Ann ~ were once populated exclusively by gay men. Then came gay women and gay men. And today ~ especially when balcony seating opens ~ anyone, gay or not.

These dance halls stand at a demarcation point between Reader's Digest- tourists ebbing back towards Canal Street; and those yearning to venture towards the gentrified mysteries of Faubourgs Marigny, Treme, and Bywater.

We found a table on the balcony above the Pub's swinging shingle, and watched.
Courtesy of French Quarter Festivals 

The masses raised their arms in jubilation of Christ's resurrection ~ or for beads!

This day, touched by Easter's spirit and the elfin Mr. Booze, I saw Jesus walking down this famed 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 the local rabble. And reveling in their Easter experience. As were they His.

"Well, theirs was a damn sight better'n His," L. A. Norma said, tapping a finger along the silver figure hanging by tiny silver nails from a crucifix hanging around her neck. A ringed crown of thorns ~ oddly made from gold ~ sat on the little silver Head. 

Norma lifted her whiskey, exhaled smoke and said, "Skip the crucifixion, forget fasting, go straight for the Resurrection!"


We all laughed ~ glowing in the clear and righteous wonder of her thought. 
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A few years back, a few blocks up the street, Chris Owens, an elderly Bourbon Street dancer with mega staying power, conducted her own Easter Parade. Tall and seemingly leading the crowd was David Duke. A brass band made up of midgets played. Elder ladies of the snatched-bodies cult, and a half dozen or so young bunnies in pastel furs marched and rode atop pedibikes and convertibles. The bunnies threw underpants to the crowd. 

Among such human eddy, no one would have given notice whatsoever to a walking Jesus.

But this day, a tourist family standing against the downstream wall of Pete Fountain's (today, Oz) did. They were directly across the street from where we sat. The Father watched 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," Norma said, "He wrote the book on forgiveness."


The Pope appeared on the balcony directly above them. He stood dressed, head-to-toe, in yellow and white satin. He blessed all who passed beneath him, and tossed beads at the tourist family as they scurried away.  He looked across 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 so 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 ~ on their return from a later mass. They passed our intersection headed towards Cathedral School. The sea of sinners parted. We joined the cheering. 

 "What would they think of seeing Jesus?" L. A. Norma asked of no one in particular. She leaned way 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 waving from our old balcony seats across the street. We waved back. He lifted his naked arms 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
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.

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Copyright, 2017, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved
(A version of this story first appeared in the mid 1990s)


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LEJ  with  beard,  today-ish

Lagniappe du Jour, Today!

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French Quarter Festival 2017


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All Rights Reserved.
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Go here For 
Don't hold your breath on my figuring out le Internet.  I am a storyteller, not a computer-pinball gamer


Contact me if you want on the list ~ that may get e-mailed. 

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. 


                                                    
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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 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.
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Saturday, April 01, 2017

More than an Obit for Sister Marcy / April 2017

LEJ's Louisiana, Yours Truly in a Swamp

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April 2017


More than an 
Obit for Sister Marcy Romine

BY  Leonard Earl Johnson
© 2017, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved 
Sister Marcy Romine, 67, died on Valentine's Day, February 14 at her apartment in New Orleans. She was a member of the Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual Help for 47 years.
Sister Marcy Romine
 Born in Saint Louis, Missouri, she entered the Franciscan Sisters Order in 1968 and professed perpetual vows in 1974. She received a bachelor's degree from the University of Missouri-Saint Louis and a master's degree from Loyola University in New Orleans.
Sister Marcy taught at Saint Adalbert, Our Lady of Guadalupe, Saint Francis of Assisi and Saint Casimir Schools in the Archdiocese of Saint Louis, Missouri. She also taught at Little Flower Academy in Monroe, Louisiana, and Holy Trinity School in Bucyrus, Ohio. Following teaching, she became the Director of Volunteers for Project Lazarus in New Orleans, and then responded to a call from her community to serve as vocation minister in Saint Louis, Missouri. 

She returned to New Orleans about five years ago to became director of special projects at the NO/AIDS Task Force. 

"My temporal spiritual home," was Sister Marcy's sweet rift on the philosophical note raised high by fellow Saint Louis immigrant to New Orleans, Tennessee Williams.  Williams famously called New Orleans his Spiritual Home.

  Soon after her return to Big Swamp City we met for lunch at Cake Cafe and Bakery, on Spain and
Lazarus House, green building foreground of Holy Trinity Church
 Chartres Streets. We were old friends from Lazarus House days, happy to see each other again.

Project Lazarus is an AIDS / HIV services project. I was a new volunteer the year Sister Marcy first came to Louisiana. We met for orientation, and to be given the name of a person I would visit ~ reading to ~ an agreed title ~ visiting regularly ~ as we saw fit ~ befriending ~ and, yes, sometimes sitting bedside at the last hour. I know this may sound creepy, but it was actually liberating.


"What will happen if I start to cry?" I asked, at that first meeting.  


(In full disclosure: I volunteered because it had been suggested by a grief counselor that I do so as a way of dealing with loss of friends. In those early days, when President Ronald Reagan would not even speak the name, the 
NO/AIDS Task Force opened on Frenchmen Street.  With laudable civic grace they offered free counseling for the ill and the bereaved.)

Sister Marcy said"It might give them a chance to cry, too. We hope to demystify death, and it is not like they don't know. They will let you know where they are."


Project Lazarus began as Lazarus House, an AIDS hospice in the former rectory of Holy Trinity Catholic Church

Holy Trinity was founded in 1854, as a prosperous German congregation, on Saint Ferdinand Street. It served the new German and Italian settlements of Faubourgs Marigny and Bywater. 

Holy Trinity Church, founded in 1854 /
 today, Marigny Opera House 
  This neighborhood also supported a German-speaking militia (police), and a German newspaper.  

Holy Trinity had grand French stained windows and magnificent Bavarian / Schwabish hand-carved wooden fixtures. All sold off by the Archdiocese after desanctification. Today the building is rentable as the charmingly misty venue, Marigny Opera Housein this misty post-Katrina gentrified neighborhood. 

During five years at Project Lazarus I befriended a young dark-skinned man from Baton Rouge, who went by the name of Roger X.  He held a PhD in physics, and was teaching mathematics on the graduate level when he was diagnosed. Life had been good. He had friends, a red Chrysler convertible, and was buying a house. He lost his job, most of his friends, his red car, new home, and even his eyesight, after he became ill. 


Once, reading a passage from A LESSON BEFORE DYING, I did cry.  When I had collected myself Roger X. calmly said, "I don't cry anymore. It is alright if you do." 

Roger X. had grown up in New Roads, Louisiana, hometown to Ernest Gaines, author of A LESSON BEFORE DYING, and distinguished professor at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. 

Like Gaines' protagonist in LESSON (Grant Wiggins), Roger X. wanted out of his Life in "the Quarters," the section of once plantation lands where blacks lived ~ then and now. Both men got out, and both got pulled back by roots, memories, 
membership in the community. 

We were reading A LESSON when Ernest Gaines and Oprah Winfrey took America on a tv-tour of New Roads, its church, and cemetery. 

Homie, Roger X., and I went along, too. 

Roger's weak eyes left him unable to see more than light and shadow ~ no details. I started describing what was on the tv-screen. Roger stopped me. He already saw it in his mind, he said, "As clearly as anyone watching in America."

His Father was a "Hardshell Baptist Preacher," he told everyone, in sad explanation for his never visiting. His Mother was loving, he said, but obedient to her Husband. 


That Christmas he went home for a first visit since diagnosis. He left December 12, and returned December 20.  The Prodigal Son's visit cut short five days before Christmas ~ in a devout Christian family ~ was a very bad sign. Sister Marcy called me to come visit. We read more of A LESSON BEFORE DYING. No one cried.


Roger X. died the following Spring. His Parents did not come, but his Mother phoned. Sister Marcy may have called her. In the last hours of care a hospice crew bathed, powdered and dressed him while I waited in the hall. 

I held the phone to his ear and spoke into it to his Mother: "He smells like baby powder, and is in a fresh blue gown."  I told her Roger's eyes were open and moist, "He knows it is you."

A few weeks after his death I wrote to the Oprah Winfrey show in Chicago. They wrote back and when A LESSON BEFORE DYING was made into a HBO movie I was invited to attend the premiere at the Orpheum Theatre in New Orleans. At the dinner afterwards at House of Blues, I sat at table with actor Cicely Tyson and chef Leah Chase.

Thank you Sister Marcy and Roger X., mes amis!

Post Mortem 
I know nothing of Roger's internment. Sister Marcy is buried ~ like Tennessee Williams ~ back in Saint Louis, Missouri. There was a huge memorial service and Second Line for her at the Marigny Opera House

(Tennessee Williams has annual festivals in his honor in New Orleans; Clarksdale, Mississippi; Provincetown, Massachusetts; and lately Saint Louis, Missouri.)

Comments and corrections are welcome, click here. 

Lagniappe du Jour, Today!

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© 2017, Leonard Earl Johnson, 
All Rights Reserved.


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Go here For 
Don't hold your breath on my figuring out le Internet.  I am a storyteller, not a computer-pinball gamer. 

Contact me if you want on the list ~ that may get e-mailed. 
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. 


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