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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.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Scroll down for July 2006

~ A Pre-K. Story ~
"In the Good Old Summertime"

Yours Truly in a Swamp
By
Leonard Earl Johnson
July 2006

The original version of this story appeared in Les Amis de Marigny, New Orleans,
August of 1999.

* * *

Bastille Day
July 14th, Bastille Day was muted this year in New Orleans. Surprising, 1999 being Louisiana Tourism Department's "Year of French le Fete." Guess they completely "le Fergot."

Storming the Bastille, and the role France played in America's Revolution cannot be overstated. Such is our shared inspiration and history, till this day a key to the Prison Bastille hangs on the parlor wall of George Washington's Mount Vernon.


And there is the huge matter of the Louisiana Territory, of which New Orleans was the defacto capital. It was claimed for France, in 1699 by La Salle, and purchased for America by Thomas Jefferson in 1803. Jefferson wanted it for its opening to the Sea and its vast Mississippi Valley waterway -- the shipping lane that opened America's frontier.


But not much happened in New Orleans this year on Bastille Day. Only the French bakery on Jackson Square gave a free loaf of bread to all who wore The Tricolor.


Next morning, my red, white and blue ribbon lay atop the breakfast table at Squalor Heights. It sprawled on the elbow of its safety pin flanked by chicory coffee and the baguette, warmed, slathered with butter, and eyeing the honey pot. Outside the dormer window, a sweet smelling magnolia tree called for its lover.


L. A. Norma reached for the honey and knocked an empty Champagne bottle off the window ledge, and sent it crashing into the courtyard below. Happily, no one was there to receive the missile but a pride of feral cats hissing and screeching their disapproval.


The Fourth of July
The Fourth of July was celebrated little better than Bastille Day in New Orleans. Oddly this is more understandable. After all, Louisiana was not a part of the process July Fourth celebrated.

In 1776, Louisiana was bouncing back-and-forth between cousin Louis, King of France and cousin Carlos, King of Spain. Those two treated New Orleans like a rubber ball so as to hide the asset from France's bill collectors. Superpower work is dang costly, mon ami.

For years, New Orleanian Louis Armstrong's birthday was celebrated on the fourth of July. Dwindling City treasury trimmed that party. Besides, Armstrong's exact date of birth is murky. He claimed July Fourth, but that has been overruled and the party moved to August under the flag of historians and tourist promoters.


Laz Fest
We did have Laz Fest on July Fourth. This is the huge annual fundraiser for Faubourg Marigny's AIDS residence, Lazarus House. It was held in the distant, nearby, faraway French Quarter's Cabrini Park.


Laz Fest was a lot like a traditional American Fourth of July. There were hot dogs, watermelons, libations, and other artifacts of freedom.

It was also a truly Catholic event. Could anything be more Purgatory-like, than suffering shade-less heat met with redemption at the merciful grace of iced-beer and cold watermelon?


Pass the medicinal red, Norma, and sit the beer on the ground. Our green sod of a ship seems to have commenced rolling.

We did our Laz Fest penance at the greeting-gate, collecting money, eating watermelon and drinking medicinal red. Nice sacrifice, if you can get it.

In truth, this year's Fourth and Fourteenth were uncommonly cool. "Uncommon for a swamp," Norma said, blowing Camel cigarette smoke under the shade of a great oak tree.

A Literary Landmark
Summer's heat drove us deep inside air conditioned spaces, but we slouched across rue Royale one afternoon for a long lunch at Mr. B's., after a long whisky at Hotel Monteleone's Carousel Bar. Preceded by a ceremonial plaque-ing organized by Faubourgundian, W. Kenneth Holditch, and Faulkner House Books. The Monteleone is now officially a "Literary Landmark," complete with a bronze plaque presented by the American Library Association, in town for their convention.

Richard Ford read a passage set in the Monteleone, from The Ultimate Good Luck (Houghton-Miflin), his first novel.

"A Very nice afternoon, with air-conditioned librarians," as Norma put it.

"You know librarians, they are always way out in front on free speech issues. Bless them, and all their newfangled electronic card catalogs."

Liberté, Fraternaty, Égalité!

Les Amis de Marigny, New Orleans:
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© 2006, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved. Your comments are welcome. Please post them below.

Editor's Note: LEJ is away on assignment for a year-after Katrina cover story for Consumer Affairs.Com. His regular column will resume next month.