Nov 2009 / Part 3 of Below the Level of the Sea
- Part Three -
Leonard Earl Johnson
* * *
Even the Prince of Wales
Stopped on His
Way to a Party in San Francisco
One sunny day after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, we stood on an empty Burgundy Street with L. A. Norma. We waited with five or six others for a passing wave from England's bonnie Prince Charles and his new lady, Camilla Parker Bowles. Saint Louis Cathedral School had re-opened in the French Quarter, but little else. The City was in horror-book disarray. Military convoys prowled deserted streets, and we awaited a glimpse of the Prince of Wales on his way to pat a poor little school person on the head.
They passed. They waved and smiled as warmly as neighbors. We could see them very well. They were as close as a Land Rover can be to five or six American citizens standing on a deserted French Quarter banquette. "Without running us down," L. A. Norma said while exhaling a cloud of Camel Cigarette smoke.
* * *
Many New Orleanians found their road back home -- and much of what they had left. We struggled. Praise fell daily about how true our grit. And how foolhardy. Authors cobbled books about it. Poets sang it. Song-writers, amazingly, did both.
One who recently plucked the strings of our heart is Les Kerr, a Nashville guitar player with a troubadour's understanding of Bayou Music City, New Orleans.
Another of Kerr's songs captures what the years before and after Katrina and Rita meant. Its opening line and title go: "Pray for New Orleans, if you love her too / from sinners like me prayers don't always get through . . ." Enough to make a poet set down their wine and recall again those poems unwritten.
* * *
We watched in a soft rain for the U. S. S. New York, the most politically arresting ship to come down the Mississippi since Farragut arrived with news that we were no longer a part of the Confederacy. With that news came occupation under Major General Franklin Butler. "Spoons Butler," the dreaded Union Governor of Occupied New Orleans said to have palmed the silver from the table. Perhaps. What he brought to the table was an end to the Union blockade of the port.
New Orleans commerce had suffered greatly from the Northern blockade. When New Orleans fell into the craven clutches of Spoons Butler the blockade ended. The City was saved -- by being lost. It might also be remembered that we did not put up a fight.
"Not till the tourists got here a hundred years later," L. A. Norma said, as quite rain drops slashed through her plume of cigarette smoke.
The U. S. S. New York hove into view. America's newest man-of-war was built at the Northrup Grumman Shipyard upriver from the Moonwalk. She was heading out to Sea, to christening in her namesake city. She had been built from the steel gathered after the collapse of the World Trade Center.
"Now, let us see those health-care-yearning Libs find the spot where Cheney put the explosives!" Norma chortled, through a burst of smoke and fire.
* * *
We Saw Michael Moore's CAPITALISM, A LOVE STORY, at Canal Place Cinema.
"Greater truth there than the levees girding The City," Norma said walking from the theatre.
We were on our way to a reception for Florida artist, Mark T. Smith, at the Angela King Gallery on rue Royal.
Unveiled were paintings done on canvas used in the Brad Pitt championed tent-project in the now world-famous Ninth Arrondissement of New Orleans. If you bought a tent your money gave a
Next day we attended the ceremony in Washington Square Park presenting Faubourg Marigny (Yours Truly in a Swamp's sponsoring neighborhood) with a "U. S. Top-ten Neighborhood" award from the American Planning Association. Few other than politicians were in attendance.
City Councilmembers James Carter and Jackie Clarkson smiled and spoke of the neighborhood's vision twenty years ago. Faubourg Marigny Board Member, Gene Cizek dashed in from a preservation meeting in Nashville. Faubourg Marigny President Chris Costello spoke. The talented Lloyd Senset and others took us on house tours. We are blessed to have these people working with us. Everyone else was at the football game in the Superdome. "Life goes on," Norma shrugged.
That evening we went to Roy Blount, Jr's Faulkner House reading at the Cabildo (one of those very old buildings flanking the Saint Louis Cathedral). We bought his book, FEET ON THE STREET, RAMBLES AROUND NEW ORLEANS, which he cobbled together in the flood of New Orleans books following Katrina and Rita. We had never read it, but we had met and admired Blount for many years. He is something of a performance artist. His smart good-old-boy accent is his main stage prop. Given the chance, you will do yourself well to go hear him.
He signed the book: "For Leonard, whose meat will never go bad again," a reference to the Frank Parsley original refrigerator magnets sold on the false promise of saving your refrigerator from some future Storm.
"You never bought his book before," L. A. Norma said.
Faulkner House Books
Copyright, 2009, Leonard Earl Johnson
"It'll keep bugs out'a your ice-box, next time, sugar!"
Leonard Earl Johnson