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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 anthologies: 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, March 01, 2009

March 2009, On The Way to Texas, Part Two

Yours Truly in a Swamp,
On to Texas!
Where are They Now?
Part Two

Reprinted from Les Amis de Marigny, New Orleans
March, 2009


Leonard Earl Johnson

Bousillage, Oui!

The pleasures of a fireplace on a cold day can make a Louisiana cold-snap almost worthwhile. Add a bottle of red wine and a bowl of dark gumbo, and Houston can wait, cher!
(Photocredit: Frank Parsley)
We lingered in Acadiana,"to pass a good time," as the locals say. One of those good times we passed was on a cold afternoon in Vermillion Parish, near the old oysterman's town of Abbeville. We ate, drank and relaxed before the warming hearth of preservationist Wade Lege's restored bousillage cottage.

In ancient myth, fire was thought a God. Early Cajuns and Creoles must have felt much the same about bousillage.

"Bousillage was a kind of sacrament," Lege' says, "a savior from storms and climate."

Louisiana's European settlers built colombage structures, with fill-between-post, for insulation and strength. Not to mention the weight to stand up to hurricane winds. The fill most utilized in Acadiana was bousillage, a mixture of mud and retted Spanish moss turned into something akin to Native People's wattle and daub. These globs were hung wet from baton, "pieux barreauxs," latticework wedged between the posts. After drying, these walls were plastered over, sometimes with mud and shells crushed in water to make a whitewash. This might be covered on the outside with flush boards. On the insides the walls would have a chair rail board to keep chairs from hitting and scraping out the mud. Several such buildings still stand. Lege' has one, and is gathering more.

In New Orleans, builders used bricks and stones harvested from ship's ballast, more often than bousillage."Briquette entre
," brick-between-post, became The City way. Alas, such materials were not as available on the far side of the great Atchafalia Basin.

Lege' dates his cottage to the second, "perhaps the first," wave of French immigration via Nova Scotia. It was built by a family of sugar planters, the last descendant of which lived in the house until the late 1990s. Lege' moved it from Scott, in Lafayette Parish, on August 29, 2006, the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. It now sits on a savanna with a broad overhead sky and old dreams blowing up from Bayou Vermilion.
(photocredit: Wade Lege')

Cri de Coeur!

A few decades ago, misguided New Orleans restorationists removed the flush boards and plaster from their cottages, to expose their eye-pleasing post-and-brick patterns.

Unfortunately those old bricks, with soft textures exposed, quickly eroded from wind, rain and the trailing fingertips of tourists.

Today, Lege' lives in his cottage, and works in his family's construction business, and gathers Acadiana's historic "Cultural Material."
(Photocredit: Frank Parsley)
Outside sits a separated kitchen under construction. It has yet to see a stove, or a meal, but it displays its handsome mud walls through an unglazed window frame.

There are other outbuildings awaiting reconstruction. Including a first-wave French corn crib -- "magasin de mais," blown down last year, north of Lafayette, by Hurricane Gustav. The dissembled peg-and-hole pieces were hand-hewn from giant cypress trees. The former owner gave the pieces to Lege' and he moved them to his prairie.

Lege', an Abbeville native, lived in New Orleans prior to Hurricane Katrina. "I visit often, and I'm glad to see it coming back."

Will he ever return to New Orleans?

Lege' says, "I can never fully leave New Orleans, or Acadiana. Someday I hope to have a playhouse there."

* * *

Headed to Texas

We joined photographer, Frank Parsley, for the next leg of our journey. He is photographer of all but one of the images used with this story, and creator of the
LEJ.org icebox magnets that L. A. Norma claims, "Would scare the bugs out of your refrigerator after the next hurricane."

His Mother and late Father opened Parsley Studio, in Houston Heights, in 1942. "Been there all my life," Parsley grins. The studio is still in business. "All my family work there doing great school, wedding, and prom photography. The kind of photography that made me reach out to Ruthie the Duck Lady."

Parsley was well known in pre-Katrina New Orleans for his production of icebox magnets and greeting cards with polite images of Saint Louis Cathedral and Cafe Du Monde.
He was also known for the sort of erotic Mardi Gras images that make blue noses run, and red noses run back for more. He is shown here in a self portrait with the late French Quarter free spirit, Ruthie the Duck Lady.

"I never actually lived in New Orleans, but the bulk of my business was there," he says, as he turns onto I-10, headed West.

"I still have several outlets in New Orleans. I call on them monthly. Well, less now. They all sold very well till The Storm. Most are doing well again. But it's been a rough past three years.

"I'd set a refrigerator door on an easel, on Bourbon Street, outside Alternatives gift store. Tourists would buy magnets and visit. On big weekends that is a busy spot. Great for drinking a beer, talking with friends, and people-watching. New Orleans was so laid back."

Parsley is a good salesman. The kind strangers want to talk to. "Often the people I had photographed on the street during Carnival would come around to see their magnet. The Monday following a big weekend was always my best day. Tourists would pass by, on their last stroll around the Quarter, and buy souvenirs. They slip easily in your pocket.

"I've been coming to New Orleans since I was sixteen. It is a second hometown.

"The first two years after Katrina, my New Orleans sales were flat. It is picking up. Since I lived in Houston, I was not eligible for any Road Home money, though I sure lost my business on August twenty-ninth, just like everybody else."

Today, Parsley smiles a lot. "Inside here," he says, patting his breast pocket, "is the largest order, ever, from Cafe Du Monde. 'Recovery,' there is my road home!"
* * *
(Photocredit: Frank Parsley)

Jennings & the Ziegler Art Museum

Jennings is a wealthy western Louisiana oil town, in Jefferson Davis Parish, near the Texas border. It is flat, and it knows rice fields as well as oil fields. Some shimmer in the sun, as we drive along Interstate-10.

We are near the site of the first oil strike in Louisiana and the first oil spill. It is, also, home to a well endowed art museum called The Ziegler Art Museum.

"Old masters in the oil patch," L. A. Norma observes, as we turn off the Interstate."

"God knows the sights on I-10 are not worth taking a picture of.

"Am I right, Parsley?" she asks, blasting a cloud of Camel Cigarette smoke out the car window, in the direction of a McDonald's.

Parsley nods, and drives us down a street lined with large oil-patch houses. All vintage Western Louisiana / Texas architecture. Except one. It is a 1960s modern structure. We turn the car around to look at it a second time.

Norma said, "Must not be any zoning in Jennings."

It turned out to be the Ziegler Art Museum.

Norma repeated her zoning joke to a polite woman sorting gold and silver Christmas ornaments piled on top of a long mahogany table. She seemed not insulted by our rude arrival, and apologized for "needing to finish this Christmas stuff."

She clicked on the lights in the main gallery while explaining, "The other gallery rooms are closed. We had a dinner, and have to clean and put things back in order."

We spent a wonderful hour and, on leaving, our hostess pointed out pictures of the Ziegler family on the wall near the front door. "This was the first oil strike in Louisiana," she said, pointing to an image outside of town. "You know all that flap about oil spoiling the environment? There's stuff growing on those sites, today."

Turns out early oil production involved pumping crude oil out of the wells and into ponds where it sat till a truck sucked it up and hauled it away. "Today, they grow rice there."

She recommended we sample the local food crop at a place back near the Interstate. It was not too good.

"Food taste like oil, here?" Norma asked a waitress who smiled and recommended the jambalaya.
Copyright, 2009, Leonard Earl Johnson
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