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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.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

The Ten-Year Post-K. Review / August 2015

Yours Truly in a Swamp, 

LEJ's Louisiana

Monthly e-column by
Leonard Earl Johnson, 
of Lafayette and New Orleans

August 2015

The Ten-Year Post-K. Review

by Leonard Earl Johnson

This column is dedicated to community, family and friends of
 the Lafayette Grand theatre shooting as well as those of post Hurricanes Katrina and Rita

The train pulled in to New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal ahead of schedule, exactly more-or-less ten years after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita blew us away.  

We are back for a month of august filled days remembering the decade since 29 August 2005. When we turned the lock at Squalor Heights (my pre-K Faubourg Marigny garret) never again to return to the life lived there. 

Katrina was the largest storm loss in American history. It ushered in a time too painful for poets, when it and Hurricane Rita gave the coast of Louisiana a deadly thrashing. It has been no less bonding an experience than Death dancing the decade away locked in the arms of radiant Resurrection. O
ne giant decade of storm and salvation! Where is Wagner when you need a big opera? Hallelujah! 

Big Swamp City is better'n ever!

It is re-populated with thousands of newer versions -- even movie-making versions of ourselves eating in hundreds more restaurants, cafes, coffee shops and bars. There we sit with them, talking movies like we are the largest movie-making state in the Union. We are. Or were. 

"Bible-thumping, budget-juggling, selfish maharajah Bobby Jindal," 
L. A. Norma says throwing her arms towards the sky then folding them back on herself, "threatens the dreams of all us little untouchables."

We talk with these new movie people as if we know their biz as well as we know the bars on Frenchmen Street. 


Recently we had dinner on the Sunset Limited with a film ingénue moving from L. A. to La. for movie work. Holy cow!


Elysian Fields Avenue in Faubourg Marigny is home to the fictitious house where Stanley yelled for Stella in Tennessee Williams' opus, STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE. Near the spot where the house would have stood, an independent movie house called, Indywood opened, then closed. Indywood has floated locations since, cleverly operating as a bicycle drive-in.  Their search for a new permanent home is documented here by these talented lovers of cinema in a New Press Release is Born. (my title)


"I still see plump Ignatius J. Riley almost every time I ride the bus," Norma says. 

"Ignatius now uses e-pads and smartphones in ways that would have caused his earlier heart flap to flutter, and his New York City girlfriend to launch another tour d'force to awaken wee the people. 

"They would likely attend Indywood screenings, don't you think?"


Two years after Katrina, a young writer we know rented Squalor Heights. We decamped to Cajun country. 

We first arrived in Lafayette in time for Hurricane Rita, the bigger of the storms.  Rita hit Acadiana three weeks after Katrina and pushed the Gulf of Mexico up over New Orleans broken levees a hundred-and-forty miles away -- for a second time in a month. 

We were punished sinners, said hateful preachers on the radio. Or holy ones!? 

"Like Job punished by a serendipitous Gott." Norma said.

 "Like Louisiana and Governor Jindal,we asked?

My new rooms are in an old railroad hotel where once Elvis Presley stayed. Around the corner is an Amtrak stop, where I catch the Sunset Limited to Big Swamp City once or twice a month. I live a new Life now, where I'm both gone and present. A fine metaphor for an old man.

I still hold membership in the Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association and attend its meetings.  And I see squarely both sides of the argument between Wendell Pierce (HBO star of Treme / Wired, NOLa native, and Faubourg Marigny gas station owner)

Wendell Pierce

Gio Lisa Suarez

and Gio Lisa Suarez (humanist, former Bourbon Street stripper and president of the Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association).

Pierce wants a bigger gas station. Gio wants a more fitting one. "Not one'a those twenty-story exceptions they like on Canal Street," Norma adds.


My old garret was two flights up, 
the first being on the outside of the building. And looked out over its neighbors towards The River. It was a block off Frenchmen Street. 

"When high you could see ship's stacks rounding Algiers Point," the young writer's Wife told me years later at their going away party. "Ships sailed magically between little dormer windows.

"Each window aglow with hope and hangover," Norma said.

We remembered it well.


Early evacuation found New Orleans columnist Chris Rose speaking one night at a kind of teach-in at the Acadiana Center for the Arts in Lafayette, where I was teaching writing to the scattered.

He said our Storm news was so vast and life-changing that it would be an above-the-fold story ten years into the future. 

Now it has been ten years.  Look at the front page -- if you can find one -- and see if the story is not there, above-the-fold.

Rose went through and wrote about stress-related depression after Katrina and Rita. His columns grew darker as he went from writing about the Kenner, Louisiana child-canary, Britney Spears farting on stage to documenting the sight of a Mardi Gras Indian's New Suit nailed to the front porch wall of a house below the waterline. 

He moved from one publication to another and is today writing lovingly of Louisiana foods and fun for MY ROUSES EVERYDAY magazine. 

We love Rose's new writing, and all our new Lives ten years later -- much of mine lived waiting for Amtrak's Sunset Limited


In the decade since Rita welcomed us to Acadiana -- forty thousand New Orleanians came with me -- I have learned d
ifferences between things I hadn't known were things. Like bousillage and boudin.

Bousillage is a mud-and-moss building material favored by early Cajuns and current restorationists. Boudin is a rice and liver sausage equally favored and eaten at gas stations and crossroad stores all across Acadiana.

La nourriture 

Though similar in Big Swamp City and out in the Great Mother Swamp, some foods are different. One of the more shocking differences is that Cajuns put scoops of cold potato salad in their hot Gumbo! There is no explaining this. Either you like it or you don't. You will have to try it to know.

A story aside

Beginning before The Storms you likely had occasions to seek flavor in the popular tasteless fish, Tilapia -- a curse not hurricane-related

Tilapia has no flavor, but restaurants love the fish because it stays firm with a long shelf life, and never loses flavor because it never had any. Think veal. 

In Lafayette, think Tilapia in the hands of the skilled kitchen at Pamplona Tapas Bar, on Boulevard Jefferson.

Pamplona Tapas Bar, Lafayette Louisiane
Photo courtesy of Pamplona
Chef Jackson Nevitt has succesfully introduced taste to this veal-of-the-Sea. 

Twice I've had it, and twice it was good! Once it came with a simple brown butter sauce, sweet potato puree over high quality aromatic rice. The other was with grilled squash and zucchini with mojo picon. Try it, mon amie / mon ami, a firm fish deserves a bit of flavor, don't you think?


French Press on Vermillion Street in Lafayette has been invited to participate in a ten-years-after-Katrina dinner in New Orleans at La Petite Grocery, Uptown on Magazine Street. For details contact either French Press or La Petite Grocery

Chef Justin Girouard will lead his Lafayette contingent. Girouard is a Lafayette native who spent years in New Orleans working from scullery-to-chef at the acclaimed former Stella's in the French Quarter. He returned to Lafayette after Katrina to found French Press in Lafayette's booming downtown restaurant scene. What a difference a decade can make, cher!

Your comments and corrections are welcome: Comments

Lagniappe du jour: 

Great song of Sam Rey, "Meet Me in New Orleans" fitting the ten year celebration.

NOLa / Lafayette Letter to N.O. Advocate about State movie budget

Ignatius J. Reilly is an educated but slothful 30-year-old man living with his mother in early-1960s New Orleans, in the novel A CONFEDERACY OF DUNCES by John Kennedy Toole.  Great telling of New Orleans character and characters.
Copyright, 2015, 
Leonard Earl Johnson
All Rights Reserved

Your comments and corrections are welcome: Comments

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(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 they are archived at www.LEJ.org. Each new column is posted on the first of each month and polished for the next few weeks. 
Hope you do, I love talking with you,
Leonard Earl Johnson,
Columnist to the elderly and early weary. 

© 2015, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved.
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