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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, April 21, 2019

Late Train to NOLa, Tales of the Fests / May 2019

 LEJ.org at the French Quarter Festival / click image for higher resolution
LEJ's Louisiana

Yours Truly in a Swamp

A monthly e-column by Leonard Earl Johnson, 
of Lafayette and New Orleans, Louisiana
 E-mail: Subscribe@LEJ.org
 Archives: www.LEJ.org  
May 2019

The Late Train to New Orleans,

and Tales of the Festivals

*  *
by  Leonard Earl Johnson

© 2019, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved

Passing Fields and Farms                                         photo credit © Michael Tomb
click image for higher resolution


The Sunset Limited, scheduled into New Orleans, Tuesday night at 9:30ish pm, arrived Wednesday morning at 7am. 

Along with the morning Sun rose a rusty red petrochemical umbrella.  Our train climbed under it crossing the Huey P. Long Bridge to Big Swamp City and our famously late arrival.

A bleary-eyed Train Assistant passed down the aisle giving each of us a free cup of coffee. 

Wow, America! 

Red sky and free coffee! Great Again Already? 


"In the parlance of today's rails, 
within the hour is hailed as, 'On-Time,'"  
our pedicab driver said.  

He pointed his thumb back over his shoulder at the 1950's dull modern gray mausoleum known as the
 New Orleans Union Passenger Terminal. 

"Ominously named" L. A. Norma said, exhaling a yawning contempt of Camel Cigarette smoke into the morning air

"The next category," our driver went on, 
'Early-Late,' is two-to-four hours.

"'Late-Late' is five-to-nine hours. 

But the crem on America's dystopian raspberry is 

~ the rarely seen but widely cherished ~

"And you were on one, folks.

 "Congratulations, and welcome to New Orleans!"

Sun rising over Big Swamp City
We laughed.  Giddy from lack of sleep, our heads filled with old expectations that tickle deep when arriving in

 We pulled away, past the Superdome, and glittering Loyola Avenue hotels, and the City Library, and the big stone head laying on its side with a crack through the forehead ~ recovered from The Visual Wall at the 1984 World's Fair, 
the very event that spawned 
The French Quarter Festival, the festival that spawned this trip to Big Swamp City. 

We were headed to the Festival's press club ~ shamelessly teetering at the far end of one very steep circular stairway.  Leading above the finely refitted bar once known to last century New Orleans' hustlers as, The Wrinkle Room.  

We climbed up and up, and round and around a stairwell with railings of wood softened in the Mississippi River, then bent to form this spiraling torture. 

"In the days before its water glistened with chemical effluent," Norma said, tipping our driver.  

"Today the wood would melt like a penny in a Coke-a-Cola."

We climbed, infirmities in hand, to claim our press pass, and a free coffee on the balcony overlooking Chartres Street.  

It is true, music festivals are a party for all, and a reunion for many, but they are also 
a trade show, for performers, writers, agents, club owners, and that lowest feeder dangling at the bottom of the food chain, 

The Media.

"Let'em climb the riggin', 

like their daddies used to do,"  
L. A. Norma crooned.  

Up we climbed where you can look down on the street, 
and exchange greetings with folks from "Basile to Brasil."  Balcony-watching is one of the most beloved pastimes of natives in this Land of Dreamy Dreams.  

We watched as Ronnie Kole, the silk fingered pianist from Liberty Bayou, came strolling down Chartres, wearing his signature keyboard-collared gold Lamé Tuxedo.  

Kole has been grand marshal of the Festival's opening parade
Wisteria in Springtime
since the first one, at the time of the last World's Fair
He was returning from opening 2019's Festival.  

He stopped to wave.  We had all been at the first opening party in the Court of Two Sisters breathtaking wisteria courtyard, that Spring of 1984.   

He yelled up, "Happy Mardi Gras," a joke truly understood only by New Orleanians.  Too many too ill-informed, is a sloggy translation.

Dave Ankers stopped by our table.  He is Director of Content at WWOZ, the World's Greatest Radio Station, a property of the New Orleans Jazz Fest, the Gottfest of all Festivals.  He tells us they have found an old tape of my JazzFest interview with Pete Seeger, folksinger deceased, and plan to air it in memoriam.

Festivals are good places to renew and make new. 

     ~  *  ~      ~  *  ~    
~  *  ~

The building just behind our perch, above the once Wrinkle Room, housed a Maison de jeux dans le Quartier (a playhouse in The Quarter) pied-à-terre of Louisiana architect, Henry Boudreaux and the artist and French fabric preservationist, Sonya LaComb. 

These are Aristocrates Francophones Cajuns de Lafayette.  We were blown across their Basin pathway by The Winds of '05.  We are back, now, and invited over for French pie ~ declined because of those ancient ladders.

Instead, we went to noon Mass at Saint Louis Cathedral. 

A Festival is, best of all, 
a time to remember.  

Leaving Mass, we ran into City paraders, Joe DeSilva and Rosemary James, founders of Faulkner House Books, in Pirate's Alley, along the outside of the Cathedral wall where we stood.

We talked of crowds in the Quarter, a common topic in the Quarter; and recollected Dean Faulkner Wells reading at Faulkner House, one bright Sunday afternoon of the Tennessee Williams Festival's Stella Hollering Contest, in Jackson Square.

left to right: Upper Pontalba, Brennan's Tableau and
Le Petit Théâtre du Vieux Carr
é, The Cabildo, Jackson Square

What a time it was.  

We had the epic occasion to be drunk and leaning on a garbage can in front of the Cabildo, with Dean Paschal, of New Orleans, and Dean Faulkner Wells, of Mississippi.  

Tennessee Williams was a couple doors down hollering for STELLA!

⬇  ⬇  ⬇

Dean Faulkner Wells is the Daughter of William Faulkner's Brother, Dean Faulkner. She was born after her Father's death, from an airplane crash, for which William Faulkner felt responsible (he may have owned the plane).

Faulkner raised his Niece and named her after her Father. She grew up in Mississippi but lived her adult Life in Panama ~ or so I drunkenly thought that day in New Orleans.  

She, Dean Faulkner Wells, read that day at 
Faulkner House Books,

A gathering of followers to a literary faith not fully at ease with the more ruckus Tennessee Williams bunch cheering outside. We applauded, bought books, and gathered copy.  

Dean Paschal, a superb practitioner of the Pauper's Art of writing, by night (BY THE LIGHT OF THE JUKEBOX) and a Medical Doctor by day, and I ~ being ecumenical readers ~ had left Joe and Rosemary's reception at their quarters above Faulkner House Books, swimming in a few bottles of their fine medicinal red.

Headed for the head-clearing Stella Yelling Contest in Jackson Square, we ran into Dean Faulkner Wells, resting by the Cabildo garbage can awaiting her driver.

She was in her 80s, and we were in our cups.  She spoke of Panama, and I spoke of the isthmus' renowned 
CrossRoads of The Sea WhoreHouse and Bar.  

She smiled an elderly impish pucker and said she, too, had gone there. However, I doubt it, having been there myself, and ... well... you know. Didn't she marry a missionary and land in Central America purposely stamping out the sins of such an establishment?

Her driver arrived.  Someone won the Stella Yelling.  Dean Paschal and I went for a drink at the former Wrinkle Room, and Big Swamp City's eternal parade marched on, oui?LEJ.org ✍️ 

to be continued:
More Tales of the Festivals
next month.
Subscribe@LEJ.org  (free)
Archives: www.LEJ.org

© 2019, Leonard Earl Johnson, 
All Rights Reserved.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * 
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 a monthly heads up. 

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 years.

Lagniappe du Jour, Today

LEJ's Louisiana, Yours Truly in a Swamp
is a monthly e-column @ www.LEJ.org
~ Hosted on GOOGLE Blogger ~
and periodically 
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
© 2019, Leonard Earl Johnson, 
All Rights Reserved.
*    *   * 
Coming in June's column

More Tales of the Festivals
Post date June First, 2019
* * * * * * * * * * * *

Monday, April 01, 2019

Aussies on the Train from New Orleans / April 2019

LEJ's Louisiana

Yours Truly in a Swamp

A monthly e-column by Leonard Earl Johnson, 
of Lafayette and New Orleans, Louisiana
 E-mail: Subscribe@LEJ.org
 Archives: www.LEJ.org  

April 2019

Aussies on the Train from New Orleans


 Marjorie Lawrence,

in the Lagniappe Section,

Down under!

*  *

by  Leonard Earl Johnson
© 2019, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved

An Australian couple we had met ~ earlier, aboard Amtrak ~ waved from across Boulevard Jefferson, and the huge new blue-and-yellow Dat Dog Building.  Behind them sat the double engines of Amtrak's Ole #1The Sunset Limited, headed West out of New Orleans.  

The two engines are powerful steeds.  Their livery is blue and silver with a thin red racing stripe.  This is a clever interpretation of America's colors.  Red, the most unstable pigment in the rainbow's palate, is reduced to the smallest surface.  While, blue ~ the most stable ~ has the larger canvas. White, the hardest to keep clean, is perfectly morphed to a grayish silver ~ painterly low in light-value yet loudly echoing the tricolor's white.  

Slowly the engineer opens his whistle, and sends forth an electric scream.  He is calling back the smoke-break passengers. 

Amtrak #1, Sunset Limited,
on Louisiana's 

Coastal Cajun Prairie.
Photo: Mark Konikoff

Under Lazy Gulf Coast Skies

 Only the first engine starts moaning.  The second is reserved for helping climb the mountains at El Paso, Texas.  Next, the baggage car, followed by two Pullman sleepers, a restaurant car, an observation car ~ with huge windows ~ and the last two, day coaches, snake off to The American West.  

The Aussies de-trained with intent of staying behind. They are now standing with L. A. Norma at the Cypress Street crosswalk, in front of the Rosa Parks Transportation Centre a centre where taxies, trains, buses (City, cross country, and tourist) all converge.

~   ~   ~ 
We are sitting at Rêve Coffee Shop's sidewalk tables, eating a great biscotte and drinking harsh black coffee without chicory.

Norma is informing the Aussies of such oddities in the culture of Louisiana as, "No chicory in the coffee outside of New Orleans."

"And horns?" she adds. "Horns! The quintessence of New Orleans' music! 

"There are no horns used in the music of Zydeco or Cajun.  Here they use the German-introduced accordion for wind. Or the downswing of the rubboard, which local blacks just made up all by themselves."

These differences are exactly what has brought our Aussie friends off today's Sunset LimitedWest.

They are on one of those famous ~ often once in a Lifetime ~ Australian journeys to the Upper Earth. They arrived in California by plane, and have been months taking trains across the whole continent, into Canada, and even, once, flying to Europe and back.  

After a week in New Orleans they decided to stop somewhere outside of Big Swamp City.

"To see the countryside," the man says. They chose Lafayette, "Hub City," to French Louisiana. 

The Alamo      /      courtesy San Antonio, Texas
All three join me. They are talking of World travels.  "Our intent was to go as far as Turkey..." says the man.  The woman finishes their sentence, "...but because of today's troubles we did not."  

Both of them had lost ancestors in 1915.  "At Suvla Bay, on the Aegean Coast of what was then the Ottoman Empire," during Australia's starcrossed entry into World War One. One of history's most costly and pointless wars.

"That's the way our boys used to see the world," the woman says.  "Pretending they cared about Europe's wars ~ some still do, I guess." 

The train aboard which the Aussies and I first met was named, City of New Orleans.  It carried us all the way down from Chicago to New Orleans, for French Quarter Festival (April 11 - 14, 2019) and the fabled 
Touro Synagogue's Jazz Shabbat (April 26, 2019)Today we are happily meeting up again in Lafayette, where I am helping these friendly Australians find a phone with an Uber app ~ more compatible than the Australian one on their phones.

Pamplona's sangria in production

Ryan, a bartender from Pamplona Tapas Bar, down the street, came out of Rêve holding a steaming cup of coffee and an open phone. 

He offered to call Uber. Then suggested simply driving them to their rooms at the Mouton Plantation ~ which happened to be near his house in a section of Town ~ across the tracks ~ where large older homes give shelter to bartenders and travelers off whistling trains.


few days later, I went to Amtrak's website to check the train the Aussies were booked on to San Antonio, "By God Texas!"

"We can not miss stopping in 'By God Texas'," they laughed ~ mimicking American accents as they have learned them in Louisiana.  

Over Pamplona's award winning paella, and a bottle of Spanish wine, I told them of being five years old, staying in a hotel across the street from The Alamo. Our Parents out to dinner. 

Mouton Plantation.                                                       Pamplona's Terrace. 

Oldest Brother, age eleven, was our commandant apparent. For behaving well our Parents hid our clothes and rewarded us with footlong hot dogs and French fries from room service.  A pretty dandy reward for three little boys.

Done with the dogs, in barefeet and hotel bathrobes, we crossed the street and pushed open the huge doors to the Alamo. 

I remember the floor was dirt.  It was a stable, my oldest Brother told us.  

"There were no guards?" Norma rose, asked and answered into her own wine glass.

"America had yet rearmed-to-the-teeth, and commenced shooting it out in places of worship, schools, movie houses, and along highways and streets ~ anywhere the gobblinss lurk!  

"Now, today, you would be trespassers, shot onsite, arrested, tried by Texas Homeland Security, and imprisoned in a for-profit prison, for Life! 

She raised her glass, "Antonio López de Santa Anna, save us!"  She says this while glancing gingerly about the room for Texans.  "They often send their bagmen here," she says, settling back down in her seat.


The Amtrak website had no information other than services were down at every stop from Los Angeles to New Orleans, in both directions.  It advised us to call "1-800-USA-RAIL, for more information." A long wait on hold got me to a recording suggesting I check for further information on their website, Amtrak.com

Back on the ole website I again tracked the train all the way from Los Angeles to here and back.  At each stop the information was the same, service down, check the 800 number.

I don't know how our Australian
 friends got on down the line. I suspect they took the Greyhound Bus, with its new airline-inspired seating.  Recently I took Greyhound from Big Swamp City, and never again.  Am-trickle may evaporate for a few days, and close the diner before we board, and never know exactly when they will be anywhere.  But they don't cramp your legs. 

"And you get to meet Australians," Norma added.

I wrote an e-mail to Amtrak, asking about the days of the missing trains. They responded with the following letter.  I have no idea what offensive anything they are talking about.  I don't write that way, and surely "Where's the train?" is something their delicate customer service representatives have heard before.

I wrote back asking whatever did they mean.  I have yet to hear.

Amtrak's strange letter:
Dear Customer,

Thank you for writing to us.

We are unable to respond to your inquiry at this time.

An automated mail reader that shields our customer 
service representatives from certain offensive language 
intercepted your communication. We respectfully request 
that you either visit Amtrak.com to re-submit your comments 
or contact us at 1-800-USA-RAIL to speak to one of our 
customer service representatives.

We apologize for any inconvenience 

and hope to hear from you soon.

© 2019, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved.
Lagniappe du Jour,



*  *
~   ~   ~         ~   ~   ~

Marjorie Lawrence
~ 17 February 1907 – 13 January 1979 ~

by Leonard Earl Johnson

1946 NBC Radio introduction 


the Australian 'folk anthem' 

Waltzing Matilda

to an American audience

Marjorie Florence Lawrence

CBE Order of the British empire

An Australian soprano

particularly noted as an interpreter of Richard Wagner's operas.
She was the first New York Metropolitan Opera soprano to perform the immolation scene in Götterdämmerung by riding her horse into the flames as Wagner had intended.

She was afflicted, by polio, in 1941 ~ at the height of her career ~ She made a comeback in 1946 that included introduction of Waltzing Matilda to the American audience.

Her life story was told in the 1955 film Interrupted Melody, in which she was portrayed by Eleanor Parker, who was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performance as Lawrence.

Later, Lawrence served on the faculty of the

School of Music, at Southern Illinois University ~ Carbondale,
my alma mater, and where I came to know her.

Four years after her NBC Radio comeback, I was five years old and contracted polio, like Lawrence,

after returning with my Family
from a trip to Mexico.

As a young college boy I showed no symptoms of the disease ~ unless you counted being drawn to older women who sang Wagner while being rolled around on a reclining board.

I liked her, and she remembered my name. I last saw her in the early 1970s, at the New York Metropolitan Opera's touring company production of Aida, in Memphis, Tennessee.

Back in Carbondale ~ back in the Fabled Sixties ~ Lawrence had nailed the supporting role of Amneris ~ Aida's rival for the Royal Ramhorn of Radamis ~ while pushed around stage on a leaning board with wheels!

~   ~   ~

Comments and corrections are welcome, click here.
Altgeld Hall, Music Department, 
Southern Illinois University
~    ~   ~
Tommy Emmanuel - Waltzing Matilda
*  *  *
Waltzing Mathilda / Tom Waits
*  *  *
~ a song about the famous song, with lyrics ~

Suvla from Battleship Hill.jpg


For more 

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

© 2019, Leonard Earl Johnson, 
All Rights Reserved.
* * * * * * * * * * * 
Go here For  

and such falderal ...

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 years. 
LEJ's Louisiana, Yours Truly in a Swamp
is a monthly e-column @ www.LEJ.org
~ Hosted on GOOGLE Blogger ~
and periodically 
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
© 2019, Leonard Earl Johnson, 
All Rights Reserved.
Some parts of this month's story were published in a lesser form in 2017

Coming in May's column
Tales of the Festivals!
Posted May First
* * * * * * * * * * * *