Archive for the ‘New Orleans’ Category

>Did you see this in New Orleans?

March 12, 2011

>You might see things in New Orleans that you won’t see anywhere else.

Of course this was Mardi Gras, so a lot of people were dressed in their finest.

This doll head caught our attention.

The St. Louis Cathedral is one of the most recognized sites in the city.

Explain this to me. I never saw the cat that was supposed to eat here, bathed in floodlight. We walked by this at all hours of the day and night; it was near the bed and breakfast where we were staying.

The pseudo-Christians were out in full force during Mardi Gras. On Bourbon Street they tried to take on the gay community near Cafe Lafitte in Exile.

I made a short video of the stand-off with my phone. The gays won, by the way. As the protesters left, men were still drinking and dancing was still going on in the bar. The video is noisy and all you hear is the motorcycle drowning out the megaphone, but there is a sweet kiss near the end.

Call me crazy but Canal Street reminds me of Times Square with palm trees and street cars. The street is so busy with people and vendors – the energy is the same.

At night during a parade the crowds really come out along Canal Street. We met a straight couple from Minnesota, three gay college kids from France (in school in Florida), some college age beer drinking kids from Shreveport and from Mississippi, and a Hispanic couple from Midland Texas.

We also caught two bags full of beads and stuffed animals and doubloons and other stuff.

The imagination and creativity in New Orleans is on display everywhere you turn.

We need some of that creativity to be displayed in Bessemer. We know there are creative people here. I know that there are musicians, artists, dancers, writers – all of whom are being repressed, just waiting for their opportunity.

All it would take is a coffee shop/art gallery where poetry readings could take place and an occasional jazz musician could take the stage. That could be the beginning.

You know, the Birmingham Music Cooperative was seeking to locate in an old house in Norwood, but I think the residents ran them off. I want to invite them to Bessemer, where there are plenty of old houses they could fix up and use. We need the culture, and welcome the artists.

>The Music of Mardi Gras

March 11, 2011

>We watched several parades during Mardi Gras and each had several marching bands, mostly from area schools.

One band during the Orpheus Parade stood out. I didn’t get any pictures, but here is a video of them during the last year’s parade.

The Roots of Music is a New Orleans group that fills a void left after Katrina. Some middle schools had to drop their music programs; not good in a city where music plays such a vital role. The Roots of Music offers young people an opportunity to learn and march in formation.

Notice that at least one of the members of this marching band is very young.

But music fills the streets of the French Quarter as well. There are many street musicians along Royal Street and elsewhere, and I took some pictures (and tipped the musicians).

This soloist was along the riverfront and we sat on a bench and listened to him while ships slowly passed by on the Mississippi. I could spend some time every day in this spot, watching the river and listening to music.

This one man band was on Royal Street, and two ladies from Japan walked up as he was playing. He recognized them as Japanese, spoke to them in their language, and sang a Japanese song they were familiar with.

Not far away we listened to this man on the clarinet and his friend on the steel drum.

Further down Royal the music changed a bit. This group was sort of folk/hillbilly.

As was this one. I didn’t get the names of most of these groups, but this one had their name displayed, Slick Skillet Serenaders.

I found a video of them taken on Royal Street a couple of weeks ago.

Here’s another pair of musicians.

And a quartet.

This is the man that was playing long side the clarinetist. Now he is playing solo.

Everyone who has been to New Orleans knows that you hear music everywhere you go. Jazz, blues, rockabilly, Brazilian, Zydeco, or any other style you want. The music in New Orleans seems to keep the city in rhythm. We even had a Jazz combo playing while we ate breakfast one morning.

Ubiquitous music and a coffee shops every other block (in the residential area we stayed in). Two things that bring people together. Things I wish we had in Bessemer.

>Fat Tuesday in New Orleans

March 10, 2011

>Mardi Gras in New Orleans was reported to bring $322 million in economic benefit to the city.

That’s a lot of money.

Over a million people visited New Orleans during Carnival, and hundreds of thousands crowded into the French Quarter on Monday and Tuesday. Tens of thousands more lined the streets on Fat Tuesday to watch the Zulu and Rex Parades.

Rather than attending these two parades (we had already seen Bacchus and Endymion and Proteus and Orpheus and others, and brought home two large bags of beads and stuffed animals that we caught) and take in the St. Anne parade that begins in the Bywater and courses down Royal through the Marigny neighborhood and into the quarter.

There you see the most creative costumes, only a few of which I will share. These photos are copyright, by the way.

There were many costumes that focused on death or dead people but this was by far the best.

Look at this young lady in training.

I never was able to catch what this group of marchers stood for, but two out of the group posed for this shot.

This was the banner that preceded a marching band that paraded separately from the others. Many costumes and groups parodied the religious groups that were in New Orleans crusading against “adulterers, fornicators, homosexuals, and revelers,” among others.

This picture was actually taken in the French Quarter, but earlier these guys had marched with the others through the Marigny. Colorful, huh?

In the French Quarter the annual Bourbon Street Awards took place, and this event was the lead Mardi Gras story on the local news. The awards take place amidst the gay clubs on Bourbon, and while we didn’t have a great view of the contest, I did get some photos.

The New Orleans police chief rode up to the stage on horse back, and got the biggest applause of the day, because of his department’s support of the gay community, as noted by the emcee.

Q-Tip was one of the contestants.

This guy said it took several months to create this. He was featured on the TV news.

This was an interesting costume, but unfortunately I didn’t get it all in the picture.

There is no way to adequately reflect the array of costumes. And no way to express how much fun it is watching so many people enjoying themselves; in the Quarter, on Frenchman, at the parades. I’ll share more in the coming days about some of the uniqueness of New Orleans and the music and art in the Quarter.

>New Orleans

May 19, 2010


We recently visited New Orleans where I took part in the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival, a new experience for me. I read from my novel (Those Others) and I sat on a panel that discussed incorporating history and activism into our LGBT writing.

While there, the Louisiana coastline was beginning to be affected by the BP oil spill. I wrote a short piece yesterday about the effect on the marshland at Bessemer Science and Nature.

Of course, any trip to New Orleans includes some wandering and picture taking.

We need a coffee shop that advertises in this way here in Bessemer

Here are three colorful roosters.

The river is peaceful. Every time I see the Mississippi river in New Orleans I am reminded of my great uncle who drowned in the river. Some say there was some scandal involved, (that it may have followed him from Birmingham to New Orleans) and that possibly the drowning was not accidental. This was decades ago, before I was born.

Some (maybe all) of the streetcars have been painted.

After your beneigts and coffee at Cafe du Monde a ride around town is in order.

And lunch at Clover Grill (with the staff wearing “Clever Girl” t-shirts) provided the best hamburger (cooked under an American hubcap) I’ve had in months.

We stayed in the Faubourg Marigny (we usually do) where the sense of neighborhood is strong and where coffee shops and small cafes are found on every other street corner in the otherwise residential area.

The historical marker says the area was created in 1805 when the Baron de Marigny began the subdivision of his plantation. Immigrants and free persons of color settled the area.

This picture was taken on our trip a few months after Katrina. The tree is in the pool area of the bed and breakfast where we stay.

New Orleans is one of my favorite cities in the world. I could imagine relocating to there (no, there are no plans in the works). But how does “New Orleans Opinions” sound for a blog name?

>Saints and Sinners Literary Festival

May 6, 2010

>Saints and Sinners Literary Festival 2010 will be next weekend in New Orleans and I will on the program.

The 4 day festival was founded in 2001 as a new initiative designed as an innovative way to reach the community with information about HIV/AIDS, particularly disseminating prevention messages via the writers, thinkers and spokes-people of the GLBT community. It was also formed to bring the GLBT literary community together to celebrate the literary arts.

Now in its eighth year, the Festival has grown into an internationally-recognized event that brings together a who’s who of GLBT publishers, writers and readers from throughout the United States and beyond. The Festival, held over 4 days each Spring, feature panel discussions and master classes around literary topics that provide a forum for authors, editors and publishers to talk about their work for the benefit of emerging writers and the enjoyment of fans of LGBT literature.

One of my opportunities will be reading from my book, Those Others, about 10 minutes, to others who are taking part. Other authors who will be reading during the session are Peter Dube, Collin Kelley, Linda Kay Silva, Shawn Syms, and Chavisa Woods. Other authors will be reading in other sessions.

The other part of the program that I am involved in is a panel discussion.

Activist, historian, writer – or all three? What happens when authors capture aspects of GLBT history in their fictional works? And how can they use their writing to both tell a story and to help move beyond the stone walls of injustice? Join these notable GLBT authors as they discuss the importance of documenting social, political, and personal issues that impact Queer life. These panelists have written about the turmoil of identity politics in the 1960s, the struggle for gay rights abroad, and the
search and fight for acceptance.

Other aspects of the festival include writing competitions (fiction and playwriting), master classes regarding emotions, characters, writers block, epublishing, marketing, intimacy in writing and more.

If you are interested in literature, prose or poetry, make your way to New Orleans next weekend for this event. There will be good food and lots of LGBT New Orleans fun.

>Happy Mardi Gras

February 16, 2010

>Kathy posted this video on Birmingham Blues and I thought my readers might enjoy it too. It’s titled “Silent Monks Sing Halleluia” (but it’s actually some high school kids (who need a spelling lesson)) and has gotten over 4 million hits. If you need a laugh, here’s your chance.

Today is Fat Tuesday. Here’s a link to Parade Cam from the Fat Harry’s building on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans. Parades should be rolling at 10:00, but I’ve never been there when they began on time. During the parades there will be narration hosted by

Here’s some video of the Orpheus Parade last night, just so you will know what we are missing.

Have a happy and safe Mardi Gras!

Orpheus Rolls Down Uptown Parade Route

>The Lower Ninth Ward, Part 6: Spreading the Health

August 18, 2008

>This is the final chapter of this series. To read the previous installment, Lower Ninth Ward, Part 5: Swamps, click here.

To start at the beginning of the series, click here. And if nothing else, be sure to watch the music video at the end of this post.

There should never have been any doubt that New Orleans would recover, and though I have focused on the Lower Ninth Ward, similar efforts have taken place in other areas of the city. The French Quarter recovered quickly, as did the adjacent Faubourg Marigny district where we often stay.

In spite of the huge inadequacies of the government response (at all levels) New Orleans began recovery efforts almost immediately following Katrina. Here, 7 months after the storm, and just weeks before the 2006 hurricane season began, Father Michael Jacques of St. Peter Claver Church in New Orleans and others speak of the response by faith based organizations and community organizations that got the ball rolling. He speaks of the spirit of the people of New Orleans, and says their spirit was not broken.

Through epidemics of yellow fever and malaria in the 19th century and numerous fires and floods throughout its history, the city has always come back. The spirit that Father Jacques referenced, which has developed over the history of the city, is the reason.

And the residents of New Orleans are not selfish with their spirit. While we were there in July, the people of Iowa were experiencing sever flooding that destroyed towns and areas of several cities. Volunteers from New Orleans were in Cedar River, Iowa north of Cedar Rapids, helping Iowa flood victims to gut and repair their homes. An Iowa resident called the experience “trauma-bonding” and recalled how Iowans travelled to New Orleans following Katrina in 2005 to offer assistance.

In addition, a group of New Orleans nurses had travelled to Iowa carrying supplies they had gathered.

“When they pulled up to St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids, the Iowa nurses started clapping.
The Louisiana nurses started crying.”

“It was moving, almost spiritual, to see folks who had gone through a very similar set of circumstances reach out to us in our time of need,” said Ted Townsend, the CEO of St. Luke’s.

A truck load of surgical scrubs, Hubig’s pies, Abita beer (and more) and a wealth of moral support was much appreciated by the Iowa nurses, but was also therapeutic for the nurses from New Orleans.

Hug a nurse. And be thankful.

So, I have shared what I learned about New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward and the levees (as well as bit about the swamps near the city) and a little about the people of the city. The city is recovering, the Lower Ninth is recovering. The Marigny is full of music and bohemian fun. Go visit and enjoy.

This music video by SONOMA (Spirit of New Orleans Music Alliance), sung by Romy Kaye backed by Craig Cortello on guitar, is a good place to end this series.

>Lower Ninth Ward, Part 5: Swamps

August 14, 2008

>To read the previous chapter, Lower Ninth Ward Part 4: Levees, click here.

To start at the beginning, click here.

Just as the neighborhoods of New Orleans are proving to be resilient, the surroundings swampland is bouncing back also. One cannot visit New Orleans without at least being curious about the swamps, and swamp tours are offered on almost every street corner in the French quarter. (Free publicity for Cajun Encounters ).

We took a tour of the Honey Island Swamp and found that the swamps were not as adversely affected as one might think. This is as opposed to the wetlands south of New Orleans which were severely affected and remain under threat from future storms.

Our guide told us that things are pretty much normal in Honey Island Swamp. One of the effects of Katrina was that most of the baby alligators were killed. But the overall alligator population seems to be OK.

Here is a vertical lift drawbridge built in the 1930s. The bridge is still functional but requires a 4 hour notice if one needs it lifted.

Here’s a scene along the river.

This gator came right up to the boat, lured by tasty marshmallows. The gators are accustomed to the tour boats and Captain Nolan knows them by name.

Here is a great blue heron, one of several that we saw.

Kelly Ripa, of Regis and Kelly fame, took the tour post Katrina and was so impressed that she talked about it on the show. Here is a video clip of that portion of the show. Her tour guide was Captain Nolan, the same person that took us through the swamp.

Here are some more pictures of the swamp.

Here is Captain Nolan.

Sunset in the swamp.

And out of the swamp.

>Lower Ninth Ward, Part 4, Levees

July 31, 2008

>To read the previous installment in the series, Lower Ninth Ward, Part 3, Industrial Canal, click here.

There is nothing natural about “natural disasters.” In most cases. A tornado attracts little attention after the fact if it does not damage structures made by humans or cause human injuries or death. The recent California earthquake was only reported as it related to the effects on humans and our structures.

A hurricane churning across the Gulf of Mexico is affecting ocean life and the ecology of the sea, but do we really hear about it? One exception, we did learn of the affect that hurricane Katrina had on hummingbirds and other birds. In fact, here is a map showing the important bird areas (IBA) affected by the storm, from Birder’s World Magazine.

1) Lake Pontchartrain Causeway2) Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge3) Bienville National Forest4) Breton National Wildlife Refuge5) Gulf Islands National Seashore6) Mississippi Sandhill Crane National Wildlife Refuge7) Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge8) De Soto National Forest9) Gulf Coast Least Tern colony 10) Lower Pascagoula River preserves11) Dauphin Island 12) Bon Secour National Wildlife Refuge13) Dry Tortugas National Park14) Everglades National Park

But I digress.

My point is, the effect on nature by a hurricane like Katrina is enormous, but the effects on man are more reportable.

Furthermore, the flooding of New Orleans, the suffering endured by hundreds of thousands, was not an act of God, as some would say, but an act of man, if for no other reason that man built the city and the levees, and did not build them in such a way as to withstand the force of nature.

I mean, a lot of water produces a lot of pressure, due to the natural law of gravity, and this pressure exerted a force greater than the resistance of the wall or levee that man created.

As explained by Heidi Cullen on Forecast Earth (The Weather Channel) the other day, a levee failure can occur in one of two ways. One is overtopping, where the waters rise higher than the levee and it overflows. This did not happen in New Orleans. The other is saturation where the soil that makes up the levee absorbs so much water that it becomes weakened, too weak to withstand the pressure of the water and a path is forced through or under the levee and water can begin to “boil” up from the ground on the other side. The levee can actually rupture and collapse, allowing a flood of water to destroy what lies in its path.

In 2006 the Army Corp of Engineers, the group responsible for the levees, declared that the levees were restored to pre-Katrina levels. OK, but does that make anyone feel good?

The Corp has admitted to fundamental engineering mistakes, explained here.

Now we are supposed to feel comfortable about placing the safety of New Orleans in the hands of the Army Corp of Engineers?

Books have been written, The Storm, by Ivor van Heerden, is one that lays out why the levees failed, what was known beforehand, and how the levees could be restored and wetlands protected in ways that would provide for Category 5 hurricane protection. Van Heerden is the co-founder and deputy director of the LSU Hurricane Center and director of the Center for the Study of Public Health Impacts of Hurricanes. is demanding a third party investigation of the failure of the levees in New Orleans which they call the 8/29 Investigation, for this reason (from their web site).

  • The official levee investigation, the Interagency Performance Evaluation Task Force (IPET) was managed by the US Army Corps of Engineers, the same agency responsible for the flood protection’s performance – a clear conflict of interest.
  • Two significant non-governmental levee analysis teams, the Independent Levee Investigation Team and Team- Louisiana have yielded results that conflict with the IPET in five (5) of seven (7) of the major levee failure mechanisms including the Industrial Canal breach.
  • An ethics panel led by retired Congressman Sherwood Boehlert R-NY is underway to examine allegations that the American Society of Civil Engineers covered up engineering mistakes, downplayed the need to alter building standards, and used investigations including the one after Katrina to protect engineers and government agencies from lawsuits. As reported in the Associated Press, the panel was expected to issue a report by April, but has delayed the report until September 5, 2008.

    Here a Lower Ninth Ward resident shows her replacement home, the devestated area around and expresses her hope for the 8/29 investigation.

Bessemer Opinions says support this effort. It is not just about the future of New Orleans, there are levees throughout the country that need to be evaluated and/or strengthened.

In my next segment, I will venture out of the Lower Ninth Ward and into the swamp. Read part 5 here.

Lower Ninth Ward, Part 3, Industrial Canal Area

July 28, 2008

To read the previous installment in the series , Lower Ninth Ward, Part 2, Holy Cross, click here.

I don’t know the Lower Ninth and the boundaries of all the neighborhoods that well, so I am just calling the area north of St. Claude the canal area, because it is getting closer to the breach.

In this area, musicians Harry Connick Jr and Branford Marsalis concieved a village that would house musicians, (but realized that they couldn’t rightly exclude others). Habitat for Humanity took on the project and together they have completed or started on at least 72 homes. Learn more about Musicians Village.

The area will also include duplexes for elders. Here is an early artists drawing of the development, from the web site.

Here are some of the homes that have been built.

The people of the area seem really pleased that Habitat is contributing to rebuilding their community. They speak very highly of Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter’s involvement and support. Carter’s Gulf coast Project is helping to rebuild all along the hurricane damaged coast. Thank you President Carter.

Nearby is Fats Domino’s house.

If you remember, there was concern about Fats, and he was later rescued out of his house.

The sign out front is for Tipitina’s Foundation, helping to rebuild the neighborhood. The real mission for the foundation is to preserve and support the music industry in Louisiana.

Out of the Lower Ninth, though, is Tipitinas Uptown which, if you have never been to, well, you have missed out on some good music.

If you are living in one of these homes near the canal, this is what protects you. A wall of dirt with a concrete fence on it. Well, there’s more to it than that.

From the canal side, imagine this filled with water, and the force with which the water would hit your home in the case of a breach. When it happened, it carried the wall of dirt that makes up the levee with it.

The homes being built look substantial, and the ones being restored have weathered many years and several hurricanes, including Betsy in 1965. The levees along the Industrial Canal failed, homes in the Lower Ninth Ward were flooded up to their eaves, residents drowned in their attics. Sound familiar? Here is Betsy’s track:

And here is Katrina’s track in 2005.

And here is a picture of the flooding in the Lower Ninth Ward in 1965 after Betsy.

So, lessons were not learned after Betsy.

Here is a memorial to the victims of Hurricane Katrina, located near the areas pictured.

The warnings were out there. Now, are the levees being restored as they should be? My next installment in this series will examine the rebuilding of the levees.