Archive for October, 2008

RELEASED TODAY: Tempest in Crescent City

Tempest in Crescent City

Okay, what does that look like to you? A predictably ironic postmodern painting? A wacky dream inspired by a late-night meal at Deanie’s? A panel from Mary Worth? Alas, it’s none of those things. (Though I wouldn’t blame you for guessing Mary Worth.) It is, in fact, a screenshot from a video game–a videogame about Hurricane Katrina.

Called Tempest in Crescent City, it was developed by Global Kids, a nonprofit with a mission of “educating and inspiring urban youth to become successful students as well as global and community leaders.” This marks its second videogame–the first being Ayiti, in which you help a family in Haiti make their way from poverty to prosperity. (I know, right?)

Anyway, in Tempest in Crescent City, you play a teenager trying to find and save your mother before, during, and after the storm. You interact with neighbors, pick up supplies, spread them around, and save people from attics. On its website, Global Kids says it had three goals in developing the game:

  • “Teach players about how everyday residents of New Orleans acted heroically to help each other….”
  • “Emphasize what are perhaps the two most important priorities in any disaster: communication and use of local resources, needs, and knowledge….”
  • “Draw attention to the continuing struggle in New Orleans as residents fight for housing in 2008….”

All of which sounds laudable (maybe), but something still gives me a case of the icks. Being the objective kind of guy I am, though, I tried to put that aside for a second and play the damn thing. Here’s how I graded it, based on four different criteria:

The game didn’t didn’t make me install any crazy extensions, didn’t resize my browser, and downloaded in about 10 seconds. In that respect, it’s exactly what a Flash game should be.

Apart from the directional buttons and the space bar, you don’t use much in this game, and it’s all very intuitive. It felt like there ought to be a few “special” options available, but maybe that’s just me and my six-button, two-bumper, two-trigger, 360-loving ways.

It’s a side-scroller, so if you’ve ever played Pitfall, you know what you’re getting into. It’s not especially challenging, but it is timed, and there’s some richness in your character’s interaction with the environment that make this game different from others. However, there are definitely some glitches in the game (e.g. I had trouble finding the right spot to jump onto roofs) that make it frustrating at times.

I have no idea where I stand on this point. On the one hand, I hate parochialism and essentialism; I know we do things a little differently here, but I don’t want to be labeled one of those GET OFFA MY PROPITTY! kind of people who take pride in thinking that “outsiders” can’t possibly understand New Orleans. People move here all the time, same as any other city; some of ’em get it and stick around, others don’t and move on. BFD. So although I believe that New Orleans is far too rich and diverse to be explained in a simple videogame, I don’t have a problem with anyone trying to do that. Hell, they do it to New York all the time.

On the other hand, creating a videogame involving life-and-death consequences–a videogame based on recent, widely known, real-life, tragically life-and-death events–well, that seems a little dodgy. Would Global Kids have created a game based on the September 11 hijackings? Or the Indonesian tsunami of 2004? It all seems a little gray to me. Yes, it raises some valid questions, gets people thinking, but I’m pretty sure that all that talk about videogames being educational is 95% crapola.

Night Will Come

1226 Treme St. French Heritage Project Finished (3)

I met Miss Hilda when the Vieux Maison Francaise asked the HFTA organization to identify some homeowners who needed money to fix their homes from Hurrican Katrina back in 2006. They gave us 10K. However, upon going into Miss Hilda’s house, we found horrendous termite damage. In order to do the job right, we had to get more money. So I set about applying for the Historic Rebuilding Grants offered by the state at the time. I wrote about this as we began the project at 1226 Treme St. back in 2006. After Hilda got the HBR grant, I helped her apply for Rebuilding Together to come in and do the finish work.

This past spring, the work was finally done, she sent me a lovely thank-you note.

Sunday, October 5th, Miss Hilda passed at Oschner Hospital. She was 92 and sharp as a tack. I keep thinking of our last visit, when she showed me her completed project and I brought her a vase of daisies. I also think about the time I was there with her neighbor, Vanessa, and she was vomiting and very sick. I was very worried. I thought about how much I didn’t want to be 91 yrs old. I went and got her some 7-Up upon request and after a short stint in the hospital, she got through that episode of flu by some miracle. I was so worried. I thought she’d never see her house finished.

Her husband passed some 20+ yrs ago and she’d been all alone since but she was always so content and we both talked about the benefits of having sole control of the remote and the thermostat. She was the kind of person that left you with a strong calm feeling long after your visit.

I went to her funeral in Treme last Saturday, I know she didn’t have much family but there were a good 50 people there and they obviously loved her as much as I did. Miss Hilda had an immediate effect on people. It was important for me to go to tell her family how much she had touched my heart. At the Holy Faith Temple Baptist Church, they hand ring this big bell in the side yard as the procession exits the church. It was a great Baptist “Homegoing Celebration”. I always cry when the choir sings Amazing Grace. I miss her.

Miss Hilda's Funeral Program
(I noticed that the date was wrong too, don’t mention that Saturday was the 11th. When you’re 92 you can give or take a day.)

Well, we ARE in the South

Between all the political conflamma and the Saints drama, there’s plenty to talk about in New Orleans these days. However, I’m distracted from the allegedly real news by this slightly annoying/embarrassing/underwhelming headline: “Hogs to be Audubon Zoo’s first new exhibit since Katrina”. But maybe it’s just me.

NCDC Update II

2337-39 Piety St. (1)
2337-39 Piety St. Property on the Oct. 20th NCDC agenda.

As many of you know, I serve as the Dist. B representative for the Neighborhood Conservation District Review Committee. I hestitate to write about it here because it always seems like a long story. Since the last time I wrote, we adopted our new rules and have elected a new Chair and Co-Chair. Ed Horan doesn’t really like being Chair because he is so busy but he does a bang-up job and we really like him a whole lot in the role. He can pronounce the street names and does a very good job of following protocols. He’s always sure to ask, “What is the pleasure of the committee?” so that we stay on track and get down to voting rather than getting sucked up in too much discussion. We really appreciate his work as Chair.

Last Monday, we covered 122 properties in three hours. We were totally exhausted and had to leave some properties from next time. Members Marty Rowland and Roz Peychaud suggested that we do a global motion for demolition for the remaining properties on our agenda before adjourning, but this makes no sense since the properties are listed alphabetically and completely unrelated, it was a sign of fatigue. So Helen and I motioned to stop the meeting and defer the rest of the properties until next time. There is hardly ever a reason to do a global vote on properties. Global motions to demolish are merely a sign of us having had enough for one day.

Preparing for the NCDC meetings takes a lot of time because our agendas are very large. Most of the properties are clearly damaged but we have been running into about 30% of them which are marginal and require a site visit to be sure of the damage and to see the effect that their demolition will have on the surrounding properties. It’s actually very enlightening to go out and see them in person.

I took time out from studying Sunday to do some site visits with a fellow committee member. We visited a handful of properties some of which were not already documented by Karen Gadbois at Squandered Heritage nor the Preservation Resource Center.

We found only a couple properties which were in great shape and not worthy of the Imminent Health Threat reasons for demolition. By talking to neighbors, we located one owner who did not know her property was on the City’s list. Her husband recently passed and she was glad to know about the meeting on October 20th. If we can save one or two people a whole lot of money who can renovate instead of start from scratch, it’s worth sacrificing our Sunday morning sleep-in.

I find that we always learn something new too. We stumbled upon this strange construction method at the property at 1632-34 N. Claiborne Ave. It was used at the base for plaster work done in the interior walls of the home, we could see it because the weatherboards were gone in some areas.

1632-34 N. Claiborne Ave. (4)

I had never seen it before. The overpass area across from this area is rich with midden in the immediate area but these shells are not broken like midden, suggesting a deliberate and earlier use of the material. We tried to pull a chunk out but it’s about 2 ft. deep and unforgiving. I asked Willie White about it and he said this;

” It dates from the 1880’s when the building code specified this procedure to keep rats out of houses. Not very common to find this any more and kind of unusual that it contained so many reef shells, as I have seen it many times to include just plaster or plaster and gravel aggregate. ”

Between this little learning discovery about early building codes/materials which I might never have seen, and being able to notify an elderly widow about the City’s plan to start demolishing her well-kept property, it was a very good day to be out in the field which is why I love serving on the committee, it’s very rewarding and meaningful work.

Sometimes we lose some valuable structures, even when we follow the process of historical review. This one is really neat, historically significant. It was voted down by a margin last Monday.

2683 New Orleans St.

It’s structurally sound, the awning looks bad as well as the weeds but it could be refurbished. It’s a very cool piece of architecture and it’s on a corner lot, which would make for a nasty overgrown lot which no one will maintain if it is demolished. Surely, nothing will be gained by that. It may have been a NORA property, if so, it should have been taken back by NORA and put back on the ‘market’. Back in the day, they overbuilt properties, they didn’t cut corners to save money like they do in new construction. Thus, due to it’s architectural significance, as an increasingly diminishing number of New Orleans’ corner stores, every effort should be taken to place it in the hands of someone who can possibly save it. If it were to continue to lag and become a threat to neighbors, I could see demolishing it then, but right now, it’s solid.

I believe in giving some of these unique buildings more time. There are plenty of stuctures in worse shape which need to be demolished right now, this is not one of them. Especially since it is a city initiated demo with no plans for redevelopment. Fellow writer, Daneeta Loretta, pointed out some great old landmarks in her post of lost structures, we should learn from our past mistakes.

It’s a part-time job to be sure the proper procedures are followed from the City to the NCDC so that we don’t make any errors by accidentally demolishing homes which are in great shape or in which the proper notification wasn’t done by the city or its contractors and that homes in the process of renovation aren’t accidentally demolished. I try to remain clear headed about all this but at times, it really is madness.

Some free stuff I did today…

Gnarled Tree at Palmer Park from Alex Castros Flickr Photostream

Gnarled Tree at Palmer Park from Alex Castro's Flickr Photostream

Yeah! We found another bus that goes from near ma maama’s* on the West Bank, over the Crescent City Connection and to Canal Street in just 22 minutes. I love the Algiers Ferry, but it takes too damn long to get to it. 

The Gen. Meyer bus (102) lets off just one block away from the downtown branch of the New Orleans Public Library. I love this branch of the library. There is a great little patio on the third floor (smoke ’em if you have ’em) where you can take books and mags to read when the weather is good. Next to the patio entrance is a fascinating display of turn-of-the-century mug shots. I stared into the eyes of these people and tried to imagine what they were thinking. Some were scared shitless. But a few looked satisfied, contented. I made up the stories in my head. 

The magazine section at the NOPL sports anything from “The Atlantic Monthly” to “Vogue.” This is a really good way to spend my tax dollars, thank you very much. We spent two hours in there before meeting Melissa in Palmer Park for the free outdoor concert by the Louisiana Philharmonic.

We waited by the side of the stage for all of our party to show up. I saw a shiny bald head and said to Melissa: “I know that guy.” “He’s hot,” she said. “But he lives in Dallas.” I didn’t realize it was Nagin until his minders were ushering him away. I wonder if they were going to take public transportation.

Palmer Park is a weird one. A few weeks ago, my maama was chaffeuring us around, and we passed by Palmer Park. She crossed herself and told us to never go there. It was dangerous, she said. Gangs. Well, I did find an article about how the gangs were ruling the park, but the park also hosts a monthly Artist Market sponsored by the Arts Council, so you be the judge.

I have become fascinated by the names of things here. Where does Palmer Park get its name from? I googled and googled and could only come up with Reverend Benjamin Morgan Palmer. Now this guy was a pretty nasty piece of work and used his pulpit to proclaim that slavery was the will of God, so I can’t really figure out why there is a park named after him in this city of all places. The park had originally been called Hamilton Park, but the name was changed in 1902. Sometimes google does not give the full story, so I am going to ask at the library the next time I am there.

After the concert, Melissa dropped us off for the bus on Elk and Canal. We had an hour wait, and I was a little nervous. I kept hearing a cacophony of voices in my head saying that this was not a great place for a couple of alabaster people to be hanging around after dark. But it was fine.

And, here’s the rub: I want to be careful. I don’t want to be arrogant or brazen or disrespectful to anyone. But I feel that I should be able to go anywhere I want to in this city at any time of the day or night. Isn’t that freedom? People in this city are more afraid of what other Americans might do to them than they are by what any terrorist might do. So, why exactly are we spending 341 million dollars a day** on making people in Iraq free? I want to be free too. 

*We are gonna have to leave ma maama’s soon as we are starting to bother her landlord. Who wants to put us up next? Email me.

**This, by the way, is a very bad way to spend my tax dollars…bad, capitalism, bad.

Public Transportation: Is this Freedom?

photo: Patrick Jackson

We have two meetings today, and I am skeptical. One is in da Parish and the other is up at UNO. We board the Algiers Local at 8:30 a.m. Twenty minutes to the Ferry and across to downtown. Then it’s a short walk to Rampart St. to catch the St. Claude bus. On the way, we pass by Canal Place. Shitty music (not even good music, ya’ll, this is the birthplace of Jazz) is blasting from the outdoor speakers. Brands like Chanel and Saks have window displays that show me exactly what I can’t afford to buy. I have to remind myself that I have opted out of consumerism else I might give up my Quest and start selling crack on the street so that I can buy me a Hummer.

The bus is coming, so we sprint to the stop in the heat and humidity. I stink already, and my dress is sticking to my butt crack. What bus is it? Nobody knows because there is a political ad on the display that normally tells you which bus it is. Information is passed down the line that it’s the Jackson bus. We wait around the corner in the shade.

A fluffy girl in pink crocs is relaying a story into her cell. She was waiting for the Street Car when a group of white boys approached her and asked if she had change for a twenty. They were participating in some kind of race that involved them taking public transport. They had T-Shirts and all. She didn’t have change for a twenty. Who does? The boys asked her how much she had. Eight singles. They took the eight singles and gave her the $20 bill. Now I’m glad that the fluffy girl in the pink crocs made $12, but I’m kinda indignant that public transportation is a game for these people.

Finally, the St. Claude bus comes and we ride all the way up to the Auto Zone on St. Claude and Aycock where my sister’s man picks us up to take us to our appointment. It’s 11:05. We left ma maaama’s on the West Bank 2.5 hours ago.

After our appointment, my sister’s man drops us off: “Stand by these two benches. That’s where the bus stops.” I guess the budget for signposting went to pay for those crime cameras. Don’t bother going onto the RTA Website for the maps. They are abysmal and do not indicate where the buses actually stop. Don’t bother running around with your baby on your hip and carrying your shopping trying to find a pay phone to call the RTA to find out where the stops are. Their “ride line” is an answering machine promising to call you back, but they never do.

Our next meeting is at UNO. We get the St. Claude bus and have a chat with the bus driver while she’s waiting to take off. She tells us that there is a free white bus that goes further into Chalmette. I chuckle at the irony of her description. Finding out about this bus will be another project.

At Elysian Fields we transfer to the bus going to UNO, and the bus driver tells us that the stop is in front of the beauty parlor. We look around for it, but it’s not sign posted. I ask a neighborhood lady where the bus goes from. “Right there in front of the beauty parlor. Stand right there, baby.” So we wait there in front of the beauty parlor while she calls her friend on the cell and tells her the story about the two alabaster people in funny shoes trying to get the bus from her block.

We have already spent 3.5 hours on public transport, and we have only done one of our meetings. I think every politician and RTA employee (and their families) should have to take public transportation for a month. Just to see what it’s like. I know that New Orleans is no London, but this city does aspire to be a world class city. In London, all classes of people rely on public transport: students, working class, unemployed, professionals. But, unless you live and work on a street car line, it’s just a grind here.

To wit: a few weeks ago, we waited 30 minutes for the Carrollton bus with a lovely lady who explained to us how she had a four hour a day commute on public transport from Metarie to her job at Walgreens uptown. Now I ask you: is that freedom? PJ says he can sum up American Freedom in one word: CAR.

I overheard another lady talking about how her boss got pissed off at her because she had to leave work ON TIME so that she could catch the bus to pick up her baby. “If I miss the bus,” she said “I won’t get home ’til after eight, and I don’t want to be out after dark with my baby.” I bet her boss had a car.

People should be rewarded for taking public transportation with great public transportation facilities. They are doing their bit for the environment and traffic and society. Like a lot of other things in New Orleans, public transport seems like it is DESIGNED to keep the poor in their place. How can you possibly have any job choice (read FREEDOM) if you have to spend four hours on the bus? How can you have good quality of life if you have to spend four hours on the bus. Wake up America: all this freedom that Bush and McCain and Palin are talking about you losing if you don’t elect them back into office? Ain’t dere no more. You are not free.

P.S. If you are tempted to sing that old chestnut “because of Katrina,” don’t. It’s just an excuse. Public transportation sucked before Katrina. At least now there are some new buses in the system thanks to donations from other cities that felt sorry for our asses.

A foreigner in my own damn town

Front of Aunt Leni's

Front of Aunt Leni's

PJ and I decide to write on ma maaama’s side of the river. We take the bus up to Aunt Leni’s Cafe for coffee and free reading materials. We are fortunate enough to get one of the new buses, so I am able to keep my breakfast down due to the fab suspension system. The bus driver says to me: “You got on the right bus this time.” He recognizes me from a few days ago when I got on the right bus but going the wrong way resulting in an hour and a half ride around the West Bank. I like the fact that he recognizes me.

We drink coffee and read The Gambit and the promotional materials on Algiers. Then we get down to writing. After, as I am fishing for change to pay the bill, the cashier tells me that I can pay her the 85 cents later. One of her regulars says “She ain’t from here. Look at her shoes. Where you got them shoes, girl?”

OK, so I got the shoes in London. But, I AM from here even though I haven’t lived here since 1989. I am a Louisiana girl. I spent the first 23 years of my life here. That should count for something despite the fact that I have funny shoes.

I’ve been here for five weeks. I still feel like a foreigner, and I wonder when this feeling will go away.

P.S. I have since traded in the funny shoes for flip flops.

Are you a young talent?

New Orleans City Business reports of a new initiative to attract and keep young talent in the city. 504Ward’s mission is “To keep you: the twenty and thirty-somethings living in New Orleans and working to improve it.” Over to you, young’uns. I’m going back to my rocking chair to slowly get drunk.

Hummers people? Really?

Why not go for a Hummer Bike instead?

Why not go for a Hummer Bike instead?

OK, I might be a serious doofus when it comes to certain things, but the noticable ubiquity of Hummer SUVs in this city just doesn’t make sense:

Hummers get really bad gas mileage which means you buy more gas…
the money for which goes to the oil companies…
who dredged through our wetlands…
that used to protect us from the hurricanes
but not any more because…

Also, if I can get political: this bullshit during the Vice Presidential debate about how we have to reduce our dependence on foreign oil by doing “safe” drilling in our National Wild Life preserves just really gets my knickers in a twist. I don’t really trust the government or the oil companies to safely drill. Do you?

Louisianas wetlands look like they were in a knife fight with the Oil Companies.
Louisiana’s wetlands look like they were in a knife fight with the Oil Companies.

We have to reduce our dependence on oil, period. Looking at an aeriel map of the Louisiana lower boot, you can see how the oil canals have destroyed the natural barrier and eroded our coastline:

Since the 1950s, more the 8,000 miles of canals have been dug for oil exploration and shipping. Scientists believe the canals caused 36% of land loss in coastal Louisiana. The state has lost 1,900 square miles since 1932.” From Buras High Investigates

If you feel like nothing you do can make the government do the right thing, you are probably right. The government is going to do what it wants to do: to wit, the $700 billion bailout, which is going to cost every man, woman and child $2,300 each (click here for source). If there is something that I’ve learned about America from my 16 years of living abroad is that it is NOT a democracy. America is a capitalist state. Money talks. So stop using your money to support naughty companies like Hummer. Or, just buy the bike.

Ain’t Dere No More

I’m sure photos like these abound on the web, but my mom sent these to me this morning, and I’m in a nostalgic mood. When I was here visiting mamomanem in March of 2005, everyone was bitching about the “Americanization” of New Orleans. This was before Katrina, mind you. I know cities evolve, but these images made me hanker for an earlier time.
Tulane Stadium
Pools at Ponchartrain Beach (1957)
Schwegmann’s Airline at Labarre
Schwegmann’s Gentilly Store Interior
Sears on Baronne (1965)

CBD (1960)

Fitzgerald’s at West End

K&B at Canal

K&B, Woolworth, and HG Hill Supermarket Gentilly Blvd

Mckenzie’s Interior 1941 – Looked exactly the same in 1991

Baumer Foods
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