For those of you who have been around for a while, you might recognize this place.
It’s falling down at a very rapid pace.
If you look between the two windows, you’ll see a giant rusted metal sheet. I think it covers a window. There used to be a painted of Our Lady of Guadalupe attached to it. She’s gone. The window to the right of that metal sheet used to be boarded up. The boards are broken. The window glass is broken. It’s gone. There used to be a formal dining room chair out there on the sidewalk too. It’s gone.
This building was a store at one time. Likely, a neighborhood “food store.” The diagonal door was the entrance to the store. Plywood covered the old original doors. Most of it is gone. I can’t even begin to say what’s going on upstairs. I’m trying to decide if the places where the wood siding has fallen away is brick or that kind of asphalt fake brick siding that was popular once upon a time. If it’s brick — it might be because there are bits of broken brick in the street and sidewalk — somebody is going to get hurt someday when a piece falls out of the sky.
This place is a great example of demolition by neglect. I imagine that one time when I pass by, some of the top floor while be on the bottom floor. Yes. This place was hurt by the flood waters of Katrina. But, it was headed down the road to ruin many years before that.
The picture. Well, I just had to tinker with it. I had to make you feel what I felt when I saw it again. I may have gone a little too far. That’s okay. You get the point.
Going home. Flying away. Sadness. Celebration.
A Jazz funeral. If you’re ever in New Orleans and you are lucky enough to see one, be sure to remember one thing. It may by big, bright and bold. But, somebody passed. For all the wonderful music, all the joyous noise and the well and brightly dressed participants… Somebody is sad. Somebody’s loved one passed. He ain’t der no mo’. Not coming back.
I doubt most of New Orleans knew about this one. A trumpet player called Porgy Jones passed. Although the procession took place in Treme, it was just a little neighborhood thing. The weatherman said there would be some rain. Some rain. As we started to walk, the skies opened up. Oh, it rained, alright. Over, under sideways, down. That didn’t stop us. Despite the original tenor of this parade, life goes on. The weather won’t stop us. It hasn’t before…
The pictures. Just four sketches of what I witnessed. I think that’s why I do it. I don’t need to stand out in the heat. In the humidity. In the pouring rain. We don’t have snow (much) so I get a pass on that. I do it to bear witness. I do it because I still believe the work is the prayer. I believe I’m paying my respects by working.
Your guess is as good as mine.
I really have no idea why there is an elephant painted on the side of an abandoned house. Sheesh. I’m not even sure if I could find it again to ask. I was going home from the Katrina memorial second line when I decided to take the long way just to see what I could see. The very long way home. I sort of just cruised around turning left, or right, or passing around the block because there are a lot of one streets around here. It makes no sense now. It made sense at the time. After all, that’s where all the pictures are hiding. And, the light was right. Obviously, I wasn’t disappointed. I found an elephant.
Well. Not a real living and breathing elephant. But, a nicely rendered cartoon style elephant painted on the side of an abandoned house. Huh? Why? Where? How?
So. I stopped. Nobody seemed to be around so I couldn’t ask questions. You know. Like, “Why is there an elephant painted on the side of this house?” I did walk around the house though. The front of the house had a Katrina cross painted on it. Oh, you know the ones. I’ve written about them in earlier posts. Just to refresh your memory, when early responders came from out-of-state, they did a house-by-house hard target search for survivors or worse. They spray painted a cross. In one corner they painted the date, then their unit number, then their findings — alive or dead. And finally, an animal count. Again, alive or dead. Then they encircled the whole thing with more paint. Most are gone now. Some are faded. Some have been turned into a kind of shrine.
I’m sorry to report that somebody died in this house. That’s what the cross told me. That’s confirmed by the red sign in the grass. Sacred ground.
Here’s where my guess might be better than yours. By looking at the side of the house, I’m guessing that a relative began to rehab it after things started settling down. I’m also willing to bet that his or her heart just wasn’t in it. See that orange wood? That shouldn’t be there. Or at least, all the holes should be sealed. Once that is completed the yellow wood-like boards are applied, either to the studs which have been insulated, or over the old wood which has been properly sealed. That didn’t happen. The wood over the windows? That looks like hurricane protection that never came down. It’s sagging now. Around here, you either have storm shutters or you nail pieces of plywood to the window frame when a big storm is on the way.
It’s been 9 years. The house is slowly starting to fall apart. The old paint is fading. The new paint is growing mold. The yard is over grown. Somebody painted an elephant on the building. All of that is just physical stuff. I just hope that the biggest loss is beginning to heal.
Remember. Remember. Remember.
That was the Big Chiefs chant. The crowd took it up. We chanted. When it was time to pray for those who passed on this very spot, we did that too. Then… We walked. We danced. We sang. We made a second line. That’s what we do down here. Down here in New Orleans.
After all, we are remembering and celebrating all in one. It’s been nine years. Nine years since Hurricane Katrina blew in from the Gulf and sank New Orleans.
Oh yes. I remember. I remember seeing the water in my neighborhood and thinking, “Well it could be worse.” I remember walking into our house and thinking, “It is worse.” I remember after the mud dried out and we went back to empty out the house and seeing all this sparkling, glittering stuff embedded in the hard dirt and wondering, “What is that?” And, realizing that we decided that I should be the keeper of our family’s Christmas decorations after a big earthquake rattled Northern California. A lot we knew. When it’s time, it’s time. Nothing stops it. That glitter was my parents christmas tree decorations from the 1940s ground to dust in the New Orleans mud.
Oh yes. I remember.
This picture. Two indians playing and chanting. This happens to be the spot where the barge broke through the levee, flooding the 9th Ward… located along the Industrial Canal. You can see the new, stronger levee in the background. No. They aren’t masked. It’s hot. They are just representing their krewe. Their tribe. You have to know the players. Sometimes.
Sometimes, I have trouble naming my posts. I borrow song lyrics or a song title. Today’s title came from a young woman who hadn’t been back to the 9th ward since the storm. There is a paper wall with the names of those folks who passed during the storm. It is hung on the anniversary of the storm. She looked at it for a minute and said, “There’s my uncle’s name. Y’all are representing him on the wall.”
This picture. Well, I’m weird. I don’t need ear buds to hear music in my head. Rattling around in my brain was Allen Toussaint’s song, “Yes, We Can, Can.” Goes a little like this; “Take care of the children, the children of the world, they’re the strongest hope for the future, the little bitty boys and girls.”
For those of you have been around Storyteller for a while, you know her. She’s a Baby Doll. They call themselves a subculture. She leads just about every parade. She’s a tradition. A tradition, just like a jazz funeral or a second line. A little sad. A little happy. Start with a dirge, end with a dance. What else can you do? What else should you do?
They say that it’s all in the details. If you really want to take part in one of New Orleans krewes, social clubs or tribes you really have to like details. I read that in order to be a Mardi Gras Indian, you really have to like to sew. There you have it. Details.
This picture. I saw it. I ran to it. I wasn’t even sure I got there soon enough. It says it all. In the foreground, there are the pilings from a house that “ain’t der no mo’.” It’s gone. Washed away. Flooded out. Destroyed. The pilings are a reminder. You know what’s in the mid-ground. The parade. People. Walking. Honoring. Remembering. Representing. A young woman holding a baby asked me who I was there for. Who I was representing? “The 7th Ward.” That’s where all that glittery stuff is buried in the dirt. We live Uptown now. In The Garden District. Up the street from Anne Rice’s old house. But, my heart is still in the 7th Ward.
And, the background. Rebirth. One house that was salvaged enough to be rebuilt. And, a couple of Brad Pitt’s Make It Right houses. The past and the future all mixed up. A gumbo.
I thought that I’d take you on a tour of St. Louis Cemetery No. 2. At least, I’ll show you a few details as I saw them. If things look a little bit worn, keep in mind that this place has been under water. A couple of times. Keep in mind that it’s old. Very old. It was consecrated in 1823. That’s old. The markers that people leave in remembrance faded in our hot sun. They faded in our heavy rain. They changed from something colorful and bright to something faded and washed out. The bricks and concrete did the opposite. They grew dark and clouded.
Tomorrow is August 29. It was nine years ago that just about everything changed. That was the day that Hurricane Katrina made landfall at Buras, Louisiana and left 80% of New Orleans underwater. My neighborhood had six feet of water. We left the day before. I suppose today is the anniversary of me walking around and wishing Godspeed to our dear neighbors. The next time I actually set foot on that ground was weeks later when I started emptying out that house out. The house stunk of mud, mold and whatever was in that flood water. Our dog walked in, took a walk around and refused to enter the house again. It was no longer a home. She knew it before we did.
We are walking in what we hope is a giant second line in the Lower 9th Ward tomorrow. The band will play. We’ll sing. Everybody will dance. I’ll photograph. It will start from just about where the barge hit the levee, breaking it and totally flooding the neighborhood. That’s right over by Brad Pitt’s houses. You know. “Make It Right.” It’s an early parade. It starts about 10am. Hopefully, I’ll actually make a picture that I can show you later in the day. But, you never know. We all remember in our own way. I might not be up to working very hard. We’ll see.
St. Louis No. 2 and the Lower 9th Ward. Both sacred ground. People died in one place. They were remembered in the other. When people visit the cemetery, they know to be respectful. Sometimes when I’m in places that haven’t yet been rebuilt in the 9th Ward, I have to remind myself… be respectful. People died here. Never forget that.
Before the storm, this place was plain scary. Now, it’s just scary. It was a kind of no man’s land that was one of those places that you shouldn’t go into alone. But, the storm cleared out the bad guys. Most of the nearby housing was torn down. They moved to other parts of the city. Or, they went to the far western neighborhood in Houston. Texas.
This is St. Louis Cemetery No. 2. Yep. That’s how it’s written.
I went there to photograph something else. Well, actually to St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. After doing what I came to do, I decided to walk around a bit. That should tell you something. I guess after all these years, I’ve finally acclimated. Imagine walking around at high noon in about 95 degree weather and with humidity at about 90%. Yes. Imagine that. Without a hat. But, I did have water. That’s something. And, a camera. That’s something else.
Anyway. As you know by now, high noon is not my favorite time to work. Ever. But, I had no choice.
I started looking for a picture that could be made into some other picture. Later. Using computer software. I saw this collapsed tomb. I looked through the bricks and the other monuments and I saw the buildings of the CBD. “Aha,” I thought. The dystopian me came out of hiding, cursed the heat, the humidity and started making pictures. When I got back into the studio, I started messing with the picture. This is the result. Maybe I’ll call it, “The End.”
A word about our cemeteries. They are ancient. Many of them are partially uncared for. It’s expensive to that. There is a group called “Save Our Cemeteries.” They are a more-or-less volunteer group that began in 1974 in response the destruction of the wall vaults in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1. They work as hard as they can. But, many of these old tombs are family tombs. Some were funded perpetually through trusts and wills. Many were not. When the family left the area or died out, the tombs began to crumble for lack of care. Katrina’s flood waters didn’t help. This is the result.
My version of going from one place to another. Small aperture. Slow shutter speed. Mixed light. Night. Magic.
That’s all there is to it. In transit today. That’s all there is going to be to it.
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