Hurricane Katrina Three

Rose Tavern
Rose Tavern

It’s NPR’s fault.

They posted a story about this place. They made this little tavern famous when it comes to Katrina flood pictures. It’s also my fault because I can often be pretty lame about where I actually am in the city. I’ve photographed this place in the past. I made the picture in low winter light. At sunset. With this place almost silhouetted. I liked the picture so much that it is a signature picture. I use it on my Storyteller business cards. But, I didn’t get it. Not at the time. Maybe it was because of my physical approach. I came to it from a different direction.

This place is famous because… do you see that red stripe? That was part of a silhouetted scene that you can just see under all the graffiti. The top of the stripe is the mark where the flood waters finally stopping rising. When I last photographed this place, it was sealed up tight. Somebody ripped the wood off the door to get inside. Somebody also ripped the door off the door to the stairway to the apartment building above it. That’s just up the street.

In brief, that’s what you’re looking at. I’ll get back to that in a few lines, after I tell you my Katrina memory for today.

This is also NPR’s fault.

While I was driving to this place, I was listening to them interview Jon Cleary. He’s a local musician who came to New Orleans via his home in England in 1980. He arrived at a great time. He learned from the funky piano masters of that era. James Booker. Professor Longhair. Guys like that. He’s a helluva piano player, songwriter and singer. He was being interviewed because — wait for it, you know what’s coming — this is the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. He said about what I’ve been saying. That locals who lived here then are sort of ducking, covering and waiting for all of this publicity to end. Then, he started talking about what it was like to return. He was touring in Texas at the time, and just hung out for a bit while the city dried out some. He was discussing what it was like to talk to people in grocery stores when he finally did manage to come home. How total strangers would share their stories.

That got me thinking.

I actually didn’t get back into the neighborhood where we lived until October. Luckily, we weren’t trapped in a motel for all of that time. Nah. We went to China. I had an editor who took pity on me and offered me a commission to photograph Beijing. The spaniel went to some friend’s house and we went to Asia. For a couple of weeks. I’m one of those old China hands so it made sense to offer the work to me. But, he didn’t have to do that. Sometimes I forget that I’m grateful about that. No. Not for the money. Although that helped. It gave us a chance to clear our heads and get out of the water and muck in New Orleans.


Mr. Cleary barely touches on what it was like to return. Thinking about it probably makes him emotional, like it does me.

When my next door neighbor and I first saw each other, we hugged and danced in the middle of the street. So much so that one of her brothers asked me, “If I had a thing with his sister.” Obviously, I didn’t. But we were good neighbors. She always brought us a plate when she had a big family meal. I took her trash to the curb. You know. Like that. When I finally saw Mr. Joe, who I wrote about yesterday, I kissed him on the forehead. This kind of reaction went on for months. For everybody. You could be walking along somewhere and see two people react in obviously happy surprise and start hugging each other. We were so happy to have come through this and still be alive. I remember coming back for the first Mardi Gras after the storm, catching a cold, finding a pharmacy that managed to reopen and talking to the young woman working behind the counter for like twenty minutes. We didn’t know each other. But, we were part of something huge. And, we helped each other.

We need to remember those first feelings and emotions now.

The pictures.

These are sort of transitional pictures, I think. I can’t seem to get away from posting multiples even though I’m trying to tell the story in one picture. That’s okay, I’m just going with it. And, I think that you like it.

When I saw that open door I just had to go inside. Good thing too. The inside is nothing special. It looks like somebody was trying to rebuild it. But, they didn’t get very far. I’m pretty sure most of the wood is way too rotten to make it worthwhile. But, going inside lead my to the next picture. The third picture. It’s probably the most important picture. It’s about rebirth. Those buildings in the background are post storm construction, built on the site of the old Calliope Housing Projects in Central City. Old and new. Broken and restored. Then, I stood back and made a longer view so that you can see that this neighborhood, within the bigger neighborhood of Central City, is coming back. Almost in a straight line. And, look at those new streets. Not a pothole in them. There’s hope yet.

It’ll also help to illustrate why I think I’m pretty lame about this city. Just blocks over is where I photographed the last second line of the 2014-2015 second line parade season. I didn’t realize it. Sheesh. I don’t think I’m directionally challenged. By the way, some of my friends think this is a really scary neighborhood. I’ve been working on the streets for a long time. My mental alert bells go off pretty easily. Not this time.

One more thing. Check out the realtor for this property. I’m going to give her a call and find out if she is the Rose of Rose Tavern. If it’s not her, maybe it’s owned by “her mama and dem.” That’s Yat-speak for family.

Open Door
Open Door
The Future is Now.
The Future is Now.

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