Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Exceslior New Orleans

So, I’ve decided on a new name for this blog.  I know it’s probably not the best idea for continuity’s sake.  I find it on google listed as Whalehead King, which was it’s first incarnation, and as The Dot Matrix! which was it’s second.  For the past few day’s I’ve reverted back to Whalehead King because my ties to Boston’s biggest and best neighborhood, Dorchester, affectionately known as “Dot”, have been fading over the past few weeks as I live longer in New Orleans.  The matrix I navigate is no longer Dorchester’s but New Orleans’ tangled skein of bumpy streets.
This isn’t to say I won’t still be comparing New Orleans to Boston anymore.  In fact, I have a comparison on tap of Nola’s Mayor Landrieu to Bean Town’s Mayor Menino.  I’m a native New Englander after all and, though I only spent three long years in Boston, it is the capitol of that region that affected me most of my life and shaped my sensibility.  I remain a cranky Yankee.  
While Boston in the flesh and mortar was nothing like I imagined, New Orleans is everything I dreamed about and more.  The comparisons won’t always be weighted in favor of one city over the other, but I suspect as time passes and memory fades, they will become more infrequent.  Direct, positive experience will always overwhelm the past in the end.  
This blog’s new title is Excelsior New Orleans.  I think it’s always nice to mix a little Latin into things to keep them high falutin’.  Look at Boston’s city seal.
Excelsior is the motto of the great state of New York.  It is also how Stan Lee signed off his letters (and probably still does) while penning them in the Silver Age of comic books.  It means “Ever upward.”  I feel that by moving to New Orleans, I have moved up in the world.  I see evidence all around me that New Orleans is on an upward trajectory.  I find myself in a community supported not only by centuries of river silt, but buoyed by an interconnected, interdependent hope and drive for a better tomorrow and respect for what came before.  New Orleans is like nowhere on the globe.  I am happy and privileged to make my home here.      
This is not New Orleans’ golden age or silver age or bronze age or dark age.  It is a period of transition.  I don’t sense that worse is in the wings.  If there will be rebirth, and there will be, there will be platinum leaf on the next chapter of New Orleans history.  I am humbled to think I have a part to play in this great, shared undertaking in a great metropolis.
Fountain in Coliseum Square.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Barack Obama eats at Parkway Tavern

I read in the newspaper today that the sitting President ate lunch yesterday at Parkway Tavern and Bakery.  I don't blame him.  We go there fairly frequently, so frequently that the woman at the register and I know we share the same last name though we may be only very distantly related.  There are a lot of Kings in the world according to phone books but I rarely ever meet one.  Interestingly, all the other Kings I've met are either African American or hail from the Caribbean.  My own surname hails from upstate New York, a town you've never heard of south of Buffalo.

Since I first spent extensive time in New Orleans, I've been a Parkway fan.  I still can't eat a whole regular sandwich and the woman at the counter knows that my wife and I like it cut in half so we can share.  I'm partial to the reuben, but the barbeque beef also finds a soft spot in my stomach.

I was thinking of going to Parkway for lunch yesterday but I opted instead for Bud's Broiler.  I know, the food isn't exactly in the same league but I admire any place that's open twenty-four hours as the City Park location is.  I also think Bud's serves the best hot dog in the city, which is what I ordered:  #9 without onions.

The lady of the house was reading the newspaper this morning and asked if I had already read it.  Of course I had.  It arrives promptly at 3:30AM every day.  I admitted I had considered Parkway for lunch yesterday.  "And you didn't say anything?  I would have taken Parkway over Bud's Broiler any day!"  I know.  That's why I didn't mention it.  I was hankering for a #9 without onions.

Maybe I should have shared my thoughts.  Then in the course of a single week I could have bumped into  two White House occupants.  It doesn't bother me too much because I got to rub shoulders and elbows with New Orleanians rather than Washingtonians yesterday.  Nothing wrong with that, nothing wrong with that at all.

I have to admit that now that the colleges and universities are in session the tenor of the clientele at some of my hangouts has changed.  I won't say if its better or worse.  Let's just say I'm getting old.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

New Orleans' newspaper representation

I've called four places home over the years, excluding the military.  While I grew up in a smallish Connecticut town, the seat of its government is pictured above, the town was close to New York City and I've always considered myself an urban animal.  I lived within walking distance of the town center and I'm used to not owning a car, expecting amenities close by.

A quick wikipedia collection of demographic percentages reveals the following about the places I've called home:

Ridgefield, CT:  96.12% white, 0.62% black, 1.97% hispanic.
New London, CT (a city with much less land but a similar total of citizens): 54.6% white, 14% black, 21.9% hispanic.
Boston, MA (the largest city in New England and twice the population of New Orleans): 56.3% white, 23.5% black, 23.5% hispanic.
New Orleans, LA (pre-Katrina-related federal levee failure): 28.05% white, 67.25% black, 3.06% hispanic.

A recent article in the Times-Picayune put New Orleans' estimated white population at 32% and the black at 61%, roughly.

You will notice that the cities are home to more racial and ethnic diversity.

One thing in common with Ridgefield's and New Orleans' newspapers is that neither regularly features many black faces.  The other day, I looked through the Times-Picayune and counted African Americans in three places:  the sports pages, which I don't read; the obituaries, which I don't read; and a list of criminals at large, which I also don't read.

While I wouldn't expect to find many African Americans in the pages of the Ridgefield Press, I would expect more in the Times-Picayune.  According to the paper of record, little is happening in two thirds of the city.  The Times-Picayne does, however feature breathless accounts of events on its society page.  Nell Nolan covers that beat and, to her credit, African Americans are covered there from time to time.   I have to admit though, I haven't yet been able to read the society page from beginning to end.

I suppose no news is good news but most of what is reported about New Orleans African American community skews toward the negative.  This can only continue adding to the negative impressions of New Orleans' "minorities" as criminals, which, I've found by direct experience, is far, far from the truth.

I've heard this chalked up to the city's patrician culture, and I believe that does play a part.  A recent, thick Sunday section dedicated to debutantes was a bewildering allocation of newsprint and ink.  You can scroll down the page of Nell Nolan's Social Scene to see a representation of who is "socializing" in New Orleans.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Audubon Clock

Tree-mounted clock on a road exiting to Walnut Street in Audubon Park.  Private property.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Laura Bush in New Orleans

Guess who I walked past today.  It shouldn't very hard considering the title of this post and the illustration above.

I was walking down Magazine Street and noticed men in dark suits with earpieces strolling the sidewalk unobtrusively.  There was a Chrysler car with dark tinted windows.  I tried to look in but couldn't see anything.   An NOPD car was parked behind the Chrysler with an officer not on his cellphone.  Something was out of the ordinary.

As I passed the Foundry Square antique store, two short women exited and passed me.  I was trying to think of important people who would need body guards and I thought one of the women resembled the former First Lady.  They went into the Occasional Wife, some kind of household organizing store I don't have much patience for and I stopped and leaned against a lamp post to watch the dark suited men mill about.  One of them noticed me and I apologized, "I've never seen anything like this before," I said.  He smiled.  "Can you tell me who you're guarding?"

"You didn't recognize her?" he replied, "That was the former First Lady Laura Bush."  He looked at me incredulously.  Well, I knew for sure it wasn't Barbara.

Laura Bush seems much more imposing a presence on TV or in photos.  I'm not tall and the top of her head didn't even come up to my shoulder.  Former President George W. Bush must be short too because I don't recall him towering over his wife.  She was pretty and well composed and really no fuss.  The Secret Service agents were near but they didn't crowd her.  That's why I didn't think the ladies I passed were VIPs.  I expected them to be encased in a bubble of brawny body guards rather than discreet, very polite gentlemen who kept a respectful distance.

Maybe I should have said hello but I didn't have anything else to say beyond that.  I'm sure she enjoyed her day.  Heck, who doesn't enjoy time spent in New Orleans?

Thursday, August 26, 2010

New Orleans is a blessing

You may have noticed that the past few day's I haven't been writing up any lengthy reports.  I'm too busy living in New Orleans.  Words can't capture the experiences.  Greater writers than I have tried to describe what it is like to  be alive in this wonderful city and they've failed.  What dram of insight can I add?

I'm not despairing at my lack of ability.  Rather, I am reveling in it.  Bombarded with so many sights, smells, sounds, tastes, changes in air pressure and temperature... Blinkered by sudden shocks and delights and mysteries around every corner...  Besotted by kaleidoscopes and cornucopia and cacophony in the light of day and the dead of night...  I am rendered dumb by the mixture of joy, beauty and resilience that courses through New Orleans' neighborhoods, main streets, side streets, alleys and concourses.  The tap rooms and living rooms, the shops, the libraries, the front porches, the riverfront, the parks, the markets, the offices and their lobbies...all of New Orleans is soaked through with the sustaining ether that pervades every action and every moment.

Rather than write, I live for the moment in the moment.  I am delirious, dizzy and devil-may-care.  If a city can be a sinful place, New Orleans is a blessing.  I am not debauching or pursuing hedonistic, libertine delights.  I am going about my business, running errands and sharing conversations with my fellow citizens in this most delightful metropolis in the whole, wide world, a place where the mundane is magical and the miraculous is more common than pennies on the sidewalk.

If you've never been to New Orleans, everything you've heard, positive or negative, is true but bigger, better, more robust and vibrant.  If you've spent an hour here, you know what I'm talking about.  If you were sitting next to me we'd nudge each other and wink in agreement.

'Nuff said.

Caged angel

This is under the stairway of a house on Dauphine Street in the Quarter.  The stairs run up the sides to the second story front door.  This alcove is in the middle, facing the street at sidewalk level.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Louisiana Seafood

The store's name says it all, doesn't it?  Central City, New Orleans.  I forget the name of the street but before Poydras it's Loyola Avenue.  When the street hits Central City it's named after a person but the name escapes me.   Something South American, I believe.  And yes, it's open for business.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Medical Billing Careers, Medical Coding Careers

The other day, traffic on one of my other blogs exceeded that of the hallowed Dot Matrix.  I'm happy to provide a link to Surgical Pathology Coder for anyone interested in what occupies my time during the mornings.  I warn you: it is dull, technical, hair-splitting stuff.  If you have an interest in starting a career in medical billing and coding, consider this a peek behind the curtain.

I am forever seeing ads touting my profession as a hot, growing field.  Most of these ads are directed to potential students to specialize in medical billing by enrolling in a private school.  I enjoy what I do, I've been doing it a long time, but to describe it as exciting and dynamic is to misstate the facts.  The above link demonstrates the kinds of issues that dominate a coders and billers brain power.  Competent medical billers and coders are in demand, more so now than ever before.  New Orleans seems to have too many at the moment with so many hospitals closed and the population down post-Katrina, but good, reliable help is always hard to find.

It is tedious and exacting work, much of it spent typing and much of it dominated by government regulations and contractual obligations.  In it's way it's quite fascinating and stimulating despite being repetitive much of the time.  As my other blog demonstrates, many coders and billers specialize in a particular field of medicine.  If you work in primary care, you code thousands of flu shots every late autumn, for instance.  I've worked in a variety of medical specialties and each of them has their own nuances to master, but once that's done it is pretty much the same thing day after day.  If you are happy with that, and I usually am, then medical billing and coding may be for you.

Don't think I'm downplaying the value of my profession.  It is vitally important to keep the healthcare system running.  Medical billers ensure that appropriate payment is made for medically necessary services.  Medical coders ensure that medical information is accurately reported according to a standardized methodology.  This isn't just for reimbursement purposes.  The reported information is collected by outside agencies like the Center for Disease Control and Prevention for research and to track trends in national health.

A medical biller is not the person who sends you bills after you receive medical care.  He or she is the person who gets your bills paid by insurance or government programs like Medicare and Medicaid.  It is an intricate system with many rules and regulations beyond those governing coding.  If you like solving problems, no matter how ethereal they may seem, it is a good and rewarding career.  It isn't for everyone though.


A typical New Orleans street scene

A typical view in Central City

Monday, August 23, 2010

Religion, politics and Satchmo

St. Joseph Cemetery, Central City. 

I was trying to find the "Vieux Point" column from last week's Thursday Times-Picayne but their website is being uncooperative.  Allow me to summarize.

It was about the Jazz Mass at St. Augustine Church in Treme during the Satchmo Summerfest.  I was there.  It was a great and uplifting ceremony with local musicians, the church's regular choir, the priest who delivered a relevant and thoughtful sermon, an august ceremony, and a moving celebration of communion.  After that was done the priest ceded the floor to politicians and the Summerfest coordinator.  That killed the celebration and the spirit why we were all gathered that Sunday morning.

The main speaker was a council member, a woman in her fifties.  I took it that she was the head of the City Council but I may be wrong.  She spoke at length about Summerfest and how she had attended all the jazz masses from the beginning and how important the event was to the city.  Then she introduced the newly elected council member representing the district, a younger woman of the same mold who had sat with her young daughter in the VIP pew.  The VIPs were the council members, a rector, and the priest when he squeezed into an available seat while the politicians were speaking.  The younger council member read a proclamation from the City Council and recognized the organizer of this year's Summerfest as well as a former organizer.  They posed at the pulpit for pictures.  I may have some details wrong.  I tried to erase it from my memory so as not to spoil the otherwise positive impression of celebration and piety.

The whole display was very inappropriate for a time of worship.  It would have been better performed on one of the stages.  It should have been.  Instead of being a mass in the key of Armstrong and Jesus, it was co-opted by grandstanding hacks.  No way to end a religious service.  

Politics have their place but so does life.  Life encompasses more than politics and politics and backslapping don't belong in church no matter what the occasion.  Maybe this happens every year, a tradition.  It should stop.  Hymns praising the eternal have no truck with the transient fortunes of politicians or demagogues or advancing careers built on promises that are often left unfulfilled.  The tail end speakers must have been pleased to find themselves in front of their captive audience.  I found the whole thing distasteful.  

It's a shame.  The priest handled the ceremony well and brought dignity to the proceedings, keeping enthusiasm in check and respect in place for the important aspects of the service.  He commanded attention and reverence for the miracles and mysteries implicit and evident in the mass.  While he elicited charm and warmth, he never abandoned gravitas.  Too bad he gave up control at the end.  I'm not one to judge anyone's motives, which are always more complex than they seem, but the place for secular concerns belongs in the secular world.  If you want to congratulate a successful festival, do it at the festival grounds, not in a church after communion.

If you've still got last Thursday's Times-Picayune, fish it out.  I'm not the only one with this opinion. 

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Getting your picture in the Times-Picayune

I ripped this off the fishing page of the past week's Times-Picayne, New Orleans' paper of record.  I have to say, it's strange to live in a one newspaper town.  Boston has two: the Globe and the Herald.  Tiny New London, Conn. has one, The Day, but you can buy the Norwich Bulletin (which I wouldn't recommend) or the Hartford Courant (which I would).  I used to live in Newport, RI, about the same size as New London, and there was the Newport Daily News, but I mostly read the Providence Journal-Bulletin (Pro-Jo for short) on a daily basis.

In New Orleans, you can read the Times-Picayne every day.  It's a good paper.  I prefer it to the Boston Globe, but there isn't much competition.  As far as I can figure, its main rival is the New York Times which sells for a whopping $2.00 per issue compared to the Times-Picayne's 75 cents.  I don't really need to know what's going on in New York so I stick with the local product.

You probably can't read the small print under the above illustration so I'll transcribe it for you:
"Share your fishing adventures with the local angling community by sending images and a short story via email...or regular post...  All submissions must include the date of the catch, the location of the fishing trip, the names and home communities of any anglers in the image... The more fishing specific information you include will increase the chances of the photo being used, such as the length and weight of the fish, the type of bait or lure used, the tide and weather conditions."

Lacking any suggested specific information, it seems there's another way to get your photo published in "Fish Tales."  Submit a photo of two pretty women posed with a fish.

Audubon bubbler

We call a water fountain a bubbler where I'm from.  The naval term for it is a scuttlebutt.  As this sign states, the bubbler in the middle of Audubon Park next to the golf course maintenance building is only for two legged patrons of the park.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Crab taxidermy

I've been thinking of doing some crabbing.  I've talked to some old timers who have given me some likely spots where the crabs are thick as thieves.  No, I'm not telling you where.

Crabbing in Louisiana is a very different pastime than crabbing in New England so I was doing my online due diligence.  Did you know there's a crab taxidermist?  He does nice work but he's in New Jersey, of all places.  I haven't been able to locate a local crab taxidermist, crabadermist (?).

While the preserved specimen looks much more glorious after embalming than he or she did when first caught, that is the nature of memorials after all, isn't it?  I wouldn't mind having a display of a whole bodied crab in diorama action or mounted on the wall.  When company comes I can regale them with the story of the battle of WK vs. crab and how my superior hunter skills won the day and the boiling pot.

I see signs for boiled crab all over New Orleans and I know it is an important industry.  I've eaten a few though I've never seen anyone, myself included order one in a restaurant.  Its messy food, like lobster. Also like lobster, it is a very satisfying meal.

New Orleans roars

Robert E. Lee Blvd.  Vietnamese Catholic Church.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Nothing new

I would rather refer you to yesterday's post on New Orleans zoning in the Treme neighborhood than write anything new today.  It still bothers me to no end and I hope this is not the shape of things to come under the Landrieu administration.  I like Mayor Landrieu and I hope he doesn't give in to the professional planners as much as he seems to be courting them.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Treme zoning

I discussed the recent zoning proposal for part of the Treme neighborhood.  The Times-Picayune reports that the new zoning to allow some commercial enterprises has been approved.

The article I referred to in the last post wasn't explicit about how the proposal and its detractors felt about bars and alcohol.  I suspected this was an issue and this detail was made clear in today's report:

"The critics' biggest objection was that the types of businesses allowed by the overlay district do not include bars or establishments offering live music, which the critics said is central to the neighborhood's history and culture.
Supporters of the plan said the residentially zoned buildings affected by the change aren't allowed now to house businesses featuring live music or selling alcohol and that approving the overlay district would not affect owners' right to seek a zoning change to allow such uses in the future."
The only reason that the buildings are now zoned for residences only is because they have not had active businesses in them for some time.  I assume the levee failures put the kabosh on whatever businesses were active at the time in what are obviously designed to be commercial spaces.

I'm not recommending that bars and late night music are an economic panacea, but they don't hurt.  Why do you think casinos include both in their business models?   A coffee shop, which is an approved use under the new zoning, is a nice place to meet people and discuss the issues of the day, but who wants to meet in a coffee shop at night and listen to the radio?  

This seems prudish to me and a circular argument.   "Sure you can't open a bar now but you couldn't open one before."  That's because the city revoked the commercial designation for the buildings in question.  "Yes, bars aren't allowed but anyone can apply for a variance."  If it will be as easy as pie, why add the extra layer of permitting?  The same about the 10:00PM closing time.  Ten PM?!?  I moved from Boston to get away from these early closing hours.  Why are 24 hour bars allowed in the Quarter and Uptown and not in Treme?  Because tourists and college students can be trusted not to tipple away their savings while the residents of Treme cannot?  Truth be told, I suspect any new 24 hour establishment wishing to open in any other neighborhood would face pushback, but it's the principle of the matter that irks me.  

New Orleans isn't a city known for its love of beauty sleep.  New Orleans is beautiful because it runs round the clock and it is in ferment every hour of the day.  Things happen, minor miracles are birthed, precisely because parts of the city encourage conviviality and creation, especially the musical kind.  To shut that out of one part is a warning to the others.  Rather than offer limited opportunities, New Orleans should offer limitless opportunities everywhere within city limits.  New Orleans is about people bumping into each other and sharing common experiences no matter what the clock says.

Score one for the urban planners but this is a loss for urbanity.  If you are going to sing the praises of local culture, don't zone it out of existence.  The zoning ordinances, as adopted, will make Treme, and by extension all of New Orleans, as exciting as New London, Conn.  I've lived there and I can report that New London, for all its charms and natural advantages, is a place just holding on.  New London has its government and zoning to blame.  Don't let New Orleans go down that same damned road to irrelevance.

Bakeries are permitted.  I don't expect to see a glut of bakers setting up shop on Ursulines Street.  

I know I like to say the Dot Matrix is non-political but these top-down zoning fiats get my goat and my dander up.  So much for community input!  Thanks for bearing with me today.

Vietnamese Catholic Church

Located on Robert E. Lee Boulevard.  Wouldn't he be surprised.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Target ain't people

I'm not savvy enough to embed videos here so I'll provide you with this link:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FhMMmqzbD8&feature=player_embedded#!

It's a little ditty about Target, the Minnesota chain store patronized by millions.  I don't go to Target very often so I have nothing against them personally.  I'm not boycotting them but I don't shop there anyway so it doesn't make any difference.  What I like about the video is that it marries two disparate elements of my life that came to me separated by years of experience.

The first is Depeche Mode.  Heaven knows I've riffed off Depeche Mode lyrics for years.  Examples are buried in the Matrix archives for those willing to look.  I still listen to the CDs in my collection and can sing along with every song.  I followed Depeche Mode from the time I was graduating high school till after my career in the US Navy.  There's some rare biographical information  appearing in the Dot Matrix for those of you keeping track.

The second is brass bands.  Before I moved to New Orleans, I learned to enjoy brass bands but rarely encountered them in person.  I saw bands march through Boston's North End on Catholic feast days and I saw the Dirty Dozen Brass Band at a jazz club in Cambridge, Mass. but they weren't something that made up the fabric of my weekly experience.  That's changed now that I live in New Orleans, of course. I'm not claiming to second line every week but I appreciate the form and the musicians more than I ever did before.  In fact, I'm going to a brass band show tonight.

Also, there are umbrellas in the video.  Umbrellas are traditional accessories when you are following a brass band in a second line parade.  They are also a New Orleans necessity if you are walking about in summer.  The umbrella serves two purposes.  It shades you from the unbearably hot sun and it protects you from the inevitable short downpour that happens almost every day.  What a city!

The closest Target outlet to my house is located in Metairie, naturally.  There are no Target stores in New Orleans proper.

Mother River profile

Port Authority, New Orleans, LA.
This is the last shot I've got of the statue behind the Port Authority HQ, Henderson St.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A New Orleans blog I like

Four eyes are better than two.
Many New Orleans blogs slant toward the political.  As I've mentioned, I'm not really in a position to comment on post-levee failure happenings since Katrina.  I can only report what I see with my eyes open and what I hear with my ears bent.  It may not be much and it may not be interesting but I can only play the cards I've been dealt.  It's not my way to be strident on a soapbox anyway.  I enjoy the little things that cross my path.

The average New Orleanian may or may not resemble the illustration above.  Some do, many don't.  Most share the same love of place that Slimbolala does.  He writes in a low key kind of way about the things he encounters and the little whimseys that catch his fancy.  He seems like a nice guy...a family man...a responsible citizen.  He seems like the kind of chap you'd want to be your neighbor.  He seems like the kind of honorable, semi-polished gentleman you would want to date your daughter.  He seems like an ideal employee who may question corporate protocol but he'll show up on time without a hangover and deliver whatever work needs to be produced and collect his check at week's end.  The world should be full of these mensches and it is.

New Orleans doesn't just run off the energy and antics of ne'er-do-wells and flamboyant eccentrics.  It also gets through the day on the honest efforts of regular folk who hold down day jobs and night jobs and fill in during swing shifts.  New Orleans is not a graveyard and it isn't a madhouse.   It is an American city, unique in the country, chugging along quite nicely, thank you for asking.

Not everything about New Orleans is political, thought the personal is always political.  Some subtle shylocks play their cards close to their vests and still make their point.  Those are the people I enjoy listening to most.  If you are interested, check out Slimbolala's blog on a regular basis.  You won't regret it.

Behind the Port Authority

This is the plaque that accompanies the "Mother River" statue behind the Port Authority HQ, featured yesterday and the day before.  I tend to be of the mind that art shouldn't be explained.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Wind turbines on Lake Pontchartrain

Though I've spent the last few years living in Massachusetts, don't think I'm opposed to wind power.  I'm for it and I think a wind farm located off Nantucket is the best thing since oil was discovered in Pennsylvania shale.  A critique of the opposition to the Cape Wind Farm is located here courtesy of the Daily Show.

The Times-Picayune reports today that wind turbines are being considered for the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway.  The original proposal is to power the toll booth at the northern end.  That's small beer.  I drove the Causeway the other day.  It's a straight shot suspended over the water, not much to look at and windy as all get out.  My Little Ninja motorcycle was buffeted to and fro along the lane and I turned around after seven miles out of the twenty-four that it takes to go from end to end.  There wasn't much to see besides water and there wasn't much to do but go forward and stay upright.  I did see some flying pelicans and that was worthwhile but otherwise there wasn't much scenery to enjoy.

Since the causeway's supports are solid, they've sustained no damage from hurricanes, they make an ideal support for wind turbines.  I understand a test project needs to be done but generating enough electricity to power a toll plaza seems a bit unimaginative.  I suspect that when all is said and done, years in the future, turbines will spin at regular intervals along the causeway to provide power to all of greater New Orleans.  As we've learned from the recent BP debacle, oil comes with its costs.  What's the worst damage a turbine could do?  Topple over?

The wind over Lake Pontchartrain is a relatively benign, untapped resource.  Besides being a petroleum producing state, Louisiana could be a leader in renewable energy sources.  Food for thought as the first decade of the latest century comes to a close.  The infrastructure is already there to build off.  No one can complain a line of towering turbines is any uglier than the causeway itself.

Mother River

Mother River sculpture behind the Port Authority Headquarters, New Orleans.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

A salute to Algiers.

Crescent City Connection from behind the Port Authority headquarters.
While I suppose it isn't very puzzling that a city can exist on both banks of a river (think Budapest), I find it odd that Algiers is part and parcel of New Orleans.

You can get to Algiers two ways.  One is by ferry.  Two is by bridge.  The bridge is a fairly recent invention this far down the Mississippi, as its structure in the above illustration shows.  Before it was built, people only had one option: boat.

Algiers is like the rest of the city in microcosm.  The part closest to the river bank is old and dense, full of quirks and small shops.  As you venture farther afield, it is like any other suburb; single family homes are planted on their plots and the commercial action happens in the strip malls on Gen. De Gaulle Drive.  The further you go on Gen. De Gaulle, the more you feel like your in East New Orleans: new land developers have carved into private oases.  It is more homogenized, less unique, there is less "there" there.  It could be Gretna or Westwego.

A collection of private oases is not what a city is, of course.  An urban oasis is a big, capitalized O as is.  A city is a dense, shared community where people live cheek by jowl in an infrastructure improvised to accommodate all sorts of civil and civic activity.  This is why the plan for the new Charity Hospital is such a bust: it is a suburban campus plopped into an urban grid.  It is why no one waxes poetic about New Orleans lakeside neighborhoods while the riverside ones capture the soul's imagination.

I don't mind going to Algiers to tootle around by motorcycle or bicycle but there's no real reason for me to linger.  I'm sure that, for the people who live there, the community is a thriving, interesting place.  The farther I've gone from the ferry landing though, the more my interest flags.  Maybe I'm jaded and I need lots of bright lights and activity to hold my attention.  Maybe I just don't know enough about Algiers beyond reading Kerouac and Burroughs and riding back and forth between bungalows build in the 1970s and 1980s.  Perhaps.  I'm not one to cast aspersions but I prefer the East Bank of New Orleans to the West.  I'm sure those on the West will disagree.

Our Sunday New Orleans photo

Behind the Port Authority HQ on Henderson Street.
So, I've been posting a daily photo on a tumblr blog.  No real reason why except I thought I'd try it.  It links up to my twitter account so the tumblr blog and twitter post simultaneously.  No harm in that, I suppose, but it just added two more layers to online activity that I don't pay too much attention to.

Starting today, we'll be making two posts regularly on the Matrix.  One will be a photo without comment beyond location.  The other will be the usual description of whatever catches my fancy as I crisscross the Crescent City.

I hope no one minds seeing a picture instead of my usual rambling text half the time.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Luckily, there's no Hubig's pie shortage to report.  The next thing you know, rumors will be circulating that the Leidenheimer Bakery is going to go on hiatus.  Without Hubig's pies and and po' boy rolls, New Orleans might grind to halt unless it happened on Monday.  Monday is when everyone eats red beans and rice.

I wouldn't say it would be a progressive ruin so much as a communal feast interrupted.

Red beans and ricely yours,

Thank you, Mr. Moto

Peter Lorre, can we ever get enough of your presence on the Dot Matrix?  No.

A gentleman's gentleman who always turns up when I least expect it on the internet.  I can't say I've seen a Lorre clone in New Orleans, but I can say I've seen older gentlemen with mincing mannerisms whose families go back centuries.  They own this city in their peculiar way.  They are as exotic as if Peter Lorre were sitting at the next booth in a Chinese restaurant.

New Orleans if full of people of all types of persuasions.  Some may seem effeminate, some may seem down on their luck, some are eccentric, some are ne'er-do-wells, some are artistes, some are shag-happy frat boys, some are dilettantes, some are entrepreneurs, some are musicians, some are panhandlers, some are clerks, some are nurses, some are radiologists, some are roustabouts, some are clowns, some are stumblebums; some ride bicycles, some ride the rails, some hitchhike on tug boats, some just wander wherever their legs or a full tank of gas will take them.  New Orleans is full of characters.

I haven't found any evidence that Peter Lorre ever visited New Orleans.  If he did, he would have found himself home.  This is what most people find.

Today's screen grab is courtesy of Dr. Hermes who reviewed the story "Thank You, Mr. Moto."

Friday, August 13, 2010

Hubig's capitol of the world

I think it's safe to say that more Hubig's pies are bought and consumed in New Orleans than in any other world class city on the globe.  I only have anecdotal evidence, no hard statistics, but I doubt anyone will be able to prove this claim wrong.  Click the illustration above to learn more and order some pies if you are unfortunate enough to live elsewhere.

I like peach but the current seasonal selection of blueberry is a treat.

Fried green tomatoes

I was having a fried green tomato po' boy yesterday sitting next to a gent who was polishing off a roast beef sandwich and a Bud Light for lunch.  He told me he was from Mobile, Alabama.  I mentioned that I'd read that the first Mardi Gras celebration took place in Mobile.

"Yep," he answered between bites.  "Mobile started it all.  They put on a good party but it's not the same as here."  I asked what's the difference between Mobile and New Orleans.

He wiped his chin.  "Well," he answered, "For one thing when I'm in Mobile, I'm wishing I was in New Orleans.  I don't think anybody in New Orleans wishes they were in Mobile."  He paused for a minute and added, "That's not entirely true.  Let's say my mother in Mobile was dying.  Then I'd like to spend some time in Mobile until after the funeral."

We were in Mahony's.  The fried green tomato po' boy was delicious.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Slow week

Slow week on the posting front.  Apologies.  It isn't that nothing is happening.  Quite the reverse: so much is happening I don't have time to write it all down.  Like the Dos Equis billboard on Tulane Avenue tells me every time I drive by, "Most of your life should be off the record."  That doesn't make for very interesting reading for you though.

I'm taking an all day class at Delgado Community College tomorrow so I don't think I'll have time to type up any kind of report.  Wish me luck and I'll see you Friday!


Tuesday, August 10, 2010

A beautiful motorcycle.

I've been driving around New Orleans trying to find an active American Legion post.  There don't seem to be any.  The American Legion website lists addresses for seven posts.  I visited six, the other is in Algiers.  None of them were open.  In fact, only one of them still seemed to exist, on Magazine Street, and I've never seen it open.

I'm not sure if this is sloppy bookkeeping by the Legion or if this is a post-Katrina phenomenon.  Most of the addresses looked they were never designed to host a fraternal organization.  The exception was on St. Claude Avenue which now seems to be a commercial event hall.

Founded after WWI, the American Legion saw a boom in membership after WWII, naturally.  Since then, the organization has seen its membership age.  I've often been the youngest legionnaire in the room and I'm not as young as I used to be.  Like many things, New Orleans fabric maintains vestiges of days and institutions gone by.  I don't know if I blame the Army Corps of Engineers' levee failure on this.  It may just be that the American Legion lost its relevance to New Orleans life.  It was tough to find an active post in Boston, a city with double the population.

In other news... My Little Ninja motorcycle has developed a disturbing rattle after being driven to Baton Rouge yesterday.  I'd like to blame the atrocious New Orleans street conditions but it seems long, highway speeds and the Little Ninja don't mix.  The same thing happened after I drove it down from Boston.  I bump and am jostled to smithereens on side streets all over New Orleans but so far none of the damage has been permanent.  Who would have suspected that the highway would cause another trip to the mechanic?  Oh well.

About the stickers that appear on that beautiful, trusty motorcycle in the illustration at the top of the page:  The ones over the foot pegs are detailed above, if not in perfect focus.  These flags represent my household.  There is a German flag and a Connecticut flag, representing the points of origin of the immigrants who ride this stallion and have chosen to make New Orleans their home.  The Louisiana flag is self explanatory in this context, it's where we live and love now.  For those who don't know, the Louisiana flag is the one portraying the pelican in its piety.
If you're curious what that red spot is on the front fairing, well, its a voluptuous devil.  If that's not an apropos symbol of New Orleans, nothing is.  Better the devil you know than the devil you don't.  I'm learning everything I can about my new city.


Monday, August 09, 2010

Heading south on I-10

The Superdome as viewed from Thalia Street, New Orleans.

I went to Baton Rouge today.  I like that Baton Rouge means "red stick" in French.  Aside from memorizing it as Louisiana's capital I've known much about it.  I spent three hours there and I can't say I learned much.

The Louisiana Capital Building is a concrete, art deco skyscraper that is the tallest building in town.  That doesn't speak well for the economy.  Neither did the abandoned storefronts in the city's center.  I wasn't in New Orleans anymore.  I knew that already.

I drive a very small motorcycle.  I hate to take the highway.  I had business in Baton Rouge though so I took the highway, a straight shot through swampland with nothing to look at but bayou and cypress trees until I go to Baton Rouge.  Not much to look at there either.

I've got nothing against "Bat Rue" as those in the know like to call it.  I had no trouble parking and no traffic and it was easy to navigate.  The streets were a lot smoother and emptier than those in New Orleans.  Heck, it felt like a ghost town abandoned to all but bureaucrats, bless their souls.

On the way homewards, I crossed the St. Charles Parish line and there, on the furthest shore of Lake Pontchartrain, I saw, off in the distance, far away past a flat landscape of flat water and flat grasslands and a few stubby trees, New Orleans Central Business District silhouette; skyscrapers cut hazy, blue profiles where the atmosphere converged with whatever water and vegetable much is at sea level.  I thought, "That's where I live!" and I leaned down over the gas tank to reduce my wind resistance.  The motorcycle picked up five mph, ten, fifteen.  I couldn't get there fast enough.

Before I knew it, I was in familiar territory.  I was home.  I tootled down Tulane Avenue to and fro.  I took a right, I hung a left, I hung on through stop signs and travelled all the way to Gen. Pershing Street.  I noodled around a few blocks, crisscrossed, doubled back, rattled my equipment over potholes and around traffic cones.  Yes, home.  New Orleans, not Baton Rouge.

I was in Louisiana all day but home is where the heart is.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Central City, New Orleans

I spend a lot of time in Central City, New Orleans.  Most streets look similar to the picture above.  There are plenty of abandoned buildings that obviously used to be groceries or bars or other neighborhood oriented businesses.  Heck, the whole neighborhood is self-contained.  There isn't a national chain on any of its blocks.  

Central City is organic.  It isn't the "best" part of town.  When I tell people I enjoy patrolling the neighborhood either by motorcycle or bicycle they tell me to be careful.  During the day, everyone has been polite and friendly whether they are walking down the street or sitting on their front porch.  I've only been through the area by motorcycle at night, not because I'm nervous my bicycle won't be able to outrun any attackers or because my light skin stands out.  I take the Ninja because I'm passing through to somewhere else.  I cut through Central City at night because I enjoy it during the day.  

It is another New Orleans though, very different from the Garden District.  The other night we witnessed a cat fight and it wasn't between felines.  We pulled up to an intersection and the road was full of long, black hair.  Two young women were fighting and one had pulled the hair off the other's head.  People had gathered to watch and/or break up the hostilities.  Any treaty was soon abandoned as the more aggressive of the two would tackle her victim and they would roll around on the sidewalk until someone was brave and strong enough to separate them.  

I killed the engine and kept the headlight on.  My passenger urged me to head home but I replied we might be of use.  This went on for ten minutes before the police showed up.   They commanded the situation without my assistance so I left the scene.  The girl who lost her hair was bald on top by the time the fray had ended.  No one paid us any mind.  We may as well have been an oak tree that has stood in the neutral ground for the past century.

I understand there is a lot of crime in Central City but this is mostly invisible to me.  I'm sure the NOPD has a better grasp of the statistics than I do, but my anecdotal evidence is that Central City is relatively safe and fascinating, at least during the day.  Except for the cat fight, I've never witnessed anything out of the ordinary at night either except for people minding their business.  Color me naive, but I've always found most people just like to be left alone and that very few people wake up in the morning intent on doing the wrong thing or being a bad person.  Even criminals hatching their schemes seem to do it with the best intentions: supporting their families, getting ahead, making a little scratch.  The means may be questionable but the goal would be considered worthwhile if channeled through more respectable, tax paying enterprises.  

I'm not one to judge.  Unless personally confronted with a moral dilemma, I reserve the right to be neutral in "victimless" crimes.  One native told me, "When you go on the other side of St. Charles Ave., you'd better be careful.  Who knows what those people will do."  It's easy to demonize a neighborhood but I'd rather not demonize the citizens who live there.  It may take one bad apple to spoil a barrel but we're not talking about fruit.  I've encountered some of the nicest people in New Orleans in Central City and I'll continue to visit, to buy goods and services, to chit chat on stoops, and block traffic at busy intersections so that children can ride their rickety bicycles through.  

I still have all my hair despite all the time I've spent in Central City.  

Friday, August 06, 2010

New Orleans dream

From the Man of La Mancha:

“To dream the impossible dream, to fight the unbeatable foe, to bear with unbearable sorrow, to run where the brave dare not go. To right the unrightable wrong, to love pure and chaste from afar, to try when your arms are too weary, to reach the unreachable star. This is my quest: to follow that star, no matter how hopeless, no matter how far.”

I live in New Orleans.  My dream has come true.  I have followed my star and reached it.  It's like walking on the moon.   

The city has seen tough times, tougher than I'll never know.  I just got here.  There are tough times ahead.  Heck, I spent time in St. Roch today (look at those street names in the first paragraph of this link!).  While I don't always agree with the methods Mayor Mitch Landrieu is employing, I admire his vision.  I understand that after the dismally unaccountable Nagin administration, a climate change is necessary to build trust.  As a new New Orleanian, I'll try to do my part to make a better life for myself and for my new home.  

I don't think there's a better city in the world.  If I feel like Don Quixote sometimes, it's only because I don't share Sancho Panza's point of view.  There is little wiggle room for cynicism in a city robustly overflowing with hope and creative passion.  
I wouldn't dream of living anywhere else now.  I'm home.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

What's So Special About New Orleans?: Theater owner remembers old movie houses

What's So Special About New Orleans?: Theater owner remembers old movie houses: "Thursday, July 15, 2010 The New Orleans Times-Picayune By Mary Rickard No one knows more about New Orleans' historic neighborhood movie the..."

It's taken me a bit to showcase this nice article about the owner of the Prytania Theater. We saw "Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" last week and "Mary Poppins" this past Saturday. I believe the older gentleman who introduces the matinees and also took our ticket when we went to see "Inception" is the same man described in this article. Wonderful chap. Wonderful theater.

The Prytania reminds me of the Brattle Theater in Cambridge but it isn't artsy at all. The Brattle isn't pretentious but some people think it is. The Prytania is anything but pretentious. It's just a place to escape the slings and arrows of the real world for a while. Current fare (we say Toy Story 3 here) and classics share screen time. I have two thumbs and I point them both heavenwards when reviewing the Prytania Theater.

Los Islenos Museum

We took the Littlest Ninja out to St. Bernard Parish today to visit the Los Islenos Museum.  I should have done my homework beforehand.  It appears that post-Katrina, the museum is closed for repairs.  There is, however, plenty of fascinating information at the Los Islenos website

What inspired us to learn more about the "Land of Oxen" and its inhabitants was a very interesting four part series in the Times Picayune about a vanishing way of life and landscape

If I remember correctly, the name Terre-aux-Boeuf had nothing to do with the beef cattle we saw taking shade by the side of the road.  When Bienville first came up the Mississippi River it was in this locale that he spotted "wild cattle."  What's that?  Cows aren't native to North America!  There couldn't have been any wild cows at the time.  Yep, the "cattle" Bienville saw were buffalo.  American bison wandered the delta in days gone by.  Another fun Louisiana fact.

The museum buildings are currently being used at the moment but not for anything we had any reason to enter.  One of them is home to a BP Claims Office.  Another unpleasant reminder that the land around the bayous is changing.

I had been out that way once before in May.  Interesting countryside.   

By the way, I'll now be posting daily pictures of New Orleans at whaleheadking.tumblr.com.  I've taken too many pictures to post here on the Matrix and they have to go somewhere.  

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Lucky Inn

I was riding my bicycle down Iberville Street between North Broad and North Dorgenois Streets when I passed the Lucky Inn.  I had to take some pictures...

I was surprised to find the Lucky Inn Hotel, more of a motel really, on a block that isn't really in the best repair.  North Broad Street is a commercial district but moving in the direction of the Lucky Inn, there isn't much to tempt a tourist.  The oriental statuary and motifs also caught my eye.

There is a fountain in the parking lot made of orange goldfish strung with X-mas lights, an aluminum tree, and a background hung with paintings of Chinese junks and more of the plaques that hang by the front door.  I went into the parking lot to take a picture.  As my camera was gearing up, a woman's voice came over a scratchy loudspeaker.  I couldn't understand exactly what she was saying beyond, "Get out!"

I powered down the camera and while I was putting it in my pocket, the woman started up again.  I still couldn't understand what she was saying beyond the word, "Police," and "Get out!  Get out!  Get out!"  I got out.  The walls facing the parking spaces are painted with signs that state the area is under video surveillance.  I guess she knew I wasn't a customer but management seems to be less than welcoming to potential guests.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Mid City library

Mid City may be the Heart of New Orleans, but the Mid City branch of the New Orleans Public Library isn't exactly an antechamber to the throne room of enlightenment.  It's a largish room with two librarians sitting at their desk to the right of the door.  There are a few freestanding shelves of books to the left.  In the far right corner are some computer desks.  I was amazed at how threadbare the place looked.  

I wandered between the shelves trying to find something that catch my eye.  No dice.  The librarians were pleasant enough but the branch didn't have much to offer.  It is located in what was probably originally designed to be office space in a very pretty, art deco building that anyone driving along North Carrollton Avenue will recognize.

It's next to Rouse's Supermarket and Home Depot (I think, it may be Lowe's) and the corridor reserved for the Lafitte Greenway.  On the other side of the Mid City Center building is a Japanese restaurant.  The other spaces are occupied by offices.  

The Mid City branch is a good place to return books and pick up ones you've reserved online.  It also seems to be a good place to use a computer if you don't have one at home.  As for finding something to read or do serious research, I have to recommend the main branch on Loyola Avenue.

Monday, August 02, 2010


New Orleans' Treme neighborhood has been getting a lot of press lately because of the HBO series of the same name.  I haven't seen the series and I don't know how much it deals with Treme per se as the aftermath of the Katrina levee failure.  

I enjoy touring through Treme (which, I suppose, should have an accent over the second 'e').  It is a historic African American neighborhood, full of small homes and corner businesses that has developed a unique, self contained culture over the centuries.  It is bisected by the highway overpass on North Claiborne Avenue, which is the topic for another report.  

I was reading the newspaper the other day about a zoning plan that proposes letting 20 businesses open in the neighborhood.  These would be groceries, coffee shops, local service stores to serve the neighborhood.  Most of these would occupy spaces that were already commercial but abandoned post-Katrina.  The planning board asked residents for input.  Most residents seemed to want a midnight closing time and live music until that hour.  The board put the kabosh on that stating that these businesses aren't traditionally open that late.  So much for community input.  The presence of bars was alluded to but not spelled out in the Times-Picayune article last week (sorry, no link.  I think it was last Wednesday).

Anyone who has read the Boston era posts here on the Dot Matrix knows that I am in favor of 24 hour activity in a city.  That is one of the reasons I moved to New Orleans.  Anyone who has read the New London era posts here knows that I am relatively against central planning.  I believe a city is an organic collection of people who will provide what the neighborhood wants without too much interference.  I believe commerce should co-exist with residences...that is the definition of urban living as far as I am concerned.  The smaller scale the development according to community needs the better for all involved, small businesspeople and customers alike.  At least no one is proposing an upscale mall for Treme (yet).

Treme was once a more vibrant place, commercially, than it is now.  The architectural remnants don't lie.  I have no doubt that before zoning and good government planning bureaucrats got involved, the neighborhood flourished without outside interference.  It is how it was formed and how it got its reputation as a hotbed of cultural innovation.  That was then and this is now.

Saint Ann's National Shrine is on Ursulines Street. 

Another one exists in Metarie, established after the St. Ann's Church on Ursuline closed.  It is now tended by local, neighborhood devotees.  The day I went, two pleasant elderly women sat in the cave and welcomed me.

Treme is garnering its share of attention because of the HBO show, its geographic location, and its historical significance.  Lightning doesn't strike twice by design.  Left to it's own devices, the neighborhood will raise itself up without any help.  I believe in the inherent genius of the common person.  If you think the advice of professional planners will only do good, be careful what you wish for.  The designs for the post- Claiborne Avenue Overpass don't look any more inviting than what is there now.  More open space perhaps but less shade.  That's the thing about urban planners: they are in love with parks that no body wants to visit.


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