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Friday, May 05, 2006
3:02 PM      

Republican Queen?
Reading today that CIA Chief Porter Goss has resigned, I think maybe the new Republican theme song ought to be ‘Another One Bites The Dust.’


3401 N. Claiborne

Stewart's diner is just across the Industrial Canal from the Lower 9th Ward. Leaving Granny's house, we took the Claiborne Avenue bridge toward downtown. About 12 blocks off the bridge, Mom pointed to the sign, saying “that's the place where Bush had lunch.”

[In an earlier blog entry, I mentioned those alomost ubiquitous temporary stop signs on short stands that fill in for non-functioning traffic lights. That's one of them in the above photo.]

We pulled in for food and a bathroom break.The food was great.

Shannan took our orders. She wasn't crazy about the above picture,
but I think it really captures something of her character.

Only one part of the restaurant was open. They had about four tables that seat four each, a counter area with about a dozen bar stools, and a set of bathrooms. It was all fixed up — everything had been replaced after flood waters had risen to the height of the counter top.

It was the second time they'd equipped that part of the restaurant in less than a year. The open section had only been completed about five months before the hurricane hit. The rest was shuttered. The outside is clean, but I suspect the inside of the older part needs a lot of work. It seems likely that they'll wait on insurance money and more customers, before they tackle fixing up that part.

A copy of a newspaper article about Bush's visit to Stewart's was taped to the glass at the order window. It featured photos of the Bushes, Ray Nagin, and Governor Blanco.

In one photo, Bush was speaking to Kim, who prepared our meals. She doesn't seem to be a big fan of being photographed. After I took this shot, I realized that the shutter speed was very slow. She was cooking in the back, so she turned to leave, saying she'd come back later. Fortunately, I didn't get a lot of shake, because the flash-assisted photo that I took later, looked very stiff.

Kim's husband Calvin rode out the storm in the restaurant. He took refuge in a small upstairs space. From the outside of the restaurant, it appears to be an attic space, even though they didn't describe it that way. Calvin lost touch with his family for at least five days. They had no idea whether he was alive.

It got hot upstairs, so he would leave his refuge and go up on the roof, or wade out into the water to get away from time to time. I didn't think to ask where he went when he left the building, or whether Calvin encountered any looters.

Myra is the proud matriarch. She's the first person I spoke to when we entered the restaurant. The apron she's showing off features the President's special: served every day with red beans and rice, smoked sausage, and potato Salad. Monday's special featured a choice of pork chops or fried chicken. I had a pork chop.

The apron also shows the address as 34001 N. Claiborne Street. When you look up the address on Mapquest, it comes up Claiborne Avenue. For as long as I can remember, people from New Orleans have seemed to use Street and Avenue interchangeably for that particular thoroughfare.

A secret service agent cased the joint several days before Bush's arrival. He entered the place, and asked for the bathroom. He walked in, but didn't close the door behind him. He looked around, and came back out a minute later. He told the owners that he might have a church group coming in in a few days. They said that a large group would be hard to handle, but he assured them that it was a small group. He said he'd get back to them. A few days later, he returned, and told them that the group might be coming soon.

About 15 minutes before Bush arrived, he apologized for lying to them, and said that the President of the United States was planning to come in shortly, and that they had a short while to decide if that was OK or not. I wonder where the Presidential party would have gone, if Stewart's had said ‘no.’

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Tuesday, May 02, 2006
11:08 PM      

Sakura Matsuri at BBG
The annual Cherry Blossom Festival at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden was a big hit. The weather was perfect, and the blossoms were abundant. The blooms looked a little heavier than other years, and the crowd thronging the big white tent was massive. At least the crowds in other parts of the garden were a little bit more tempered.

The festival, being a celebration of many facets of Japanese culture, drew a group of young Manga fanatics, who dressed the parts of some of their favorite Anime characters. It was a little like Halloween, except I recognized a lot less of the costumes.


A president runs criminally amok, dismantling the American democracy.
The press, cowering, forgets its obligation to the citizenry.
A comedian emerges as the Edward R. Murrow of our day.
– From ThankYouStephenColbert.Org

Colbert did a brilliant lampoon at the White House Correspondent's Dinner this weekend. [Read the transcript and see the vid at ThankYouStephenColbert.Org — Thanks, Nakeema!] Only C-Span seemed to give his comments any coverage. I guess the corporate press thought he was being too harsh on their guy.

Funny thing... whenever there is substantial legitimate protest against (or even cogent criticism of) the American government by American citizens (e.g. at the Republican National Convention in NYC), the press somehow fails to give it significant coverage.

Oh, I get it — all the press were attending the dinner where Colbert spoke, so they were all off duty, and couldn't write about it...

On the other hand, when a few million Mexicans and Mexican-Americans get their backs up and fly Mexican banners and chant in [oh, migod!] Spanish instead of English, the press gets logorrhea.


But then, politics are everywhere.
I couldn't tell you who said it, but I agree with the sentiment that you can either participate in politics or you can simply live at the effect of them. Politics has a lot (everything?) to do with semantics and semiotics. OK, you can toss in theatrics for good measure. Government, if it happens, is a side-effect, and once in a while, policy happens...

Down in New Orleans, there's a promenade called The Moon Walk. Out-of-towners might think it's so-named as a romantic suggestion to lovers who want to take a stroll on a nice clear evening. They'd be wrong. It was named for former New Orleans mayor Maurice Edwin “Moon” Landrieu. That name ought to be familiar to you — Senator Mary Landrieu is a familiar face in the news since the the hurricanes of '05. Now, a second Landrieu is in the news around New Orleans — Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu will be in a run-off against Ray Nagin on May 20.

Nagin was considered a shoe-in for re-election, until controversy over the handling of the Katrina disaster and his infamous promise that New Orleans would be a ‘chocolate city’ once more. [For my part, he gets points for apparently being a Parliament fan.] Needless to say, powerful conservatives who don't consider themselves ‘chocolate’ got their backs up, and are trying to institute a change of leadership. Lucky for Nagin, we don't (yet?) do Mayoral regime changes the way we do with foreign leaders we don't like...


More pictures from the Lower 9th:
This time they're my relatives' homes, mostly. I realize that I've ben avoiding these images somewhat since I got back. They don't stir any strong emotion, and I can't even say that there's a lot of conscious discomfort when I look at them. It's just that they give a clear indication of something profoundly ruined, and it's not something I want to dwell on.

Granny's house.

Martha Joseph, my mother's mother, took a lot of pride, and put a lot of work into this cinder-block house. She installed beautiful, expensive hardwood floors when nobody else in the neighborhood was thinking that way.

From the outside, the house seems to have withstood the storm pretty well. This one didn't float anywhere, and even the roof stayed pretty much intact. If someone in my family were interested in living there, the interior could be gutted and redone, and the place made habitable once more.

The interior is a major mess. The window that you see on the left of the first photo is part of the front bedroom, where I slept almost every time I've visited New Orleans since I was about three years old. The photo below shows how the plaster on the ceiling has shed away from the firring strips.

Observation: Plaster becomes fluid and fans become strange wilted flowers when they're submerged long enough.

Grandmother Nettie's house floated.

The water line that is very apparent on the left side of the house has to be from the re-flooding that happened when Wilma caused the levees to overflow. I don't know where the giant teddy bear came from.

You might be able to make out the stars of a flag in the left corner of the square window. I think that's the flag that they draped my cousin Melvin's casket in when they sent his body home from Viet Nam.

You can look through the gap at the bottom of the house, and see inside. The floor has dropped most of the way to the ground there.

Aunt Jeanette's house:

I almost didn't recognize this house. Most of the wall has been stripped away from the right side. I took that picture, but it really doesn't read very well at low resolution so I didn't post it. The funny thing is, that side was the first picture I took of the house, and I didn't even remember taking it.

There are trailers in the front yards and driveways of a large number of homes in parts of New Orleans that are at least inhabitable right now. The two trailers in the photo below are parked in the lot of a Church's Fried Chicken joint up near Dillard University. I can't help but think they're temporary lodging for the restaurant staff.

Dillard didn't get much water, but sustained heavy wind damage. So much so, that the students had classes in a downtown hotel for several months. I think they may be returning to the campus now. In that part of town, many of the traffic signals are still inoperative. Stop signs on little folding stands about four feet off the ground mark dangerous intersections.

The local news had representatives from FEMA on to talk about the trailer loan program. They pointed out that the trailers were meant as temporary housing. Residents are not supposed to alter the trailers, damage them, or even hang up posters for decoration, for example... Meanwhile, a couple of guys got arrested last week for stealing a trailer from a FEMA lot and trying to sell it to somebody for $5,000.00.

One night we happened into the Intercontinental Hotel downtown. It was almost closing time, so we ordered just one round of drinks before heading back to our own hotel. The only other patrons were two guys from SBA playing pool. They were in town to assist people with repair loans. I had no idea that the Small Business Administration did so much business in homeowner loans.

One of the guys indulged us in a game called ‘Out of the Box,’ a kind of riddle game. He was very good-natured, and seemed satisfied that he'd been able to help a lot of people.

While the SBA seemed to be opening its coffers, the insurance companies were less responsive. Many were playing games: if you had flood insurance, they'd say your house was damaged by wind, and if you had hurricane insurance, they'd say it was the water...

A downtown restaurant sounds-off

The owners of Stewart's Restaurant (the place where the president spent 15-20 minutes gathering a nice to-go meal after touring the 9th Ward) replaced all the appliances in their restaurant under their own steam. As of our visit, the insurance company had paid out nothing. They didn't hang out any signs about their insurance company, though.

Not sure what Huston (Houston?) has to do with anything...

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