Posted by: Katy | April 28, 2008

How much is too much?

I started this blog to concentrate (for the most part) on projects around my house.  Painting, decorating, preserving the architectural integrity, sharing ideas, my garden, my strange obsession with cooking.  Yet I now find that increasingly I want to talk about things other than home restoration and decor.  Certainly decorating and dreaming about what I’d like to do with my house one day when I have the finances helps distract me from some of the more difficult situations that arise in every day life.  However, there are times when nothing can distract me from the difficulties that I (and so many of my neighbors) face.  I hesitate to post anything negative about my city or my neighborhood.  I try to focus only on the positive.  After all, the reasons I live here in New Orleans are all significant and ever-present—the food, the art, the music, the unique cultural heritage, the history, the architecture, the people, the fact that my family has lived here for nearly three hundred years, the fact that (almost) no one in my family lives anywhere else, etc.  I love my city, and I don’t want to EVER give anyone the idea that I don’t.  I’m also aware that my city thrives on tourists’ dollars, that if the tourists don’t come, the city suffers.  We don’t need any more negative publicity than we already have.  There are so many “reports” and “accounts” posing as highly factual and objective that are in fact just the opposite and portray a city and a situation I don’t even recognize.  I don’t want to add to the negative image of a place I love.  But part of me wants to talk about the struggles of living here, this bittersweet existence where I’ll hear the fabulous sounds of a second line a few blocks away and then later in the night the sound of gunshots.  I want people to know that things are not all great here but also that things are MUCH better than I ever thought they would be.  I also believe that silence breeds more negativity and isolation and creates more setbacks for our city.  I want to be able to access police reports so that I can know what is happening in my neighborhood.  I want to stop walking with a swagger and every once in a while admit that there are times (many times) when I’ve been afraid.  Part of the way I get by is by refusing to admit that I am frightened.  In truth, I’m probably not nearly as scared as I should be most of the time.

How do I write a balanced account of my life in this city?  Some days I feel as though I’m walking around in a dream state, basking naively in the music and sunshine and red wine.  Other times, I feel so shaken by the violence around me, so consumed with resignation and perplexed into thoughtlessness.  I don’t have any answers.  I just want to do right by my city.  And I want people to love it as much as I do. 

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Posted by: Katy | April 21, 2008

Nolagoraphobia

One of my best friends moved to Columbia, South Carolina in January 2006.  I miss her so much it hurts, yet I have never visited her.  In fact, even my roommate paid her a visit.  Just not me.  Of course, being from the area, she makes several trips a year back to our area, so I’ve still been able to see her.  In classic Kimberly fashion, she succinctly diagnosed the situation:

“You are incapable of leaving New Orleans.  You are allergic to travel.”

This was not always the case.  In 2005 I went to Gulf Shores for Spring Break, spent several weeks in England and France after graduation, and had a week long business trip to Washington, D.C.  Then disaster in the form of Katrina struck.  I spent several weeks in a hotel room that I shared with my grandparents and my rather unstable cat.  I then spent a week at a friend’s apartment in Baton Rouge.  Finally, I stayed at my parents home in a suburb on the north shore of Lake Pontchartrain for nearly a month before returning to New Orleans on October 9, 2005.  By the time I got back to New Orleans, I just wanted to never again have to live out of a suitcase.  The idea of a hotel rooms made me ill.  Never again did I want to burden anyone by taking over their homes or relying on their charity.  I just wanted to BE IN MY CITY.

Now I watch as my friends journey the globe.  This year, one of my girlfriends has visited Denver, Charleston, D.C., Portland, Richmond, and Hawaii.  This weekend, she’ll be flying up to Wisconsin.  Then back to Portland.  Then a trip to London.  My roommate has visited New York, New Jersey, D.C., North Carolina, South Carolina, and even spent a whirlwind weekend in Austria!  As for me—to my horror, I realized that it’s been a year and two months since I’ve even been OUT OF THE STATE.  Trips to Baton Rouge are significant commitments.  Dear friends there say it’s just a short drive away.  For me, it’s like entering another universe.  You see, it’s not New Orleans.  As much as I complain about my city, I have a hard time functioning outside of it.  Part of the problem is that I’ve so adjusted to NOLA’s dysfunction that more humdrum cities prove difficult for me to both physically and emotionally navigate.  Another part of the problem is that the wonderful things about New Orleans—music, food, culture, quirkiness, architecture, history, decrepitude—are severely lacking elsewhere.

During the storm, I thought I had lost my city.  When you’re forced to go there—when you have to cope with the fact that everything you know and have known and planned on knowing might be suddenly destroyed—you really hold back from leaving that place.  And then two days before the anniversary of Katrina, the house next door to mine caught fire.  The fire came very close to spreading to my house.  By that, I mean it was an absolute MIRACLE that my house was spared.  I watched it all unfold from my front yard, clutching my lap top, important papers, and a duffle bag that held my terrified cat.  Kind of makes you a little scared of what might happen when you leave home.

I thought I was the only one with this problem, or at least the only one who ADMITTED it.  So many people I meet who also survived the storm and are helping with rebuilding efforts say that they MUST LEAVE the city for a while periodically in order to cope psychologically with everything.  They say how wonderful it is to visit other places, take a vacation.  I have yet to encounter anyone who openly discusses their apprehension at leaving.  Until today, when Angus Lind’s column appeared in the Picayune.  Below you will find an excerpt describing my feelings, even giving them a name!  And of course, it is all discussed in the typical New Orleans comedic style.  After all, we must laugh at ourselves and each other, especially now.

Afraid to Leave New Orleans? You many have NOLAgoraphobia

by Angus Lind, Columnist, The Times-Picayune April 21, 2008

We all know people who suffer from claustrophobia, fear of confined spaces. People who suffer from arachnophobia fear spiders, which is totally understandable, and there’s no shortage of those — both spiders and sufferers.

Then there are those who freak out at the sight of crawly things — they have ophidophobia (fear of snakes) or hereptophobia (fear of reptiles). And people who fear heights have acrophobia or altophobia, take your pick.

In today’s world, phobias, real or imagined, are everywhere you turn. You might not know the technical word for what bothers you, but you know you’ve got it.

A phobia in its simplest terms is an irrational, intense, seemingly never-ending fear of certain situations, things, activities, places or persons.

For example, I have a lifelong case of ergasiophobia — fear of work. It’s a daily battle for me. Just ask my bartender.

Agoraphobia is one of the more common phobias, or anxiety disorders. It can be a fear of traveling, a fear of leaving what is perceived as a comfort zone or a safe harbor. An agoraphobiac is someone who is not comfortable where he/she does not want to be. Some cases are so severe that the person is confined to his block, his house, or even a room in the house.

Among the more famous agoraphobiacs are Woody Allen and actress Daryl Hannah. One of my readers, let’s call him Huey, confessed to me recently that he suffers from a special form of agoraphobia in which the sufferer (that would be Huey) experiences serious discomfort when leaving New Orleans.

He calls it NOLAgoraphobia.

But let him describe it. It’s very interesting. And weird.

“I apparently have internalized the entire city as my home and thus am as nervous about leaving the city as a conventional agoraphobiac is about leaving his house,” Huey says.

Makes sense. If a true Orleanian, whether native or adopted, has to go long periods of time without red beans, gumbo, po-boys, crawfish, shrimp and ersters, his immune system starts breaking down. When that happens, he is basically dysfunctional until either the pilot says he is beginning his approach to New Orleans or he spots the “New Orleans City Limits” sign on the highway.

But NOLAgoraphobia can be even more serious. Not long ago, I wrote about how parochial and insulated people in some New Orleans neighborhoods are — some folks even limiting their activities to certain boundaries and perceiving places outside of their self-designated borders as distant outposts, unknown territory not to be explored.

In New Orleans, parochial sometimes is a synonym for psychotic.

Huey said that reminded him of his NOLAgoraphobia, and wished he was kidding, but he’s not. Or as he put it, “It creeps me out to leave town. It’s such a comfort factor here. Whenever I’m driving home, I always feel good. I can’t wait to get back.”

The NOLAgoraphobia support group forms to the left. First meeting is at the opening day of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

Posted by: Katy | April 11, 2008

The Newest Family Member

Almost two weeks ago, I adopted Henry from a shelter.  He is a 2 year old beagle who had already been adopted once and then returned.  He has so much energy and is incredibly loving.  He doesn’t bark, dig, or have accidents, and he loves everyone, from other dogs to cats to babies to old people.  Of course, I had to Henry-proof my yard, but it was totally worth it.  Having Henry forces me to get outside and see my neighborhood, meet my neighbors, and admire my city.  It’s also nice to have someone who absolutely adores you! 

Posted by: Katy | April 7, 2008

Squisita!

“Delicious!”

Angelo Brocato’s, an Italian bakery and gelato shop, is a New Orleans tradition.  It’s also not far from my house.  You’ll find everybody there—little kids, old ladies, teenagers, me.  I love the pistachio

 

 

almond gelato and the cannolis the most.  Brocato’s took on water after the storm but has reopened.  Business seems to be booming.  They have placed a bronze plate on the door at the point where the water was highest with the date and Hurricane Katrina written on it.  Everything in this shop is so beautiful, such a delicacy for your eyes.  In fact, after much thought and a long time staring at the walls of my living and dining room, I realized what the color I chose reminds me of—pistachio gelato! 

 

 

Posted by: Katy | March 24, 2008

A Serious Dilemma

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I have a problem.  I want to redo my bedroom.  The situation is desparate.  I know that there is beautiful old cypress wood beneath the layers of paint covering the moldings and trim.  Why, oh why, did the previous owners paint over this beautiful woodwork?  They left the living and dining rooms unpainted, thank God, but now I have to deal with about 7 layers of paint and varnish on all the woodwork in the bedroom.  At first, I felt ambitious.  I was going to strip the paint off the entire thing, come hell or high water (and in Broadmoor, saying come hell or high water is not a joke).  I began with a heat gun.  It stripped off the paint miraculously well but caused so much smoke that all the alarms in the house went off and ADT had to call to make sure I was okay.  I had to air out the entire house.  And let’s just say my lungs weren’t the better for it.  Next I tried sanding, but the dust and debris goes EVERYWHERE!  Especially in an old house, where who knows what those many layers of paint contains, this is a problem.  Then I tried a chemical stripper.  Not only did this take FOREVER, but it also didn’t really work.  Also, it was really messy.  Now my lungs, my allergies, my patience, and my aching muscles (scraping away paint is not exactly easy work) are begging me to find an alternate solution.  The historic preservationist in me cringes at the idea of painting over the woodwork yet again.  Plus, I’m not certain it would even look good if I did that.  But something has to be done.  The paint is stained, peeling, cracking, dirty, and overall unattractive.  What to do?  I’ve been trying to come up with creative solutions.  What if I were to paint the trim, molding, and doors (there are 3 doors, one to the dining room, another for the closet, and one to the bathroom) a dark brown?  Or is that the craziest idea yet?  I have limited time and funds and also medical issues (i.e. allergies and a desire not to suffer from smoke inhalation again).  I must think of something. . .

Posted by: Katy | March 24, 2008

A Very Good Friday

blog-yard-before.jpgblog-garden-1.jpgblog-garden.jpgblog-garden-2.jpgblog-flower.jpgMy wonderful father has once again saved the day.  Since Daddy is a teacher, he had off for Good Friday, and he came over and literally transformed my yard.  Granted it will only stay this way for a little while before the overgrowth once again takes over, but it looks (comparatively) great right now.  First he taught me that the very old, very temperamental lawn mower I “inherited” has certain tricks in order make it start.  Then he cut the grass.  Then he used the weed eater to do edging.  Then he cut all the weeds in the driveway.  And the worst part came—literally digging out massive weeds in the part of the back yard where I couldn’t afford to put down sod.  Daddy would dig up the big ones (I’m talking as high as my waist and deeply entrenched) and I would pull the smaller ones and then haul away the big ones that he had already dug up.  It’s amazing—we actually filled up an entire enormous Orleans parish green monster garbage can.  After that, my father literally mowed over the weeds.  Until I can come up with a better and affordable solution, this is the way it has to be.  By the way, the first picture on the top left is what my yard looked like when I first moved into my house at the end of June 2007.  Sometimes it’s hard to see progress until you look back on what you started with.  (This statement seems slightly dumb, but I feel it’s true.  We so often forget what things looked like when we began a project.) 

Now for the really fun stuff.  😉  I found a large piece of wooden lattice in the trash pile on the side of the road a few blocks from my house.  I acquired it and am using it to cover the one piece of my yard that isn’t fenced.  It will also serve as a climbing space for the beans once they start sending off shoots.  My father hammered bamboo sticks into the ground and attached the lattice to these sticks as well as the old shed, etc.  Now it won’t fall over every time the wind blows.

In other news, my tulips have been blooming.  It’s really nice to feel like something I planted is actually producing.  So often I manage to just kill things.  I brought one of the tulip blooms into the house on Wednesday, and it’s still looking beautiful.  My new goal is to always have at least one fresh flower (preferably from my own garden) in a vase on the dining room table. 

Posted by: Katy | March 19, 2008

Good Quote, Favorite Writer

“A news program came on.  There was a story about a little boy who was a hero for he caught a crook.  While reporting the story they showed the neighborhood.  It was a modest suburb—but there was something in the green, the lawns, the trees, the sidewalks, something indefinable, that reminded her of the South.  Just when the children turned the corner, the way they rode their bikes, the way the trees looked—it was someplace very close to the most old and familiar and thus enchanted places of her heart.  Why do they have those strange accents?  she wondered.  Yes, they’re in an old familiar green place and they’re speaking in a certain jocular and strange accent adn luction.  The pavements glistened.  The sky was black.  There were palms.  She noticed it was sleazy.  That was not a criticism.  She would not criticize her region.  It was an observation.  It reminded her of Florida too.  The Gulf South.  She waited patiently for the dateline at the end of the story but none was given.  But finally just at the last minute before they went to the next thing they blew up the item from a local newspaper that the story had come from and yes, it was The Times-Picayune.”

 ~~~Nancy Lemann, The Fiery Pantheon

Posted by: Katy | March 18, 2008

New Orleans, 1921

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A few months after Katrina, I was at my great aunt’s house talking about the New Orleans she knew growing up.  She and the fellas would go to the Blue Room at the Roosevelt.  Canal Street was the place to shop, and she would get dressed up and wear white gloves and walk under its palms.  On Wednesdays, it was always dinner at Mandina’s and then bowling.  My great aunt, who never married, is truly a New Orleans lady.  I can’t think of anyone more representative.  While we were talking, she pulled out an old brown envelope filled with black and white photos from the 1920’s.  She said that HER uncle (who would be my great-great uncle) brought it over, and she tried to identify who some of the people were but couldn’t.  They are relatives of ours, of course, but nobody can remember what any of them looked like young so their identities remain a mystery.  She was going to throw them away, but I asked if she would instead give them to me.  I’ve considered them a treasure ever since.  Who would have guessed that a couple years later I would buy a house in the old neighborhood that all these long dead, black and white faces used to live in, and that the house would have been constructed around 1925.  SO PERFECT!  These photos show what the area used to look like in the 1920’s.  There are pictures of Canal Street, of a Carnival Parade, and other landmarks.

 This photograph is of a couple standing on the roof of a building with the Hibernia National Bank building dome rising in the background.  I guess most people would believe this to be rather insignificant.  Thank God my aunt gave these to a historian!  I knew right away—this couple wanted to be photographed in front of the tallest (and newest) building in the city!  The 20-story Hibernia Bank Building, constructed in 1921 at a height of 211 feet (64 m), held the title of the tallest in New Orleans for 44 years. 

Well over eighty years later, their great-great granddaughter/niece/cousin/who knows what (me) took a photograph of the same building while walking to the BCS National Championship Game.  Glowing purple and gold for LSU, the dome still stands as a landmark in New Orleans.  It’s no longer called Hibernia Bank nor holds the title of tallest building, but it’s still special.

Posted by: Katy | March 17, 2008

Monday!

I can’t believe it’s Monday!  This weekend was pretty busy.  My friend Tiffany (whose birthday was yesterday) had her mother come in town for a visit, and she (Tiff) cooked us eggplant lasagna for dinner.  Then we went to Snug Harbor to hear Ellis Marsalis.  If you haven’t been, you should go.  If you don’t live in New Orleans, you should come here just to be able to go to Snug Harbor and hear REALLY GOOD jazz.  Too many tourists visiting the city are misinformed and think that just by walking down Bourbon St. and wandering into a bar they’ll hear good jazz.  The real place for good music of any kind (particularly jazz) is in the Faubourg Marigny, just a few blocks from the French Quarter.  It’s kind of like what the French Quarter used to be like before it became overly commercialized.  (Not that I don’t adore the Quarter!)  So if you want good music, go to the Marigny.

Woke up bright and early the next day, spent the morning gathering my tax documents (fun), and then went out to the Irish Channel for the St. Patrick’s Day parade.  This is sort of a nostalgic event for me, as I used to live right where the Lower Garden District and the Irish Channel touch, and I really miss the neighborhood.  The parade starts just a block from where I used to live.  We caught cabbages, carrots, potatoes, onions, and a multitude of other things.  Now I have seven heads of cabbage and have NO IDEA how I’m going to use it all.  Last night I made a beef and vegetable soup and froze it all.  Today I’m probably going to make a ribollita, a kind of Italian stew/soup.  St. Pat’s is always great because green is my favorite color.  Of course, I stood next to a redhead at the parade (and BOY did she look Irish) so she got a lot of attention and was a favorite of the marching groups and the float riders.

I’m really sore and tired from working in my yard yesterday.  I call it a yard very loosely.  Truly it’s a bunch of St. Augustine grass and then a complete blank space inhabited by weeds as high as my belly button.  Believe it or not, I do attempt to control this.  But they seem determined to spite me.  I have an old, rather unruly lawn mower, which I cannot turn on.  I am not kidding.  My roommate tried, too, and was unsuccessful.  Apparently it takes the strength of a Goliath to pull the cord to turn this thing on.  So I spent the day flinging a hoe through the weeds, beating the ground, cutting them down.  Not very successful.  However, my dad gave me four banana tree offshoots from his tree and I planted these as well as some Creole tomatoes.  After watering the whole yard (front and back) and lamenting the fact that, despite all my efforts, I will never be able to keep up with all the trash people throw on and around my property as they walk back from the corner store, I went in the house, cooked lots of soup and a pork roast, did my grocery shopping for the week, did two loads of laundry, and called it a day.

Whew!  I need a Spring Break.  I am convinced that the true difference between being 26 and being 21—it’s not 5 years—it’s lack of a Spring Break!

Posted by: Katy | March 16, 2008

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