Thursday, November 10, 2005

Touring St. Bernard Parish

Yesterday I met with Lola Vollen who is working with McSweeney's on the Voice of Witness series. We hopped into her rental car and I showed her through the Bywater along St. Claude Avenue before we drove over the bridge and across the levee into the lower Ninth. I hadn't really been around there up to this point--I hadn't seen the damage since the storm. As we drove the neighborhoods, I pointed out the floodlines along the buildings and we tried to make sense of the topography as they rose and fell.

As we continued east we found a barracade across the road--built from abandoned cars that had been piled atop each other. Who made it? we asked. Turns out the parish put it up to force people through a check point. We were going through. (Lola had credentials, I was along for the ride.) We turned into a subdivison and found ourselves among a completely barren community--there was mud and swamp grass deposited atop the houses. Through open doors we could see that the entire interior structure of each home had collapsed.

Outside of one house a man stood waiting for his insurance company. Allstate has stood him up four times. It was late in the afternoon, soon it would be dark--very dark without any electricity. The man had a levee board shirt on--"Everyone wants to kill me" he said--and he showed us the spot he had cleared for his FEMA trailer, once it arrives. The inside of his house had been gutted by the water, which stood for two weeks. Then Rita flooded it again. Now we understood the dueling floodlines we'd been seeing. He pointed to the other houses and described the neighborhood, the people that had lived there. Across the street, the backs of all the houses were gone, blown away by the force of the water coming in. "I figure it was twenty feet," he said. "Storm surge" equals tidal wave, although no one ever wants to use that word.

On the way home we spotted another yard filled with debris, including a dozen mounted deer heads, sticking from the ground.

Press Street literary/arts collective

My friends and I are starting a literary and arts collective in the Bywater. Press Street is named after the street that borders the west side of the Bywater, running along the train tracks where the old cotton presses were housed. We plan to publish small specialized books that merge design and prose, and to host a few art shows, and, more important, to offer literacy programs for kids and adults.

But first we are simply hosting a reading--tonight (Thursday November 10 at 7pm) with poet Carolyn Hembree and fiction writer Patty Friedmann. If you are in town, come to Beth's Books, on Port Street at Chartres, adjacant to the Sound Cafe.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Sweet Pea, the pit bull/girl next door: a story with three pit bulls and not a drop of violence

I didn't know until we moved in this summer that the junk yard/art space next door had a live-in pit bull named Sweet Pea, and at first I wasn't pleased. Why? Because I don't think any dogs should be left alone to guard a property, without regular interaction and support of some kind. It makes them territorial, no matter what breed they are. In the heat of the New Orleans summer, Sweet Pea spent most of her time sleeping in a metal shed, or occassionally lounging atop of of the dead cars in the yard. Occassionally she would come over and pop her head through the fence and my girl dogs would kiss her while Brando, the male, stood back, ready to pounce.

After the evacuation, Sweet Pea was one of the many living things I was worried about. When I finally heard from my landlord, I asked about her. She was fine, living with the man who had initially rescued her, getting more attention than she ever could have dreamed of. When we came back to town, my dogs and I spotted her and her man walking down the street together, and a week later, she reappeared in the junk yard, but not alone. Now she has a live-in dog boyfriend--one of the thousands left behind during the storm. When they aren't off in a corner together, I see them wrestling playfully among the metal empty car bodies, and occassionally they come over to the fence. My dogs are fascinated that there are two dogs next door who aren't particularly interested in them.

After a while, I broke down and handed some treats through the fence. The next time I saw Sweet Pea on her walk, she ran over and threw herself against me. She has a big squishy body, so it was like being attacked by a stuffed animal. I loved every moment of it. And then she continued on her run.