The Story of Jet's Gifts
I had a really hard time finding presents for Jet in the tourist-ridden areas of the French Quarter. Mostly there were beads, masks, voodoo stuff, t-shirts, mugs, keychains, and gag gifts that... well, not kid-friendly. We talked nearly every evening on the phone, and he said on Saturday, that he really just wanted something small, maybe a wind-up toy or if I could find something solar powered that would be very cool. I agreed.
I had spent nearly all Saturday going in and out of shops. There were art galleries, food shops, little carvings of various things, tiny wooden frogs with the bumps that make them croak when you run them across it, and then I realized that maybe a bookstore might have a good local kid's book. And indeed, there was. And the lady recommended Les Trois Cochons, which turned out to be just the ticket. It was full of Cajun terms for things, in the local dialect of French-based words mixed with English, and the book had all the translations and pronunciations for the local phrases at the bottom of each and every page, along with the locally used contractions and nicknames for things.
I'll admit that I bought it for my own use as well. *laughs*
I knew that just the book wouldn't be anything to delight him; but I also realized that he has much simpler tastes than commercials would have me believe a child has. He really does like small things that are just *things* that could be his. And in the midst of my seventh or eighth tourist shop filled with liquor, bare-breasted dolls, plastic penises, plastic beads, and badly made masks, I suddenly happened upon a dusty box of New Orleans pencils with the eraser end deep in the mouth of a clear jelly crawfish that might have doubled as a shrimp or a lobster for that matter. The antennae wiggled when I picked it up and the claws waved around, and I realized I had to get it; and the moment John saw he said, "Well, there you go."
So there we went. And Jet loves it. *laughs* I wasn't quite expecting that, but he's using it for his homework at night and giggling when the tail wiggles as he writes.
Rev. Choung Cao's Story
So Rev. Chuong Cao and Rev. Steven Wilson, CSsR are part of the Catholic Order of the Redemption (Redemptoris) that is based in Denver, amusingly enough. Part of their basic mission is to take care of member churches that can't take care of themselves, and the ones in Biloxi were so poor the order sent priests to them that are paid for out of the greater Church. Rev. Cao arrived in Biloxi with all his stuff, and the very next day Katrina hit.
I would have been SO out of there.
Instead, he just started work on clearing off all the debris, and then used volunteers and wrangled supplies to build a house for the two priests. Then he had the volunteers work on the shell of the ex-convent (which had been used for childcare and other things before) in order to build a place to house volunteers. Then he and his volunteers rebuilt the church and then the fellowship hall, and within eighteen months, he'd gotten five buildings built on the grounds that are used every Sunday.
As part of restoration, another Catholic church had been completely destroyed by Katrina and they combined the two parishes and instead of using the name of either of the old parishes, he gave the new parish the name "Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos Parish" (which, yes, I now find ironic to the extreme for myself). He got the two of them to come together into one more healthy parish.
He talked about finding the pews for the church on Ebay, and when he contacted them about the condition of the pews they wrote back with, "Father, you don't have to pay for these, we'll just ship them to you." It was a parish in New England that didn't need them any more, so they just shipped them to him for free. The stations of the cross in the church were from the church that had been completely destroyed, so they attempted to keep some of the history of what they now encompassed. Most of the kitchen and dorm equipment was either donated or gotten on the cheap, but it all works.
There's an old gym just a little ways up the street, where they store the supplies and materials for the jobs. The old wooden floor is completely gone, the building itself reeks of mildew and mold and the results of having been flooded. Tommy, one of the job managers, said it would have to be torn down if it were going to be rebuilt, and that his Daddy had been the architect for it, so he found that a sad thought. The only light in there is from the windows, and it's odd to pick through piles of equipment in the light and the dust that filters through it.
It's a haunting reminder of what happened, in some ways.
The Story of Our Matching Shirts
On Saturday, while we were wandering about, John wore his traditional Hawaiian-style shirt, and I wore my Jazz Festival shirt from two years ago, when John had gone to the festival and had a shirt shipped to me. The waiter at Mulate's put our check together and said, looking embarrassed, "Well, I thought, with the matching shirts..."
One of the shoe cleaning guys came by to tell me that he could tell us the exact town and state we'd bought our shoes at, "Lady, even those bubblegums you gots on there, I kin tell you 'xactly where you got 'em." And when we just kinda walked away from his shoe cleaning services he said, "Well, bye you, from Hawaii and..." he frowned as if he realized just what I was wearing, "... Nawlins."
I almost wished I'd had him guess my shoes... which were the restaurant-style Crocs.
Mother's Restaurant's Riding of the Storm
Since they were in high town, in the old 'industrial park' that is just a few blocks from the French Quarter, they were one of the few places that didn't suffer from flood damage, like 90% of New Orleans. Instead, they'd had hurricane damage to the roof, windows, and doors, and the usual problems one has when refrigerators full of perishables has to be left without power for three weeks. They had to bring in a disinfecting crew to get it clean up to hospital grade.
The folks that worked for the restaurant had no place to live, so they put seven FEMA trailers in the parking lot of the restaurant, plumbed and wired to the restaurant, and so they had all seven families pretty much as part of the restaurant for six months. The workers are all black. There was a white guy by the front door, doing bookkeeping when we popped in and he stopped us when we made to take menus outside to read them while waiting for Louis. I suspect he was the owner of the place as folks stopped to talk with him. But it seemed a very tight-knit place, with the families involved just part of the life blood of the restaurant itself, and everyone was jokin' and giving the late comers grief when they got there. That was pretty funny.
But when the breakfast rush really hit, it was really amazing to watch them in action, as they all knew their jobs, their stations and everything there was remarkably efficient. I loved seeing that and the closeness of what they had was remarkable. I could believe, easily, that they took care of their own.
One interesting tidbit was that someone asked for the bits of roast beef that had fallen off the carved roast into the gravy for his po'boy and the server asked, "You mean the debris?" And that's how they got the name 'debris' that is on the menu today. Next time I'll have to have debris on a biscuit.
A Few of the Krewes
There are around a hundred krewes with their own floats, parades, and often routes, each an organization of their own, and the parades go from Twelfth Night or Epiphany (January 6th) through to Fat Tuesday or Beouf Gras or Mardi Gras (did you know if you pronounce coup de gras with the 's' that it means stroke of grace? And without it it means stroke of grease?). Each has their own origins and reasons to be.
The medallion I picked up was from the Bacchus Krew, and they're known for the fact that Edward Brennan (yes, the same Brennan that started Brennan's and owned the Absinthe House and is the father of the guys that started the steak restaurant and the seafood place)decided that the closed membership krewes was unfair to tourists, and so he started Bacchus with the express purpose of allowing tourists and celebrities into the parades and balls. It didn't actually happen for decades, but in the 70's they finally got Danny Kaye as their King and tossed all tradition to all sides by having him be announced before the parade, and had him as the installed King of their ball.
I love the krewes whose express reason is to mess with everyone's traditions.
This year, they picked Val Kilmer as their King. *laughs* But they're now 1000 strong and always do their parade the Sunday before Fat Tuesday.
Krewe Rex's motto is "Pro Bono Publico" or for the public good. They, along with Comus, Momus, and Proteus were the leading krewes in the city when all the krewes were ordered to integrate African American's. The other three krewes disbanded rather than do that. Rex did not. Some say that it was because of the motto, some say that it's because Rex had always only had a criterion of how good a business person you were in and for the city. There may be truth to both. But Rex is still the King of Mardi Gras, and has one of the largest parades and most exclusive of balls for the day.
Zulu, on the other hand, started as African American and is the oldest krewe with an active parade that has always been African American. It's popularity declined severely during the 60's; but has bounced back to a medium sized krewe that runs their parade on Mardi Gras itself. They often use black-face, which is an old tradition of theirs and while it has some holier than thou politically correct folks up in arms, it's just what they do.
And then there are the Indians... which aren't an official krewe, and they have no parade schedule or route and it started as the way for the low-town blacks to strut their stuff. They "mask" in elaborate feathered costumes that take enormous amounts of time to make and it used to be a way of gangs to go on the war path and even up old grievances. Now there's no violence; but a lot of show and strut and face involved in how well each Tribe turns themselves out. They all have made-up tribal names, but there's some roots in the fact that the Native American cultures were revered and admired for their ferocity and the fact that those tribes were a part of Creole culture and how everything blended together in the region.
I find the Indians fascinating.
I also added a bit to Tommy's story after Katrina from what he'd said at the Shed.
Also found out today that everyone at the church has the stomach bug we all had, so it seems that we brought it with us, rather than the other way around; and shared it with the fine people of Mississippi, plus everyone on our planes and DIA and the New Orleans airport. Wheee...