Thursday, July 29, 2010

Day Twelve

Much of the early part of Wednesday was dedicated to “recovery.” I am not one to stay up too many times after 3am, so the previous night did slow me down on Wednesday. I am just glad I didn’t have too much to drink or else I would have been nursing a hangover too, and that would have done me in for the whole day. But with an occasional cat-nap in the afternoon, I was able to bounce back and capture another incredible day in New Orleans.

I took Cece to her first interview in the late morning. She had arranged an interview with Ashley Hansen, and we arrived just before Noon at the greatest place in the whole-wide-world—Hansen’s Snowballs. I already knew much of Ashley’s evacuation story, but her retelling of this for the first time face-to-face with me would remind me of the many who experienced great pain in the evacuation.

Cece has a tendency to be a bit shy in her interviews, especially with those who she doesn’t know. She started asking Ashley basic questions about background (name, neighborhood, occupation), and there is one question she reads through a bit too fast—the evacuation question. “Did you evacuate?” and “What did you do when you first got back?” Ashley answered “yes” to the evacuation question, and after answering that she went to the shop to see what damages it experienced when she first got back, she asked Cece if she could answer the evacuation question again. “How much depth do you want for this answer” Ashley asked. Cece stated “as much as you want.”

Ashley recounted how she and her family had never evacuated for a storm before. This would be no different, and the possibility of evacuating this time was compounded by the fact that her grandmother was already hospitalized in Touro Infirmary. But after watching the news and seeing the potential severity of the storm, Ashley urged her father and her grandfather to come with her to evacuate. The elder Mr. Hansen (Earnest—the originator of the Hansen Snobliz machine) declined to evacuate and chose instead to spend his time with his ailing wife Mary. He checked in to Touro, which according to Ashley was already looking chaotic. It was her grandfather’s birthday, and she gave him his presents as she dropped him off at Touro.

She evacuated with as many of her prized possessions she could fit into her air-condition-less VW Golf. She had to make room as well for her father’s belongings and two of her neighbor’s cats. Her father was bringing his dog as well. They had originally planned on evacuating to Alexandria, but the traffic and getting on the wrong contra-flow out of the city pushed them to Jackson, MS. After over 12 hours on the road, they settled in Jackson.

It is in Jackson that they hear the levees have broken.

As for many of us who learned of that fatal news late Monday afternoon, she knew her city was in peril. More important for Ashley, her grandparents were at Touro and in danger for their lives.

Ashley and her father turned around and headed back to New Orleans.

Ashley would not find her grandparents for one more week.

They had been airlifted out of Touro by the Coast Guard, and they were placed in separate hospitals in another state. As Ashley confided, they had never spent any time separated from each other, and now in all this chaos they were to be separated without knowing where each other was. In reality, they were in two hospitals in the same town just miles from each other. Still, the fact that they could not see each other was taxing on their condition.

Ashley was able to find and reunite them. But for Earnest and Mary Hansen, a couple that adored each other and had never been without each other, all the events of the evacuation would take it’s toll. Mary died a few days after being discovered by Ashley, on September 8, 2005. Earnest would pass away on May 30, 2006.

The smile on Ashley’s face has long faded during this interview. I find myself holding back tears as she talks about this story. Again, it is a story I am familiar with—in my neighborhood, my next door neighbor experienced the same tragedy of sorts, and I spent the better half of September helping her find her ailing diabetic son. Ashley brings me back to that time with vivid and personal detail. Katrina turned all of our lives upside down—even for those of us who have recovered in five years.

Ashley continues to answer Cece’s questions—she is optimistic about the future of New Orleans, but there is so much more that needs to be done. Her favorite “bite” is a Hansen’s Snowbliz with Nectar. Who can argue with that. And when she is asked about what comes to mind when she hears the name “Ray Nagin,” she is quick with a response. “Scoundrel”, she says. I couldn’t agree with her more.

Ashley’s interview was the deepest and most personal of the interviews we have heard in the past two weeks. Mr. David’s interview is up there too. I can see that the questions have made Ashley think about a time she really is uncomfortable talking about. I can also see that she finds it important to talk about this time to others.

Ashley invites us to have a Snowbliz after the interview, but they aren’t open yet and I beg off for another day. I am sure that we will stop by there Thursday or Friday for another Hot Rod. It will be the only food place I will go to over three times on this trip. Yeah you right!!!

Cece and I decide on “Slice” for lunch. They’ve opened up a new restaurant on Magazine Street, across from the Whole Foods. We’ve heard that it is the best pizza in town, and once we get our slices, there is no doubt to me that the stories are accurate. My “meat lovers” slice is incredible, and Cece’s “white pizza” slice is equally great. Prices are extremely reasonable, and we may come back here before the end of the trip as well for one more bite.

We head to Rouses after lunch where I collect the ingredients I need to make gumbo today for my neighbors in Broadmoor. Two pounds of shrimp and one pound of andouille should do us fine. And after a bit of a rest back at the house, I begin putting my gumbo together.

Making roux in someone else’s kitchen with someone else’s pots and utensils is like wearing someone else’s underwear. It “fits,” but it just doesn’t feel right.

I can’t find the proper spoon to make roux with—it’s too small, and it’s not metal. As I mix the butter and flour together, my hand gets occasionally splattered with the hot roux. As I turn the pot, the metal handles are hot and burn too. Making roux is not supposed to be a joyful experience anyway, and this only adds to the labor. Still, after a while I’ve got the right color roux, and I begin making my gumbo. One hour later, and a few tastes along the way, it’s ready to go. We pack it up and head over to Jack and Sherry’s.

Cece is going to interview my friend JC about his experience during the storm. I let her settle in to the interview while Jack, Sherry and I begin having our gumbo. I am happy that Jack and Sherry love the gumbo. JC concurs once the interview is through, and much to my amazement Cece is not only having some—she also likes it! Cece’s doesn’t deviate far in her culinary tastes—and the fact that she likes my gumbo implies that there is still some hope that I’ll get her to love the rest of my New Orleans cooking. One can only hope.

We talk about the Saints and the HBO series Treme while at Jack’s house. I tell everyone about some of my “superstitions” for the games, including not calling JC ever before a game. I’ve still got to get a new shirt and hat from Wal-Mart—an important part of the superstition from last year. “Treme” conjures up a good conversation about how the writers and directors got it “right,” but it still puzzles us how anyone outside of New Orleans would “get” the show. The stories of each character we are familiar with, but what does it mean to folks in Michigan? We all concur, though, that is was a great series. I’m still curious what “new” stories they will come up with in the next season.

After dinner, Cece and I head to the Quarter. We intend to walk around the Quarter with no particular plan or purpose. It’s the type of walks we used to take in our neighborhood or in other parts of New Orleans. To a certain extent, it reminds me of the times Susan and I would venture out on Wednesday nights in the Jeep with the top down. Our neighbor Miss Lee would babysit Devin, and Susan and I would stop by the Daiquiri shop on Carrollton to get our drinks, drive through Uptown on Magazine, follow Magazine into the Quarter as it turns into Chartres Street, roll down through Decatur Street, and then come back along Royal Street, back to our house. A trip with no particular purpose—other than to enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of the City.

Nightime walks in the Quarter are beautiful this time of year. Once again, Cece and I own the Quarter. Few tourists are out. Some shops are still open. Restaurants all seem full, though. We casually find ourselves at Café Envie on Decatur Street, and Cece is happy to find that “Camera Guy” is working behind the counter.

Camera Guy is named “Bob”, and he looks much too clean cut to be working at Café Envie. He is a photographer, but he has had to work “real jobs” in order to have time for his art-form. He enjoys talking about photography, and he especially enjoys teaching Cece about photographic theory. He goes to his car and brings us his Nikon Medium Format camera. It’s one of the largest cameras I’ve ever seen, and he sets it up on his tripod so that Cece can work with it. I’m impressed by the pictures he’s taken with it. He likes to work in Black and Whites, though he’s starting to work more in color these days. Bob also has his own darkroom, and this helps with the ease of his photographic work. Cece is beginning to see that there is a vibrant artists community here in New Orleans. They may not yet be “famous,” but they are working passionately on their art.

I find myself sitting at the counter with an Abita, reading the latest Offbeat, and enjoying the cool air-conditioning inside Envie. The sounds of the street come in from the open door, and the “kay-rack-ters” of Decatur Street come in and out of the Café. I find myself truly at peace in the Café, and I feel like I could live here forever.

Cece and I are now into our last three days in New Orleans. There are two people on my list I must see, and there is at least one place I still need to take Cece too. I’ve got a show to do this afternoon, and I am looking forward to this as well. It’s going to be another great day back home. I’ve got to find a way back, I just know it.

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