While Isaac was a lingering tropical storm this morning, all was relatively quiet Uptown. People were running along the streetcar route, walking their dogs, stopping into pharmacies and grocery stores, and eating breakfast at several still-open restaurants.
But the hurricane prep was underway — the hanging coffee cup sign outside Oak Street Cafe came down, shutters were pulled down at Superior Seafood and Jazmine Cafe, and boards were going up in shop windows, many with spray-painted messages, a now-standard "last word" before the storm ahead.
Mayor Mitch Landrieu announced a $1 million loan from the Fresh Food Retailer Initiative (FFRI) to the Circle Food Store, the historic property at the corner of North Claiborne and St. Bernard avenues.
According to a statement from Landrieu's office, the total renovation costs to re-open are $9.2 million — the $1 million loan has a forgivable amount of $500,000, and will allow the store to begin its re-opening process. The store will create an estimated 75 jobs.
While rain prevented anyone from physically breaking the ground at the site, several public officials praised the construction as a symbol of the improvement of the St. Roch neighborhood. District C Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer, in whose district the market stands, called the market a “sign of the revitalization of the neighborhood … to bring more economic development and investment to the area.” She also praised the Faubourg St. Roch Improvement Association, which spearheaded the idea by conducting door-to-door surveys. Landrieu and Palmer added touches of nostalgia, reminiscing about buying po-boys and crawfish in their childhoods when the store was known Lama's St. Roch Market.
The film is set in a mythical place called the Bathtub, situated beyond the last levee protecting Louisiana's coastal wetlands. It centers on a 6-year-old girl named Hushpuppy, her ailing father Wink, an absent mother and a coming storm. Hushpuppy's world is full of wild animals, close-knit neighbors and fantastic creatures who may signal the end of all things.
That is not what Ben Kenigsberg, movie critic for Time Out Chicago, saw:
The surprise of this magical-realist tale, a sensation at Sundance this year, is that it allegorizes Katrina as George W. Bush might like to remember it. In the Bathtub (standing in for the Lower Ninth Ward), every day is a holiday, and the largely black residents are depicted as alcoholics, inattentive parents or fools who accidentally set fire to their homes. When authorities do intervene, they’re helpless anyway: Bathtubbers run from the hospital. Forget FEMA; in a message amplified by Hushpuppy’s valediction, the movie implies hurricane victims would rather take care of their own.
New Orleans became a blank slate after Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. And ever since, entrepreneurs have rushed in to experiment with new ideas for building and running a city.
The most-recommended comment on the story comes from New Orleans resident Beth Blankenship:
New Orleans most certainly did not become a "blank slate" in 2005. More than 350,000 people live here, in our homes that were either minimally damaged or have been restored since the storm, and continue the lives we lived before 2005, in the traditions of this very old, very non-blank city. We are not a tabula rasa for the entertainment of entrepreneurs, creative class-hipsters, Teach for America do-gooders and all the other folks who want to pat themselves on the back for "fixing" New Orleans. Lousy writing is fueled by lazy thinking, Ms. Elliott.
Other reactions were even more tart.
Like the Broad bus route, the Galvez bus route is pretty long and goes from the edge of Uptown to the 9th Ward, passing through the 6th, 7th and 8th Wards. Another commonality is that when riding along these routes, you'll see that we are still nowhere near being finished with rebuilding after almost seven years. Is it government corruption? Laziness? Lack of resources? Gentrification? Many 6th Ward residents and shopkeepers believe it's a combination of them all, especially one woman I met who had a lot to say...
When I stopped by the site of the proposed Marigny ball pit house today, the project's leader, Josh Ente, was grabbing lunch. His friend Matt, who was visiting from San Francisco, was busy helping take down the back of the blighted Creole cottage to the wall frames. When they're done, they plan to wrap the whole structure in batting-cage plastic and dump plastic balls on the floor four feet deep. Then anyone — adults, kids, whomever — who wants to jump in is welcome.
Yesterday's blog entry about the ball pit project drew some serious (and sometimes scathing) discussion both on Gambit's website and Facebook page. Ente said he'd read it all, including the "Brooklyn-goes-to-Bywater" remark. Turns out that, yes, he is from Brooklyn (I had no idea), and, yes, he's lived in the Marigny-Bywater for fewer than two years. Ente is a filmmaker whose recently directed Big Freedia's music video "Y'all Get Back Now."
"I understand the concerns about privilege," he said, referring to comments like the one that accused him of "hipster Romper Room BS." As we talked, behind him, in an overgrown lot marked with HANO signs and discarded tires, a woman played with a young pit bull. Whatever you think of the project, it's true that Ente has put more sweat equity into a property he doesn't own than the city has put into adjacent property it does own.
The conversation only got really awkward once ...
Josh Ente wants to turn a blighted house in the Marigny into a giant ball pit. He's got a Kickstarter, and he's raised more than $2,000 of his $2,500 goal with 12 days to go:
How will it work? For NO admission fee, the ball pit will be open to the public (or at least those members of the public willing to assume risk for the fun they'll have); supervised kids, adults - anyone, everyone - will be welcome to take advantage of this new community resource for outdoor play, neighborly engagement, and communal socializing. Open during the day and in the evening, there will be special events including live music, projected film screenings, and more, but most often the ball pit will be just an arena for glorious, glorious play. Netting will keep the balls in the pit, and foam padding on every exposed beam will make it safe and comfortable for everyone.
When and where? The ball pit will be ready to go by early May, with an official grand opening tentatively scheduled for Saturday, May 12, and will be open for about a month or six weeks - until it gets too hot, basically.
I'm not sure how I feel about this. On one hand, it's an interesting project and a creative idea. On the other hand, it just feels ... well ... what? Creative-class faux-naif? Brooklyn goes to Burgundy? I lived right there before the storm, and I bet there are a lot of neighbors who would just shake their heads at the thought of adults playing Chuck E. Cheese in blighted housing. Generally speaking, I'd rather people get in touch with their inner adult than their inner child. Yet — no one else is doing anything with the space. Is the proposal that different from the Bywater Music Box? Isn't a ball pit better than a falling-down house?
Hide your college-age children: "sissy bounce" is here to corrupt them — at least according to Christwire, the satirical website that's sort of what The Onion would be if written by Rick Santorum. (Other stories on the site include "4 Satanic and Blood Sex Driven Things Your Daughter Will Do at Coachella" and "Is My Teen Weird? 20 Terrifying New Youth Trends.")
In its "expose" of bounce music (which name-checks Vockah Redu, Sissy Nobby, Big Freedia and Katey Red), Christwire warns:
The sissy show began in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina when President Bush ordered the rescue of thousands of African-Americans caught off guard by the Biblical storm. In the well-stocked camps that FEMA generously provided, many urban youths took advantage of their newfound luxury to play around with loud music and interracial dancing. The result was an unpredictable and shocking creation that immediately was condemned as immoral. A transvestite named “Big Freddy” soon left the camps and copyrighted the act, selling it to ghetto rap clubs across the country and reaping millions.
Despite the warnings, “Sissy Dancing” grew in popularity and, through the efforts of black affirmative action students, made the transition over to the white population on college campuses.
Ouch. Not surprisingly, in our post-Derbyshire world, more than a few commenters missed the joke or just plain didn't like it. To read the whole thing in its R-rated, possibly not-safe-for-work glory, go here, and remember: "They could care less how nice these girls are or if they’re studying art history."
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