Last night I combined Etta's preprandial walk with a stop at my friend Nadine's wonderful shop, which I often do, since the company is always entertaining and it's all of a block away. Tonight there was a book signing by Deb Shriver for her new book In the Spirit of New Orleans. After saying hi to Deb and getting a glass of wine, another neighbor, Mrs Grima* arrived. She was heard before she was seen.
Finally, something that snorts louder than Etta.
Don't get too fresh, Lady!
Yes, Mrs Grima is a miniature pig, and very friendly, as the picture above shows.
While drinking my morning coffee, I got a call from a friend that another artifact in the urban palimpsest that is the French Quarter, a section of the original Desire Streetcar line, had been exposed during the shambolic repaving of streets in the French Quarter. While defunct sections of streetcar line are visible throughout the riverside portion of New Orleans (particularly on Felicity Street in the Lower Garden District), Desire had a special resonance, as it is associated with the height of the French Quarter's bohemian phase (a tradition I uphold though penury and bad housekeeping). Intrigued, I strolled down Royal to see a relic of Dixie Bohemia.
The Desire Streetcar Line was active from 1920 to 1948, when it was paved over and replaced with busses using the same overhead electrical lines. In the French Quarter it ran in opposite directions down Royal and Bourbon Street, turning at Canal Street at the same point as the St Charles Line (still running) before running to and from Desire Street in the Bywater (hence the name).
Streetcar lines in New Orleans in 1945 - Desire is B
The Desire Streetcar going down Bourbon St. (late 1940s)
The best exposed section
Reaching the location of the best section, ironically in front of the Historic New Orleans Collection, it was more evident by the cobblestone section in the middle of the street. I guess the track was left in place and rusted - the principal evidence was streaks of oxidation.
One can almost smell Dixie Bohemia looking down Royal
With a little imagination, I could almost smell when the French Quarter was Dixie Bohemia, the Greenwich Village of the South (Or was that the snotty ponytailed art dealer's BO?). Given the haphazard scheduling of repaving, this section could be exposed for a few weeks.
On the way home, I stopped at Faulkner House Books and bought this book. It's available from the usual online sources, but I'm sure the nice people at your local bookstore will happily order it for you.
While visiting a wealthy friend in rural France, narrator Alwyn Tower is fascinated by a peregrine falcon during a surprise visit by a particularly self-involved couple. The falcon's wildness, hunger and frustration mirror the narrator's experiences in love and art.
Just finished (re)reading: The Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell
Rereading it in anticipation of the Wachowski siblings' movie adaptation. Can't wait to see white Halle Berry (she's lovely in any complexion) and cannibal Hugh Grant.
Or display a level of verbal/visual wit as I have noted in earlier posts, much of it is more comparable to this:
Which is why I was so disgusted to find this on my front doorstep one recent Saturday night returning home from NOWFE:
One design issue with my building is its gracious vestibule open to the street, which can lead to vagrants camping out in inclement weather (I try to think of them as ornamental hermits), various musical performers, and random people having a smoke with their coffee from across the street. It recently gave shelter for about 30 seconds to the above tagger.
This was done sometime before 11:00 pm on a Saturday night on a holiday weekend, on a very busy pedestrian street (police?). It was also done on marble and rare white granite (the quarry closed about 5 minutes after these steps were installed in 1858, and the dead stock used up shortly afterwards). In general I understand that graffiti can be a justifiable release, which is why many cities have places like the Banksy Tunnel in London. Unfortunately, the Grey Ghost, a local anti-graffiti vigilante (see image #2), managed to convince City leadership that every skate kid who saw Beat Street one too many times is evidence of a growing gang conspiracy. With no legitimate outlet, historic buildings get tagged. (I'm trying to put the kindest spin on things now: my immediate reaction was a desire for a more violent resolution.)
A quick test with soap and water just spread paint chips around, so I decided to call in the big guns. My post-Katrina job at FEMA left me with a good contact list for historic specialists, among them my friend Mark Soeth, a masonry conservator residing in upstate New York (Katrina drew deeply from national talent in the early part of the disaster). He promptly replied with a list of suggestions, particularly Prosoco products. As it was a holiday weekend, all stores were closed, as was the Vieux Carre Commission - all exterior work in the quarter must get VCC permits, leading to the famous assertion that the VCC controls paint colors in the Quarter (while there IS a list of pre-approved colors, they'll approve any color if you ask nicely).
I contacted a staff member at the VCC, who explained that they had to get guidance from the National Park Service on the matter (the Vieux Carre is a National Historic Landmark District, so the NPS takes special interest). Unfortunately, their contact was on vacation/ extended conference duty. I was busy with work anyway, so I just checked in from time to time, finally getting an answer two weeks later (which closely followed my friend Mark's advice). At which point all local distributors of Prosoco told me it was a special order, with delivery in about a week or 10 days!
My landlords were losing patience, and various tenants had already tried hardware store paint remover with predictably poor results. Fortunately, my next door neighbor Mercedes had a suggestion:
And not only a suggestion, she had the material at hand, which she was happy to lend. It turns out that the French Quarter Business Alliance and VCPORA participated in an anti-graffiti clean sweep a year or so ago (I was out of town), and the above solution was VCC-approved - they just forgot about it (they're very understaffed and frantically busy). It has the same active ingredient (ascetic acid) as Mark's suggestions. After about a half-pint of this stuff applied with a nylon bristle brush and about 2 rolls of paper towels (and a wash down afterward with a borate solution to neutralize the pH), this was the result:
After paint removal, 150 years of filth is still intact!
On problem with graffiti is that removing it often just provides a fresh canvas (as the Grey Ghost discovered). Fortunately, my doorstep is also the entrance for a beloved and busy local institution, Fifi Mahoney's, so general outrage was broadcast throughout the neighborhood, perhaps even to the perpetrator, who might be a patron of another nearby business not to be named. We shall see.