Piety Market In Exile- St. Claude Avenue

To me, well-curated markets are the pinnacle of everyday life. To achieve the right balance, their organizers have to have vision, grit, and the guts to calibrate the right mix of local history, physical design, social mores, retail trends, and at least a little crazy shit. And then do it over and over. It has alway been clear to me that Cree McCree (who I like to call the Godmother of Flea) is a master, having created markets here from those legendary Mermaid markets forward, but it seems important to note that her market lineage goes back decades to places like NYC, NM, and CA, where flea markets are judged at a higher level. (It is surprising how flea is not normally as well done here as it is in places even like Northeast Ohio, incidentally an area from which Cree and I both hail.) I can attest to her skill because as often as I attend her events I continue to have interesting conversations, learn something new, and find deals just about every time. To me, markets like hers act as a virtual levee, shoring up our resistance to the overflow of bullshit and commodified crap being sent our way in recent years by those who want to Instagram our culture to death.
So join us on the edge by supporting 5 dollar bargain racks, locally mixed organic spices combos, trying on gorgeous hand wrought crowns, thumbing through eclectic book offerings by booksellers (led by Donald Miller up there offering his rapid-fire talk, today it was a verbal appreciation for Latina bridal parties posing for pics in their yoga pants even as he wryly admits their utter disdain for bibliophiles), one-of-a kind Haitian artwork, live music, and simply tables of uniqueness not calibrated for those 17 million visitors who wouldn’t know what the hell to make of most of it but instead presented only for some of the 400,000 of us who want to be inspired by our neighbors, and to inspire when we come out through the front door.

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Can the French Market be Saved? (Part 2)

It was reported recently that our energetic and active mayor has decided to do something about the French Market. As a 20-year activist in food systems with a 40-year family residency in the French Quarter, I was certainly excited to hear that. And when I hear Seattle’s Pike Place  Market as the descriptor for what is desired, I hope that what our Mayor and current French Market leadership meant is to make it a world-class public market that offers interesting educational and entertainment options for all, quality groceries for residents, a laboratory for testing larger food access and farming support innovations, and also (I hope I hope) to host needed services for residents.

Part 2 (Part 1 here) of my four part post:

then Katrina happened:

 

By September of 2005 while still in exile, we (meaning the parent org of the Crescent City Farmers Market, then known as ECOnomics Institute) created an online bulletin board and chat room for our vendors and for customers of the Crescent City Farmers Market to keep in touch and to tell us when and where they wanted the markets reopened.

Once we knew we could come back and reopen farmers markets in New Orleans because enough producers had product, enough consumers wanted fresh food, and we had places to live, we began to discuss where to put them. Because the “sliver by the river” area of town had not flooded, we knew it would be one of those areas. This was not to ignore the flooded areas, but since any and all space for construction drop off or house demo had to come first,  a pop up market was simply in the way in those early days.  The Girod Street market location had some damage, so that was out. That left the French Market and Uptown Square as the two locations under consideration, but we quickly realized that the French Market was barely functioning.

Even so,  we were still trying to help them by meeting with its director in those early days. I remember that we had dinner with him in early October, discussing how to use the French Market to help rebuild the city. We suggested that they allow Red Cross to use it as a station, and to have city departments set up there. Unfortunately, none of that happened for various reasons, probably most due to the inertia of the complicated system that the French Market was and is managed under.  It is important to point out that the public-private partnership it operates under is hard enough, and then one must take in its multiple roles:

  • the largest manager of city-owned historic property which stretches from Jackson Square (and includes the upper Pontalba building) down to Esplanade (and that was before the Crescent Park opened);
  • the retail manager of all of the storefronts included in those properties;
  • the manager of the parking lots bordering the river and those on Elysian Fields;
  • the operator and manager of the 2 open sheds at the end of the French Market, including its hundreds of itinerant, permanent vendors;
  • one of the primary event creators and managers in the lower river section of the Quarter.

The reason I bring up the post Katrina era (and the earlier revival era that I wrote about in  Part 1) is because the future of this venerable place has a lot of baggage to carry with it, and also has some hard truths of the surrounding area that cannot be denied before we can discuss what to do. I’d like to see that history really analyzed, much more than I have done here. Move past the cliches and worn out grievances and really record how what we have has transpired, and make that analysis public.

For example, for any of us here at the time and now, it is clear that the post Katrina era gave the French Quarter some new life. Residents who still had property moved back in while they redid their own houses, others grabbed every rental available (which because there was no damage, did not see its prices tripled as many other areas have done which was great cuz rents for larger, redone apartments there were already on the highest end of the spectrum), and -AND- the great luck of still having a walkable, vibrant area with public space, groceries, and cheery nightlife on the inner edge of the grey, sad, often toxic other 80% of our city was a comfort to all. So it became boom town for a little while and today, it still has an increase in renters and homeowners from the low of around 2000.  The Homer Plessy Community School is livening up the corner of St. Philip and Royal,  a number of creative and unique shops are doing well (altho commercial space is at aa premium) , and a whole lot of activism and street life is still happening here. Yet still many locals repeat the old story about the French Quarter being “over” as a neighborhood when it is far from that.

That is another issue.

But in any case, the French Market didn’t capitalize on that boom at all. It simply didn’t have the structure or even the mandate to do so. Instead, it remained an afterthought in a booming Quarter, Marigny, Bywater. And even lost great anchors such as Horst Pfeiffer’s Bella Luna who grew tired of waiting for his building’s roof to be repaired. Actually, it did do one thing which was tremendous:  moving community radio station WWOZ into the Red Store building. (More of THAT is exactly what is still needed, along with a redesign of its retail needs and open space.)

So, a few ideas for now:

Create a “pop up”space for emerging retailers to be able to rent a storefront for 3-6 months, contingent on being a local resident and offering something of value to residents.

Incentivize 2-3 retailers sharing one space.

Offer incentives for retailers who live in the Quarter.

Create an authentic, small food hall in one of the sheds that strictly maintains local procurement and fair employment.

Change some of the Upper Pontalba to rent-controlled apartments available to FM shopkeepers or restaurant staff. Offer affordable 3rd story apartments there to service staff and incentivize their leases if they will offer community service hours as street ambassadors to answer questions or to help at events.

Highlight the many contributions people of color and immigrants have made to New Orleans with meaningful events around those cultures. NOT one sized fits all festivals, but Dutch Alley sized community events that allow the Vietnamese, Latinx, native (Bulbancha), Creoles of color, Central American and other communities to celebrate and educate in full view.

Offer a Useful Market once a month, with seamstresses, tire and bike repair, electronic repair, dog grooming, notaries, furniture repair and so on.

Offer free 90 minutes of parking on weekdays in the Elysian Fields lots. Add lots of bike racks.

Add more seating, add more public fountains, and add a small splash center on the FQ end of the Crescent Park that requires a local id to get in..

Use part of one shed to manage an aggregation hub for local produce houses to drop off ordered goods for area restaurants, and create a Cushman delivery service to those restaurants. Maybe even create a small F&V FQ/Treme buying club for residents (especially seniors!) that does the same.

Have city agencies and NGOs that serve the local population housed there.

Set up a recycling center for the city, add education center about litter for tourists.

The main idea is to draw from the grassroots energy of the city around it, and do what Market Umbrella founder Richard McCarthy said about the Crescent City Farmers Markets when asked in an interview about what it does to serve tourists. He said, “Oh we ignore them.” When the interviewer professed shock at that, Richard continued, “Yes because any tourist that found there way to the local farmers market did that because he/she wants to go where locals go, and do what locals do. They want to be mistaken for a local. So we don’t cater to tourists. Those who find their way to us can congratulate themselves on participating in the authentic culture. Everyone wins: the vendors get some tourist dollars, but the locals keep their market for them.”

Everyone wins, especially when “the most dollars possible” is not the main indicator used for the functions of public buildings and historic places.

Everyone wins when the old market is inclusive and dynamic and focused on the needs of residents first.

Everyone wins when an anchor institution contextualizes its offerings to its time and place.

 

 

-Part 3 will focus on the flea market on the end of the French Market, which must be dealt with, even though its history and its activity is not all as horrible as some residents make it out to be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Poet Laureate Joy Harjo’s “New Orleans”

The Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress began in 1937, and was formerly known as the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.  The present title was devised and authorized by an Act of Congress in 1985. The Poet Laureate’s office is administered by the Center for the Book.The Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry is appointed annually by the Librarian of the United States Congress and serves from October to May. In making the appointment, the Librarian consults with current and former laureates and other distinguished personalities in the field.
 “New Orleans”  by Joy Harjo
This is the south. I look for evidence
of other Creeks, for remnants of voices,
or for tobacco brown bones to come wandering
down Conti Street, Royal, or Decatur.
Near the French Market I see a blue horse
caught frozen in stone in the middle of
a square. Brought in by the Spanish on
an endless ocean voyage he became mad
and crazy. They caught him in blue
rock, said
don’t talk.
I know it wasn’t just a horse
that went crazy.
Nearby is a shop with ivory and knives.
There are red rocks. The man behind the
counter has no idea that he is inside
magic stones. He should find out before
they destroy him. These things
have memory,
you know.
I have a memory.
It swims deep in blood,
a delta in the skin. It swims out of Oklahoma,
deep the Mississippi River. It carries my
feet to these places: the French Quarter,
stale rooms, the sun behind thick and moist
clouds, and I hear boats hauling themselves up
and down the river.
My spirit comes here to drink.
My spirit comes here to drink.
Blood is the undercurrent.
There are voices buried in the Mississippi mud.
There are ancestors and future children
buried beneath the currents stirred up by
pleasure boats going up and down.
There are stories here made of memory.
I remember DeSoto. He is buried somewhere in
this river, his bones sunk like the golden
treasure he traveled half the earth to find,
came looking for gold cities, for shining streets
of beaten gold to dance on with silk ladies.
He should have stayed home.
(Creeks knew of him for miles
before he came into town.
Dreamed of silver blades
and crosses.)
And knew he was one of the ones who yearned
for something his heart wasn’t big enough
to handle.
(And DeSoto thought it was gold.)
The Creeks lived in earth towns,
not gold,
spun children, not gold.
That’s not what DeSoto thought he wanted to see.
The Creeks knew it, and drowned him in
the Mississippi River
so he wouldn’t have to drown himself.
Maybe his body is what I am looking for
as evidence. To know in another way
that my memory is alive.
But he must have got away, somehow,
because I have seen New Orleans,
the lace and silk buildings,
trolley cars on beaten silver paths,
graves that rise up out of soft earth in the rain,
shops that sell black mammy dolls
holding white babies.
And I know I have seen DeSoto,
having a drink on Bourbon Street,
mad and crazy
dancing with a woman as gold
as the river bottom.

 

Covenant House becomes Curfew House for the summer

At the request of the NOPD Chief and Mayor LaToya Cantrell, Covenant House has been asked to open a curfew/prevention center this summer for at-risk youth, ages 10-16.

“I think the police are going to come across young people who don’t know where they’re at or where they’re going, and could be on the verge of getting themselves in trouble, and they’re going to bring them here. We will feed them just like any Mother would. And along the way, we’ll try and find out if there’s any issues; why are they out late at night and no one knows about it?” – Jim Kelly, Executive Director

And the other viewpoint:

City curfew marginalizes kids it pretends to ‘protect’

 

We’ll hollla at ya later, Mac

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rickie Lee Jones’ tribute to Dr John:

 

Michael Tisserand,, the biographer of Krazy Kat’s creator, also got it so right:


 

The great Jon Cleary said many wonderful things in his post about Dr. John, but this one really got me:

I was standing next to Earl Palmer and Mac several years ago at Earl King’s funeral and I said something banal along the lines of ‘we lost a good one’ and Mac shook his head and said we ain’t lost him, he’s still here.
I’m glad he said that.

Gulf marine life in great danger from diversion of flood levels of Mississippi River

As an unprecedented amount of floodwater makes its way down the Mississippi River, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers opened the Bonnet Carre Spillway at New Orleans for the second time this year.

Corps officials try to limit spillway openings to minimize the impact of invasive freshwater species entering Lake Pontchartrain, as one of those impacts could be harming marine life. St. Bernard Parish President Guy McInnis says they have documented 26 dolphin deaths in the past two months, and most of the animals had freshwater lesions. Though Louisiana Wildlife and Fisheries officials have not made a direct link to the influx of fresh river water, officials in coastal Mississippi have after conducting a number of dolphin necropsies.

For oystermen, the opening of the spillway is always a cause for concern because it leads to plummeting water salinity levels as the freshwater suddenly dilutes the estuary’s brackish waters, which can kill the oysters they harvest.

As of June 6, 2019, the news is that our other spillway will open to reduce pressure on the levees. Most folks in New Orleans are largely unaware of the Morganza Spillway, including where it is!

 

So, here is some good information on the Morganza Spillway:

 

Morganza Spillway

 

Maspero’s founder passes

Once upon a time Cafe Maspero was one of most locals’ favorite places both in its original location on Chartres, and then its Decatur Street location. I remember many fine sandwiches there always paired with excellent service – that is, until it was sold a few years back.

An article about Maspero’s and Charlie that  was first published in The Community Standard magazine in Volume 1, No. 4, February 1975.