Tourism and New Orleans in the Pandemic-Era

The 2014 book Desire and Disaster in New Orleans, looked at in the post Civil-War era New Orleans developed a white middle-class tourist economy that traded only on the French colonial and the antebellum history, and since 1980, has almost exclusively relied and expanded it to the exclusion of any other economy. That inertia certainly led to the emergence of disaster tourism after the 2005 levee breaks as the only plan by city leaders which increased dangerous and short-sighted construction like the doomed and deadly Hard Rock project – shockingly thrown up at the very site of the historic Woolworth lunch counter sit-ins.

From the book: “New Orleans post-Katrina tourism has promoted the type of political inactivism common with other forms of do-good capitalism and grassroots privatization that undermine democratic process, perpetuate social hierarchies and inequities, and reinforce the status quo.”

As I continue to dive more deeply into Professor Thomas’ and others work on the racial politics that developed those earlier eras of New Orleans tourism, we here are aware that the next round is already emerging and will have even more troubling implications for the future of New Orleans.

I’ll be covering some of those specific indicators in these pages over the next few months including:

-City Hall allowing limitless short term rental situation by pointedly ignoring the enforcement of current rules, hampering the taxis while allowing gig drivers to operate with impudence

-the addition of beach-style amenities that encourage ever larger, more rowdy groups (such as unlicensed golf carts careening everywhere and huge loitering party buses endangering the airways of anyone within a half mile)

-the lack of official support for local musicians and buskers

-and the political pressure by the restaurant and hotel industry to end the COVID safety net for Louisiana food and service workers to get them back into the poverty wages and unrelenting schedules that is required in this current system.

Of course, the lack of concerted regional support for affordable housing, for public or human-powered transportation investments and enforcement, for accessible primary and secondary education choices, and the continuing massive prison pipeline that relies on a militarized police force using traffic stops to target black residents to fund and fill the courts and prisons, also ensure that tourism remains the choice for those few who profit from any and all of those issues.

As many locals have discussed on social media and in informal meet ups on what once were quiet residential corners, unchecked tourism is a public health killer for our residents, an ecological nightmare for the most fragile coast in the U.S., and is escalating conflicts among neighbors. Yet it also allows us to celebrate one of the few black and indigenous urban capitals left in North America, and could be a lever to increase political power and the honoring of the talents and skills among our Creole, Black, indigenous, people of color and their offspring.

With the next mayoral election not too far off, I am already hearing musings from long-time activists pondering a run, and even if not running, preparing to demand that all candidates come up with a more equitable and just plan for the future around these issues. I plan to contribute to that here and elsewhere and look forward to highlighting writers and activists leading the way.

Its gonna be a wild year folks.

Best and Worst of 2020 French Quarter

I’ll do my best to refrain from making too many weary references to the past year. If I do, just kick me under the table and I’ll move on…

Walking around here during the holidays is usually a bustling, sparkly mood enhancement- lots of holiday lights, special events, and more local sightings than normal. Knowing most of you didn’t make it down here (and thank you for that), I’d like to bring you my “Best French Quarter moments.” And because it seems necessary, I am also going to list my “Worst French Quarter moments.” Here’s the thing: I am going to mix them all up. As I find more in my notes, I will add them.

Best/Worst of French Quarter 2020

Stanley’s adds seating outdoors and evolves its menu

Jewel of the South adds seating in parking lot next door and reopens

Many tourists ignore mask mandate

Manolito keeps making its signature drinks at window

Golden Lantern Bar follows the rules, does contact tracing and keeps its good cheap drinks and cheerful professional staff.

Mona Lisa has hilarious conversation with world via its daily window notes, also offers good Italian food

Mattassa’s continues its struggles, even with residents increased grocery needs and Rouses closing for long period in December

Valentino Hotels renovates

Le Richelieu Hotel renovates

Relaxed parking enforcement

Fewer cars in Quarter

Hard Rock* demolition is still not done by 1031 Canal Development

10 months later, neighbors’ remains (Anthony Magrette, Jose Ponce Arreola, Quinnyon Wimberly) are finally all removed from Hard Rock* collapsed building

Nelly Deli (Quarter Master) renovates

Cafe Envie on Decatur reopens in April with careful rules in place

FQ Rouses/A&P gets a whole new do inside with pretty floors and room to move about

My mom gets better after long spring/summer illness (not COVID) and comes home to her beloved Quarter

Blue bike racks become bigger eyesores

Copper downspout thefts increase again

FQ dogs are even more blissed-out with increased walks and long stretches of time with their people

Jackson Square artists’ carts and art are thrown into Mississippi River by malicious malcontent

Saint Ann construction is completed (?)

Soap hawkers on Royal continue to harangue passersby, rarely wear masks during COVID mandate.

Some bars ignore mask mandate

Mayor orders Willie’s Chicken Shack to close for duration after COVID restrictions are ignored

Clarinetist Tim Laughlin offers evening balcony concerts on Royal

Place d’Armes bell captain Chris Stall and valet staff maintain a cheerful and helpful vibe to neighbors and visitors throughout stay-at-home summer

Backatown Coffeehouse hangs in on Basin, keeps sweet potato pies and coffee flowing.

City Hall pays attention to the potential of the Quarter, asks for input

City Hall chooses the wrong place to suggest another pedestrian mall

Signmaker gets windfall with numerous “anti-mall” yard sign orders

#JazzFestingInPlace at WWOZ is a triumph

Neighbors sit outside nightly and talk quietly and safely on Chartres, on Barracks, on St. Philip, on Bourbon, on Saint Ann…

Reggie the cat remains at large; family still hopeful for return

Homer Plessy at the Little Red Schoolhouse announces renewal of its charter

After more than 100 years at that location, Tujague’s leaves its 823 Decatur home,

Tujague’s opens at 429 Decatur Street at end of the year

Chef Jerry Mixon moves on from Cafe Amelie

Vieux Carre Wine and Spirits keeps serving the liquor-needy.

Bike lane is added on N Peters/French Market to Elysian Fields

Pedestrian striping and traffic calming upgrades are added to area around Crescent Park bridge

Unhoused population get hotel rooms for short period in summer

Retail stores begin to disappear in summer. My last informal count: 15 establishments gone in last 6 months.

French Quarter Festivals does online Holiday Concert series, culminating in Christmas Even concert by Irma Thomas. Miss Irma’s “O Holy Night” rendition remains perfect

Heavy rain storms brought on by climate change are so severe across the city that even the French Quarter floods, a rarity (2 such came in October, November)

HNOC does #NolaMovieNight with clever social media commentaries during movies.

Neighbors on Saint Ann hold safely chalked early pandemic dance party with appropriate music

I decide to check off a bucket list item and move to the Pontalba apartments, hopefully increasing my work on Mercantile Jackson Square writing project

Frogs croaking from courtyard garden ponds and pools all through quiet summer months

City Hall baits the sewers to stem rat infestation

Mary’s Ace Hardware on Rampart reports bar owners, restauranteurs, and homeowners outnumber the usual contractors are coming in to their well-stocked, 2-story establishment.

Oversized and unmitigated “prayer event” is held on river in November, pointedly ignoring all mask and distancing protocols.

Protest for Black Lives Matter are peaceful, well-organized, and citizens follow mask and (mostly) distancing protocols asked for by its organizers.

NOPD attempts scare tactics by reporting phantom piles of bricks hidden near Black Lives Matter protest site, tells neighbors of phantom buses filled with counter-protestors, neither of which materialize or are proven with any photographic evidence.

  •  The Hard Rock Hotel is owned by 1031 Canal Development (Mohan Kailas).

Black Lives Matter in the Quarter

well. what. a day- so far. I can’t even tell you everything that has transpired as it would require too many words here, but suffice it to say, the French Quarter has temporarily joined the current reality – but only because it was forced to do so. But that is its main purpose- to gather and to connect; if it doesn’t do THAT, then why keep it at all? So I am glad it does do that well still. And can get better at it.

I have seen and heard many wringing their hands all week over the news that the Take Em Down Nola/ Black Lives Matter leaders have decided that tonight that Jackson Square will host the citizenry of their city and I guarantee that some have been ridiculously locked up in their homes and stores all day frantically reading FB for clues as to what is happening a few blocks from their front door. To their credit, others are calm and interested in what is happening at the rivers edge (I have spotted many, many FQ residents and business owners) and are out here listening. And the other 6000+ people or more here from across the city and across the region are less concerned about their windows and more about their lives and their neighbors’ lives. Today’s over-zealous locking of the park within Jackson Square to protect their favorite ol’ Andy statue is compounded by the news that, as of 5 pm, we see the police setting up very limiting barricades everywhere in the Square, telling everyone they cannot have bottles of water out for folks, or any other items on the street. And yes, we hear that the police have stated that they have moved piles of bricks that were stashed (so odd THEY spotted these “bricks” and there are no pictures of these dangerous stashes and are telling business owners that there are “people arriving from all over the country with buses lining Canal Street” which I’d like to see some evidence of before I commit to THAT conspiracy theory. Listen- the outside agitators label? I’ve been labeled that in my life and so I know how it gets thrown about  I don’t disagree AT ALL that it IS true at some level, but lets also not believe everything the authorities tells us that seems to play right into their hope that people will turn on each other out there and also give up. And the one thing our NOPD should know how to spot and handle -after years of Carnivals parade routes – is a big group of folks spoiling for a fight. They have closed many of the surrounding streets off to vehicular traffic and are on every corner. So they need to do the job, and do it without escalating fear needlessly with stories of piles of bricks and buses lining Canal Street or shooting tear gas into the peaceful crowd.)
But if you hope a march will be a lockstep show of polite disagreement, to just safely and carefully dance at the police state’s ball in order to feel better in 20 minutes and then go home meekly to rejoin the capitalist bread line, then you are actually gonna be disappointed. Yeah shit gets heated (for example, a thrown item just now, but the speaker chills everyone down- “we don’t need no m’fn police; stay calm. ….I’m going to ask you sir, please remove yourself from this black-centered place.. and white allies? walk with him til he makes his destination”) So folks are able to keep it calm it when they have the space and the agreements they need.

Protest is about exhibiting and working through active trauma inflicted on the body politic by authorities but it also allows for refined and situational organizing that is a beauty to behold when done well. And when done well, it offers new leadership, new power centers, and pushes policies into previously off-limits ground that makes the world we all live in a better place. Organizers like Take ‘Em Down NOLA and #BlackLivesMatter will lead us to that better place.

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crowd gathers around the perimeter of the Square as organizers stand on the river side of Decatur since the authorities padlocked the interior park.
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Nola Allies and Support offering free help to anyone.
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The artist left these in the Square for folks to take
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Rituals are valued in New Orleans
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Left on Royal Street after the protest
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https://www.nola.com/article_9098c236-a83f-11ea-af2b-13b8b65c663f.html

Old and New, Uptown and Down, Big and Small: Two Carnival loops

Update on Sunday: after posting this on Saturday morning, we heard last night that another fatality has happened on one of the mega float parades, this time during Endymion. This is a terrible situation for the victim’s family and also for the driver and the riders. It is clear that we need to do something more to protect everyone.
Update #3 and #4: Over the weekend, at least 2 riders fell from Uptown floats and 2 people fell from balconies overlooking St. Charles parade.) #dumpsterfireofaCarnivalseason

 

Now, back to the original post:

 

 

Two-Loop-Theory copy

Image of the Berkana Two Loops theory

 

 

First, Happy Carnival to all.  We are now in #deepcarnival which is the time between Muses Thursday to Fat Tuesday, where everything we do has something to do with preparing for guests, working on costumes, visiting with friends, or making plans for Tuesday.

I am most definitely a downtown Carnival person although I have spent many happy days over the last 40 years of my Carnival era on St. Charles and Magazine, catching float parades. I was also known to be regularly on MidCity parade routes with fond memories of Krewes of Mid-City, Carrollton among others  – although not in the more recent Chad-filled years (shudder).

So even though I will always be a downtown girl,  I do appreciate some of the parade energy that now transpires above and on Canal Street, and would love to see small parades come back to all neighborhoods – altho with limits to the number of riders and the height and length of floats. I even considered joining Muses in its first year and I continue to be impressed by their verve and design sense, including their prized, handmade throws made from recycled shoes, their inclusion of exciting dance troupes, and especially their parade in 2006 which was beautifully appropriate to the grief that we were all feeling. And like Muses and Zulu, some of the other krewes do try to do their part in supporting public needs. However, real community effort from others is often murky or their pro bono work pretty brand-new, especially considering their long history.

Notwithstanding what the float parades contribute in return for the use of our public space, one should still read this post as in favor of the downtown Carnival that emerged post-1972*, and in opposition to the mega float parades held Uptown of recent years.

(*That date, by the way, was chosen as it was the last year of the old-line float parades traveling through the French Quarter which is what led to the new.)

I’m linking to a wonderful piece by Charles Cannon written for The Lens about this being the golden age of carnival, which I wholeheartedly agree with. We both also agree that it is mostly a downtown golden age, especially in terms of addressing diversity, in its DIY attitude, in reducing the explosion of cheap, Chinese-made trinkets thrown that clog our waterways, and in powerfully satirizing the powerful and ridiculous which, by the way,  is often the same group.

From his piece:

Krewe du Vieux is quite conscious of itself not just as an insurrection, but also as a resurrection, an effort to recover from the anti-carnivalesque aspects of the 19th century Uptown Carnival model. Their mission statement expresses this ambition explicitly: “We believe in exposing the world to the true nature of Mardi Gras — and in exposing ourselves to the world.” Since Katrina, Krewe du Vieux has been joined by several other downtown parading clubs — ‘ti Rex, Chewbacchus, Red Beans — each of which follows the Krewe du Vieux model far more faithfully than the Uptown one, especially by keeping dues affordable.

But the ultimate expression of the carnivalesque instinct in our time is what happens downtown on Fat Tuesday itself. Here the line between spectator and performer is almost totally erased as thousands — whether costumed, masked or merely bystanders — converge in the streets in a utopian vision of mass civic participation. And on this day — if only for a day — we also witness New Orleans’ idealized sense of itself come down to earth to shape the city’s social reality.

 

(And as much as Charles is right in that KDV has a significant place in the origin story of post-72 Carnival, I’d say that the gay French Quarter Carnival community, the Society of Saint Ann, the revival of the Baby Dolls, the Skull and Bones Gangs, and the continued development of Mardi Gras Indian tribes are truly the founders of this golden age. And I know he’d readily agree with me.)

Let me now address the image I have at the top of this post and link it to Cannon’s theory. The two-loop framework (which I use with farmers markets and food system leaders quite often) is focused on how “change happens in human systems out of a spontaneous series of local actions, and how these actions facilitate the development of integrated networks of relationships in the pursuit of mutual interests and goals.”

Each loop has a growth side (i.e., germination, innovation, maturation, and rejuvenation) and a death side (i.e.stagnation, disintegration, and decomposition).  It is also important to remember that the “new” loop is not always seen as a positive development, especially by those who feel the need to “give hospice” to the old. In fact, the new is not even “seen” for a long while by many of those focused entirely on propping up the old.

Two-Loop-Theory copy

In terms of Carnival, the two-loop theory is clearly in play and can be seen roughly in line with the uptown/downtown traditions. Uptown Carnival, which centers almost entirely around float parades, and flags hanging from mansions denoting “royalty” grows larger, more unattainable, and ever more cumbersome. This year, they had to cancel an entire night of parades because of high winds. It is true that a walking parade might have also canceled due to discomfort or even danger from flying debris, but the fact that the authorities noted that the high profile of the tractor-pulled floats is what made them too dangerous to roll was telling. Additionally this year, a pedestrian has been killed on the Uptown route by a float.

Over the last few decades, in the name of safety and capacity, the police have asked almost all float parades to move to the St. Charles route, leaving only one mega-parade still in MidCity: the aforementioned Endymion which arguably should also move to that route as its size seems to be more than the police can handle downtown, based on recent tragedies before, during, and after its parade, and especially with the St. Charles route also in action on the same day. (On that note, it is my sense that for now, the Uptown route should be expanded and alternate streets used for alternate nights so that the crowds can move and stretch out more.)

Even as the massive parades grow larger and louder, my favorite downtown parade honors a New Orleans tradition of school-aged children making shoebox floats this time of year.  By going small, the ‘titRex krewe is a wonderful example of the new and the innovative while it also ensures its own sustainable future by having rules about its size and design.

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Caesar Meadows’s annual comix for tR; part of the beauty of this is each has to be handed directly to a person.

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2020 tiny treasures from ‘titRex, honoring two New Orleans musicians lost in 2019.

Moving past the danger from the size of the floats, the mega parades’ throws are most often made of cheap plastic or toxic plush and thrown from high above at groups of people, leading to a frenzy of grabbing and angry responses from those stepped on or pushed aside for these handfuls. Whole bags of toxicity are often thrown, or the plastic bags they are packed in tossed to the ground in the thousands without regard to the damage to the waterways and fragile infrastructure of our city. In contrast, downtown walking parades pride themselves on handmade throws (see above). Below is a picture of the 2020 version of the annual Fitzgerald Letterpress MG Day postcard that is shared with all passersby during his Fat Tuesday meandering.

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Finally, in terms of paradegoers, the takeover of public space for days or weeks by families and clans who believe they have the right to spray paint grass and to set up entire, cordoned-off cities is clearly in lockstep with the megafloat parade system. The brilliant writer Maurice Ruffin pointed out the two versions along the Uptown route this year in a series of tweets:

Those entitled encampments, and the bleachers available only for fees or through contact with “connected” people,  illustrate the one central issue with the old and why more and more people are moving to the new. The divide between those who feel exclusivity or overindulgence is the goal of Carnival (or of any public resource really) and those who think revelry (or insert “social contract” here instead) is at its best when it is critical of unchecked authority and human-scaled is at an all-time high, maybe the highest since the national crisis years of the 1850-1890s. Speaking of that era, many of those newer to the area are clearly as shocked to see the old version of Carnival still as prominent just as they were in finding the number and visibility of the pro-Confederacy statues and names that remained (and remain) in public spaces around the area.

Even younger generations of those families native to the area have made it clear that they have no interest in appearing at their family’s secured space Uptown or in participating in the roles allotted to them at birth. One example was Rebecca Snedeker’s documentary By Invitation Only which showed her own Uptown royalty clan’s tone-deaf response to the racism inherent in their traditions. Interestingly, Snedeker’s mother, who took her turn as a Carnival “queen”of a old-line krewe, has also just published a book and had an interview, sharing her admiration for the new and moving the curtain aside a little more on the long-simmering issues with those traditions. Those women are also part of the new loop.

So the evolution of Carnival, as seen through the tension of old and new, continues and will no doubt exist for generations side-by-side.  Let’s just hope that the new that is centered downtown continues to influence the old Uptown version, and leads to another golden age that spans the entire region.

 

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The Death of a D.C. Funeral Home

At its peak, from the 1950s through the 1980s, Hall Brothers performed as many as 140 funerals a year.

In 2018, it handled four.

“They moved out or died out,” the owner, Richard Ables, 77, whose uncles founded the funeral home in 1941, said of his lost clientele.


The view beyond Hall Brothers’ front stoop — a new condo tower to the right, another rising to the left, a former Wonder Bread factory turned into a WeWork space down the street — in no way resembles what Ables remembers from childhood. In those years, he spent afternoons and weekends hanging out at the funeral home, stowing himself in empty caskets during games of hide and seek with his cousins.

In later years, they befriended a worker at the Howard Theatre who sneaked them in a side entrance to see the likes of Smokey Robinson and the Temptations, Chuck Brown, James Brown and Aretha Franklin.

“If we saw a white person, we’d ask, ‘What are you doing here?’ ” Ables said of the neighborhood. “Now it’s the opposite.”

https://beta.washingtonpost.com/local/dc-politics/at-center-of-changing-dc-requiem-for-a-funeral-home-that-catered-to-blacks/2019/09/05/c03767ca-8614-11e9-a870-b9c411dc4312_story.html