New Orleans Portraits

People and the Neighborhood–East New Orleans

While we were in way out in East New Orleans, we stopped at the New Year’s Tet Festival at Mary Queen of Vietnam Catholic Church. Meet Mary.

East New Orleans is a large, low-lying neighborhood far from the center of the city. Devastated by Hurricane Katrina, it has come back in patches. There are brick bungalows, some lonely on a block, others clustered together in new subdivisions with names like Sherwood Forest. On some blocks partly rebuilt houses and abandoned houses still stand. There are blocks of empty fields that used to be lined with houses. Running through the neighborhood is Chef Menteur Highway (translated as Chief Liar), sparsely populated with businesses. 

I wanted to visit East New Orleans because I had just finished The Yellow House by Sarah Broom. I had never noticed the neighborhood before I read the book, even though I’ve visited and explored New Orleans many times. Like East New York way out in Brooklyn, in East New Orleans, there are no tourist attractions, parks, museums or exciting business strips. It’s just a place to live for people of modest means and often a long commute to work. 

The Yellow House is a biography of a home bought by the author’s mother, who raised 12 children there. The house and family’s tenuous existence show us a history of people prevailing as best they can in a neighborhood built by strivers but abandoned by the early developers and the city. It’s a portrait of inequality and discrimination. It’s a story of people whose lives have been shattered and remade over and over despite institutional neglect and abuse.

It’s an unromanticized view of New Orleans, a corrective to our gushy illusions. We drove by the address where the author’s house once stood, and it was filled with junked cars. 

Yet, here in February 2020 was the first Carnival parade ever in East New Orleans, the all-new all-women Nefertiti parade passing in front of a new East New Orleans Public Library and many families cheering and stretching their arms out to catch beads and toys. Here is the popular Tet Fest in the Vietnamese neighborhood, tables filled with people and good food. These festivals were by and for residents. We were clearly outsiders at both events, though we were cordially accepted. Here we saw the flaws and resilience of New Orleans. 

How can you not have some gushy illusions when you see the most dressed-up Stop sign ever. This jasmine is in our Riverside neighborhood.

New Orleans Week

Latter Library, New Orleans
This old mansion is our neighborhood library. I got a library card right away.

New Orleans January

As I sat in Audobon Park admiring a live oak tree by a charming bridge, a group gathered–a woman wearing a chiffon skirt and carrying a white bouquet in a Mason jar, a handsome, nervous-looking man in a slim suit, a few friends.. A very informal wedding. They were from Florida, they told me when they came over to ask if I had taken any pictures they could have. As I Air Dropped a few photos, they told me they picked the spot because it was pretty and free. The groom was in the military, about to be deployed.

New Orleans home

We moved into our sweet little shotgun cottage not far from the Mississippi and Audobon Park and Magazine St.

Here’s the front of our little house.

Right away we visited the Tree of Life–the live oak planted in 1740 and now covered in Spanish moss and resurrection ferns. We found it bike riding around last year in Audobon Park.

See Steve under there?

We’ve had an oyster po’ boy, a cup of gumbo, a root beer snowball from Sno-LA.

Tybee Island

I’m going backwards–before we headed west to Alabama, we stopped outside of Savannah, Georgia, at Tybee Island. It looked like an appealing off-season spot to get an inexpensive room with an ocean view to watch a couple of rainy days go by. 

It was. Under cloudy skies, we watched the MLK parade.

Tybee has an endearing and proud shabbiness, though there are many neat little cottages and modestly sized hotels and apartments.

We had a full moon while we were there, and the clouds parted long enough for us to see it and have our moon kiss. (Sorry, it’s the sappy thing we do.)

I ate crab legs at the Stingray with lessons from the waitress who really put some body English into the instructions. It was inspirational, and I cleaned the hell out of the shells. Crack, wiggle, pick.

They are replenishing their beach with dredging. Opinions on beach dredging?

The gulls liked it, flocking all around the fountain of sandy water being dredged from the distant sea.

Montgomery

Each of the steel monuments represents a county where there were lynchings. This is the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, the lynching memorial, in Montgomery, Alabama, opened in 2018. There are 800 steel posts etched with the names of the victims, 4,400 people in all. In this section, the monuments hang from the ceiling, heavy, forbidding, heartbreaking, beautiful.

Here is one of the life-size sculptures by Dana King of three women, a tribute to those who sustained the momentous Montgomery bus boycott.

We stopped in Montgomery specifically to see the memorial. We found a small, Southern city with a fabulous civil rights history proudly on display but also chilling–for instance, a historical marker for the place where slaves were warehoused, literally, between slave auctions.

Here’s a link to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice website.

Yes, it is worth a trip to Montgomery. Bonus for a visit: fried catfish with cheese grits at Central Restaurant downtown. Steve’s bonus: the local AA baseball team is called the Biscuits, and he got a hat.

Southern Meander

The long way to New Orleans from New York. First night, Chincoteague Island in Virginia, just over five hours from New York.

Wild ponies roam the National Wildlife Refuge. I met this one with four others on a dawn walk. There were geese, ducks, gulls, a lighthouse and no people.

Refuge Inn, great place to stay, right by causeway to the island. Bill’s Prime on Main Street, great place to eat.

Dad Comic

I drew a comic memoir called “A Death in Chicago” about my father’s final year. It’s a personal story but also shows a time of momentous change in the way we think about death. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, who started that change with her book, On Death and Dying, appears in the story, as she did in our lives.

This fall, “The Intima,” an online journal of narrative medicine, published the comic.

Here is the link to the memoir: “A Death in Chicago”

More about “A Death in Chicago”

“The Intima” also published a lovely essay by Jonathan Garfinkel about “A Death in Chicago.”

He wrote, “Pat Arnow’s touching account of the death of her father illustrates the power of graphic memoir, showcasing both her talent as illustrator and writer. There is something simple and intimate in the story she tells, as Arnow lets us into the private moment between father and daughter, father and family, and we witness his journey toward death from cancer. The effect is incredibly moving.”

Here’s the link to Jonathan Garfinkel’s review: On Compassionate Storytelling in Graphic Memoir: Pat Arnow’s “A Death in Chicago, 1972: Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and My Family” By Jonathan Garfinkel

And here’s a link to Jonathan Garfinkel’s own excellent piece in “The Intima,” “Diabetes Diary.”

Other Dads

The blog from “The Intima” included an essay I wrote about another “Intima” story by Karen Dukess. It’s about her father’s dying and how different attitudes are now–and how some things never change in the process of death and dying.

“Karen Dukess writes…as if those choices were an everyday thing,” I said. “Well they are—now.”

“In this lovely memoir of a beloved father, it is striking to me how things have changed from when my dad faced terminal cancer in the early 1970s. Then the rule was maximum intervention no matter what the prognosis. No one would quibble with doctors. People died in hospitals.”

Here is the link to my essay: “Dads, Daughters, Death

The Intima and the importance of Storytelling in Medicine

“The Intima” is devoted to the use of storytelling to bring compassion and better communications between caregivers and patients. People involved in the field include those who provide health care, who need it, and families and friends. It’s a growing field–you can get a master’s degree in narrative medicine! You can also study my favorite subspecialty, Graphic Medicine–or comics that have to do with health and illness. The field feels especially suited to my comics, because I tend to draw and write about death.

Here’s a link to this interesting journal: The Intima

Presidents on My Mind

In Georgia with Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Jimmy Carter

A couple of wonderful presidents were on our route as we traveled through Georgia dodging the frozen north in January.

We stopped at Jimmy Carter’s tiny hometown, Plains, Georgia, with its museum, home place, and current home.

Jimmy Carter's birthplace, a modest farmhouse in Plains, Georgia
Jimmy Carter’s birthplace, a modest farmhouse.
At the school turned museum about Jimmy Carter, there's an unattended replica of Jimmy Carter's Oval Office.
At the school turned museum for Jimmy Carter, there’s an unattended replica of President Carter’s Oval Office. It felt good to sit there, especially with the curtains matching my scarf.
Billy Carter's gas station along the main street in the tiny town of Plains, Georgia
Billy Carter’s gas station along the main street in Plains. Billy was Jimmy Carter’s rogue brother.

Near the state park we visited Warm Springs where Franklin Delano Roosevelt had a modest home built. When he became president, it was called the Little White House and is now a state historic site. We stood by the chair where the president suffered a stroke and by his single bed in his small bedroom where he died a few hours later, April 11, 1945.

This is the chair where FDR was sitting, posing for a portrait, when he collapsed. He never regained consciousness and died a few hours later.
This is where FDR was sitting, posing for a portrait, when he collapsed. He never regained consciousness and died a few hours later.
At the Little White House in Warm Springs, Georgia, FDR died in 1945. Artist Elizabeth Shoumatoff was painting his portrait when he collapsed. The unfinished watercolor is exhibited in the home, which is open to the public.
Artist Elizabeth Shoumatoff was painting FDR’s portrait when he collapsed. The unfinished watercolor is exhibited in the home.

We spent four days at FD Roosevelt State Park in a cabin built by the CCC–the Civilian Conservation Corps–in the 1930s. It was a National Recovery Act program invented by Roosevelt after he was elected during the nation’s worst economic depression. The program employed an army of out-of-work young men to build wonderful stone structures on public lands throughout our nation. Many of the buildings, picnic shelters, stone-lined paths, and roads are still striking features across the country today.

We have seen the CCC’s handiwork from the Blue Ridge Parkway to Saguaro National Park to Watoga State Park in West Virginia. The program was a model of public works projects.

In front of the visitor's center at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt State Park in Georgia is a tribute to the thousands of men who found jobs in the National Recovery Act program. In this public works project, they built stone structures in parks all over the country including this visitor's center.
In front of the visitor’s center at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt State Park in Georgia is a tribute to the thousands of men who found jobs in the CCC. In this public works project, they built stone structures in parks all over the country including this visitor’s center.
We stayed in one of the beautiful stone cabins built by the CCC along a ridgeline in the hills of Western Georgia.
In our CCC cabin at FD Roosevelt ParkI admired the stonework of the fireplace--and built a roaring fire every night. Catnip for a city kitty.
In our CCC cabin at FDR Park, I admired the stonework of the fireplace–and built a roaring fire every night. Catnip for a city kiddie.

Cliffs, Rocks, Tides, Friend, Dog

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

My friend and camping companion Jennie captured my happiness on the loveliest hike on our trip to Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. In Battery Provincial Park on Cape Breton Island, the trail was a grassy path through wildflowers that grew above our heads with the dark elegant fir trees and the blue sea beyond. I hiked barefoot!

The photo below with the cliffside highway and rocky beach cove captures the essence to me of the Cabot Trail that skirts Cape Breton Island.

Cabot Trail, Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada.On the Bay of Fundy with the highest tides in the world, we stayed at Five Islands Provincial Park in Nova Scotia and Fundy National Park in New Brunswick. In both places we spent hours climbing around rocks and admiring the fast approaching and receding waters, how quickly the landscape changed, how we could walk out onto mudflats that had been covered with water that would have been over our heads a little while ago.  Here are photos of the low and high tides at Five Islands:

Low Tide on the Bay of FundyHigh Tide on the Bay of Fundy

Here are my fellow explorers, Jennie and Lilac. At the picnic table, Jennie is breaking down one of the lobsters we ate along the Cabot Trail. We were at the Hideaway campground at the top of Cape Breton Island.

 

I took many more photos and posted them as an album on flickr. Click on the link below to take a look:

Flickr Nova Scotia and New Brunswick