Sunday, March 22, 2009

Azaleas, cats and Clay

It has been a glorious weekend here. Weather is in the 70s, sunny-and the widely unknown news for folks outside of the city-humidity is not an issue over late fall, winter and early spring. Our spring may not be one of surprise like snow-covered areas, but it is lovely nonetheless. Here, bougainvillea, azaleas, citrus trees, maple trees, magnolia trees are starting to bloom and pink, yellow, purple and orange seems to be everywhere.
I think the Quarter architecture also blooms in spring; it seems to know it's on show and that the Carnival season that keeps it going all night is done, so it can relax a bit.
With this season, I watch more tourists than other seasons stop in mid street or walk as in a trance toward something when they glimpse a door or a balcony or a slate roof that they find beautiful and unique.
I also have been stopping to admire unique things, and also have been thinking about some of those that I hear about:

The two elementary schools that exist here. One is a public school and one a Catholic. My friend Casey has shared his part of St. Louis Cathedral school where, from his next door apartment, he hears the Mother Superior ring her old school bell at the front gate. That bell calls the children inside and she probably hopes it calls to Casey to tsk about his late nights...
The public school is a good charter red schoolhouse, and has a very lively welcome every morning. Teachers stand on the street welcoming parents and children as they arrive. Sometimes kids run into the coffee house across the street for a hot chocolate or sometimes coffee before they come. Coffee is an all ages thing here...

The skill of locking a bike to something correctly, so you can come back to find both wheels still on. When I was a teenager, the well-organized Quarter bike thieves carefully chipped away at the concrete holding the poles down and then put the poles back in the hole as if they were solid. Once you locked a bike to one, they would simply lift the pole and take the bike. Now, they just take wheels like everywhere else.

Finding my friend Roger's old house on Saint Ann. One day, I realized I was looking at his old house and wondering how he would like the colors the new owners had chosen. Well, he might have winced a bit....

Discussing a new vegetarian restaurant with my neighbor. "Yes they deliver", answering the question after every Quarter restaurant discussion. Delivery is wide spread, from stores to restaurants to bars (at least ones I used to I know about)...

Realizing more and more how many empty or unused apartments are in the Pontalba. These are the country's oldest apartment buildings, designed and built by Baroness Pontalba and now owned by the State Museum on one side and the state on the other. Can I tell you that many nights I have looked up on both sides and seen a single light shining? one apartment. Even during Mardi Gras. Those apartments should be given to an appropriate mix of incomes and professions to maintain their activity, not allowed to be used by city officials on fireworks night or not at all.

Interestingly, the Square that they guard is so full of life and regular activity that is seems like it is in another country entirely. As I live half a block from it, I pass it many times a day and almost never find it empty. I mean I might have seen one or two times that no one was there.
Churchgoers, workers, tarot readers, painters, homeless, tourists, hawkers (like the guy dressed in sports mascot regalia being photographed for a commercial and handing out flyers), folk passing from lower to upper Chartres and the reverse, street cleaners, pigeons, dogs and, of course, the magical cats of the inner square.
As many regulars know, after hours the park around Andy Jackson is locked, and as soon as that happens and dusk falls, dozens of cats creep out and climb through the gates to mingle in their own version of the kegger. You see groups of cats wherever you look in there. They look back without fear or interest really, knowing you cannot invade their place. Spooky and lovely at the same time.

And the last thing that strikes me this week is: how few people know about Clay Shaw anymore. I know his story from aforementioned Roger and the debatable Oliver Stone version in the movie JFK; what matters is this plaque that remains from his friends in one of the loveliest buildings in my current neighborhood:

Whatever else this Quarter is, it certainly holds a lot of admirable stories.

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