Rock you like a Hurricane

My ideas, photos, rantings, and experiences living in Chicago as a Katrina refugee and what life is like in post-Katrina New Orleans - I'm photographer Marc Pagani....

Saturday, June 10, 2006

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Monday, May 01, 2006

Jazzfest. It brings smiles to the faces of those of us who have been. Yes, every city has its music festivals. Chicago’s Blues Festival or Detroit’s Montreux Jazz Festival are focused on one kind of music. Jazzfest is wonderful because you can walk for 10 minutes and hear a funky brass band playing a traditional second line beat or some intense jazz with Herbie Hancock or one of the Marsalis Brothers or you can hear someone like Bruce Springsteen or Dave Matthews or Juvenile or Ludacris or Macy Gray or Lionel Ritchie, or Fats Domino, and then move on to see traditional Mardi Gras Indians parading past.
As you watch, suddenly you too find yourself in the parade – dancing, clapping, chanting. Jazzfest brings a smile because people like people here in New Orleans. Inevitably you’ll stand next to someone for whom, 30 minutes later, you are buying a beer and talking with like you’ve been friends for life. People approach you and ask you at which food booth you purchased that gumbo or alligator sauce or catfish po-boy because it looks better than the one they just had and New Orleanians have bottomless stomachs. You sit down in front of a 50 person Gospel Choir in the Gospel Tent and suddenly you’re clapping alongside a 70 year old black woman who has her arms outstretched and you’re flowing with the crowd – moving to the backbeat that the drummer is laying down as 50 black faces, young and old, from places like the now infamous Lower 9th Ward, are singing at the top of their lungs and hearts about how they have been saved by Jesus. I’m personally not a church-goer, but if I grew up with that kind of joy and inspiration every Sunday, I probably would be. The Greater Antioch Full Gospel Choir was there in force…many had relocated to Houston, but were back in town to sing out. Didn’t matter if you were white, black, latino, or from New Orleans, Germany, Japan….whatever – at that moment we were all part of a huge Baptist church under a tent, feeling every bit of what the people on stage felt.

This year’s Jazzfest, for obvious reasons, was special. Held in a very hard hit part of New Orleans, there are still piles of debris from hurricane Katrina’s wrath in front of most of the houses that surround the fairgrounds where the fest is held. People needed healing. As a Music Therapist for 8 years in Chicago, I saw first hand and made a living believing in and being a practitioner of the healing power of music.

The Soul Rebels Brass Band, with whom I’ve become friends and have photographed many times, had an especially powerful performance. Doing a call and response with the audience, we all chanted “no place like home” over and over. Along with the band, the audience used their hands to signal 5-0-4, the New Orleans phone area code. A strong sense of pride for having survived a disaster permeated the air.

And then there’s the Boss. Now, in the past, I’ve never been a huge Bruce Springsteen fan. I don’t know his music as well as I probably should. But Bruce has been standing for things that I believe in for a long time. He played Jazzfest on Sunday, April 30, with the Seeger Sessions Band – there must have been 20 people on stage including a full brass band with tuba, a steel guitar, 2 fiddles, a banjo and backup singers. This was their first live gig. Springsteen’s intent was obviously to help us heal. He changed the words of "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live” (dedicating it to "President Bystander") to include
“There’s bodies fioatin’ on Canal and the levees gone to Hell” and
“Them who’s got got out of town
And them who ain’t got left to drown” and “I got family scattered from Texas all the way to Baltimore
And I ain’t got no home in this world no more”

He sang a song called “My City of Ruins”. The crowd was near silent and as I looked around, I saw the emotions that this music was drawing from people. Most around me had tears streaming down their faces. I found it hard to shoot photos because my eyes were welling up as well.

As he sang:

And the rain is falling down
The church door's thrown open
I can hear the organ's song
But the congregation's gone
My city of ruins
My city of ruins

The boarded up windows,
The empty streets
While my brother's down on his knees
My city of ruins
My city of ruins

people moved slowly in pace with the music. He sang of rebuilding “with these hands” and as he did, spontaneously, thousands of people raised their hands – this sea of hands seemed endless.

He ended his show with a second line parade off of the stage that included ALL of the band members except the drummer, leaving only the backbeat and the tuba player. As an encor, he sang a hymn-like version of “When the Saints Go Marching In” and again, the tears flowed. A moving experience and perfect way to watch the sun set over New Orleans.

Come on, rise up! Come on, rise up!

Monday, October 03, 2005

Going back home for the 1st time in 37 days – 5:44 am - I wake after sleeping for 90 minutes due to Dr. Jeff’s party…the cab is scheduled for 5:45 so I don’t get my last real shower before going to NO…the cab driver is very nice and concerned about my comfort – the music that’s playing is the Cure, then a song by a smooth voiced man singing the chorus over and over “still looking for the summer”...“just looking for the summer” – if this were a movie he unknowingly picked the perfect soundtrack. It was so sad to leave JC’s- my home for 5 weeks.

Sitting here at the Dallas airport with all of the other NO folks going home, I've never seen so many people looking so tired and anxious. No one speaks – everyone’s in their own little world of thought - probably most people’s 1st time home. There are 2 guys from an Oklahoma Disaster relief agency…one guy has a baseball cap with his agency’s insignia and a bunch of pins relating to various disasters he’s helped out on – he’s old and he’s got lots of pins. I scan the crowd to see if ther’s anyone I recognize. I assume most people have homes to go to because the only people who are allegedly allowed back in now are people from the dry areas.

The car started right up – I was so happy to see that it had not been physically damaged either. After going to 3 gas stations and eventually getting some gas on the way to NO, I began to see the damage – signs everywhere blown down – office windows in high rises blown out… then there were the police positioned at exits on the highway – exits to flooded areas were still off limits. I was so anxious to see my place. As I got off at the St. Charles St. exit, I was very pleased to see that the ancient oak trees that line St. Charles still stood – a bit more bare, but still there. I turned onto the street running parallel to mine and noticed that the home that was being rehabbed was now rubble – completely caved in on itself. As I parked in front of my home, I noticed the blue tarps on the roof and the caved-in overhang above the upstairs balcony – I figured it has survived since 1860, so a big branch of a tree mashing its roof a bit wasn’t the end of the world for this house. I walked in and stepped on broken glass from one of the side windows - a piece of roof tile lay on the floor staring at me with guilt as the culprit of the break.
My bikes were there – the sofa I just got 1 week before the hurricane hit was there. A large piece of the ceiling in the second living room was on the floor – wet drywall (an oxymoron) covered a good section of the floor, but was a relatively easy cleanup. 3 prints from Imja Tse in Nepal were waterlogged, but they were inkjet prints and easily replaceable. The beautiful painting that I commissioned JC to create for me was in perfect shape (luckily as he hadn’t taken a picture of it before I received it so if it was lost, there was no record of it) Upstairs, a window in the studio had broken and in the guest bedroom, half of the ceiling was covered in mold as a result of the water that was invited in by the tree crashing through the overhang and roof. My (cheap, self manufactured) bookshelf had fallen apart and all of its contents were strewn across the floor – I assume this was from the house shaking. A few prints from Nepal and Argentina that had made it through the fire were now creased and folded…seems they were determined to to die in some sort of disaster…every 10 seconds there is a loud beep from the alarm system – presumably the backup battery is dead. I have no idea how to fix that, so I just try not to let it drive me insane. I heard heavy machinery outside my door and saw big yellow backhoes lifting random tree debris into dumpsters right outisde my houseThe huge tree that provided such amazing shade in my backyard chose to fall inthe only direction that it could in order to avoid hitting a house. Of the 4 directions it essentially could have fallen, it took direction #3, which placed it lovingly across 3 separate backyards, crushing the fences between all of them, but not even scraping any of the house that stood all around it
I drove to Mimi’s neighborhood to check on her house. On the way, I noticed things looking more and more warzone-like.
All of the cars that were floating around on Orleans Street had been placed on the neutral ground (median or grassy divider) and they all had water marks near the roof of the car.

I began seeing obvious waterline marks on all of the buildings. This area was flooded, but not nearly as badly as the 9th Ward. The watermarks were about 4 feet above the ground on the houses. The American Can Company, home of my favorite wine shop, Cork and Bottle, had plenty of flooding, as well. Random boats and furniture looked so out of place on major thoroughfares.
On Monday, I toured the area more extensively, driving down historic St. Charles Ave. to Audubon Park. The majority of the stately mansions on St. Charles had only minor damage (yes, those with money and insurance have little damage while those with very little lose everything). Drving donw Magazine Street, things were in some serious disarray.
I had dinner again at the only restaurant in my neighborhood. A group of older, interesting looking gentlemen sat at the table next to me. One had a full beard, great glasses and a suit and bowtie, looking ever the Southern Gentleman. As a group of National Guardsmen entered the restaurant and stood at the doorway, one of the men at the table next to me said “Oh, the Military has arrived”, and the man with the bowtie said “Of course they have….a big hurricane hit 5 weeks ago….” There was uproarious laughter. I smiled to myself.
I nervously drove to the French Quarter at 7 pm, an hour after the curfew began. Curfew. Not a word that is of any significance to the multitude of relief workers getting some relief of their own at the bars and clubs of the French Quarter. Although about 50 times less populated than it would be on any other Monday night, the Quarter was hopping. Live music, live booze, live eating. The bars were mostly populated with male disaster relief workers.
I drove back towards my house and was escorted by two huge HUMVEES full of National Guard troops. They drove exactly my speed, didn’t pull me over to ask where I was going and flanked me on either side. Very surreal.
I went back to the restaurant where I had dinner and met many folks who like me had just returned and had stories to tell. It was interesting that instead of soap in the bathroom, there was a huge bottle of the water-free hand sanitizer - drinking or even washing your hands in this water is a no-no. I met the owner of the Kingpin, a bar that I had been to the weekend before Katrina hit for Elvis Appreciation Night – A Clockwork Elvis was playing that night and there were tons of “E” impersonators. He is opening the bar on Wednesday and told me of the nearby butcher who decided to put all of his rotting meat out on the grass lot nearby the bar instead of in a dumpster. The smell is so bad that the owner of the Kingpin ordered 500 pounds of lyme and is having a ceremony tomorrow, which I will be shooting, in which he will cover all of the rotting pigs, turkeys, and chickens with lyme while several protesters march and the folks who have mustered up a class action lawsuit cheer nearby while sipping Mint Juleps. Should be fun. I’m not making this shit up. Only in New Orleans. On the way home I was (finally) stopped by the Guard. 3 HUMVEES blocking the road. A boy who could not have been more than 18 flagged me down. I told him I was at the restaurant down the street and was going home. He smiled and said "Drive safely, sir". My street was eerily quiet and deserted...

Friday, September 23, 2005

WEll, it was a huge success (see previous posts for more info about the Katrina Benefit). It was crowded. I met so many new and interesting people - artists, playwrights, photographers, fashion designers...JC has quite the connections with the art and entertainment worlds here in Chicago. It looked like one of those "beautiful people" parties that i try to avoid elsewhere, but everyone was genuinely nice and were all so generous. I lot of great artwork was auctioned off and if the benefit wasn't for me, I would have SOOO gotten some pieces myself. Brad Peterson sounded great as he sang tunes from his new "RED" album. I had a blast shooting tons of portraits for people, and being able to get some amazing wines, great beers, and liquor for $2 each was obviously helping to socially lube the crowd. After most people left around 1:30am, we stuck around and Tom, the owner of Webster's Wine Bar, pulled out a guitar and he and I and Brad ended up harmonizing on the Police's "Message in A Bottle". Brad then did another mini-set and unveiled a fantastic new song called Honeybee. We stuck around until 4am drinking, laughing, and shooting pictures of each other. With the auctions and the cash collected at the door, JC, Webster's, the artists, and company raised almost $4000 for me. HUGE THANKS TO TOM AND WEBSTER'S WINE BAR , ALL OF THE ARTISTS, BRAD PETERSON, AND ESPECIALLY MY HOST, JC STEINBRUNNER!!! Thanks to all those of you who came out to show me some love. The money will go towards making up for some of my 8 photo shoots in New Orleans that were either cancelled or rescheduled for next year, so it's much neede and very appreciated. Some of it will also be donated to help victims of Hurricane Rita.