Once again, the Tease

As Louisiana braces itself for Tropical Storm Bonnie, Jim Gabour reflects on the current mood in New Orleans.
Jim Gabour
29 July 2010

I am not sure why each tragedy walking into town these past months seems to come hand-in-hand with a celebration of some sort. Maybe a sentient ethereal balance is at work in the cosmos, knowing the long-suffering population of New Orleans might finally buckle if there wasn't some sort of good to balance out the bad. Maybe this is just the way we live. Whichever it is, we are in that situation yet again.

This weekend there are 15,000 people professionally partying in New Orleans as part of the five-day summer "Tales of the Cocktail" festival. Which continues, even as a tropical storm approaches. Most are visitors from all over the country in town for the lectures and demonstrations on everything remotely dealing with barrooms, thriving on the myriad tastings and food parings. And of course, there is the Serious Drinking.

Much entertainment is also being executed, including a famous stripper,
sponsored by Cointreau liqueur: Dita Von Teese. Ms Von Teese is scheduled to artistically remove her clothing in a special two-of-a-kind performance entitled "Be Cointreauversial", disassembling her couture piece by piece until finally spinning nude in a seven-foot-tall martini glass filled with her beverage of choice. Cointreau, of course. Neat. No olive. This is undoubtedly for the public good.

Though her appearance in New Orleans is being underwritten, Ms Von Teese has shown that she can be something of a philanthropist, having once performed at benefit for the New York Academy of Art wearing nothing but $5,000,000 worth of diamonds. Plus, the fact that she was married to Marilyn Manson for three years is bound to count as penance for any worldly wrongdoing. New Orleans was happy to welcome her as a distraction, especially in the face of the oncoming storm. She has, in fact, completed her admirably attended bookings and is at this moment high-tailing it for higher ground.

I, however, must remain in place. And deal with the ground-level effects of a combination of man-made and meteorological disasters. Basically, I get to test my century-old house's brand new louvered shutters this weekend. I had them made over the past month from scratch in durable red cedar, fabricated by an incredibly talented crew of young millworkers who live just one block away. I will probably start battening down the hatches later today, as the front of Tropical Storm Bonnie is due in tomorrow morn. With all the increased BP scare, I imagine I should have a flat shovel ready, in case tar balls are rolled with the wind into my own Marigny street via Lake Ponchartrain.

The morning news reports that local government officials on the east end of the lake have positioned large barges across the deepest of the passes, to try and keep the oil out. They have not been hugely successful at doing so these past weeks, but at least the structures look formidable. And the well is temporarily capped, so at least it is not new bad news, just a doubled recurrence of the old.

Appearance is once again much more important than substance in the face of a fear nurtured by media and government alike. Putting sand berms down offshore to keep the oil out of the wetlands was completely disowned by every scientist in the state as not only a non-solution, but also as more harmful to the environment than the initial oil threat. The scientists repeated this in every media outlet possible, even as the Louisiana Governor forced the Corps of Engineers to begin putting them in place.

His action should prove moot this weekend, as the shallow foreplay of the storm is already eroding the artificial islands into non-existence. They should be gone by Monday. But the oil? The oil is on its way. If Tropical Storm Bonnie hits just to the west of us as predicted, the wind and wave flow, the storm surge, will come from the southeast, bring the millions of gallons of petroleum right into our coast. Deeper than can be imagined.

This combination of menaces has all the politicians again fighting for network soundbites, standing in front of shallow shiny surf and proclaiming this their own private disaster du jour - a "must-watch" national news event, with them as the stars.

I have personal concerns closer to home. Actually at home. Of bigger import to me is this huge hackberry tree in my patio, which has been leaning more and more as it gets older and the roots rot. Hackberries are short-lived though tall swamp vegetation, and are generally considered trash trees that drop something in every season, leaves, berries, pollen. There were fifteen of them here when I bought the house, so I had no real choice about their presence, until thirteen were uprooted in Katrina and another fell over in Gustav. I have, however, been thinking about removing this final tree for the last five years. I didn't want to lose the yard's last real shade tree, but it is getting increasingly dangerous.

In any case I have finally been getting bids from arborists this last week to cut it down. It is a very expensive and dangerous process, and I wanted someone insured, bonded, and licensed. I had also promised to award the job by noon today, Friday. In retrospect, the timing seems all too coincidentally late, as the tree may come down of its own accord with Bonnie's high winds. Hopefully not crushing the backyard cottage, and my studio, in the process.

So the official storm season rears its ugly head and I must prepare, first getting into the garden shed to drag out the generator for its annual crank-over and tune-up. I need to see how much gas I have left, check the oil, remove dirt and dust. Then I need to check the kerosene hurricane lamps and their reserves. Maybe I will go buy a couple of gallons of back-up water, even though post-K I installed a built-in water filtration system in the kitchen for just such an occasion. The guarantee says it takes out 99.5% of all the bad stuff. It has made N.O. water palatable for these last five years, so I am depending on it. I just changed the filters a month ago, so it should be ready to deal with higher levels of pollutants, just in case. Though I doubt this storm is strong enough to cause worry about water supply.

Then I'll go get some flashlight batteries. And maybe a small supply of bourbon, in case of minor injuries to body or soul. And a bag of crisps.

Never can tell. Hate taking any storm too lightly.

I say that as I watch CNN: our brave Republican Governor "Bobby" Jindal is out there again today, milking any fear he can find for his personal PR scrapbook, talking the good fight and then moving on. He is running for national office at the expense of his more local constituents. A man I once believed had at least the possibility of a modicum of integrity has proven himself as concerned about real people as was W, flying over Katrina in Air Force One. Only this politician does it on the ground, via limo, with his shirt sleeves rolled up.

I would have felt safer, and vastly more content, if Miz Von Teese had remained in town, her sleeves undoubtedly much more artfully rolled up. And her significance on the site much more impressive.

The last tree-cutter just came by, and ended up offering the best bid and
earliest start-date. He will bring a crew over this coming Monday. But
that will be after Bonnie passes through town. I must call him back to
negotiate a cheaper price in the eventuality the tree is already horizontal
when he comes to remove it.

So, after the generator testing, and the supply shopping, and the shutter
closing, I intend to clean up and attend a Tales of the Cocktail sampling of twenty-five-year-old bourbons this evening. After all, the weekend's
unwanted windy guest will probably demand much more serious attention through the next two days, and one must keep disaster in perspective.

You may consider this my soundbite.

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