Tuesday, August 29, 2006
















In Memory of Those Who Died One Year Ago ...

This is a photo of the remnants of a streetside shrine erected one year and one day ago, in the city of New Orleans.


One of over 100,000 people trapped in the flooded City of New Orleans, a woman named Vera died on the corner of Jackson Avenue and Magazine Street in the narrow un-flooded strip of the city.

I don't know why or how Vera died. Maybe she had a heart attack, succumbed to heatstroke or didn't have her insulin. What I do know is that other people nearby, trapped in the same desperate situation, found a shower curtain, some paint, and some bricks. They covered her body where it lay, and made a makeshift grave. Somebody knew her first name, so they painted it on a brick and on the plastic sheet marked, "Here Lies Vera," which covered her body. No doubt you saw the original photo in Time magazine or some other news publication.

While some people elsewhere in the city engaged in mayhem, some others found it within themselves to perform this most basic act of human dignity with the few resources they had at hand. I don't know who these people were.

I do know that, one year later, people still leave offerings to the unknown Vera.


This woman was one of the tens of thousands who had made their way to the dry part of town after losing everything. She was also one of the thousands who died: on the streets, trapped in attics, in dark and desperate hospitals, and in the rising floodwaters.

Vera's shrine has become a folk icon for all of Katrina's victims.

Hibuscus bushes have been planted near where she lay. Flower-filled urns and vases have appeared on the grass nearby. People still leave Mardi Gras beads, candles, flowers, and other mementos often seen at roadside death memorials.

Vera's body has been removed, but the makeshift headstone remains untouched, and I do think the entire neighborhood would mutiny if anyone ever tried to remove this sad but incredibly sincere little pile of bricks.

Vera died about one block away from
Garden District Needlework. Something about this fact disturbs me quite deeply.

She likely died for want of basic medical response, in the middle of the street, in a neighborhood that only a day or so before was throbbing with people buying coffee at four dollars a cup, "retro" disco dresses at fifty dollars each, and colorful yarn at ten bucks a skein.

Yet there was no piece of merchandise inside those boarded-up shops and restaurants which could have saved Vera's life.
A woman died on a tiny spot of sidewalk, across from a little shopping-block in a major city in the United States of America, as the city crashed from the top of the First World to the bottom of the Third World in the space of forty-eight hours.

I will not attempt to be funny today.


One year ago, Hurricane Katrina made landfall, killing over 2,000 people and countless animals ... flooding 150 square miles in New Orleans alone ... destroying close to 20,000 square miles of coastal Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida ... scraping entire towns off the face of the Earth in coastal Mississippi ... and leaving half a million people homeless.

I will not write about knitting today, either. Instead, I will sit for a good long while, and knit something simple, and meditate on the profound events of that day, the critical days afterward, and the past year.

I will also light a candle, and think about Vera, and the other lives lost which she represents.

Wherever you are, please take a few moments out of your day to do the same.


--Mambocat


Midnight update: Today, in the Katrina anniversary news, I learned that "Vera" was Elvira Smith, age 66, who was known as "Vera," and who died after being run over by a hit and run driver in the mayhem following the flooding.

Rest In Peace, Elvira Smith. You deserve it.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Anybody Have a House In Nebraska They Want to Sell?

Mambocat apologizes if she is mostly absent for the next few days. Tropical Storm Ernesto is threatening to strengthen into a hurricane, and if it crosses into the Gulf of Mexico ... well ... the Gulf is so hot right now that it's the meteorological equivalent of bat guano as hurricane fertilizer.

So Mambocat has been alerted to her animal-rescue-planning duties by the emergency management folks here in Louisiana.

Keep your fingers crossed for everyone in the Gulf region. New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast in particular can't take being kicked while they're down.

Hopefully Ernesto will fizzle out, and I'll be back pronto, but the computer models do not look encouraging.

Off to meetings.

Knit on, through all crises ....

--Mambocat

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Someone Has Sent Me Cookies.

Delightful cookies. Organic cookies from California, no less. Big, huge, oversized, delicious vegan cookies in flavors like Banana Nut and Cinnamon and Chocolate Chip and Oatmeal Walnut and ... well ... yum.

You would think that receiving a beautifully packaged collection of oversized and delicious cookies in the mail would not be un problema.

However, there is one major problema. These delicious cookies (and both Dave and I agree that they are, indeed, delicious) came with no note, no card, no hint whatsoever to indicate who sent them.

So who is my cookie patron? They were addressed to me, not Dave, so that is a hint.

I have polled family (dead end) and non-Internet friends (also a dead end). Family and non-virtual friends have not sent me the cookies. That is a fact.

So it must be, has to be, someone out there in knitter-land. To whom I am equally grateful and puzzled for such an act of generosity.

I would like to thiank you, but you gave me absolutely No Clue as to your name,

So, please 'fess up. They are truly wonderful and I am truly happy to have received them. But you are deeply upsetting my Southern sense of equilibrium and manners if proper thanks cannot be given.

If you don't want the whole world to know (or at least that nano-portion of the world who reads this blog), please email me privately at dezcrawford@hotmail.com.

I am just thunderboggled. Thanks. But do write.

Yum,

--Mambocat

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Have You Seen My Brother?

This isn't a picture of my brother, it's a picture of me.

But my brother looks almost exactly like me, only there's more of him. He's a whole sock.

See, our Mom always has twins, but she's got this really wacky way of cranking us out. She almost never makes two socks from someone else's pattern. Instead, she makes one of us up out of her head, and keeps him in a little nylon zipper bag, and all she comes up with in the way of DNA are little notes on a yellow sticky pad (which also lives in the zipper bag). So when she goes to make a twin, she basically uses the original one of us as the pattern for the other, with a lot of counting and cussing, and just a few little incomprehensible DNA codes like: "c/o 72 st -- 22rows/2X2 rib -- 7" shaker rib -- divide heel -- 40 rows heel st. -- ctr .33 heel -- gusset dec. > 66 st. -- st. st. 5.5 inch -- beg. dcr. -- c/o 10 st. toe."

This works OK most of the time, if gestation on the other twin starts right away. Problem is, sometimes Mom doesn't get busy on the other twin for awhile, but as long as she keeps us and the sticky note with the DNA code together, she can still make another one of us, and we'll look pretty much alike.

But nooooooo, this time, Mom decided not to keep my completed brother in the nice little purple nylon zipper-womb we have been sharing. Instead, she put him away somewhere in our house (you should see our house) so he wouldn't get lost -- (please stop laughing) -- and then she started me from the abovementioned DNA coding, thinking that would actually work, when there's as many holes in that theory as a wheel of Swiss cheese -- and now she's not exactly sure how to finish me because she doesn't remember whether or not she continued the ribbing onto the foot-part of my brother, or changed to plain stockinette instead.

So please, if you see my brother, please give him a ride home so we can have a happy reunion. His name is Timmy. He's a ribbed crew sock for a size 9 woman's foot and his cuff is about 7 inches tall. He's a nice green-and-white marl color, and he's a cotton-wool blend. He was last seen in a tote bag in the guest room. Mom started him last August and finished him just a few stitches at a time in the crazy weeks after Hurricane Katrina, then she put us both aside for a long time.

You can tell Timmy from other people's handknit socks because Mom hates Kitchener Stitch, so the toes are cast off in the three-needle style on the inside. Mom thinks nobody notices this and it is so embarrassing, you just don't know, it's like having to wear saddle oxfords to school.

I really, really miss my brother and I need him so Mom can finish me, so if anybody can help, please call 1-800-THE-SOCK to report his whereabouts.

And if nobody finds him soon, can somebody come take me away from this crazy lady and give me a good home? I don't eat much and I promise not to make any noise.

Thanks,

--Tommy Sock

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The Dog Days of Knitting

According to the weather-meister on the local news, it was 104 degrees Fahrenheit in Baton Rouge today, so this is as much knitting as I have achieved over the weekend:

This is a "Ganomey Hat" from Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitter's Almanac. It is one of my all-time favorite hats and it is done in one skein of Noro Kureyon -- a second skein of the same color as the Chapeau in my previous post.

When blocked, it does not look lumpy, like in the photo. It comes down over the ears and has a fetching little peaked top that looks exactly like an elf hat. I actually plan to full it a bit, as it is destined for the kid's clothing program on the Pine Ridge Reservation. Nice, thick, warm wool. How I yearn for the weather for it.

I have been awful, lately, about publishing photos of sloppy, lumpy, un-blocked items. It's rather like blogging photos of a newborn right out of the womb, before she's even been washed up and wrapped in a blankie.

Hideous habit.

So I will blame it on the heat, and promise a group photo of all these items in their proper blocked state at a later time.

It is so hot I can barely knit. It's way too hot to block anything right now -- blocking requires patience, a state of mind not associated with heat -- and even if I did block it, it would take forever to dry out.

If you belong to a gym, go stand in the sauna for a little while. That's how hot it is here.

Which is not just "hot." That is stupid freakin' hot. Sick and twisted hot.

The kind of steam heat, under pressure, that is used to peel old paint off houses.

This is the kind of heat that preachers threaten people with when they are talking about Hell. The kind of heat that brings hurricanes to a boil.

Do you ever wonder why we call this time of year, "the dog days of summer?" I bet this topic is covered somewhere in the vast works of the late, great curator of words, John Chiardi. I sure would like to know.

Based on extensive personal observation of many thousands of dogs at this time of year, in various indoor and outdoor situations, as well as those kenneled in the animal shelters where I have worked, what dogs do during the dog days of summer is exactly this:

Not very much.

They press themselves against the relative coolness of dirt and concrete, hang out their tongues, and just lay there waiting for relief. Sometimes they dig a shallow hole just to wallow in it.

That's what I feel like doing right now. Even though I am sitting in an air-conditioned house, it's so hot you can actually feel the AC engaged in a battle of mythic proportions with the blazing sun out there.

At the moment, every mammal in this house (other than myself) is stretched out to full length, and is sound asleep, except for Dave, who is awake, but stretched out and not moving anything except the finger that controls the remote on the TV.

Mark Twain once said, "there is no more accurate gauge of temperature than the length of a sleeping cat."

According to our household deities, it's broiling.

So, what to knit? This time of year, I can sometimes only stare at yarn.

Et tu?

It's a good time to read new knitting books. A good time to play with sketchpads and colored pencils and come up with design ideas. A good time to sort through stash and plan things. And a good time to knit socks, hats and other small things that absolutely do not come into contact with your lap.

I'm not the only one who hits a knitting slump right about now every year, so I turn to you: the few ... the proud ... the loyal ... my much-appreciated readers. What do the rest of you do to keep motivated until the first hint of a cool breeze comes through?

I await your answers. Meanwhile, I am going to flip through "Mason-Dixon Knitting" and enjoy this lovely book. And, contrary to some rumours I have seen on the Internet, it is NOT exclusively a book of dishcloth patterns, okay? There's a whole lot of other stuff in it. Besides, everybody needs a dishcloth.

Gawd, just because a book includes a bit of Southern-ness, some people just want to think it necessarily must include knitted gun racks, deer stand cozies, and sweaters with professional wrestling motifs.

I'm gonna go read now. Right after I make some grits.

Best regards,

--Mambocat


Thursday, August 10, 2006

The name's Bondo. Jane Bondo.

Ongoing adventures in New Orleans home repair: Those of you who know me well already are aware of my tendency to use things for purposes other than intended by the manufacturers. One of these days OSHA will catch up with me, but until then, I have added another misapplication of materials to the list. I have learned that both bathroom tile and 92-year-old plaster can be repaired with Bondo, and nobody is the wiser after the appropriate sort of paint is applied.

Who knew? Anyway, I am quite pleased with the results. An amateur Bondo job on the wall under latex paint passes the galloping horse test a helluva lot better than an amateur Bondo job on the left front fender. There's a lot of Bondo going up on walls and in bathrooms all over New Orleans right now, because real plaster is hard to find and harder to work with, and ancient tiles are hard to match at Home Depot. However, you can neatly smooth out Bondo over the missing or broken tile(s), draw in grout lines with a toothpick, and match the color with wee bottles of epoxy or enamel paint from the art store.

Robert Redford once adamantly refused to have a facelift at the behest of his publicity agent. He maintained that the lines in his face held the experiences of his life, and that he would be untrue to himself if he erased the character from his face.

I understand that, and it works for houses, too. Old plaster does not look perfect, but it does have character, and it's an essential part of the soul of an old house. I'm one of those oddballs who does not want to replace the old paster and lathe with sheetrock. I love the history and the solid feel and the authentic feel of old plaster. It also insulates better than sheetrock, and feels cool in the summer. If you can possibly salvage your plaster, you should. Anything else is house mutilation.

However, I am not above cheating a bit on repairs. Bondo lets me repair the plaster without a big, honking, amateur plaster-mess at the end of the day, and without resorting to the indignity of using drywall. So if you're the sort of person to be ultra- persnickety about historical authenticity ... well ... you should have skipped the last few paragraphs and gone directly on to the knitting part of the blog.

Mom spent her first night in a fully-repaired bedroom last night, almost a full year after Katrina hit. And she's one of the lucky ones: her house was in the narrow unflooded zone of the city. This repair work is for tree damage, which also required rewiring and plaster work. We still have some work to do. I really hope the whole shebang is finished before the end of the month. But for now, Mom has freshly painted hyacinth-colored bedroom walls, with bright white enamel trim and new cream-colored carpet.

Side note: Before I move on to knitting-related blog content, I have a technical question. If you have ever done house painting, or oil paint in art class ... you know how paint gets down there in the little crease between your fingernail and the skin on the side of the nail (not the cuticle)? I know at least a few of you readers must actually get your nails done. So 'fess up --what's that crease called? For now I will call it a "nail servitude." Anyway, even though I have scrubbed my hands raw with paint thinner, I can still count six colors of paint in that location, on various fingers. Not having a name for this body part is annoying me more than I care to admit.

Knitting-related content: a week's worth of teaching at a humane seminar, painting and dealing with contractors leaves me with me exactly thirty-eight functioning neurons (I counted). Rounding up dinner is going to use at least eleven of those ... and I need five more to feed the cats and scoop the litter boxes, which leaves me with 22 ... and I need another seven to do laundry with, so that's ... fifteen neurons left for knitting. You will understand if the complexity of my work-in-progress is a bit ... ah ... mindless.

"Mindless" is a good word. It sounds a lot better than, "remedial knitting."

What I am working on is a pair of "Stupid Slippers" for the Holiday Season Stash. The pattern for "Stupid Slippers" is stupendously easy: "Get two skeins of bulky yarn and a set of US size 10 sock needles. Cast on 36 stitches. Do K1, P1 ribbing for four inches, a little more if you like. Knit one row in stocking stitch. Divide fore and aft and make an 18-stitch heel flap, continuing in stocking stitch. Turn the heel, make a gusset, decrease symmetrically on each side until you have 36 stitches again. Continue in stocking stitch until it's long enough, then make a toe. Weave in loose ends. Make another slipper."

Actually, there is just a wee bit more to it than that. Not much more, but too much to type tonight. The pattern will show up at a later date.

--Mambocat

Saturday, August 05, 2006


Un billet et un chapeau:



I got a ticket yesterday. Not a ticket to a movie or an off-Broadway show, or a ticket to see Paul McCartney, or to see Tom Petty touring for his new album (I mean CD) which is not leaving my car stereo for a long time.

I got a traffic ticket for the first time in 20 years.

Amazingly, a New Orleans cop decided that in the middle of an underpopulated city chock-full of abandoned houses now serving as meth labs and crack dens, it was critical for the safety of the community to enforce one of the city's arbitrary "No Right Turn" signs**, especially if no one was coming in the other direction and if the perpetrator was driving a diesel Volkswagen Golf full of dirty laundry, pink house paint, cat food, groceries, diet soda, yarn, and pointy sticks.

Even more amazing, he was mean. We're talking loud, patronizing, strident, sarcastic, Catholic-gym-teacher, down-and-dirty, Marine-drill-sargeant mean.

This cop stomped right up to my window and barked like Cujo into my left ear: "I need to see your license and registration right now! Did you know you made an illegal turn back there?!?!"

Well, actually ... yes. But.

Technically, the light has to be red for it to be illegal to make a right turn on a red light, and for the light to be red it has to be on, and, because of Hurricane Katrina, that particular traffic signal hasn't been on for soooooooooo long that area residents have become quite accustomed to Australian rules for traffic in this particular part of town. So even though the light has been restored recently (very recently, I might add), myself and other folks are still in the habit of doing what we have done for the past ten months or so -- approach the intersection, look left, look right, look up, look left again, and turn if no one is coming. Which is exactly what I did.

And besides -- while it may have been downright dangerous to make an illegal right turn at that particular corner before Katrina, well ... let's just say that nowadays you could conduct a sizeable Tai Chi class in the middle of that intersection without any major liability concerns.

I am not contesting the legality of my turn. I did turn when it was safe to do so, but, after months of feral driving in a devastated city, it is hard to break a survival habit overnight, and that sort of turn has again become illegal because the light is now working, and, in fact, I do so turn thusly.

I just don't understand why he was so mean about it. Speed was not an issue (trust me, considering the condition of the streets). And he only had to chase me about 62 feet to the Burger King driveway. Maybe he had once been shot at by an irate driver, or maybe it was not his own personal idea to be on traffic duty yesterday.

Or, perhaps it was his first day out of police academy, and all he got for his first big bust was a middle-aged knitter with bad knees driving a compact diesel. That can be embarrassing back at the precinct house.

Maybe he has no one at home who loves him enough to knit him socks. Or maybe they were simply out of Krispy Kremes at the 7-11 where he was lying in wait behind the Dumpster.

It is also possible that the Dumpster juice was extra-stinky yesterday. Exceedingly fragrant Dumpsters have been known to happen in New Orleans. I can understand a person being grumpy about having to sit next to one all day.

Tant pis. One ticket in 20 years. I don't think my State Farm agent will drop me over this, but it is momentous enough to merit a photo, being fetchingly displayed by a super-basic stocking cap done in exactly one skein of Noro Kureyon on size 7 needles.

Chapeau Pattern: using a set of five sock needles, cast on 8 stitches over four needles. Using the make-one increase, increase one stitch at eight evenly-spaced points every other round, until you have enough stitches to go around your head, based on the number of stitches per inch you got in your gauge swatch. Change to 16" circular needle of same size and knit round and round in stockinette until you have a golf-ball sized amount of yarn remaining. Change to 16" circular one size smaller, knit until two yards remain, bind off, weave in loose end at bottom. Return to top of hat, thread cast-on tail through 8 cast-on stitches, draw snug, weave in loose end. You can do this during a movie on TV. Voila, un chapeau. If you are more clever than I am, you will wash and block your hat before you put its picture on the Internet, and you might even put it on an actual head instead of a gallon glass jar with noodles in it.

Best,

--Mambocat

**I find it remarkable that there are ANY illegal right turns in a city which is almost entirely devoid of LEGAL left turns. Exactly where are you supposed to drive, eh?

Inmates in the Asylum since July 27, 2006: