Stephanie was deeply impressed with our local coffee. In fact, she was so impressed that she took a picture of her cup. If anyone else did this, I would have needed Depends, but with Stephanie, it made perfect sense.
We lingered over our coffee for a few minutes and moved on to our next stop:
The Quarter Stitch. Here is Stephanie standing on a centuries-old banquette (sidewalk) approaching the shop. She hovered for a moment in front of the adjacent tavern, but decided her schedule was regretably too tight for a nice cold Dixie beer.
Stephanie took pictures, made lots of appropriate noises regarding the yarn, the ancient building itself, the Koigu corner, and the shop's famous Yarntinis:
Amazingly, she restrained herself, having both a new stove to pay for and luggage to haul. So, as any good, loyal and true friend would do, I had a little falling down in the Koigu department, just so she could have a photo-op for the store's world-famous packaging of all purchases ....
Stephanie's keen insight into yarnly matters enabled me mightily. She pointed out to the shop staff that some of the hand-dyed yarns out there are true investments. Koigu, for example. Each and every batch of it is one of a kind, produced by one human being who has no apprentice, and when she is gone, there will be no more.
Ergo, I reasoned, Koigu is no longer a mere self-indulgent splurge.
I am buying yarn futures.
After a proper and dignified moment of silence upon learning of the recent demise of the Quarter Stitch's elderly shop dog, and then some further admiration of the shop's garment samples, and a hearty round of goodbye hugs and photos, I whipped out my official Dukes of Hazzard Southern School of Driving certificate, and we were off for the car tour. I need to point out that by the time we'd had lunch, coffee, one yarn stop, and a much-too-quick walk through the French Quarter, we had used of half of the time Stephanie had available before she had to report for duty at Borders at 7:00.
And this is where it gets difficult.
I did not want Stephanie's visit to be All About Katrina, in exactly the same way that you do not want a visit to your favorite, hospitalized aunt to be All About Cancer. Yes, the cancer must be discussed, and faced bravely and compassionately, but you also want to talk about what's going on at home, what the family is up to, and things of that nature.
So I'd wanted to show Steph the pleasantries first. A far-too-brief walk through the heart of the French Quarter, some good food and coffee, a quick peek at the Mississippi River -- "Wow that thing is wide!!!" -- and then a stroll around Jackson Square and the St. Louis Cathedral, past the antique shops and art galleries of Royal Street, a quick and mandatory two-block jog past the strip clubs and cheezy T-Shirts joints of Bourbon Street, a promise to wine and dine her at Galatoire's if she ever returns, and then I tugged her into a public parking garage to retrieve my car.
Consider: two women, one car, two and a half hours, one very complicated city.
Here, in a speeding Volkswagen, I gained a major insight into the essence of who Stephanie is.
Stephanie wanted to know it all: why can't people come home? Have whole families been living in those tiny little drafty white trailers for two whole years? What do the spray paint markings on the houses mean? Exactly how did the water come into the city? How does the city's water pumping system work? Which way is the river, the lake and the sea, and how did their effects combine? How are the schools and hospitals coming back if half the people haven't come home?
She homed right in on all of the major Catch-22's of Katrina. At one point she pointed to a vacant corner grocery and said: "Dez, the neighborhood stores can't re-open without the people who live there to support them, and people can't move home without the infrastructure of neighborhood groceries, shops and pharmacies." She instinctively understood that without the people who can't move home, the restaurants and hotels won't have cooked food, fresh sheets, clean dishes, or tended bars ... so the restaurants and hotels have no choice but to hire the second wave of immigrant workers who followed the construction crews. So even if displaced New Orleanians could find a way home and find the means to repair their homes, they won't have a job to return to. She realized that all the real work was being done not by the government, but by real people, by New Orleanians and by volunteers from all over the world, one nail and board at a time. And she voiced the irony that America is spending billions of dollars to blow up another country, instead of fixing two of its own states blown away by two storms.
Stephanie is the very first visitor I have not had to explain this all to.
It occurs to me that most decision-makers in Washington who deign to visit our suffering region spend perhaps the same amount of time in New Orleans as Stephanie did, and perhaps a few hours on the Gulf Coast, and maybe, just maybe, a drive-by or flyover of the almost-forgotten southwestern part of our state, which was so utterly devastated by Hurricane Rita.
I often imagine Members of Congress trying to appear concerned as they peer out of their airplane windows down into the wreckage of Southwest Louisiana, on their way to a barbeque at W's place in Texas.
If any of these public officials had one-tenth of Stephanie's capacity to absorb, process and comprehend the complexity of New Orleans' dilemma in the same day trip ... and maybe if they possessed one one-hundredth of her compassion ... maybe, just maybe, we would have some real progress around here. The fact that a Canadian knitter, author and doula can drive through this tangled mess of hope and sorrow and cut right to the heart of our problems both gives me hope that real, living, breathing, ordinary people in the rest of the world still can empathize with Gulf Coast residents ... and simultaneously deepens my despair in the knowledge that these very attributes of observation, absorption, comprehension, and compassion are completely lacking in 99.3% of our elected officials.
Even In the hardest-hit parts of New Orleans -- the Ninth Ward, Gentilly, Pontchartrain Boulevard -- the streets have been basically "tidied up." Even in the saddest, most abandoned, most tragic parts of the city, the fallen trees have been hauled away, and many collapsed homes have been hauled off. Boats and dead animals have mostly been removed from trees and rooftops. The debris has been bulldozed off the streets, and the mountains of ruined human possessions and house guts which once lined every street have mostly been hauled away. Half a million ruined refrigerators have been removed from the curbsides. Most of the remaining mess is now more-or-less contained in junk heaps on private property and in the thousands of boxcar-sized dumpsters parked on every street.
But Stephanie was able to look at each and every gaping house, imagine a family living inside it, and mentally reconstruct the disaster. As we drove through the Ninth Ward she was aware that the roof on that now-roofless house over there must have landed somewhere else, and that the streets were recently impassable. She was able to clearly imagine people drowning in their attics and clinging to their rooftops.
Stephanie spoke so eloquently of our tour on her own blog that I won't post pictures of devastation. Instead, I will tell you more about Stephanie.
She stopped several times on our walk through the French Quarter to ogle the now-recovered ferns, vines and flowering foliage dripping from the wrought iron balconies. I was informed on several occasions that various large and lasciviously blossoming plants were considered a houseplant in Toronto, and a wee one at that, carefully nursed through winters in a sunny window, and deployed outdoors for the brief summer to soak up some rays. I explained that the bouganvilleas die back every winter and explode again every spring. Yes, they grow that much every year.
She was gobsmacked by our native live oak trees, which pleased me to no end, because even thought I am a lifelong resident of the South, those trees never cease to humble me with their grace, strength, beauty and survivability.
Stephanie asked why so many of the live oaks were still standing after Katrina, so I explained to her how they have evolved to shed their smaller branches when the wind kicks up around gale force, leaving the important structural branches for the wind to pass through, so the the entire tree doesn't act like a sail, for the wind to catch and throw it to the ground. Bald cypress trees have evolved the same mechanism. Small branches are not firmly attached to these trees, and thus our oaks and cypress can drop their smaller branches in the teeth of a hurricane in the same manner in which a gecko drops its tail as a snack for a predator, so that the rest of the gecko can survive.
Because they evolved down here, in the land of wind and rain, live oaks don't grow straight and tall like most other oaks. Instead, they spread their arms wide for balance, and crouch relatively low to the ground to stay out of the wind. Their branches also grow in a slightly corkscrewed manner. "You're a spinner," I said. What happens when you twist the fibers in a bit of roving?"
"They get stronger," she answered.
"Same principle," I replied. "The twist also gives the trees some elasticity, just like spun wool, so the large branches can usually withstand some brutal thrashing around."
She lit up. A tree that behaves like wool. Oh, to this we can relate!
Onward, to a tour of St. Charles Avenue, and a quick zip past some grand homes in the Garden District, and even grander ones further down St. Charles. Steph is quite talented at taking pictures from a moving car. With me driving, she needs a short shutter speed.
We got to Borders at exactly 6:54
Stephanie, I totally swear that I timed it that way on purpose, really. Honest. So you would not have time for the jitters. I am not making this up. I knew that if we cut through Lakeview and avoided the Interstate, you could see as much of New Orleans as possible -- the good, the bad, and the ugly -- and that I could still Daisy-Duke you into the Borders parking lot on time, so you could talk to the knitters...
... and so the knitters could see you. I counted about 45 people.
There were knitters ready with hats at hand for Covenant House for the winter months, and yarn shop owners (dear Garden Disrict Needlework and Bette Borneside, Steph promises a second visit to Our Fair City), and a knitter with a baby, and knitters with works in progress ....
... and of course there were many knitters who wanted their books signed ....
Stephanie, I wish we had had more time, even a few more hours. I would have showed you the venerable McDonough Oak in City park. I would have taken you to the Audubon Zoo and the Aquarium of the Americas to show you how they are recovering from Katrina. I would have driven you out of the city to see what a real swamp looks and feels like. We would have sat on the seawall at Lake Pontchartrain with Dixie Beer and yarn, and we would have knitted socks. I would have taken you to hear some real jazz at a proper jazz club, and to Tipitina's to hear some funky music and have a few Abita beers. We would have had another po-boy at Domilese's or Guy's in the neighborhood where I grew up.I also would have taken you down into the parts of Katrinaland which have fallen off the national radar even more so than New Orleans has: to St. Bernard, to the devastated community of Violet, and deep into Plaquemines Parish. I would have taken you to the Mississippi Gulf Coast to see how truly devastated Biloxi is and how just plain gone Waveland is. Gone, as in, not there any more.
The charming Vanessa gave Stephanie a ride back to her hotel, and along the way they passed a bottle tree. Y'all, happening across a bottle tree was much more than Kismet or serendipity. It was a gift. If you haven't already read Stepanie's account of the bottle tree, go to her blog right now.
This was so much more than merely a delightful chance to have lunch and a cuppa with a knitting author I admire. Thank you for coming here, Stephanie. Thank you for your amazing ability to see New Orleans both with an appreciation for the good, growing, living, persistent parts and with such genuine compassion for the parts still broken and bleeding, and to recognize the unsinkable spirit of our people.
And thank you again for honoring the knitters of New Orleans with a visit, with the gift of your time and humor. Your visit was a tremendous morale boost. Some of the knitters who came to your book signing are still living in tiny little FEMA trailers. Some of us fared better than others with the storm, but we are all working together to rebuild. We really are trying to put our region back together, one stich at a time.
I got to hold The Sock.
Labels: yarn harlot