Tuesday, December 27, 2005

The green parrots of Uptown New Orleans

I understand there is a book, or a movie, or both, called "The Green Parrots of Telegraph Hill." I am here to tell you, there are green parrots in Uptown New Orleans. At least there were, B.K. I had thought they were some urban legend until I saw them myself, perched on the telephone wires above my street. My neighbor on the corner put a bird feeder in the tree beside the street, and they were always down there, feeding and making a raucous noise.

Some people told me they were parakeets -- in fact, I think it was someone from the Audubon Institute (which operates the zoo, the aquarium, and the Louisiana Nature Center). But I never saw parakeets this big, or this noisy. Where they came from I don't know: escaped from the zoo? from someone's home? stowed away on a ship from Central America, hidden among the bananas? I don't know. I just know that they like to stay high; you never see them on the ground or a low fence. So they don't have a lot of natural enemies and they DO multiply.

That was B.K. And people comment how, when they came back into the city A.K., how quiet it was. There were no birds. Did they flee the city too? Did they get swept away by the winds? Did these huge parrots get slammed into buildings and killed?

I will say this: A.K., the first birds that came back were the pigeons. Actually, I think they never left. I remember a CNN reporter in the hours before the storm noting the pigeons around the downtown area and wondering why they hadn't left. Well, pigeons roost under eaves. They probably found their safe spots out of the wind and hunkered down and rode it out. When I returned to the city, I could hear their soft cooing. Urban pigeons are tough old birds, and if you've ever tried to get rid of them, you know what I mean.

But the green parrots were gone. I never did find any dead parrots by the sides of buildings, so my theory -- that they were hurled into buildings by the winds -- didn't hold up. Perhaps they did leave. But where did they go? The winds out of the north would have blown them into the marshes of south Louisiana. They wouldn't have gone to the north anyway, because they are tropical birds. I mourned the colorful Uptown legends and figured we had seen the last of them.

Guess what? They're b-a-a-a-c-k! I thought I had heard their distinctive raucous squawks (there is nothing pretty about the sound a green parrot makes), but this morning I saw them for real. The cats were looking out the back screen door and I could hear something pinging on the roof of the garage. I went out to look, and there they were, in the Chinese tallow tree, feasting on the berries and scattering leaves and berries (and other stuff) all over the garage and ground. They are big, way bigger than any parakeet I ever saw in a cage. They are green on top and kind of whitish gray underneath. And they squawk.

They are probably a little miffed that the bird feeder my neighbor put up was a casualty of Katrina. Actually, the whole tree was a casualty of Katrina: it is all piled up on the curb, waiting for the last three months for someone to haul it away. I put a little bird feeder in the Japanese plum tree, but so far, not even the sparrows have shown any interest. I think they are waiting for the Japanese plums, which will be ripe in the spring (yes, it is December, and in New Orleans the Japanese plum trees are blooming) and are always a big hit with the local avian community, not to mention anyone who might be passing on the street and spot them.

So the green parrots of Uptown New Orleans, evacuees from the storm, are back. Where are the rest of you Orleanians? Shivering in some city Up Nawth? Hey, it's going to be 70 degrees here today. Y'awl come home.

Pastor Kathy

Saturday, December 24, 2005

A moving experience

I hate moving. I suppose just about everybody hates moving, unless they happen to be in the moving business. But I have been offline for the last ten days because I have been up to my eyeballs in packing boxes.

This move was a little different from most because I was moving into a house that was already furnished. With storage units just about nonexistent in New Orleans right now (and IF you can find one, the per-square-foot rental is more than an apartment; about $12 a square foot at one place I called), I decided to do the time-honored practice of converting the garage into a storage unit. Nice idea, except after a heavy rain I discovered that water gets into the garage, especially in the ruts created by eighty odd years of parking cars in the one-car garage (the concrete has long been broken all over the place). So I managed to locate three wooden pallets to put stuff on, which helped. Did I mention the garage also has no doors? So I ended up nailing a 12 x 9 tarp (purchased on my last trip to Atlanta, because most of the tarps in New Orleans are already on roofs) across the opening to keep the rain out (secured at the bottom with bricks). This won't stop a thief, of course, but it beats the heck out of paying $240 a month for that amount of space in a storage unit.

So...stuff had to get moved out of my grandmother's house into the garage to make way for the new stuff coming in from the country house. And some of the stuff from the country house ended up in the garage (I am saving it for a friend who lost her stuff in the flood). And this week all the stuff of two houses and several people's lifetimes ended up crammed into one house. It's a little cramped right now. And you should have seen all the stuff that got thrown out before the move.

There was stuff that was my grandfather's, my grandmother's, my uncle's, my mother's, two second cousins', and mine. If I get to see my ancestors in the afterlife, I am going to catch hell from them for throwing out their stuff. One of my neighbors came by and picked a lot of old photos out of the trash pile. She was astonished that I was throwing them away. But they weren't identified and I didn't know who they were, and I have several hundred that didn't go on the trash pile. My neighbor said she would make collages out of them. I feel a little better.

The day after I moved out of the country house, we signed the papers for its sale. The new owners had been flooded out of their home in St. Bernard Parish and had been living in the Midwest since the storm. They had found the house on the Internet. Even as we signed the papers, they had yet to be inside the house. That's pretty scary. I apologized for all the dead bugs that showed up against the walls when we moved the furniture out -- I didn't have time to vacuum -- but hey, at least they were dead. (I did remove the partly eaten, very dried out dead lizard that my hunting cat managed to push under the stereo cabinet.)

I hope the new owners enjoy living in the country house. It was a place of refuge for me after the storm, and I hope it will be a place of refuge for them. I hope they let the grass grow in the back yard in the spring so they can see the wildflowers. I wish them all the best as they try to rebuild their lives. It won't be St. Bernard Parish, but I hope it will be home for them.

Back to Cattown, U.S.A.:
The cats were locked in their cat carriers in the dining room as the movers carried furniture and boxes around. When everyone had left and it was quiet again, I let them out. They recognized "their" furniture pretty quickly. Their sofa, their chair, their bed, their porch furniture! They forgave me for locking them up and settled in for their late afternoon naps.

And now it's Christmas Eve, and I'm off to a small town across the lake for a preaching gig. I will sub for another minister for Christmas Eve and Christmas morning services, so he and his wife can visit relatives out of town. Time to take a deep breath and get back to being Pastor Kathy again.

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

On leaving

I am packing up my country house outside the small town where I served a church for the last several years. We have a buyer and are scheduled to close next week. I no longer have a church, the horse has gone to Georgia, and there is really nothing left for me in the small town except this country house. I really enjoyed living here. But it is time to go.

Each day I drive up from the city and clean up and pack up. This week it has been sunny and the afternoons have been warm. I can still sit out on the back porch and look out over the grassy pasture and eat lunch. No wildflowers this time of year! The grass is neatly cut and, while still green, isn't growing. The vegetable garden that produced such a bounty of tomatoes and squash in the early summer is now overgrown with tall weeds, killed by a light frost a few weeks ago. A good round with the tiller, and the garden will be ready to go again. I hope the new owners will plant a garden here. I will really miss it.

In the evenings as I pack up to go, the stars are bright in a black sky. The moon is waxing and will be full in a few days. Venus is huge in the west these days. You can almost tell it is a planet and not a star. Mars is yellowish red, high in the east in the early evening. Orion's belt also rises in the east. I'm not sure about the other constellations. But I won't get to see this vivid display when I go back to the city. The houses are too close together, and yes, we do have streetlights again -- at least in my neighborhood, and I am NOT complaining about having them.

I will miss my quiet mornings sitting on the porch at daybreak with my coffee, surrounded by the cats. I will miss the sun streaming in the kitchen window and the Knockout rose I planted in the bed outside the window (recommended by my friend the Consulting Rosarian with the American Rose Society). I hauled it home from a nursery in Georgia a few springs ago, when I got sick on the road and spent a weekend holed up in a hotel room feeling too bad even to go outside. Not too many hotel rooms have their very own potted rose bush by the sliding glass door! My friend the consulting rosarian says to get another Knockout rose for my yard in New Orleans. Thanks, I think I will. P.S., the rose is blooming right now, in mid-December, in South Louisiana.

I hate moving. But I don't know anyone who admits to liking it. I will be glad when this is over.

Pastor Kathy

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Proud to call it home

Back in the 1990s, when the murder rate was about one a day and the economy was in the tank, there was a bumper sticker campaign to boost pride in New Orleans. I have no idea who started the campaign or where people got the bumper stickers, but they proclaimed in black and purple letters on a white background:

New Orleans:
Proud to call it home.

You still see the bumper stickers around. Over the years, some variations have cropped up. There's a French version:

La Nouvelle Orleans:
C'est chez moi.

A Spanish version, the words of which escape me.

A Yiddish version:

New Orleans:
Oy! Such a home!

And my personal favorite,

New Orleans:
Proud to crawl home.

(Note to Fatlanta readers: this has nothing to do with driving on I-285.)

This past week I saw a new one:

New Orleans:
Proud to swim home.

I am still proud to call it home, dammit, in spite of everything. I don't know if the city is going to make it or not, economically, at this point. I have too many friends who have decided not to come back, or who have come back and packed up and left. But I do think the city is worth saving, President Bush and Congress please note. We are Americans too, in case you have forgotten.

The lights are on in City Park for Celebration in the Oaks, a Christmas display of lights in the grand old live oaks that survived the storm. I haven't been there yet for the walking tour, but I plan to go. It's not as big as in years past, but the simple fact that a section of the park has been cleared of debris so the celebration can be held is a tribute to the can-do spirit that is present here in the city in these days. If only we could get the lights on in those darkened neighborhoods. It will happen...but it needs to happen very soon or we will lose too many people.

Mark your calendars. February 28 is Mardi Gras. It's going to be very special this year. Hope you can come. As for me, I wouldn't miss it for the world.

Pastor Kathy

Thursday, December 08, 2005


They used to call it Hotlanta. Maybe still do. I know that .38 Special had a song by that name some years back. After five days in metro Atlanta, during which I put about 400 miles on my car, I have another name for it: Fatlanta. When I first moved there in the 1970s, the metro area was five counties. Last time I checked, it was 15. Could be more by now, for all I know. I can tell people I moved my horse to "Atlanta," but actually he is two counties north of Atlanta, in a rural area at the edge of the mountains. And that "rural" area is crammed with new subdivisions, shopping centers, and traffic, traffic, traffic.

Georgia Highway 20 (not to be confused with Interstate 20) is a two-lane, rural highway that snakes its way along a curving and hilly path east to west across the north metro area, probably 25 miles or so north of I-285, the infamous Perimeter around the city. I discovered, as I tried to get to my horse's new home after dark on Friday night, that 18-wheelers are using Ga. 20 as a bypass to get from I-85 to I-75. When I left Fatlanta for south Louisiana in 2000, there was talk of building a new highway, to be called the "Outer Perimeter," about 20 miles outside of I-285. The last I heard, the feds were balking at providing funding because Fatlanta couldn't meet air quality standards because it had too many cars and too many roads already. The federal government was willing to fund bike trails, but not another interstate.

Bike trails! Well, that's nice. But you can't bike your way across a 15-county metro area as an alternate form of transportation to a car. Not even public transit works well with that kind of sprawl. So we have 18-wheelers creating their own outer perimeter on a two-lane state highway. I don't know what the current status is on the Proposed Outer Perimeter (although I am sure I could find out with a Google search), but I do know that as of right now, it's not built.

And then I talked with a friend who now lives in southern California, and he told me his commute to work was 60 miles one way. (He rides in a van pool.) Okay, maybe Fatlanta isn't quite that big -- yet. But there's a reason they stopped calling it New York of the South and started calling it L.A. of the South.

My friends hope I will move back to Fatlanta. Frankly, it makes sense. There are jobs there. The economy is doing well. You can buy all sorts of exotic things in the supermarkets. (I still can't get over the display in one store that dispenses, oh, half a dozen or more different flavors of Jelly Belly jelly beans. Coffee dispensers, yeah, we have them in New Orleans. And B.K., we had grain dispensers in Whole Foods, where you could buy bulgar wheat and golden flaxseed and all sorts of things in bulk. A.K., well, Whole Foods is taking orders over the phone for pickup, but the stores are still closed.)

But New Orleans is my home. And that's a powerful reason to stay.

More on that later.

Pastor Kathy

Sunday, December 04, 2005

A.K.: Cinder goes home

A.K., After Katrina. I have a horse named Cinder. He has been my best buddy for the last 19 years. Now age 29, he has survived two colic surgeries, four episodes of founder, and three hurricanes. Some things I can't protect him from, but I can get him out of hurricane country. Up until four years ago, Cinder had spent his whole life (as far as I know) in northern Georgia. And so, two days ago he left Louisiana to return home to Georgia, where he has a new home in an equine retirement community at the edge of the north Georgia mountains, with four other horses and a 50-year-old pony for companions. (No, I had no idea a pony could live that long either!) I'm not sure Cinder is ready for the old folks' home quite yet. As I prepared him for the seven-hour trailer ride, I tried to put shipping boots on his legs (padded wraps with Velcro fasteners to protect his legs while he was on the trailer). I got them on his front legs, but when I tried to do his back legs, he decided to object. He took off and ran up and down the pasture, and the wraps on his front legs started to slip down toward his feet. If he tripped on them, he could easily fall and break a leg -- or his neck. Finally I was able to persuade him with a carrot to stop. He blew clouds of frosty breath into the morning air -- that was the most running he had done in a LONG time -- and we came to a compromise. I took the shipping boots off, but he had to go on the trailer anyway. If he can still run like that at age 29, well, maybe I could even think about riding him again. I haven't riddden him in four years, not since before he moved to Georgia. Hmmm. Apologies for this long paragraph, dear blog readers, but sometimes the blog creator won't let me make new paragraphs, and this is one of those times.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

B.K. and A.K., part 2

A little over a year ago, I had a delightful week's vacation in my favorite vacation city, San Francisco. I rode the California Street cable car from my hotel down to the Embarcadero. I toured the new shops in the Ferry Building. I rode the "new" streetcar line down to Fisherman's
Wharf, chuckling all the time about those new-fangled ideas the people in San Francisco had come up with (I live a block and a half from the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line in New Orleans). I toured Fisherman's Wharf. I looked at all the wonderful posters of the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Aiplane and Janis Joplin concerts at the Hard Rock Cafe. I rode the ferry to Sausalito. I ruined my pledge to eat healthy when I hit the chocolate shop at Ghirardelli Square. I took a winery tour up to Napa and Sonoma. I shopped till I dropped at Union Square. I had a wonderful dinner with my friends Michael and Eydie Robertson. (It was through reading Michael's blog on blogpot.com that I started my own.)

And by the end of the week, I realized that what I really wanted to do was to be a tourist in my own home town. Every tourist attraction in San Francisco I compared to what we had available in New Orleans, and I was really pleased to see that New Orleans could hold its own in the world tourist market for classy attractions. And so when I left the small-town church this past summer to come back home to New Orleans, I made a vow that I would play tourist at home.

The first week in August, I went with some friends to an event called White Linen Night. On the first Saturday evening in August, an area of town where my family once owned warehouses is now known as the Arts District (or the Warehouse District). The old warehouses have been converted into trendy apartments (quickly going condo), art galleries, a children's museum (in a building my mother once owned), restaurants and shops. On White Linen Night, people dress up in white (linen if possible) and cruise the galleries.

My friends and I rode the streetcar from my house. We wandered around the galleries, toured a glass-blowing factory, ran into friends, and ended up having dinner at the Riverwalk Mall, where you can get redfish courtbouillon in the food court (not your typical mall food court) and a glass of wine and sit outside on the deck overlooking the Mississippi River at dusk and watch the lights come up.

We rode home after dark on the streetcar. It started to rain. The wind blew the cool rain in the open windows at the back of the car (until the conductor walked down and shut them, darn it). Steam rose from the pavements. It was the most romantic scene I had encountered outside of the movies in a long time.

And that was B.K., before Katrina. Three months A.K., the St. Charles Avenue streetcar line is still a jumble of downed poles and power lines. The streetcars, housed in the old car barn off Carrollton Avenue near the river, survived. But the new Canal Street cars, all 24 of them, were housed in an area that flooded and were ruined, to the tune of $1 million a car. Darn, I had planned B.K. to take a ride on them when the weather got cooler.

And I had also planned, B.K., when the weather got cooler, to visit the Aquarium of the Americas, where I had a membership. The aquarium lost all its animals, except for a sea turtle and a couple of others, when the generators supplying oxygen to the tanks ran out of fuel. The Audubon Zoo only lost a couple of animals. The zoo reopened last week, and I was there. The heroic folks stayed with the animals throughout the storm and in the days after. And the cleanup crew that got all the downed branches from the live oaks cleaned up did a remarkable job.

I also had planned, B.K., to take one of those Gray Line tours of the Garden District. I used to see the tour buses, and I would see people lined up outside Anne Rice's (former) house, and I thought this is something I would like to do, (again) when the weather got cooler.

Well, the weather is now cooler (thank God!), but it's now A.K. and everything is different. I have no idea when the St. Charles Avenue streetcars will be running again. And I don't know if they will replace the Canal Street cars. How sad, because the new line had been open less than a year, if I recall. But the Aquarium of the Americas will reopen one of these days, and I dare say the Gray Line tours will be back.

And I can't WAIT for Mardi Gras!

Brace yourself, San Francisco. New Orleans is coming back.

Pastor Kathy