Growing up With Hurricanes

Barataria Preserve

 

“Are you planning on writing anything about Katrina?” My friend Missy posed the question to me during one of our quasi-regular coffee dates two weeks ago. The 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina is coming up on August 29, and my social media timelines are saturated with links to articles from both local and national news outlets.

I have mixed emotions about “K10”. I acknowledge the importance of commemorating the struggle, the lives lost, the frustrations felt (no matter if you stayed in town or high tailed it out of here), but I find rehashing the experience on a yearly basis exhausting.

I’ve shared snippets of my Katrina story with everyone from friends to total strangers, but I’m not ready to write my entire experience down yet. Instead, I’ll share an excerpt from Allons, a longer essay I wrote this summer. The piece is about growing up in a house that was situated on the cusp of the swamp in an otherwise nondescript WestBank subdivision. This particular part of the essay explores what it was like going through adolescence with the constant threat of hurricanes. If you enjoy it, or even if you hate it, please leave your thoughts in the comments. Thanks for reading.

 

 

I was eight weeks old when I took my first pirogue ride. The levee was just a glorified dirt mound then, and a storm brought enough rain to flood our house, requiring my parents to bundle me up and float us out. The levee was still inadequate when my brother was born two years later. Whenever Nash Roberts would announce a hurricane was coming, neighbors would join together to fortify the levee with hundreds of sandbags, most likely purchased with their own money. The Army Corps of Engineers finally built the levee up and installed a pumping station that would suck the water out of the streets. However, the levees could only do so much. Whenever Nash predicted a really big hurricane was projected to make landfall, we got the hell out of town. If Nash said it was bad, then it must be bad. Everyone trusted Nash.

My sister was born seven years after my inaugural boat ride and by then me and my brother were evacuation pros. We could each take three toys with us, but no more. Mom would bring photo albums and important documents, such as our birth certificates, to my maternal grandparent’s house, since their house never flooded. Dad would board up the windows with sheets of plywood, which protected the glass panes and blocked light from coming in. We put all of our furniture up on wooden blocks, as if those extra two inches would make a big difference if significant flooding occurred. Anything that could get ruined would go on top of beds, dressers, and closet shelves. I would put my most prized possessions at the highest points, which forced me to assign value to everything I owned. Sometimes I thought about the worst case scenario, imagining our house filled to the roof like an aquarium. I imagined Sac-au-Lait and Redfish doing circles around the wooden dollhouse my paternal paw paw built me. I never worried about my own well being, but worried about my precious belongings, like what would happen to my microscope or my roller skates. Mom and Dad took care of the bigger things that my adolescent mind couldn’t quite comprehend, such as personal safety in the midst of a natural disaster. We also stocked up on canned goods and filled the bathtubs with water just in case water sources became contaminated after the storm. We never needed the water, but once every few years we would have to live without power for a few days and subsist on canned beans and PB&J sandwiches.

Back in New Orleans

Cork, Ireland Photo

 

I’ve been back in New Orleans for two weeks now and adjusting to the heat and humidity as I pack up the sweaters I wore while I was in Ireland. I won’t need anything other than the wispiest cotton or linen until mid to late October, and that’s if we are lucky. I had such a rich experience in Cork, one that I will hopefully be able to share more of in the upcoming weeks.

It’s good to be home. I missed my dogs, the cats, and being away from my husband for a month made me realize how much we rely on each other. It’s also been great catching up with friends that I don’t get time to hang out with during the school year. But in the two weeks that I’ve been back my bike was stolen, there was a two day boil water advisory, my tenant’s water heater broke, and my husband’s car was in the shop. To top it off I left all of my camera equipment on a bus in Ireland. I reported my loss to the bus company not even 10 minutes after the bus left the airport, but it seems like my camera is gone forever.

 

Someone.please.give.me.a.break.

 

But as much as I’d like to sit around and throw a pity party for one, I realize how incredibly lucky I am. At least I wasn’t in that Lafayette movie theater. At least I wasn’t one of the 109 people (and counting) that have been murdered in New Orleans so far this year. At least I wasn’t one of the five cyclists that have died this year. Yes, at least I am still alive.

I took the photo seen above on a Cork Photo Fest tour during my last weekend in Ireland. People in New Orleans leave painted white bicycles as memorials in places where cyclists were killed in an accident. This pair was behind a fence in Ireland, tucked away on a side street that not many tourists venture down.  I’m not sure of the intended meaning of the bikes, but I couldn’t help but wonder why they were there.

Make no mistake, I don’t walk around New Orleans in fear for my life, but the days I find myself getting all “woe is me” I need to sit back, reassess, and really be thankful for the good stuff.

I’m In Ireland: Part Four

Ring of Kerry

 

I’m in Ireland for a few more days, but my program officially ended today. One of the classes I took this summer was scriptwriting. One of my assignments was to write a monologue, so I opted to write about my experience of being on this trip. My monologue “Have You Ever?” was performed at our last night of plays and film screenings.  Several people thought I wrote the piece about their experiences (one of the program participants thought I scrolled through her Facebook posts for material!), so I’m happy that my work resonated with my peers. I hope you enjoy it too.

 

Have you ever thought about what it means to be from a place? Is it even important to you? For the last three weeks I’ve been in Ireland, a place I’ve never been before. There are enough similarities to home to make me feel comfortable, yet there are enough differences to make me feel out of my element.

Whenever an Irish person asks me where I’m from, I have to replace my default response of “New Orleans” with “The United States,” “The U.S.,” or “America.” It feels clunky on my tongue, so I blurt out “New Orleans” afterwards, which is more for my benefit than theirs.

It’s my first time out of the country, save for a trip to Mexico, and I hardly think a bargain cruise even counts as international travel. I think about what would happen if I lost my passport. My U.S. citizen status is tied up in that one document. If a Leprechaun decides to pocket it, how would if prove who I am? And what if my wallet is stolen, with my Louisiana driver’s license, my bank cards, student I.D., then what? Will I be stuck in Ireland, unable to go home? Will I get fed to the witch of Blarney? Will she make black pudding out of me?

I define myself as part of the “born and raised” set from New Orleans. We’re a proud bunch, sometimes unfairly so, as if the involuntary act of being born in the 504 area code makes us superior to others that weren’t. So introducing myself as anything besides a New Orleanian is weird. I’m proud of where I’m from, but maybe that pride is unwarranted.

Or is it?
In Ireland, I’d like to think I blend in with the locals. I observe what they’re wearing, their posture, how they interact with each other in the bar, at the grocery store. I guess I’m trying to assimilate, but I always manage to screw it up. I open my mouth and America falls out. Or, I make eye contact and they see stars and stripes in my eyes. Or maybe I’m just paranoid. Maybe nobody cares where I’m from. Maybe I care too much.

I notice it’s about to rain one afternoon, just when I’m about to walk into city center. I turn around and catch the resident assistant. She holds the elevator so I can get on. “Looks like I’ll need my rain jacket,” I say. “Yes, it seems like it’s about to break cloud,” she responds. Break cloud? How lovely! I say to myself. In America, I might be inclined to spew out something along the lines of “Wow, it’s about to dump out there.” How vulgar of me. How American of me.

Can a person embody where they’re from?
Do I smell like swamp water? Is my skin like an armadillo’s shell? Or is it soft, like a dragonfly landing on a banana tree leaf? Maybe I just smell like Bourbon Street— soured beer with zero trace of dignity.

The problem is I used to think I had a decent grasp on who I am, and how others might perceive me. But now I’m not so sure if I can put my thumb on that in this space.

And the locals are so damn friendly. They’re not going to insult me, they’re not going to tell me I’m a big, dumb American. And maybe they’re not thinking that, but I’m thinking that they’re thinking that.

So I’m at this old man bar, the type of place where no one is under the age of 60 and it’s all dark wood, horse races on the tele, and it’s quiet enough for the patrons to read their newspapers with a pint. I’m in love. I sit with a local beer, I write, and I observe. Then a gaggle of women come barreling in, disrupting my peace with accents not unlike mine. “Please stop being so damn American,” I think to myself as they snap photos of each other and ask where the bathroom is. “Where are you from?” asks the bartender. He’s rakishly cute and the ladies coo at his accent as if they’re buttering a piece of toast with it. “We’re from Canada!” they exclaim, yelling loud enough for me to hear them from across the empty bar. Hold up. What? They’re from Canada? I could have sworn they were American.

You know what, forget it. Maybe I should just stop. Maybe I should just try to stop trying to pinpoint when I think the locals are judging me because of where I’m from. Maybe I should stop judging others because of where they’re from. Maybe I should just grab another pint.

 

photo: Ring of Kerry

I’m in Ireland: Part Three

Blarney CastleMusselsDublin, IrelandIreland is so greenRing of Kerry

I have nine days left before I fly back from Ireland to the United States. Nine! A nine day vacation is plenty, so being here for a month has been downright luxurious. Here are some more highlights:

  • I walk for miles every day. I have a 15 minute walk to class, and most everything I want to do is a 20-30 minute walk from my apartment. I’m going to Arizona in less than a month to hike, so this somewhat prepares me for that. Somewhat.
  • Chips (french fries) are served with everything. They’re thick cut, served scalding hot, and delicious, especially with a side of malt vinegar. Every restaurant serves chips, from the traditional fish & chip shops, the late night kebab spot, and the Chinese restaurant next to campus housing.
  • Dublin was okay. I’m not a big city person, but I’m glad I went. My favorite part of Dublin was when I broke away from my group and explored it on my own. I was content with sitting in a coffee shop and rereading Dubliners, which I picked up at a street market for €3. And the best meal I’ve had so far in Ireland was in Dublin at Kathmandu, so that counts for something.
  • There are lots of tour buses in Ireland, which makes it easy to access many parts of the country without a car. They’re relatively inexpensive (€39 for an all day tour) and my drivers have all been entertaining. I booked a tour of the Ring of Kerry with Paddywagon Tours, and I’m planning another one to see the Cliffs of Moher. Yes, it’s touristy and yes, I wish I had more time at each place we stopped, but for the price and convenience I was okay with this.
  • Coffee is different here. It’s not as strong and it has too much milk for my taste. I learned to just order regular black coffee.
  • No mosquitos! No cockroaches! I’ve been blissfully aware of the lack of bugs here. I’m in for a rude awakening when I’m back in New Orleans.
  • The locals are friendly. I feel safe walking the streets but I still make a point to be aware of my surroundings.
  • Pizza is everywhere here.
  • It hasn’t rained nearly as much as I thought it would.

photos: Blarney Castle. My favorite part was the gardens. |Mussels at Kitty O’ Ses in Kinsale. One of the best I’ve had in Ireland. |Street scene in Dublin.| Ireland is unbelievably green, and the colors deepen to an even more unbelievable green after it rains. | Waterville, a little village on the Ring of Kerry. 

I’m in Ireland: Part Two

Cork, Ireland wild flowersUNO Writing AbroadCharles Fort Kinsdale, Ireland

My first week of classes in Ireland is over. Everything is happening at a lightening fast pace. It’s intense, in the best way possible. I enrolled in two classes (scriptwriting and creative non-fiction workshop) and we’re packing an entire semester’s worth of material into four weeks.  I’m making new connections that will hopefully extend past my time here, and I interact with the locals as much as I can. (I’m looking at you, Monday night karaoke at Old Oak.)

While in Ireland I’ve noticed several differences from our culture in the United States. Some are subtle, some are noteworthy, and the longer I’m here the more I become attuned to. Here are some of the things I’ve picked up on so far.

  • Euros are somewhat cumbersome. There is paper money, but denominations of €2 and less are coins. I feel silly counting out a meal in coins, but it’s the norm here. Ireland is about to get rid of their one cent piece (1/100 of a euro), which, according to a wine shop owner I conversed with, really won’t affect the locals, except for charity boxes. There are boxes everywhere for people to drop change in, including bars, restaurants, shops, and grocery stores. He thought the elimination of the one cent piece might put charities at a disadvantage.
  • In general, everything is a little bit cheaper here. Some things are remarkably cheaper, whereas other items (like grapes) I find more expensive. Even the most touristy of places charge much less than what I’m accustomed to paying in the US.
  • Don’t bother buying an electrical adapter in the U.S. if you can help it. Electrical adapters are readily available for under €4 and work just as well as ones that cost $20 in the states.
  • My American Southern roots are showing. People are friendly but don’t make eye contact with each other on the street. I’m used to telling everyone hello, opening doors for people, and waving at strangers when passing by their house on my bike.  I asked someone on the street for directions and she seemed startled that I approached her.
  • It’s refreshing to see not everyone is glued to their phones here. Except for a solo diner, I haven’t noticed people sitting around at bars and restaurants on their phones. I’m digging it.
  • I love the nuance of language. Irish phrases are just more pleasant than some of the vernacular we use back home. I was chatting with a warden (resident assistant) at campus housing about the weather. “Yes, it looks like it’s about to break cloud,” she said. My American inclination was to say something far less eloquent, such as, “looks like it’s about to dump out there,” or, “It’s getting nasty out there.”

 

photos: wildflowers grow in the cracks on the stone wall that runs down the street I take to campus, group shot in front of Blarney Castle, Charles Fort in Kinsdale, Ireland

 

 

I’m in Ireland!

Jackie Lennox IrelandVictoria Mills IrelandIrelandGuinness

I just arrived in Ireland and am so. flipping. excited. I will be here for a month (!!!) in Cork with UNO’s Writing Workshop. My first thought upon landing- I can’t get over how green it is here. I mean, way to live up to your reputation, Ireland. I flew from New Orleans to New Jersey, then touched down in Shannon and hopped on a bus to Cork. The bus ride was pleasant, with lush, idyllic landscapes straight out of a fairytale. The weather is perfect, especially coming from humidity laden New Orleans. I regret not bringing more sweaters, but I can live with that #firstworldproblem.

I’ve only been here for one full day and have so much to process. The city center (what I would call downtown) is walking distance from campus. There are enough recognizable names (H&M, Subway ) for the place to feel familiar, but there are also enough differences to encourage exploration. My mission is to only eat and drink food and beverages that I can’t consume at home. So far I’ve been somewhat successful, although I did buy a bottle of Jameson for a little nightcap.

Classes start on Monday, and I’m grateful we have some time to orient ourselves before diving into coursework. The University College Cork campus is stunningly beautiful. UCC, established in 1845, is one of three Queen’s colleges, which opened its doors under the reign of Queen Victoria. Limestone buildings are draped with ivy, and the earliest structure dates back to 1810.

I will be documenting my trip here, but you can also follow me on Instagram for more pictures.

Firsts: fish & chips from Jackie Lennox Chip Shop, first night’s view at Victoria Mills Lodge, first view of Ireland from the plane,  first Guinness in Cork at Edison. All photos taken on my iPhone. 

A kiddie pool for adults? Yes, please!

kiddie pool set up

A kiddie pool for adults? Yes, you need one in the worst way possible.

The summer months are downright miserable in New Orleans. The only way to remain comfortable is to stay indoors and blast the air conditioner until late October, or get proactive about cooling off and get creative with staving off the heat.

Last summer I made the best decision of my life (only a slight exaggeration) and invested in a kiddie pool. They’re relatively inexpensive, a good excuse to have friends over, and if you’re in need of some solitude all you need is a good book, an ice cold Le Croix, and you’ve got yourself a backyard oasis on a budget. I’m not talking about those glorified puddles of water in the shape of a turtle; you need something that your grown ass self can sit down in, chest deep, or fit a pool float in.

Interested in setting up your own? Since I did my homework last summer you don’t have to. Here’s everything you need for your own adult kiddie pool, ice chest full of beer not included.

 

Not too big, not too small

Buy the largest pool you can. I wanted mine to fit on my covered back patio, so a five feet wide by three feet deep framed pool was the best option for me. I purchased it for $60 from Big Lots, but there are plenty of options out there online as well as in stores.

 

The setup 

You need a flat surface – such as an even patch of grass or a level spot on the patio – otherwise you’ll risk puncturing the bottom. I also recommend purchasing two tarps, one to go underneath the pool (for added protection) and one to cover it. If you can buy a pool cover designed for your model get that instead. Even with a cover bugs and debris will sneak in. A leaf rake or net is a must for keeping your pool clean.

I definitely recommend buying a kiddie pool with a built in filter. You want to keep that water moving, unless your goal is to start a mosquito breeding facility. In that case, keep that water nice and stagnant. My pool didn’t come with a filter, so I purchased a pond aerator via Amazon in lieu of hiring neighborhood kids to blow bubbles via silly straws 12 hours a day.

 

Crystal clear 

It takes a lot of water to fill up a pool. Mine holds about 350 gallons, so instead of putting more money into New Orleans Sewage and Water Board’s pockets, I fill up my pool once and maintain the water quality on a weekly basis. Pool supply manufacturers don’t make products for kiddie pools (if you find some let me know) so I wing it with spa products. I like Fresh n’ Clear from Leslie’s Pool Supplies.

You’ll need to figure out how many gallons of water your pool holds to make sure you are using the proper amount of product. Search for online swimming pool calculators that will figure out your pool’s volume based on the height, width, and depth.

I don’t bother with chlorine tablets but I do put two or three capfuls of bleach in the pool and let it sit for a day or two before my next late night dip. Every other week I scrub down the sides and bottom with a sponge to prevent slime buildup.

Packing it up

Unless you want to maintain that puppy during the winter I’d suggest packing it up and storing it away. I give my pool a good scrubbing with soapy water before I store it or after I unpack it from the previous year. You’ll also want to let it dry completely before stashing it away, unless acrid mildew is your thing.

 

Worth the Drive: Mississippi’s Forest Retreat

forest retreatIMG_6631

forest retreat Mississippi

homochitto national forest

 

I haven’t been to Forest Retreat, a secluded trio of cabins in Mississippi’s Homochitto National Forest, since 2013. Forest Retreat was me and Thomas’ secret spot when the urge get out of the city for a few days would arise. There is no cell phone reception, no internet (the cabins do have wifi now), and the only noise that cuts through the silence is the rustling of leaves and an occasional dog howling in the distance. We used to make the three hour drive at least twice a year with Nadia, our retired racing Greyhound, in tow. The reason I discovered Forest Retreat in the first place was an ad in Urban Dog Magazine that touted dog friendly cabins. We weren’t sure our timid city pooch would take to being out in the country, but I’m pretty sure Nadia had more fun playing in the creek and going on hikes than we did.

Sadly, Nadia passed away two summers ago due to an inoperable tumor on her spinal cord. Her ashes are sealed in a large plastic bag, tucked away in a wooden box on a bookshelf in our living room. I’ve never been able to bring myself to look at her remains, and I didn’t want to go back to Forest Retreat for the same reason that box sits unopened two years later. We only had Nadia for three years, but she was the love of my life, the first dog we owned as a couple, and just like many rescued animals, we had to earn her affection. Most retired racing greyhounds aren’t accustomed to what we think of as a “normal home life” since they grow up around the race track. The dogs can be slightly skittish at best and scared of their own shadow at worst. I worked with Nadia to overcome her fear of the dishwasher, taught her how to climb up and down stairs, and eventually she stopped being petrified of the wind. Skateboards, on the other hand, were the devil incarnate. She would hyperventilate at the slightest hint of a thunderstorm, but fireworks were inexplicably okay.

After Nadia passed we waited a few months before getting another dog. So when we got two – Izzy, another Greyhound, and Beignet, a terrier/Catahoula mix – it just didn’t feel right to rush back to our old vacation spot with our new crew. I equated it with the awkwardness of bringing a new beau to the restaurant you dined at all the time with your ex. How do you explain to your new fling why you know so much about the menu?

So when Thomas recently suggested we plan a weekend getaway to Forest Retreat, I surprised myself and said yes. We ended up going this past weekend and my only regret is that we waited so long to go. The dogs loved it, we enjoyed the break from our day to day lives, and we both had to ask ourselves “What took us so damn long to get back here?” I’d like to think that Nadia is somewhere in that big dog park in the sky, running her skinny little butt off and being as stubborn as ever. I think she would agree that it’s finally time to move on and give some other pooches their turn to run through the forest.

For more pictures from Forest Retreat check out my Tumblr: christylorio.tumblr.com

If you decide to go on your own Forest Retreat weekend, here are a few things to consider:

  • GPS will only get you so far, so make sure you print out the direction given to you upon your reservation. That said, the directions aren’t the clearest (we get turned around every time) and cell phone reception is spotty on country roads. Give yourself ample time to backtrack. Trust me, you don’t want to traverse forest service roads at night.
  • The owner recently added wifi in the cabins but there’s  no cell phone reception, unless you stand on the parking hill, cross your fingers and make a wish. You’ll want to unplug but do keep this in mind in case of an emergency.
  • You’ll need to bring all of your food with you. The nearest store is several miles away and once you start to unwind you won’t want to see an ignition switch until vacation is over. The two cabins are furnished with essentials such as bed linens, towels and kitchen gadgets. You’ll need to bring your own toiletries and if you’re going in the summer bug spray is a godsend. I like to bring a good book, a board game or two, a flashlight, appropriate shoes for wading in the creek, my camera, and my laptop for playing music and watching movies at night.
  • Bring your dog’s bed and a blanket for the sofa if you have a four legged couch potato.

Summer starts right now

IMG_3797IMG_6483new orleans city park sculpture gardensummer starts nowyou go girlswoon breastfeeding

 

My summer starts right. about. now. Last Friday I slid my final exam onto the teacher’s desk, handed over my keys to the Driftwood newsroom (read my last column for the paper here), and finished my last spring semester as an undergraduate. Taking 16 hours and running a college newspaper wasn’t easy, and I’m strangely looking forward to the fall semester (my last one!) when I can just focus on classes. So instead of having a mic drop moment when I turned that last test in, I just enjoyed the relief that the semester is over. I am milking my newfound free time before summer school starts. In between catching up on mundane tasks like housecleaning and laundry, I’m making a point to take daily bike rides with no particular destination in mind. I’m also trying to catch up with much neglected friends, attempting to learn Spanish, and this weekend I’m heading to Mississippi for a break from the city.

I’ve taken summer classes every semester since I went back to college two years ago. I usually opt to enroll in online classes, but this June I’m going to Ireland with UNO’s Writing Workshops Program. I’ve never been to Ireland nor have I ever studied abroad, so the opportunity to get out of the sticky Louisiana heat for a little while to solely focus on my creative writing excites me. I’m not going to lie, having my own bed for a month will be downright luxurious as well. No cats piled up on my pillow! No fighting for the sheets with my husband (I will miss that a little)! No waking up to dogs barking in the morning to go outside! I have a feeling the things that annoy me the most are going to be the things I miss the most when I’m gone. But who knows, maybe I’ll try to sneak a kitty into my suitcase.

 

 

all photos by me:

hotel pool in Asheville, North Carolina | sculptures in New Orleans’ City Park Sculpture Garden | magnolia blossom, French Quarter | You Go Girl and Swoon, New Orleans City Park

 

 

 

 

Festival season is here

 

Cha Wa Band

Cha Wa BandTank and the Bangas

festival season

 

Festival season is finally here in Southern Louisiana. Springtime hits that sweet spot of (relatively) low humidity, pleasantly warm days and breezy, balmy nights. It’s downright criminal to not take advantage of the weather, especially since summer is going to slap us in the face with a wet wool blanket faster than we can order another round of frozen daiquiris.

I like festivals but sometimes large crowds, long lines at the food booths and dirty port-a-potties just aren’t my jam. I live on Freret Street, so the Freret Street Festival is the one fest that comes to me.  All I have to do is walk out my door and I’m there. When the crowds get to be too much I can just head back home and sit on my own front porch.

 

Photos:

J’wan Boudreaux, vocalist for the Cha Wa Band and Spy Boy for the Golden Eagles, is accompanied by bassist Bill Richards.

Irving “Honey” Banister of the Cha Wa Band and Flag Boy of the Creole Wild West Mardi Gras Indians kept the crowds dancing at the Dat Dog Stage.

Tank of Tank and the Bangas entertained the crowds with her infectious energy at the Ochsner Baptist Stage.

Freret Street Festival took over its namesake thoroughfare between Napoleon Avenue and Soniat Street on April 4. Three stages hosted local bands and 150 vendors selling food as well as locally made arts and crafts lined the street from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

festival season festival season festival season

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