Tuesday, January 16, 2007

KNOA Studio

Kentucky New Orleans Architecture Studio
3301 Chartres Street
New Orleans, Louisiana 70117

In response to the massive devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina, The University of Kentucky College of Design has initiated the KENTUCKY NEW ORLEANS STUDIO, a semester of “study-in-action” designed to give students the opportunity to participate in the rebuilding effort via a series of design/build projects. Led by faculty members Liz Swanson and Mike McKay, a native of New Orleans, the goal of the studio is to complete specific design and build projects that fulfill needs for communities in an effective and artful way. By working directly with affected communities and local experts, students will gain invaluable experience by seeing their work as designers in action and therefore, the power of architecture to improve people’s lives.

The program offers 15 credit hours including architectural design projects, volunteer service, and concentrated seminar topics including sustainable building methods, landscape, preservation and social factors in design. We anticipate working closely with local organizations to complete specific programming, urban planning, and design/build projects. In addition, the studio will participate in the on-going conversation of how to rebuild the city.

We envision the New Orleans Studio as a permanent satellite studio resource with the capacity for expanded collaboration with other universities throughout the country. While the task and enormity of rebuilding is daunting, we are optimistic about the city’s future and believe that this situation, though tragic, also presents unique opportunities for progressive design, innovative thinking and exciting opportunities for new relationships among all those actively engaged and committed to the rebuilding of New Orleans.

For more information or inquiries about working with the KNOA Studio, please email Liz Swanson at: lizaswanson@uky.edu.

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Residents of New Orleans

New Orleans is a one of the oldest cities in America and has seen numerous flags occupy its territory. It is a city steeped in mystery and a place that has been unknown to me until recently. The New Orleans that I was familiar with was one that embodied phrases like “The Big Easy” and “Laissez les bons temp rouler (let the good time roll).” For me, it was a place where anything goes and the party never stops. Now after living here, those preconceptions have changed. Those phrases still exist and are apart of the city, but now after Hurricane Katrina I’ve found that community and the preservation of cultural heritage are new phrases I associate with New Orleans. After the storm, the importance of communication and the intensity at which they exhibit it is something that is at the heart of every New Orleanian.

My first experience with the residents of New Orleans was when I was invited to the first meeting of the UNOP. The UNOP is the Unified New Orleans Plan that is being organized and hosted by Concordia, which is a community based planning and design office that my friend Tony was working for over the summer. He called me on July 30th, the day of the meeting, and asked if I wanted to come by and witness “the first planning meeting of New Orleans.” I had just moved down here with three other students two weeks prior and was eager to see how the planning and rebuilding process was turning out.

My roommates and I headed to City Park where the meeting was taking place. It was clear and sunny Sunday afternoon and people were lining up outside the Botanical Garden entrance to register with the Concordia representatives. Since we were now official residents of New Orleans we decided to participate in what could soon be an historical afternoon. We waited in line and came to find our friend Tony working the registration table.

He commented on the unexpected large turnout and we each registered our address and marked our place on the district map, which was in district 3. When we entered into the Botanical Garden, we walked through a covered arch and then through a set of double doors into the main meeting hall where there were two rows of district booths flanking a central walkway where food was setup. The space was nice but extremely small for the amount of people that showed up to the meeting and since the planning was already such a sensitive topic the cramped room added to growing tensions.

When we waked into the main room, the meeting was just starting and people were told to report to their respective districts. The goal of the first meeting was to talk with district representatives and generate a series of questions that residents wanted the planning teams to consider on August 1st, which was the scheduled second meeting. We all felt a little out of place and thought our participation in the discussions should be kept to a minimum because we had only been residents of New Orleans for two weeks.

The meeting was very intense with confusion and frustration being felt by all the participants. I walked around and listened to the different groups discuss what they felt was important for the planning teams to know about their communities. Numerous topics were discussed ranging from social equity to cultural and architectural preservation. The theme I felt every group had in common was the idea of maintaining their neighborhood uniqueness and individuality.

The intensity in which the people fought was to preserve their unique neighborhood individuality. Every neighborhood seems to have a cultural identity unique to that particular area. All of them have their similarities, yet they have their differences too. It was interesting to experience first hand what residents at the UNOP meeting were so adamantly trying to defend and preserve.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Rebuilding with color

Driving into New Orleans for the first time was quite somber. I had been traveling along I-10 when it suddenly turned into a 12-mile long bridge over open water, Lake Ponchartrain. The thought of running off bridges into water has always scared me, so I tried closing my eyes. It was hard not to steal glances and stare out the window, however. I was completely surrounded by rocky waters, with no clear sight of land. Temporary bridge sections had been erected along the stretch of floating road, which made my stomach turn even more. How did people ever escape this water? How could something that can look and sound so peaceful be such a beast?
When we finally reached dry land, I opened my eyes and breathed a sigh of relief, only to be taken aback by what I was now staring at: total devastation. New Orleans East was almost completely destroyed and it looked as if only ghosts lived there. I didn’t say a word—just took it all in as my parents and I continued to drive along the bumpy highway. I wondered what my new house would look like. I knew it was in good shape now, but what had it looked like right after the storm? I also knew that a big part of my new neighborhood had avoided flooding and it only suffered from wind and rain damage. But, what was it going to look like now? Would the bright, blue tarps acting like roofs be as abundant around my house as they were out here? This place was a mess—like a bomb had gone off; it was almost like pictures you see from war zones, but I was really witnessing it. Houses with missing walls (so you could see its’ insides that had been completely gutted out), entire roofs blown away, trees down, brick fences completely knocked over, and as expected, a trailer in many of the yards.

We got off the interstate and drove down Elysian Fields Road toward the river. Almost there. We were stopped by a light right in front of a hot pink building that was covered in big, yellow signs that read “24 hours” and “Free Drink with Every Po-Boy.” Wow. I don’t think that I had ever seen a hot pink building before in my life. It called to me.

The light changed and we found our way onto St. Claude Avenue toward Independence Street. Some of the buildings we passed were completely empty, ready to be bull-dozed over, while others were freshly painted with bright colors, colors most people would never imagine putting on the outside of a house. I smiled. I like bright colors and it made me feel that all was not lost. I think the houses were smiling, too, thankful to have survived and once again be a home for spirited people.

The more I’ve explored my neighborhood since then, the more houses I have passed by that are wrapped in vibrant, flamboyant color combinations. This neighborhood is called Bywater—one that is full of diversity and character, in both houses and people. Everyday, I see a house and think, “oh, I love that color! That’s what I would use on my home!” I wish I had my own home to paint. Right now, my dream house would have been repainted about 25 times. When I was a little girl I always wanted to paint my bedroom walls and ceiling so many different colors that would all fade into each other. It was never allowed and I was stuck with boring, white walls.
I often wonder why some people choose to paint their houses in plain, dull colors, while their neighbor might produce such wonderful eye candy. Back in Lexington, there is a small row of houses on Oldham Avenue that breaks out of the plain-house rhythm. Every strip of trim is a different color and I love walking down that street to see them.

The influx of Mediterranean and Caribbean cultures is what influences the people to paint houses multiple colors. Creoles have been painting their houses like this since the turn of the 20th century, the Victorian Period here in New Orleans. During the 1950’s, however, most residents began painting their homes white with green shutters, because of the low-cost. Then, in the 1970’s, a new group of people moved into the neighborhood that were artists and part of the H.I.P.P.I.E. culture, and made the houses sparkle again with different colors. The area has taken on a bohemian attitude and attracts people who like to remodel houses. Since Bywater was listed on the National Historic Preservation list in 1993, the neighborhood has celebrated their local architecture by painting more and more of them in bright colors.
Since Katrina, however, many of these colorful homes have been left with physical reminders of what went wrong here. X’s and water lines form a layer on almost every building and home in the city. Bywater was barely touched by the flood, but as you drive through the rest of the city you can see the water lines gradually rise and fall, letting you know the depth of the flood. How people have responded to them makes me sit and ponder. I’ve noticed that some have completely put new layers of fresh paint to begin again, celebrating their survival and showing the world that everything is okay. Some people have only covered up the X itself with paint, letting you see that it is still there, only now disguised. The rest have left their houses as is, as if to let everyone know, everyday that this city is not okay and must not be forgotten.

New Orleanians are working hard all day, everyday, trying to bring back what they once had; but they also celebrate the memory of their city and their survival and show that the true New Orleans is not lost. The physical appearance of the city was damaged, but its heart and playfulness is alive and well, more apparent day by day, through singing and dancing and lots of color.

-k. McOwen

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

The Search for Ignatius

When I put down A Confederacy of Dunces, I breathed a sigh of relief. Had 394 pages of my life been wasted on as trivial a matter as the life of the obnoxiously-eccentric Ignatius J. Reilly, or was this something that would be set aside mentally, as so many things are, until one day I would stumble upon why it really mattered? Days after finishing the book, I was struck with two urges; the first to completely rid myself of such a loathsome character, the second to try and truly understand the reasons why Ignatius had become such a seemingly-important figurehead of the New-Orleanian lifestyle.

My "quest" to find Ignatius began quite unintentionally. Frequent solitary trips through the French Quarter would lead me to various characters, identities that would capture my imagination for a split second whether by means of a simple verbal exchange, a hanging glance, or some sort of intriguing attire. Whatever it was, often times this brief interaction would lead my thoughts back to this literary character, and my curiosity of whether or not he truly existed.

At times, I found myself running through the Quarter trying to spot the elusive Ignatius. The man strumming his guitar and singing at the gates of Jackson Square, after it had been locked for the night, was a likely candidate, with his friendly smile yet seemingly contentious air towards whatever tourist or local he decided to despise. Legs crossed seated in a small chair, he would strum his guitar, eyes sometimes locking with mine and at other times so distant that I felt as if my presence was an interruption. These times that he played for his own enjoyment rather than that of the passersby, as if realizing the charitable people had turned in for the night.

And then there was the dancer, wild stringy red hair, black jeans, and the checked flannel shirt that pulled his attire together. He appeared at a local music festival as if a beacon for those happy to be alive; shuffling feet, shaking hips, all without breaking his intent gaze upon whatever soulful performance was going on. Inhibitions removed, these moments reminded me of Ignatius...a man gluttonous only through the description of others, proudly flaunting his strange outfits and unnatural movements.

Next there was the old man resting on a bench under the flagpoles of the French Market, gazing intently at what I perceived to be nothing. So I sat and watched him sit. And all he did was sit. He clung to a black leather satchel, enough to warrant its importance yet loosely enough to show his leisurely approach. His disheveled appearance and rigid stance - fist cocked against what appeared a full belly - seemed fitting of my perception of Ignatius. It was a portrayal of forcible readiness mixed with a somewhat content knowledge of his existence. At that moment I could envision Ignatius ditching his hot dog route after indulging quite heavily for the day, instead deciding to spend the afternoon under his favorite tree and admire all the ridiculous tourists and undeniably-hideous workers.

It was at this point that I realized that these observations were no longer happenstance, but instead were meaningful and real. So, rather than put them aside and wait for the next encounter with an Ignatius-like character, I decided to go find him. Naturally, the first stop on my journey was the infamous hot dog company, employer of our now-beloved character. Though named Paradise Vendors in the novel, New Orleans has long been served by a company under a different name; Lucky Dogs. This profitable company began shortly after World War II, when brothers Stephen and Erasmus Loyacano began marketing their invention of a cart that could "steam cook 100 dogs, buns, and chili..." as well as "store everything for 300 more". Though their business was short-lived, it was purchased many years after its demise by Doug Talbot and Peter Briant in 1970. After implementing a series of new health regulations within their vending appliances (i.e. the sneeze guard and hand washing system), Lucky Dogs and everything they stood for were put back on the market. Since, they have thrived, or, as Ignatius would put it, "Fortuna" had "smiled down" upon this poor-mans business.

"Paradise Vendors, Incorporated, was housed in what had formerly been an automobile repair shop, the dark ground floor of an otherwise unoccupied commercial building on Poydras Street. The garage doors were usually open, giving the passerby an acrid nostrilful of boiling hot dogs and mustard...The powerful stench of Paradise Vendors, Incorporated, sometimes led the overwhelmed and perplexed stroller to glance through the open door into the darkness of the garage."(152) Ironically, as I should have assumed, Lucky Dogs was located a mere 3 blocks away, at 517 Gravier St. Because the hours of operation stretched until 3:30AM, I began my exploration in the wee hours of the morning. What I found was precisely what I had envisioned: a rundown, seemingly-abandoned building basked in the green glow of the street lamps. Though there was no visible sign defining its current use, a thread of light crept from under the front door of the otherwise-dark building and from somewhere inside mens' voices erupted in coarse intervals. I hesitated until a man approached from the bar across the street; I dared ask if this was, indeed, the Lucky facility. He grinned and replied with a nod, stating that he, in fact, had been an employee of the very business almost 15 years prior. When asked about its history, he told me that it had been open almost 40 years yet had never had a single marking to advertise its presence on the block. He continued to say that their luscious dogs were no longer cooked at the place - all Lucky Dogs did was distribute the fine goods to the public by use of the Loyacano-brothers design. Affirming he knew nothing more of their mode of operation, this slight Ignatius withdrew into the shadows, and I retreated back into mine.

At this point, there was one spot left to visit, a place that, over the summer, had often become a detour during my various bike rides between Calhoun and Canal: the Prytania Theatre. The building itself dates back to the early 1900s and is the last single-screen theatre in Louisiana. At first, I had been drawn to it purely out of curiosity, but now I envisioned Ignatius creeping inside to escape the rigors of work, his loving mother, or simply the day itself, in order to catch a movie he would soon belittle.

During this visit, however, it wasn't the red brick finish, the domed entry, or any other elements of its storybook majesty that struck me. Rather, it was the sign placed in front of the business which read, "Prytania Theatre: STILL OPEN". Those words struck a chord, at once compounding the vast number of intangible ideas I had been trying to grasp. Maybe looking for Ignatius was merely an excuse for understanding a much larger idea: the stubborn resilience of a culture creating an unwillingness to give up in the face of tragedy and destruction. Due to the events little more than a year ago, thousands of people's lives were completely disrupted and they had been forced to start anew. The message on the sign seemed the slogan of all those who had stuck it out and refused to give up; we're still here.

As I walked back to my car, I wondered if Ignatius J. Reilly really ever mattered.

-TonySaba Shiber

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Driving Hope

Being a child from a family history of car dealers, I grew up with a passion for driving. Maybe it was the power I craved of gripping the large leather wheel and the ability to maneuver such a massive vehicle anyway I wished. As soon as my legs were long enough to reach the pedals, my father and mother felt no apprehension in allowing me to test-drive whatever car we had for the week. I undeniably, as everyone does, made my share of errors along the way. My first reckless mistake behind the wheel was backing into our steel swing-set quickly realizing the need for more brake and caution and less acceleration. Another vital lesson learned was to smoothly rotate the wheel around curves rather than jerking the car nervously. I quickly understood to relax, breath, remain confident and let the yellow and white lines, the symbols of the road, guide my path.
Many people I know don’t enjoy driving, especially alone. They find it long, boring, and lonely. I am quite the opposite. Driving is the best, especially when alone. I turn the music of my choice up as loud as I want, listen to a song as many times as I desire, and sing along with horrific, yet joyful melody. But also on my journeys of driving, I discover moments; moments my professors have described so well as “ah-hah” moments. These are the moments where time seems to pause and I am warmed with a greater appreciation and understanding of the world in which I exist. They are physical symbols in my life, visual events etched in my memory that inspire a trust in what lies ahead. Driving seems to enhance these moments. It allows the witnessing of the sun in the spring resting behind navy hills sprinkled with pastel purple bushes and colors of the new season. Another experience, struggling through a thunderstorm on a barren highway and the promising sun finally pierce the grey clouds with comfort and relief. It’s as if the moment was intended just for me and one I know I can’t describe; an experience that warms deep in my stomach and excites my existence. It is blissful to drive and see the shadows change with the passing landscape and the numerous events that unveil with my acknowledgement.
While living in New Orleans the past few months, driving is an experience in itself. Beginning in the historic residential Garden District and crossing Canal Street with its trolley rails into the French Quarter is a drive I look forward to each day. With my warm, steaming coffee mug in hand, I drive cautiously on Decatur avoiding the scatter of tourists randomly crossing the street at any moment. As I drive deeper into the Quarter, I approach the heart of New Orleans, and recognize to my left an iconic symbol of both New Orleans and the Quarter: Jackson Square and its backdrop, Saint Louis Cathedral. The cathedral is the oldest Catholic Church in America, and its physical symbol, the cross, pokes at the blue sky from behind a green canvas of trees and an iron fence speckled daily with various paintings. My first visit to the cathedral was on the afternoon before, after my early morning drive from Ft. Hood, Texas where I said goodbye to my fiancé before his departure for war. While in the famous cathedral, I was awed at the amount of people touring with guides through the sanctuary, I went to the sanctuary to find peace and comfort from my worries, but I didn’t stay long. I felt as if I was also on public display with the church.
While waiting at the stoplight, I gazed at the tourists who strolled along the colorful exhibits of local paintings by the artists that sat quietly in the shade near their work. A particular pattern caught my eye of what seemed to be a voodoo-inspired, or as its properly pronounced “hoodoo”-inspired painting that contained vivid human figures and distorted physical symbols I had seen before in New Orleans, the capital of Voodoo. I was struck by the proximity of these two beliefs: Catholicism and Voodoo.
As I was gazing at the elements of both religions, my thoughts shifted by a billboard on a local transit bus resuming speed and trailing dark grey fog with each gear shift as it pulled from the bus stop. The billboard on this bus, similar to the one I saw earlier on the side of a trolley, displayed in bold letters, “City of Hope” New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Hope. Hope, it’s definitions differ. Is hope the same for all in the city of New Orleans? The dictionary describes it as “to wish for something with expectation of its fulfillment; to have confidence; to trust; to expect and desire.” Catholicism, which obviously plays a vital role in the history of this city, says that “hope is the desire of something together with the expectation of obtaining it; a movement of the appetite towards a future good, which though hard to attain is possible of attainment.” This is a faith that is directed towards the soul of the human and the intimate trust in the Almighty…in God.
Voodoo, originating from the Fon word Voudon means “the power; that who is invisible; the creator of all things.” This belief is a combination of African tribal religious beliefs and elements of Roman Catholicism. In the 18th and 19th centuries, New Orleans was the number one port of entry for slaves, who were forced to discontinue their religious beliefs and accept a new one. Severine Singh of New Orleans Voodoo Crossroads stated, “Yet in the terrible conditions of their enslavement, the African’s only hope lay in their very faith. Amidst broken tribes and families, they found unity and solace in God and ancient rituals.” By creating Voodoo, these slaves embedded their original beliefs within the Catholic tradition, so their original beliefs could not be taken away, much like the dreams of the individual mind. The most famous physical icon of Voodoo is Marie Laveau, a 19th century New Orleanian who proclaimed herself the Pope of Voodoo and who was also recorded as a “devout catholic, going to mass each day.” She was even given permission by the church to perform rituals behind St. Louis Cathedral.
Just like voodoo offered hope for the slaves by preserving meaning to those who had lost so much, and Catholicism offers comfort to many, I wonder what else might offer the hope for this city. Are there other sources, signs and symbols of hope within New Orleans that continue to drive people forward with their lives, especially with the recent devastation of Hurricane Katrina? So many people lost so much, including members of their family and community, friends, and/or their homes. Is the present symbol of hope in this city spray painted on the sides of their homes? The symbol “X” tagged by search and rescue groups in the days after Hurricane Katrina still relics on many buildings. Is this residue of “X” a physical reminder of hard times overcome? Is this a modern symbol of encouragement for this City of Hope? I wonder if Catholicism and Voodoo played a role in providing hope for New Orleanians. Most people who live elsewhere assume New Orleans is a deserted ghost-town of sewage, trash, and sadness…but it’s not that at all. Well, there is a little trash. The New Orleanians I’ve met are strong-willed individuals with the expectation of a bright day...hanging on to any and all signs of a hope. I can only imagine the bittersweet homecoming to New Orleans. A drive many New Orleanians made; they returned to their homes, picked up what remained and, now, seem to really appreciate life and all that it offers.
As I return to my reality, the light turned green and I proceeded behind the yellow and white bus matching the yellow and white lines of the road. My thoughts flashed to yesterday morning: 6:00 a.m. Driving; down a black reflective road in which yellow and white lines were all that guided me. On this morning drive, the reflection of my headlights on the wet surface reminded me of what I was doing, driving…away…from him…How could this be? All of a sudden, driving seemed like torture.
Now, only days later (days that felt like hours), the familiar painted lines on the blacktop seemed to be on a revolving belt, driving me on a surreal band of darkness. I realized again, I was driving alone. Warm burning tears tore my cheeks as they fell. I breathed…jerky breaths. I felt as though the sky and world around me consumed the automobile in which I sat, mocking my sorrows. A ball of sadness and self-pity lodged deep within my throat. I took another breath. The road filled with a fog, tears drowned my vision, then plunged down my face. A large salty drop hinged at my chin. I wiped it. Above the road, I notice the beginning of a bright datum of the horizon. Warmth and hope. The warm smile of the sun peeked through the dark curtain of night like a child waking from its slumber. A smile…the sun. A promise. A new day. A moment no picture can capture; no words can adequately describe. It was a moment of comfort; sensual and deep. A pocket in my soul and a part of my being that can’t be forgotten. I felt hope. Hope to drive on.
Where to? New Orleans. Camp Street, my apartment. Piety and Chartres, my school. Although I didn’t want to drive further, the light led me. Brighter. Lighter. I put my hand on the wheel, tightened my grip in its proper position and took a breath. I drove… to the City of Hope, I drove.

-Ashlea D. Beardsley-

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Sportsman's Paradise

The last fishing line had nothing but half eaten heads of bait fish on the remaining two hooks, and to make things worse this last trot line felt like a snag. As I started to pull in the line, I began to worry that I would be going back empty handed, when suddenly my 13-year-old, 115 pound frame was jerked toward the surface of the Mississippi River. My eyes widened, my heart started to race, and I began to fight back. After I had won most of the line, I could only see a white blur dancing beneath the surface of the cold, murky water. Then quickly, with a splash, my step-dad dipped in the net, scooped up the fish, and threw it in the bottom of the boat. Back home, we weighed it at 23 pounds, cleaned it, and then ate the blue catfish for at least two goods meals in the days after.
Now, 676 miles down the Mississippi, I find myself living in Sportsman’s Paradise: a place that’s peppered throughout the state with swamps, that produce hundred’s of trophy size fish, game birds, and alligators year after year. After living here for a couple of months, I realized I had still had not taken advantage of this luxury; so I decided that when my parents came to visit, I would try to get a glimpse of this wildlife paradise, and take a swamp tour.
On a warm, Saturday afternoon, my mom, step-dad, and I arrived at an old shack, which housed the headquarters for the Honey Island Swamp Tour, with an empty stomach. My step-dad and I decided to have a taste of the gator filled menu. We both agreed on the gator dog, but this wasn’t a good choice; I think the whole menu might have been the same way. After eating half of this tough-skinned gator dog we, boarded the boat and headed off, down the Pearl River.

Once on the river, we took detours off the main channel through little pockets of swamp land. Inside these finger-like extensions of the river, the first thing I noticed was a three foot ribbon of water-lines that stretched across all of the trees. What I noticed about the best way to live in the swamp is to build a corrugated metal shack on floating devices that moves up and down along with the water levels. Since this was a nature reserve where trees are not allowed to be cut down, most of the structures had been built around these densely growth of trees.
Suddenly, my attention was pulled away as the boat dipped forward and the wake behind the boat rushed back towards us, sending the boat rocking back and forth. At the same time, the tour guide stood up, raised his hand, and pointed out the first gator of the day. He described how to estimate the length and guessed it to be at least 12 feet long. After everyone got a picture of the animal, he started the engine and continued forward towards a denser part of the swamp. While snaking the boat through the Cypress trees and knees he continued to describe how one would go about fishing for alligators. “Now, the key to getting the biggest gators,” he explained, “is to hang the chicken higher up, about one and a half to two feet above the surface of the water. You see, the bigger the gator, the stronger it is, so the higher they can jump for the bait.” He continued to describe how the alligator will actually swallow the chicken whole; the hook would then set itself inside the stomach, and later kill the gator.
After that, we began gliding through an area of water blanketed with small green leaves that moved with every little ripple in the water. Because of these leaves, we ended up right next to two beady eyes popping out of the water. It was a gator that had been watching us approach him from some distance away. Once the tour guide spotted it, he playfully threw marshmallows at the motionless alligator. Most likely bored of marshmallows from previous tour guides doing the same thing, the alligator swam off after the third mallow hit him straight between the eyes. Once the excitement was over, the setting sun and chilly breeze recommended that we head home. While zipping up the Pearl River for the last time, I noticed a fishing camp on the bank with a fisherman unloading his catch of the day. In that moment, I was reminded of my sportsman’s paradise 676 miles up the Mississippi River.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


(Poland Street Wharf, the hottest place I have been to in New Orleans.)
Sweat will remind me of New Orleans. Twenty years from now, I will step out of my
air-conditioned car and into the hot summer heat in a supermarket parking lot. Little beads of sweat will appear instantly on the end of my nose and in the small of my back as I lock my door. It will make dark spots under my arm pits and soak my socks. I will pause as I reach for a shopping cart in the cart caral and the overwhelming heat takes me back to the hottest experience in my entire life.
I have been to a genuine desert in the middle of Colorado at the base of the Rocky
Mountains. It was a small park, probably nine square miles, a deposit for sand that was funneled through a crack between two massive mountains.

In the glossy informationpamphlet, the Park Service reminds visitors to wear thick-soled tennis shoes or hiking boots. No flip-flops or any other open-toed shoes, it warns, as direct contact with the scorchingsands could result in third degree burns. I went on a three hour hike over the sand duneswith no water and came out both sunburned and windburned. With my recent experiencewith heat in New Orleans, I now look back on that experience with pleasure. “There was such a nice breeze. Not like here,” I tell my parents over the phone wistfully.
I come home every day with evidence that all the sweat from my entire day is still
sitting on my skin in thick disgusting layers. If I really want to gross myself out, I can take my fingernails and drag them over my skin and be rewarded with sweat in a solid form. Often I will ride my bike for hours on end, exploring the city and its tiny cracks and crevices. I come back home and there are white salt stains on the shins of my pants, small deposits of salt embedded in fabric. I think they are disgusting. I remember my grandfather telling me that cows and deers are attracted to salt deposits and will lick them for nutrients. If that’s so, then they would probably love to lick my pants at the end of the day. There would no doubt be lots of delicious nutrients for them.
Sometimes my legs get so sweaty that I have to roll up my pants, take my thumb
and pointerfinger in the shape of a “C”, and squeegee the sweat off of my shins.

Then I flick it onto the hot blacktop. It evaporates in a matter of seconds. I have counted. Substantial drops of sweat will sit on the pavement, and BAM! three seconds later they totally vanish into the atmosphere.
New Orleans is definitely the hottest place I have ever been to. It is consistently hot. Now it is the very end of October, and while it might be freezing in Kentucky, I can still expect a sweaty back if I go biking with a backpack on. It is very hard for me to picture a New Orleans before air-conditioning was invented. There would probably be a lot of cranky, smelly people walking around. That is how I picture it.

There are two things I have noticed through intensive research and extensive
personal experience that may have helped people deal with the suffocating heat and humidity: one is the shade produced by large trees, and the second is the shotgun house.

The shotgun house type migrated to the Southern United States from Haiti and
Africa by way of the slave trade. To the Haitians, this tall, skinny, extended structure was the building type used for meeting halls (“togun”, meaning place of assembly, possibly being reprocessed into “shotgun”). New Orleans was the first place that this housing type waswidely used, first seen here definitively in 1832. It has nice cooling qualities. In my shotgun house on Poland Avenue, we can open all the windows and enjoy nice breezes as they carry the sounds of our neighbor Vanessa yelling at her four yelping chihuahuas over Celine Dion. On special occasions, we can hear the sound of Vanessa yelling at her mom. This is also usually accompanied by
Celine Dion. When all the windows are open, the house becomes a large shed roof with
no walls. I like this very much.

I also like the shade under trees too. It becomes a nice place to go to when
Vanessa’s whole family comes to visit.
Sometimes I like to sit at Markey Park, the park a block up from studio that we are
designing this semester. The shade is perfect there at certain times of the day, but you have to be careful where you step because lots of dogs like to use the park. The users of the
park have brought generic plastic chairs and left them under the trees. There is really no
other place to sit except for the ground.

I find these chairs to be very beautiful. They are white resin chairs under all the coats of paint people have applied. Over time these coats of paint have been chipped or worn off from sitting and constant use, which makes them more interesting. The people in the park can simply move them from sunlight to shade whenever they feel like it, as opposed to fixed benches, which cannot be moved and are not responsive to the lighting conditions in the park. Some people resent resin chairs. They find them tacky and tasteless. I always try to find the best in chairs. I like them all. The resin chairs have a noble lineage- Eero Saarinen dreamed of producing a chair that was a “structural total”. “I look forward to the day when the plastic industry has advanced to the point where the chair will be one material,” he once said. These chairs are Saarinen’s dream come true.
My favorite chair is a smaller resin chair that I sit in whenever I
get coffee and there is good weather.

Your first impression might be, “Wow, this is a really ugly chair,” and you would be right. It is a really ugly chair. Usually when I see chairs this ugly they are in the trash. It was originally made from a light cream resin, then it was painted
dark blue, and then a rust colored coat was crudely sprayed on at a later date. It is now possible to see all the way to the light cream coat through all the scratches. It is very comfortable, though. It cradles me with its cool plastic skin. The back gives slightly when I lean back. I like this chair. I can carry it around the park with me. I can sit in any combination of shade and sunlight I want so I don’t get too sweaty.
The weather is finally starting to cool off here. The temperature dips below sixty at night and never rises above eighty in the day. Regardless, I will always think of New Orleans whenever I break into a sweat .

-Caleb Sears