It devoured everything.
It was the Easter that no little white Mary Jane’s could be found to fit my skinny feet; it began there.
They had to take me to the Cathedral for a late Mass so that I wouldn’t see any of the girls I knew.
So, when I tried to get a light reading the first morning out after the storm & my feet showed up in the viewfinder, it all began again.
On October the 17th, a Monday, I walked the dog in “The Woods” as cousin Al struggled to recover Ana & I from the deep suburbs of Baton Rouge. Packing all of the worldly possessions that I thought I was escaping with in August, after Katrina into his pickup, with overflow going to the ever gracious Napoli cousin in the truck that shadowed Ana & Al back to Metaire & dry ground, we split. We are now a short bridge crossing from the center of the damage in the converted garage where we now live, thanks to the graciousness of Laura Ann, whom I grew up with & is now stuck with us for a long time.
Roger Rubin said not to make any major decisions till the 20th of October & I do hope this does not fall into that category. It was a full moon & we were crazy.
hand & hand with the possibilities left by the void.
is not out of our reach, at least on the moral level. Ana has survived the trauma, but not unaffected & l myself have felt very lost, a most humbling experience for a world adventurer.
Ana had asked me if I could BREAK Her FACE, the night of the hurricane, since she realized that I would have to carry her out on my back. She buckled herself down to
survival mode after her wheel chair made it out of the black halls & 2 stories of steps of the condo to hit the morning sun light of exodus. I have been well trained.
We ended up with Dean & Wendy Napoli in Baton Rouge for much longer that we had expected.
Tuesday morning, car packed with documents & some clothes & a mattress with Ana on top, we fled with 1/4 of a tank (after I failed to be able to suck gas up a tube from another vehicles tank).
We also had with us the 87 year old man from down the hall & his dog (next to Ana on the mattress) & his loaded 38 (next to us on the front seat) & Peggy (Ana’s care giver from Trinidad who came like mother mercy the day after the hurricane to help get us out). Taking Airline Highway & River Ridge (to avoid the fallen power lines?where tress had already been chopped out of the path) to a calm I-10 a gas tank with an orange alert for empty to Baton Rouge & my cousin Carl waiting for us in a parking lot.
We weathered the hurricane in Ana?s apartment in Metairie?only the plate glass windows vibrations to give me any fear, no ground water. I didn?t have cause to inflate the little 2 seated boat I had gotten Saturday (Ron, who stayed at the studio on Gravier downtown got to use his).
The problem came later as water poured in from the roof damage on our section of the complex. I bailed water for 18 hrs, bucket after bucket. I thought I would die before it abated. Every cabinet in the kitchen was pouring water.. I could not keep all the carpets dry. In the apartment above the ceiling fell in. I knew the next rain we would lose ours, too. It was 95º inside… mother & I & Peggy were walking slat cakes.
Tuesday night after I secured the now dysfunctional electric doors with 2×4′s, I took some steaks & the gracious cone head lady down the hall & her new husband brought their thawing pompano & lamb chops & in the quiet under the bright of the milky way we turned on the magic gas tanks in the barbecue pit in the patio & made our last dinner. Helen & her husband added pate Champagne , from the chef at the now defunct Yacht Club. We jumped in the swimming pool that smelled of tarpaper to wash off the salt of an interminably long day & ate to the sound of crickets our last dinner.
Then back to the pitch black hallways to mother apartment with Peggy there waiting for the phone to ring from someone in Baton Rouge, to say they would be waiting for us. I watched the new moon breach the tree?s around 3:30o AM .. Adline ( the woman who raised me always said to plant on a new moon if you wanted things to grow)
With a kerosene lamps and a candle I sorted through closets for what might be really important . What I could manage to carry down the steps & to the car. I got all the documents Took all the family pictures out of the frames & made boxes & tried to keep things dry. I would never see anything I left behind again. We were all on the verge of a new life.
So where to go with Ana? How? When? Please send on for me, I don’t have my complete list with me.
Rondell is in Donaldsonville with his family. Annie is in NY. Ron is in Maryland. All the Ya/Ya’s are accounted for and safe. Much of New Orleans is setting up shop in Baton Rouge? which has doubled its population in 4 days. There is a great need for Ya/Ya to work with disposed children from New Orleans here.
I am back. Sitting on the Chinese carpet playing solitaire in the afternoon…watching wind blow my wash around on the chandelier…even in this damp, the underpants have to finally give up & dry, even with the rain & the cold coming again. I have to stop reading Eudora Welty,
It doesn’t smell the same anymore.
On the streets smeared with feces young boys compete with wooden, tops once painted blue; hurling them wildly & then collecting them in the palms of their hands as if they were magicians.
They never crossed over in Havana…the wrought-iron grillwork is like a magic garden across the face of the narrow streets protecting & separating the old buildings. There is no cast iron. Post-Liberation work is easy to identify; it is mostly made of rebar.
In defiance, all the bicycle cabbies mounted with gigantic speakers blast the street with music in a brave attempt to obliterating the grime __the rotten-tomatoes__the blackouts __little boys who steal tourists’ purses…
Tourism is down two-thirds since post 9/11. Everyone on the street asks hopefully “Allemana?” People in Havana still own their bodies & they know the Germans come to “comprarse su negrita.” In the night walking home they call out to me “Taxi” pause…..”Un hombre Cubano?” Stunning young Afro-Cuban women walk the street putting the capitals of the world to shame. I am told that Italians are taking control of the drugs & prostitution here.
Everyone must steal something from their state job to barter for something else that another has from their state job. My mother’s ancient cousin wonders how people find the money to buy shoes. He never leaves his apartment now.
We had a magnificent Christmas dinner with Tona’s friends. Their driver swept us away in their Russian Mercedes & we had Yucca & Crsitianos y Moros & hours of family telling jokes, even the 10 year old (unfortunately totally missed by me) & dancing & a little Christmas tree. Everyone likes red lights here/red lights are the only ones sold, here.
Our host’s sister made us the loveliest Tamales; Cuban style, out of freshly shucked corn & lots of love. Her husband is a federal policeman. He is a very kind man who tries to make everyone laugh. People here love & respect the police, they do not have to pay them, like in Mexico, to have them catch the thief/murderer.
The 12 hour blackouts in the city are wearing everyone down. It is all worse in the provinces. People returning from Camaguey told me the hotels had water only 4 hours a day.
Every one here is waiting for EL CAMBIO (the change). Everyone here is grateful for EL FEE, “Familia en el Estrangero “(family outside the Island).
The undertone of Havana, even before you step across the road from the Malecon & the crash of the big Sea against the rocks you can smell it…. TOBACCO. Deep & dark & very sweet like opium, it is the first tone of the city; it is in the hallways & on your sheets, it comes right up & meets the ocean.
Words not used in Cuba:
CASTRO __everyone pulls down on the chin with his or her fingers.
Negro __everyone who is light skinned rubs their index finger across their forearm.
I realize here the importance of a castrated king, who fills that space were management goes if not blocked, ruining everything.
Mother’s cousin says it’s just in the Blood of the Spanish “just look, Jana, at all of Latin America.”
The kings & queens of sugar have been vanquished here, but not the last drop of Spanish blood.
I stepped into the street to kiss the hand of the Voodoo Queen of the Plaza de la Catederal in colonial Havana.
She is filling a bike taxi with her lace & black prince doll, she is a piece of art from stem to stern, she is a distrustful woman as many Cubans seem to be, with a sick son & no teeth & lots of courage. I read her palm the day before, she sitting on her little stage.
New Years day from the street:
“Buenos dias y felicidades y saludos a su pelucero”- Good day & Happy New Year & a salute to your hairdresser.
We are guests again & from the balcony on the second floor, you could see the lights on in all the apartments on the block. Couples alone or in groups danced while outside the streets were wet from the buckets of water containing their sorrows that had spilled out of their windows before the New Year began.
Through all of my stay, ready or not, tired or sick, I ran up the stairs to the rooftop of the hotel & danced. Gilbert & his wife Natasha slowly grinding away at my rock & roll to the beat of Casino! I sampled Son with its’ hard 4th steep & Conga with its back & forth 4 & Mambo, which is not indeed anything Italiano & was just too wild for me.
The very sweetest moment of the entire trip was at the Casa de Tango on Calle Neptuno; when the audience for the ancient singer & guitar player turned around on their folding chairs & came to kiss us for the joy of having us with them. It didn’t smell the same, but it was the Havana of my dreams.
You know it’s Christmas here because, the guys in the camouflage suits are everywhere & those that are not are selling Satsuma on the highway.