ROAD TRIP: New Orleans

Photos by Phillip Wozny

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I fell in love with the street signs in New Orleans. This one was an obvious choice.

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Before I left my editor John DeMers, a New Orleans Native, armed me with a list of must-eats. We knocked off Café du Monde hours after our arrival. Sadly to say we showed up at Central Grocery too late for a muffaletta experience. This means I will have to go back.

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Hotel Monteleone was founded by Antonio Montelone in 1886 . I just recently learned that New Orleans was second to Ellis Island as a place for Italians to land. What if the Ellis Island boat was filled and my mother had to go to New Orleans instead? I’m sure not show up early all the time and be less of a control freak.

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The Monteleone is a fave haunt for writers, plus it’s haunted. I felt at home because I’m a spooky writer. Truman Capote claims to have been born there. He wasn’t. Currently, I am claiming to be the only dance critic that stayed there. Try the turtle soup at the Hunt Room Grill.

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Chartes Street. I pronounced it like the cathedral. Wrong. The street is way too empty. Y’all need to visit.

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Another one of those tucked-in vistas of the French Quarter. New Orleans owns quaint.

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This photo was taken next to Jackson Square. I remember thinking how strange I felt in this public space. We don’t have much of that in Houston. For a second I felt like a tourist and missed my minivan. It didn’t help that I was carrying around a gift bag from Cafe du Monde.

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I like that you can see from the French Quarter all the way through to the central business district. It took a few hundred years to make what you see in this photograph.

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I asked Phil where this photo was taken. His response, “Some street.” There you have it. It’s actually behind St Louis Cathedral. Scott Graves, another B & B owner in the Marigny District had the scoop. “A bit of New Orleans underworld history about this shop–it was once a whore house! It has always had the most extraordinary window displays. A patron would enter the shop and select an ensemble from the shop and have it sent to his hotel room (or other designated place). The outfit would arrive at an appointed time filled by that evening’s “entertainment” The ensemble returned to the shop with the “filling” the next morning!”

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This is pirate’s alley where the old sea thugs would settle their biz.

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I liked Phil’s photo of SHINE, a chic spa retail outlet that also features yoga classes. I wonder if the early French settlers envisioned yoga classes. Probably not. It feels straight out of soho. If you need any trendy brands–go there. The owner of SHINE and Spa Aria, Sandy Blum, was a regular post-Katrina spa heroine. She was the first to re-open. She keeps a cigar handy to make the resident ghost at ease. It seems many New Orleans people are comfortable with the formerly human folk.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us New Orlean’s native Gilbert Rome danced with the National Ballet of Canada and Houston Ballet. He also ran a studio just down the road from me for 25 years but our paths never crossed in Texas. He joined John Crew in the B & B biz a month before Katrina struck. He tells a hell of a story about bunkering down at the Fairmont. “It was like the Titanic,” he said.

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This is an interior shot of Marigny Manor House , Gil and John’s B & B. They both know New Orleans inside and out and have a way with making you feel like French royality in their sidehall cottage. The famous jazz joints are footsteps away on Frenchman Street. John tooks us to see the Jazz Vipers at The Spotted Cat. At one point a young kid turned to Phillip and said, “This is the real New Orleans.”

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Gil thew a little cocktail event for me to meet some of the local dance people. From left to right, Gil, Elaine Mead, Hiller Huhn, Gayle Parmalee, and Miguel Lopez. Gayle, the beautiful red-haired woman, escaped from her home in a canoe. She rescued her cat and her 90-year old landlord as well.

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In the days and weeks after Katrina I heard endless NPR stories on missing musicians. I was more than a bit disappointed that no one seemed to be looking for dancers. I didn’t know who to look for until Chris Lidvall told me to look for Joseph Giacobbe . I found him and here he is in his Metarie studio in front of his good luck portrait. It was actually Robin Schmidt, his company administrator, that helped me find him. Her emails to me were like a voice in the wilderness. I finally met Robin who had corresponded with me for all those weeks after the storm. She’s back living in New Orleans with an apartment full of furniture donated by Mattress Mack at Gallery Furniture. Joseph is back at the helm of his three dance studios and getting Delta Festival Ballet up and running.

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They like to start things on fire in New Orleans, especially at restaurants. Joseph treated us to an unforgettable dinner at Arnaud’s. Phil ordered a coffee drink. It kept him up for 24 hours and asleep for the next 24 hours. The Bananas Foster at Brennan’s were equally fabulous. A shout out to Jessica for the flaming banana ballet. It was her first try and she nailed it.

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These are some of Joseph’s students dancing Tom Ralabate’s Stay With Me. Tom is from my hometown, Buffalo, and runs the dance department at UB. He came to New Orleans as a gift to Joseph and set this dance. The dancers came alive dancing Tom’s work and seemed to exude a maturity beyond their years.

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Joseph is rehearsing for his recital. I like the serious mood of the studio. All of these dancers had their lives distrupted.

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Talk about a bad segue. Sorry. I know it’s abrupt. But that is how it is in New Orleans right now. This is the 9th Ward. Gil took us on a drive. He said things had improved; It was hard to imagine that they looked worse.

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9th Ward

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This is a gate in the Garden District. For the two weeks following the storm I called a fellow Feldenkrais teacher every day who was left alone in her Garden District home with only a working phone and a battery radio. She has sinced moved away from New Orleans but it was odd walking around the neighborhood that I had called so often. She eventually came to stay with me in Houston for a few days but let the Wednesday before Rita. She taught me how to fill my freezer with bags of water and reminded me to fill my gas tank. I took the first advice and ignored the latter.

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Chris Waddington, a fellow dance writer, and chum from the Institute of Dance Criticism at the American Dance Festival. We met up at Tsunami Dance Company’s performance of Orpheus. All of us were very worried about this young chap when Katrina hit. He’s back writing about dance and other subjects and working for FEMA. I learned how to order a martini from Chris although have yet to have to actually order one at a real bar.

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This photo is obviously not Phillip’s. It’s the original 2005 poster for Tsunami’s Orpheus. Here’s the strange part. The image of this underwater dancer was taken way before Katrina had a name. So, as it turns out, Katrina went down in August and Orpheus went up in June 06. If only we knew what the weather and art gods were thinking. The photo is by Vanessa Brown and Jeff Louviere. You can read my review on Dance Magazine’s website.

This is Phillip, my son and New Orleans eyes and companion. In addition being a photographer, he’s an actor, musician, and soon to be 10th grader at Cy-Woods HS.

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