home page

about us
       about us

see The Beast
       see the beast

our photo album
       our photo album

explore tucson
       explore tucson

other links

email us
       email us

sign our guest book
       sign our guest book

home page



Our Magnificent Journey
Chapter 7
New Orleans


Henry Swanson  
Day 5

I drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was gone...

The alarm clock jarred us out of a restful sleep at 5:15AM, but we were anxious to get to work
Quick showers, threw on jeans (the right ones today) and t-shirts, inhaled coffee and cereal (thanks, Angela) then drove east about ten miles, circumventing downtown, to Habitat for Humanity's construction site in the Ninth Ward called Musician's Village.
Hurricanes Katrina and Rita forced many musicians to flee New Orleans.  Jazz, blues, and other genres that are the city's musical score, cannot return until the musicians return, and many have lost their homes. Habitat for Humanity International and New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity, working with Harry Connick Jr., and Branford Marsalis, honorary chairs of Operation Home Delivery, seek to change this.  Plans were announced Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2005 for a "Musicians' Village."  Operation Home Delivery is Habitat for Humanity International's hurricane rebuilding program and this Musicians' Village is one of the many projects along the Gulf Coast.
Habitat for Humanity New Orleans Mission Statement
Photo by Marybeth Dyment
The Musicians' Village, conceived by Connick and Marsalis, will consist of 81 Habitat-constructed homes for displaced New Orleans musicians. Its centerpiece will be the Ellis Marsalis Center for Music, dedicated to the education and development of homeowners and others who will live nearby. On January 9, 2006 Habitat acquired eight acres of land in the Upper 9th Ward where the Musicians' Village is now located.  In addition to the homes in the tract, plans call for building at least 150 other homes in the surrounding neighborhood. Construction is ongoing, marking the first large scale rebuilding plans in New Orleans.
Musician's Village project in the Ninth Ward
Musician's Village project in the Ninth Ward
We arrived at the site at 7:15AM. There appeared to be about 50 or 60 people by 7:30, at which time Ken, a HFH leader, began orientation with a short prayer by a Rabbi who was part of a volunteer group from Baltimore.
Ken giving orientation talk
Then we were split up into small groups, and Carol and I spent the next four hours on ladders, painting and caulking newly-constructed single shotgun houses. The morning had started out cool, but soon the sun began relentlessly beating down on us. It was a humid day as well.
David doing his best to get some of the paint on the house in addition to himself
Its a long way to the top
At 11:30 lunch was called. We had met several other volunteers by this time, and over lunch we visited with Don, a general contractor from Wisconsin, originally from New Orleans. His group was mixing and laying concrete. Everyone is working so hard and is so glad to be here. The townspeople are so overwhelmingly appreciative. Carol and I consider it an honor to be here to be part of this effort to rebuild this wonderful gem of a city.
Lunch lasted about half an hour for Carol and me, then we were back at work. It became very hot and humid, and the work was tedious, but we made friends, made it fun and got a lot of work done.There was the Jewish group from Baltimore and a few other groups like Avaya with about 20 people but mostly it appeared to be individuals working around the site.
Carol and David at the Musician's Village site
The most touching/emotional part of the day for me happened at the end of the day. As I was putting some ladders away, two older (82 and 72) gentlemen came over to the site and asked me some questions. It turns out that both of these gentlemen have been New Orleans jazz musicians most of their lives. Peter "Chuck" Badie is actually quite an accomplished bass player with a very impressive history. He has played on many songs that I grew up with, such as Mother-in-Law. He has played with Lionel Hampton, Dizzy Gillespie, Sam Cooke and Ellis Marsalis, to name just a few. A short bio of Chuck can be found at AFO (All For One) Musicians. Chuck still gigs around town. He lost everything in the storm - his house, his possessions, his instruments, his clothes, his awards, his photo albums, his family pictures that were on his walls, his memories. Chuck is waiting for his house, which is being built by Habitat for Humanity, to be finished so that he can move in and stop living with friends and family, shuffling from one to another. As he told me, "Dave, I'm really tired. I just want a place of my own to hang my hat." It has been a frustrating wait for Chuck. He was originally told that his house would be ready in June. It is now October 10 and he is still waiting, but after talking to Ken, I found out that Chuck should be able to take possession of his house within the next few weeks. Habitat for Humanity does incredible work, but much of it is volunteer, and many factors and red tape have hindered some of the progress. I took an immediately liking to Chuck, and the feeling was mutual, since he came back day after day to show us pictures of what was left of his house and his life after Katrina. He had many amazing stories to tell, some sad, some funny. One thing that struck me was when he told me "Dave, music used to be number one in my life. Now its way down on the totem pole." Twelve feet of water swept his house away in the Lower Ninth Ward after a mysterious barge slammed into the wall of the levee at the Industrial Canal . The New Orleans authorities are still trying to determine who owned the barge. Shortly after the storm it was cut up into pieces. Chuck showed us a photo of him standing near the barge.
Chuck Badie and David
The other gentleman, Henry Swanson, is a jazz singer and percussionist. He owns a home on South Roman Street, near the southern edge of the HFH site. His house displays a sign saying "Make Levees Not War" and "Save Our Wetlands." He explained to me that the Louisianna wetlands are being lost at a rate of a football field every thirty minutes. Henry is quite a charming and amicable character and kept asking me how Carol's ankle was, since she had ripped her Achilles tendon in Tucson and was limping but working like a maniac.
Henry Swanson on his porch
Both of these gentlemen were gracious, very articulate about the storm and about life in New Orleans, and were very appreciative of our presence here. I was deeply taken by their dignity, which somehow remains intact although so much was lost. Chuck and Henry both kept us riveted and entertained with story after story about "old" New Orleans, life on the road as musicians, and their outlook for the future of their neighborhoods and neighbors. We were blessed to have met them. Chuck told us that he is gigging with his band at the Palm Court Jazz Cafe on Thursday night, and we plan to be in the front row.
At the end of the workday, 3:00, we were beyond exhausted, and we were what Carol calls "Outer Limits dirty." We probably should burn these clothes when we get home.
The drive back to the B&B was short, but I was so exhausted I could barely move my feet and arms to drive. When we got there, it seemed to take us thirty minutes to climb up the stairs to the second floor but we were smiling all the way. To say that the shower felt great would be the understatement of the century.
At 5:00PM we were famished, so we drove west on Carollton to Oak Street, where we found Jacques Imo's restaurant, which had been recommended to us by Larry. Jacques Imo's is the first restaurant we've been to where you walk through the kitchen to get to your table.
Jacques Imo's
The wait staff (Kaiser and Courtney) could not possibly have taken any better care of us. They went the extra mile for us all through the evening. We started out with a cold, crisp bottle of Simi '05 Sauvignon Blanc. I ordered Cajun bouilliabase, butter beans and rice, and cooked country greens. Carol ordered Amberjack, corn and mashed sweet potatoes. Kaiser brought us each several hot garlic cornbread muffins, which were to die for. The entire eveing at Jacques Imo's was a memorable experience, our most enjoyable and delicious meal of the entire trip. Kaiser was another treasure trove of information on seeing New Orleans through the eyes of a local. Both he and Courtney could not thank us enough for coming to NOLA to lend a hand, and Kaiser brought us a delicious strawberry shortcake for desert at no cost. Jacques Imo's gets Five Stars from David and Carol.
At 7:00PM we were dead on our feet, stuffed to the gills, and nearly unable to walk. Carol's ankle was really becoming painful. Somehow we made it back to the car, managed to drive to the B&B, visited (eyes half-closed) with Angela, crawled up the stairs, and fell into bed at 7:30PM. An incredible day. I got way too much sun today (didn't listen to my wife's advice to put on sunscreen) and just before falling asleep, Carol told me I looked like a "human beet." We laughed our sore, tired butts off and fell into a coma-like sleep.

Previous Day

Next Day


 copyright 1998 / david and carol lehrman / all rights reserved
email david@davidandcarol.com