Friday, June 23, 2017

On the Flip Side (of the World)

Hey, want to hear something crazy? Louise is in Pune, India. Yeah. Pune. India. That’s over here:



Which is to say, very far away. Ten-and-a-half time zones away. (Yes, half-time-zones are a thing.)

And what the hell, might you ask, is Louise doing half way around the globe by herself? Well, she’s not actually by herself. The clever (not so) little gal got herself accepted to the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y) program to study Hindi! (Short version: Uncle Sam wants more Americans to learn “strategically significant” languages — Arabic, Korean, Hindi, Mandarin, etc. — and they’re willing to foot the bill to send dedicated late-high school language-lovers to travel overseas for seven weeks to participate in their immersive language study programs.)

And so, off our little birdie flew, last Sunday, from the Big Easy to the Big Apple, where she converged with her fourteen young Hindi-studying compatriots for a couple of days of intensive orientating. Then a Tuesday night direct flight to Mumbai.1 And a middle-of-the-night drive to Pune.

And there she is! Doing some more orientating. This weekend she'll settle in with her host family, with her two new little host sisters. She'll live with them for the better part of the next two months. She'll take Hindi classes with her group, for twenty to thirty hours a week. And they'll traipse around together, engaging in various immersively cultural activities and just generally getting their minds blown. And then they'll head back to the US of A in early August, knowing a hell of a lot more Hindi — and a hell of a lot more of all kinds of things — than they knew when they left.

So, yes. This little pumpkin, who long time readers will remember from the early Slimbo-years:



is now this big pumpkin, out in the world, learning and doing all kinds of kind-of-unimaginable things:



Seriously crazy, huh? Oh, yeah! And chip-off-the-old-blogger, she’s documenting her travels here:

http://prettyinpune.tumblr.com/

You go, grrrrl!

1 At fifteen-hours-and-change of direct flying, it was already one of the longest non-stop flights in the world. It was made still longer when they sat on the tarmac at Newark Airport for three hours, before taking off, because a broken coffeepot somehow snowballed into a crew timeout.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Rainy Saturday Afternoon Doodle

Weird and Weirder

Weird: I woke up with the chorus of Billy Joel's "My Life" stuck on loop in my head.

Weirder: I think I'm okay with it.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Crisis Averted



I like to think this situation is emblematic of my twin heritages. The washer latch broke, a major crisis on a busy laundry Sunday. But crisis averted: I've applied my farm boy-savvy jury-rigging ingenuity (my mom's side) to fix it by carefully wedging it closed with a big-ass piece of marble top from a flood-destroyed antique sideboard (my dad's side). All is well. 

Thursday, June 01, 2017

This Old House: This Old Stuff

The series continues.

We’ve met the house. We’ve seen the crazy. We’ve pondered its genesis. We’re almost ready to discuss the renovation itself. But there’s one more bit of backstory we need to tackle first: the stuff.

Because you see, I didn’t just inherit a big old crazy-ass house. I inherited a big old crazy-ass house bursting at the seams with generations of accumulated artifacts, filling every nook and cranny and twist and turn and shelf and shed and closet and cupboard; treasures, trash, and everything in between. For mine was a family of packrats, with a deep abhorrence of throwing away anything that could conceivably be used for any purpose at any time in the foreseeable or unforeseeable future.

A sampling of the stuff, in no particular order:

  • Lots of antiques: armoires of various sizes, chests of drawers, consoles, Chips full-tester bed, a secretary desk, ornate chairs and sofas, glass-fronted bookcases, etc.
  • Lots of far less glamorous furniture
  • Several well-worn rugs
  • Photographs, thousands of photographs, dating from the 1800s through the 1990s, enough photographs to fill a large full-height file cabinet, many though not all of them my grandfather's
  • Multiple generations of defunct Macintoshes
  • A large portrait of my ancestor Cesaire Olivier1
  • Hand-drawn family trees (some of which actually looked like trees)
  • A book of Princess Diana and Prince Charles Fashion Paper Dolls in Full Color
  • A hilarious old volume, The Standard Book of Politeness Good Behavior and Social Etiquette for Ladies and Gentlemen
  • And a whole lot of other books. Old books. New books. Amazing books. Junky books. Huge dictionaries. Tiny 19th century French prayer books. Cook books. Books for dummies. Philosophy. Theology. Mysticism. Good fiction. Trashy fiction. Books, books, books, books, books, books, books. (We shipped off a hundred boxes full of non-keepers to the public library.)
  • All manner of curious old family documents from communions, graduations, etc.
  • Multiple recipes for Anisette
  • All manner of artwork, some wonderful, some less so
  • Stacks of Annou's odd and sometimes lovely paintings
  • A book of war rations
  • Old cameras in various states of disrepair
  • Old typewriters
  • Old stenotype machines (Chip worked for a spell as a court stenographer.)
  • An assortment of maps
  • An incomplete musket cleaning kit
  • A lovely old clock
  • Other more ordinary clocks
  • Annou's calligraphy practice sheets
  • An absurd number of wickerless wicker chairs
  • A half-rotted prie-dieu
  • Several bills of Confederate money, some partially burnt
  • An inoperable 1890s Smith and Wesson pistol
  • A Bowie knife
  • Every check stub for every check my grandfather had ever written
  • Every bill — it seemed — my grandfather had ever received
  • A remarkable assortment of linens
  • Boxes of rotted lace and doilies
  • Boxes of untouched office supplies
  • Boxes of untouched art supplies
  • Stacks of Chip's old records: lots of 78s, some 45s, mostly though not exclusively classical
  • My dad's old pirogue, stashed under the house
  • Orphaned pieces of now-departed antiques: ornate disembodied curlicues and brackets, indeterminate bits and bobs
  • All manner of old cookware and kitchen implements, some cool, some weird, some broken
  • All manner of chinaware
  • My grandmother's diary from the early years of their marriage
  • My grandfather's diary from when he was the assistant to Senator Ransdell
  • Lots and lots of little decorative boxes
  • Several reels of film
  • A defunct projector
  • Chip's piano
  • Chip's flute (I didn't know he played flute)
  • Boxes upon boxes upon boxes of meticulously filed paperwork (my grandfather was a highly organized hoarder), which had long ago ceased to be of any use
  • Two broken reel-to-reel tape machines
  • Various other broken bits of recording equipment
  • Antiquated garden implements
  • A hand-painted Olivier de Vezin family crest ("Olivier de Vezin" was the original fancy full-length family name which was later shortened to plain old "Olivier")
  • A receipt for payment from Hotel Dieu for my uncle Chip's birth
  • Empty bottles of darkroom chemicals
  • Empty bottles of sherry, stashed amongst the darkroom chemicals
  • Several hatchets (presumably for chopping one's way out of the attic, in case of massive flooding)
  • An invitation to my grandparents, from when they lived in Washington D.C., to hear Marie Curie speak
  • Chip's old army boots
  • Many many many rosaries (Like a hundred. No, probably not that many. But it seemed like a hundred. So many rosaries)
  • A wire dress-making form
  • A large piece of elaborate gold embroidery from a liturgical garment
  • Lots of hats
  • Lots of gloves
  • Lots of scarves
  • Lots of funky old suitcases
  • A large assortment of profoundly tarnished silver
  • Lots of Virgin Marys
  • Several nativity sets, of varying origin and materials
  • A rich assortment of Mexican curiosities
  • Every sort of basket
  • Every sort of porcelain curio
  • My dad's old homework
  • Old newspapers
  • Old magazines
  • Lots of crosses
  • Lots of pictures of Jesus
  • Lots of pictureless picture frames
  • Lots of ceramic heads
  • Lots and lots of old lady clothes

This overflowing stuff dramatically amplified the home’s sense of claustrophobic nuttiness, and it dramatically amplified our sense of stunned deer-in-headlights indecision. Because before we could do anything with the house, we had to empty the house.

And so began the Great Culling, sorting through the contents item-by-item and deciding, is it:
  1. something we keep?
  2. something we throw away?
  3. something we don’t keep but don’t throw away?
and then having made this decision, sending each item to its respective next destination:
  1. a storage unit
  2. a dumpster
  3. a new home: family, friend, charity, etc.
Some decisions were easy. We quickly purged two dumpsters-worth of obvious garbage. And we squirreled away some obvious keepers. But there were two enormous gray areas:
Gray Area #1: Is-It-Or-Is-It-Not-Trash? The stuff that sort of seems kind of cool and like somebody somewhere might have some sort of use for it, but the charities don’t want it, and we can’t convince family or friends to take it, and we don’t need it, and maybe-probably it’s just funky old garbage. 
Gray Area #2: Is-It-Or-Is-It-Not-Something-We-Want-To-Keep? The stuff that’s definitely cool and interesting and definitely not trash and that we’re tempted to keep, but there’s just too damn much of it, and if we keep all of the kind of cool interesting stuff, we’ll just be perpetuating the problem and will end up living in our own next-generation claustrophobic-den-of-antiquarian-knick-knacks.
But we pondered and deemed and whittled, and in the end we prevailed: decided the fate of every single item in that uncountable plenitude, and sent each on its way to its newly prescribed destiny. It was a huge task. (The decision-making alone was exhausting.) Sarah took off two full weeks from work at the outset just to get a running start. We spent nights and weekends sorting and hauling. Family came and helped. (We received invaluable assistance from Cousin Timmie, the resident family historian, who gave us backstory deets on many of the otherwise mystifying treasures.) And so it went, in fits and starts, for well over a year, until at last, everything had been either stored away, given away, or thrown away.

And as the Great Culling lurched and lumbered to its conclusion, we proceeded in parallel with the Great Mulling, considering our options for the house itself, enlisting The Architects, planning plans and scheming schemes, and crystalizing our vision for the home’s next iteration.

And so at last, with the stuff gone and the plans drawn, we were finally ready to get on with the actual business of making this big old crazy-ass house into a big new wondrous (though still decidedly idiosyncratic) house.

Next up: The Great Edit. Stay tuned!

And I took a whole bunch of photos of the house-as-it-was, before we cleared it out. I think I'll kick off a parallel "This Old Stuff" photo series to more fully convey the peculiar particularities of this trove.

1 When we had the painting appraised, the appraiser told us it was painted by the French painter Eugène Devéria, that it would have been commisioned when Cesaire was shipped off to Paris as a young man to get some “cultcha” — a common practice for wealthy young French colonial types — and that Devéria actually had a painting in the Louvre. We thought, that’s cool. And when we visited the Louvre last summer, we decided to look it up, expecting to find some nice little portrait in some far corner of the museum. We were therefore surprised to discover his work The Birth of Henry the IV, an absolutely ginormous historical tableau, hung in the Gallery-of-Paintings-Too-Ginormous-To-Fit-Anywhere-Else, a stone’s toss from the Mona Lisa.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

This Old House: The Origin Story

Whoah! I’m way overdue on this post (durn kids and job — and the actual renovation — getting in the way of my bloggy-time; grumble, grumble), but better late than never. Our series continues. 

(WARNING: The following content contains extremely high levels of geekery. If you get bored, just skim through for the fun bits and look at the pretty pictures. There won't be a quiz.)

Okay, so last time, we discussed the what of the house’s crazy. Now let’s (at last) examine the why. (If our house was a superhero, this is where we would describe its innocent early childhood and dark adolescent traumas that led to its tortured adulthood — nicely setting us up for our ensuing renovation-redemption.)

A Brief Recap

This is how it looked when we inherited it:


A lot of little rooms and not a lot of overarching architectural coherence.

It probably won’t shock you to learn that this was not the original floor plan but was instead the culminating result a many-decades evolution, a long sequence of major and minor modifications, each addressing some particular need of the occupants of the time, all individually sensible enough, but ultimately aggregating to an essentially non-sensical end result.1

I knew that from the get-go. What I didn’t know was the particulars of the home’s evolution: how it started and where it traveled along the way. (And I wasn’t the only one who was stumped. The architects and the contractor all had their share of head-scratching moments.)

The solving of this riddle (in as much as it’s been solved) has been a thoroughly enjoyable bit of sleuthery. So let’s get on with our story!

In the Beginning

Fortunately we have a tidy bit of documentation telling us  the circumstances of the home's birth. From New Orleans Architecture: The Esplanade Ridge2:



To quote:
The architectural firm of Toledano and Wogan is traditionally responsible for many of the early twentieth-century houses along the Esplanade. One of the firm's trademarks was the shield seen as decoration here on the piers of the central house.
Ok, got it. Early twentieth century. Designed by Toledano and Wogan. Dudes liked them some shields:


Bling, bling, bling!

Straightforward enough.

In Which We Muddy the Waters (the Shocking Plot Twist)

Or is it? [Dramatic music: Duh duh DUUUHHH!]

During the renovations, it came to light that front section may actually be older than the rest of the house. This bit here:



Amazing architectural drawings by Marilyn the Architect (see below)

The clearest evidence for this is found in the attic, where big random beams slant through open space, serving no apparent purpose, until one recognizes them as (we postulate) the vestigial remnants of the roof from when this front section was a standalone structure. (The architects3 first pieced this theory together as they rooted around the house during the initial stages of planning, and it’s been further corroborated by my own subsequent sleuthing-among-the-rafters.4)

And the architects seemed to find additional evidence supporting this theory when they dug up the old Sanborn maps,5 revealing that there was indeed a smaller structure  (well, structures, plural, really) on the property, dating back to the 19th century:

Left: 1895-1896 — Right: 1929-1940

And so we thought, ahh, it all makes sense: this big new house ate that little old house — slapped a giant extension on the back and some fanciness on the front — and now that little old house is just a little part of this big new house.

But... the pieces of the puzzle don’t fit together quite so neatly. Looking at the maps real close-like, we notice that the older structure doesn't quite match the allegedly older front section of the current home (narrower and deeper) And the maps seem pretty damn precise, so one isn't inclined to chock it up to slovenly surveying. So...

It’s all a bit murky and mysterious. The particulars are unclear. But I for one am fully on board with the theory that something was there, and then something else was there, and that at least part of the something that was there before stuck around and became part of the something that was there after.6

But Anyhoo...

What is clear is that at some point in the early twentieth century, as this formerly edge-of-town neighborhood was getting denser and more citified, somebody decided it was worth their while to swap out the old smaller (and presumably) humbler structure for a big new blingy modern dwelling, replete with all the the contemporary amenities  — and lots of nifty decorative shields. And whether it was by tearing-down-and-starting-anew or by cannibalizing-and-extending, an unrecognizably different bigger fancier house now stood on the lot.

The exterior of this new home would have looked very much as it does today (minus the purple windows; more on that in a minute). But what would the interior have looked like? It would have been a fancified elaboration of (what’s known around here as) a shotgun double, a pervasive style for New Orleans homes from that time: two (almost) mirror-image sides; each following the “shotgun” floorplan: no hall, just rooms stacked one-after-the-other, interconnected by doors; one side for the owners to live in; the other side to be rented out. Something like this:


On each side: a foyer, a nice big double parlor; then a couple of rooms for bedroom purposes; and another room in the back, perhaps a shared space; plus a kitchen; and plenty of porches all around. The right side (from the front), with its big fancy bay windows and larger parlor, would have been the “master” side, where the owners lived. The other side would be rented.

This original(-ish) layout was not at all evident to me at first, but having now spent an inordinate amount of time staring at floorplans and rummaging around in gutted walls and pestering relatives with questons and mentally whittling away the subsequent architectural encrustations — and also just generally having a sense of how things were built around here back then — I think this is a pretty good bet.

In Which We Eff Ish Up

This original design is nice and symmetrical and utterly sensible (according to the sensibilities of the time). So what happened? Now we get to our long-sequence-of-major-and-minor-sensible-modifications-aggregating-to-a-non-sensical-end-result. Let’s eff some ish up! (Caveat: the following is my own educated guesswork. There's definitely some unknowns and probably some errors, but the general gist should be about right.)

They tacked some sheds on the back. (We know these were added later because they weren’t on the Sanborn map.) Storage is nice. Seems like a good move.






Somebody split the left side into two apartments, presumably for more rental income. During this process, they would have sealed up the big double doors between the first and second parlor on that side, creating the front bedroom (which eventually became my uncle Chip’s). And they carved out that new little kitchen (which my grandfather later converted into his darkroom).


Somebody said, “Hey, dey got dees new tings called terlets,” which is New Orleans-ese for, “Hey, they’ve got these new things called toilets,” and this being a big fancy house, they of course had to go and slap a bunch of terlets all up in dere (including the servants toilets, a common feature in fancier homes of the time, in the way back of the shed).


(The sequence of this apartment-divvying v. toilets stuff is definitely pretty jumbly: Which was first? Which was second? Was it all at the same time? Dunno.)


Also somewhere in here, they also slapped in a few closets (another exciting modern innovation; previously it was all armoires — or “armors” — all the time). And maybe shifted a door.





The family who lived in the house prior to my grandparents, thought to themselves, y’know, the facade doesn’t have quite enough going on. Let’s add some purple stained glass windows. So they added some purple stained glass windows: bling, bling, bling, bling, bling, bling, bling, bling, bling, bling! (My grandmother, apparently, was a fan of neither the windows nor the family who put them there.)


(Then my grandparents moved in, and the details get a little clearer.)


My grandparents enclosed their side porch, creating the hallway-formerly-known-as-a-porch.








With this new fangled hallway thing, one no longer had to pass shotgun-style through each room to get to the back, and so they were able to close up between the first and second parlors (because really, who needs that much parlor?) and create a convenient new little guest bedroom (which they could then stuff oppressively full of plantation-scale antiques).


At this point, the house was still three separate apartments, each sensible enough. But then my grandparents started slicing doors between the apartments (apparently a non-trivial task for the poor carpenter who had to saw through the home’s giant old timbers with a handsaw), turning the multiple units into a single family dwelling. And that’s when the nuttiness really notched up, with the separately sensible elements tumbling all together and turning into one kooky colossosus. (First, my grandfather’s demented aunt Tantsie came to stay in the back apartment for a spell. Later Chip and Annou returned home and occupied the front and back apartments respectively.) The mid-house doors were cut first (those “mystery doors” from our tour). The doors at the back were cut later, spawning the famed double-kitchen. (Oh yeah, and now there was that spare third kitchen  — because two kitchens is company, but three's a crowd — so my grandfather converted it into darkroom. And they ran some stairs up into the attic.)


And voila! That’s how you make the crazy! Thusly the labyrinthine house of my childhood was born:


Cool, huh?

And Just a Little More

But wait, there’s just a little bit more to bring it up to its recent pre-renovation state.

After my granparents passed away (my grandfather died at the age of ninety-three, shortly after Sarah and I moved to New Orleans post-college; my grandmother had died a few years earlier), the doors between the two halves of the house were again sealed up. My uncle chip ultimately moved into a home. And my aunt Annou continued to stay on in the house by herself. She rented out my grandparents’ half. And Chip’s apartment became the family warehouse, crammed full of all the belongings that had once been distributed throughout the large house — a dense warren, traced through with “goat trails”, stuffed high and low with generations of stuff, great and small, mighty and minor. (The stuff is its own whole conversations, so we’ll save that for later.)

And so at last, the house came to me — wonderful, complicated, bewildering. And we were presented with the riddle: what could be the next iteration of this house? Can we devise a solution that adds coherence rather than subtracts it? (Is renovation-redemption possible for our tortured hero?) If so, what does that look like? What to preserve? What to remove? What to add?

More on that soon.

And really, I will try to pick up the pace a bit. Three posts in, and I’m already going George R.R. Martin on this thing. (Though you will understand, this has been a labor-intensive couple of posts.) Until next time...


1 There’s an interesting book on this subject, How Buildings Learn. It examines exactly this: how buildings evolve over time, what are the driving forces and the common patterns. And it argues that change is a buildings natural mode, not an aberration; that any structure that’s around long enough will deviate — a little or a lot — from its original intent and design. And that this is an interesting and appropriate thing, to be examined and understood.

2 It’s part of a cool series, each book focusing on a particular historical New Orleans neighborhood, giving a broad overview of the architectural trends and also block-by-block accounts of the particular buildings found there.

3 The fabulous and talented Feldmeier Galyean, known colloquially to us as Taylor and Marilyn. (More on them later.)

4 Further details for the amateur architectural historians and wood-nerds amongst you: Being a big old dork, I’ve now done plenty of rooting around in the far recesses of the attic (carefully placing my steps so as not to fall through the ceiling below), and the evidence is there: rows of nail-holes in these now-interior beams, from when they once supported the exterior roof; and even a few lingering obsolete cross planks from the former decking, big old boards of a type not found anywhere else in the attic.

5 The Sanborn Maps were produced for the better part of a century for the purpose of calculating fire insurance, and they show, among other things, the footprint of every structure on every lot in the city — a fantastic resource for historical inquiry.

6 (I’m slapping the next bit in a footnote because it's highly conjectural. But it’s my goddamn blog so I’ll conjecture if I want to.) So I thought to myself, well what might that previous structure been? A Creole cottage is a reasonable guess. And what might that cottage have looked like? Well, if we were to whittle away the extensions and the bay windows and the froofery from the later structure, we'd end up with a plain little rectangular building with a hipped roof and a deep porch. Maybe a little something like... this?



The Joseph Petitpierre-Kleinpeter House, a genuine old Creole cottage in East Baton Rouge. Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe probably not. Dunno. Just sayin'.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

This Old House: Enter the Labyrinth

The series continues.

Last time, I promised you the home’s origin story, but I've realized that before we get to the why of the crazy, I need to show you the what. It's changed only slightly in the past few decades, so let’s take a tour of the house as I knew it in my childhood, when my grandparents lived there. (I may make the occasional minor memory misstep, but my family will fact check me.)

Pulling up to the front of the house (perhaps having just bumped along Airline Highway back from the airport in my grandparents’ K-Car), the house makes a grand and reasonably coherent impression:


I say “reasonably coherent”. One could argue that the combination of rectangular brick Doric columns, round wood Ionian columns, clapboard, masonry, stucco, Tudor-style framing, dentils, bay windows, and decorative shields, further blinged up by the addition of purple stained glass windows, is pushing it a bit.

Inside is where things get weird. Behold!


Yeah, one big house with a whole lot of little rooms. But a simple diagram doesn't quite convey the nuttiness, so let's get moving. (Bring your breadcrumbs.)


Entering the front door, things are sensible enough: a foyer, a formal parlor on the left. We could duck into the parlor and check out its antiques and curiosities, shelves full of old books in French, etc. But we’re not going to do that, because mostly people didn’t go in the parlor very much, because mostly not a lot happened there. So we proceed onward, through a glass-paned door, into the hall towards the back.


The hall is where things get quirky. The left interior wall looks like an exterior wall: wood clapboard siding, windows looking (further) in onto dark interior(-er) rooms, tall shuttered French doors. The right (actual) exterior wall is dominated by a huge bank of jalousie windows letting in a flood of light, striking but incongruous, more typical of mid-century Miami than early-century New Orleans. (This all makes more sense if you know that this "hall" was created by my grandparents' enclosure of a side-porch.) There's also an (actual) exterior door, but that just leads out to a little side alley, which isn't very exciting, so let's not get distracted.


Passing through another glass door at the end of the hall, we enter the dining/living room, the principal communal space of the home, modest-sized and densely packed: a large dining table and chairs in the center; four large lazy boys around the perimeter, one for each resident (grandfather, grandmother, aunt, uncle); and in the corner, a  color television, always tuned to the news and always turned up very loud for my very deaf grandfather (and kind of deaf other family members).


From the dining/living room, there are of lots of ways to proceed, but for the moment let’s keep heading straight, out the back door and onto the back porch (well, one of the back porches; more on that later), light and airy, with a big trunk of toys for the various visiting children. And we could keep heading back, out the screen door, and into the little courtyard (well, one of the little court yards; more on that later), containing a small cinder block pond full of lily pads and goldfish and tiny little frogs.


Or retracing back to the dining/living room, from here we could instead hook a left into the kitchen, well, the first kitchen. And continuing through that, we could enter the second kitchen. Yeah, two kitchens. Both small and chock full of curious cookware and dishware and sundries (including a number of demitasses, which years later would form the core of my now vast and glorious demitasse collection), interconnected by a door, and collectively fulfilling the kitchenly duties of the home.




And of course, from either the first or second kitchen, we could hook respective rights, heading respectively back to either the pantry or the laundry room. And naturally we could then pass back and forth between the pantry and the laundry. And from the pantry, we could either exit back out onto the first back porch or head further back to one side of the large attached back shed. Or from the laundry, we could either exit out onto the second back porch (more on that later) or head further back to the other side of large attached back shed. (Are you taking notes?)


But let’s re-retrace. From the dining/living room, there is yet another option. Let's instead hook a sharp left into my grandparents bedroom, immediately adjacent. (In later evening, we might perchance find my grandmother praying the rosary here.) Off to the right is my grandmother’s bathroom (my grandparents had separate bathrooms; very civilized), which was notable for its large skylight directly over the bathtub, which I greatly enjoyed peering up through, as a wee bathing whippersnapper. On the left is a window and set of French doors which open "out" onto the hallway-formerly-known-as-a-porch where we first came in. (Yes, we're now in those aforementioned "interior(-er)" rooms.) But let's instead proceed through their bedroom, because this is New Orleans, land of shotgun houses, where bedroom-as-hall is par for the course.


Here things get increasingly complicated. (I know, right?) We have entered “the sewing room”, though I don’t remember much sewing happening here. It’s mainly a sort of short wide passageway, with a bed, where I slept when I visited, and where my father slept when he lived here as a child. Now we can proceed on every which kind of way:
  1. To the left out through another set of French doors, back into the hallway-formerly-known-as-a-porch
  2. Through a mystery door in the far wall, one of the several routes into my aunt Annou’s semi-autonomous apartment. (More on that later.)
  3. Around the bend, then to the left, into my grandfather’s bathroom, with its large bowl of loose change on top of the toilet, which when older, I was allowed to raid for bus fare down to the Quarter.
  4. Around the bend, then to the right, through the second mystery door, one of the several routes into my uncle Chip’s semi-autonomous apartment. (More on that later.)
  5. Or we could head around the bend, then straight ahead, through the last door. 

And here we dead-end in the guest bedroom, the home’s Southern Gothic inner core: dark, crammed with dark antiques, many of them Mallard, dominated by a towering Mallard half-tester bed, elaborate furniture of a scale appropriate for a large plantation home but utterly overwhelming when packed together in this one small room. Other notable contents included an odd little prie-dieu (prayer bench), which for a long time I thought was just a ridiculously short chair, and a huge armoire (pronounced “armor” in my family's Creole vernacular) crammed with oddities, including several porcelain dolls (just to really notch up the Goth). This is where my parents stayed when we visited. Also where Sarah stayed when she came to visit in college — a good and proper culture shock for my Miami gal, coming from a city where her childhood 60s ranch home was considered "vintage". (Note: I said we "dead-ended" here. We could actually go "out" through another set of French doors to the hallway-formerly-known-as-a-porch, but these were usually closed and shuttered.)


But let’s re-re-retrace our steps, back again now to the second kitchen, and proceed on through it to Annou’s (semi-autonomous) apartment, entering her eclectically cluttered sort-of-personal-living-room (more papers, books, and curios than you can shake a stick at). Off to the right is the (long anticipated) second back porch, and beyond that is the second courtyard, an approximate mirror image of the other, where she grows her herbs. (Though wait, was that later? Hmm.) A door in the corner leads to her bathroom. But we will continue on through to the left.


And we arrive in her (also eclectically cluttered) bedroom.  Here there are yet more French doors, though these ones actually lead out-outside to an actual side porch. (We're now on the opposite side of the house from where we started.) But they're closed and shuttered, so to preserve our sanity, let’s pretend they aren’t even there and just keep trucking, across the room and through the door in the far wall. (Again, New Orleans: bedroom-as-hall). Now we are presented with three more options. (Egads!):
  1. Hook a right, follow a long skinny passage, and exit through a side door out onto the just-mentioned actual side porch.
  2. Go through the mystery door to the left, in which case we'd be back in the "sewing room"! (Remember? This is that first mystery door from a while ago. Kaboom! Mind blown.)
  3. Or go through the mystery door straight ahead. And we enter…

Chip’s (semi-autonomous) apartment! Now we are entering the maziest maze of this amazingly mazy house. To the right is Chip’s private bathroom, a vintage vision in tile-y white. To the left, another mystery door, leading back to round-the-bend-from-the-"sewing-room". (This is that second mystery door from a while ago! Kaboom! Mind blown-er.) And straight ahead is a dark narrow hall with walls finished in a strange super-textured stucco that isn't found anywhere else in the house. (I don't really remember what was here when I was a kid. I didn't go back here much. Later, when Annou was living alone, it was lined with full-height bookshelves, housing her huge library, heavy on philosophy, fiction, and "Macs for Dummies" books). We head down the hall, through a weird arch, hook a dogleg, and find ourselves in an odd little space of indeterminate purpose. And now we again have three options. (Oh. Come. On!)
  1. Right: A door leading to a former kitchen (another one), since converted into my grandfather’s dark room. (He was an avid and talented amateur photographer.) Here a set of rough open stairs leads up through the ceiling into the attic, (which if we went up there, we’d see the cavernous raw space spanning the whole width and breadth of the house, home to a massive herd of wickerless wicker chairs).
  2. Straight: Another set of French doors, also leading out onto the actual non-hallway side porch.
  3. Left: Passing through this door we enter…

My uncle Chip’s bedroom, also eclectically cluttered, though with Chip-clutter (musical instruments, records, typewriters, CD players) rather than Annou-clutter. The room is dominated by another giant bed, this one a full-tester, even larger than the other, though simpler (a notable absence of curlicues). And passing through the bedroom, we arrive at the very last room on our tour (!!), Chip's piano nook — which even though this feels like the deepest depths of the house, is actually the other front foyer to the other front door. Here we find, well, his piano. Chip was a capable classical pianist (and occasional composer), though in his later years, his repertoire diminished mostly to scales, which I would hear him distantly playing, sometimes for hours at a time, through the walls from where I lay in my bed in the "sewing room".


And that’s the tour, folks! Oh wait, the garage. Do you want to see the garage? Later? Okay, later. Now how do we get back out of here...?

But really, do you get now why we had to give a serious think-or-two before deciding to tackle this labyrinthine behemoth? It was not a knock-out-a-wall-or-two kind of situation. So I think we've established the what of the nutty. Next time for real we'll get to the why, the twists and turns that got this house so twisty-turny. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

This (Big) Old (Crazy-Ass) House

A lot has been going on during the Great Slimbo-Doldrums. Let’s catch up.

As a kid, I was obsessed with that show, This Old House, the old-school prototype of the modern home renovation show, in which they documented the step-by-step rehabilitation of some venerable antique home. I loved all the particularities of the transformation as the old structure took on new life. Little did I know, several decades later, we would be undertaking exactly such a grand renovation, living our own real-world version of the show. The house:


In its "before" state (exactly as it had looked all my life)

Points of note:
  • It was my grandparents’. They moved there in the 50s. My father spent the latter part of his childhood there. (My aunt and uncle, his older siblings, continued to live on there as adults.)
  • It was the New Orleans home of my childhood, where I visited every summer and many Christmases. 
  • After my grandparents died, my aunt Annou continued to live on one side, renting out the other.
  • When she passed away, it came to me.
  • It’s big.
  • It’s crazy. Well, it was crazy. Now it’s on its way to being slightly less crazy. More like eclectic-in-a-good-way. (The crazy will take some explaining and will require a separate follow-on post in which we perform a proper architectural psychoanalysis.)
Upon inheriting it, we spent a long time figuring out what to do. Renovate it and keep it? Sell it as is? On the one hand, it was a quirky cool majestic old beast. On the other hand, as I said, it was crazy: a bizarro rambling Frankenhouse maze of awkward untenable rooms, the result of a century-and-a-half of idiosyncratic evolution. To turn it into a viable home would be a massive undertaking.

But after a lengthy spell of deer-in-headlights indecision, mulling our options and culling its contents,1 the inevitable decision made itself clear: make this big old crazy-ass house our big old crazy-ass house, bring it some much needed sanity, and make it a home for the next generations.

And so started our lengthy saga in earnest. And it continues on today. A lot has happened, the bulk of the work, though there’s still plenty more to do. And it’s occupying a big chunk of my Slimbo-brain-space, so let’s give it some Slimbo-blog space. Stay tuned for some proper serialized reporting of the rehab fun, thus far and furthermore.

Next up: The Origin Story. How did that house get so damn crazy?

1 Oh yeah, that’s the other thing. Adding to its crazy-vibe (and amplifying our deer-in-headlights-ness), the house was stuffed to the gills (metaphorically; houses don’t actually have gills) with old stuff — amazing stuff, total crap, and everything in between. But that’s its own other whole post’s worth of pondering, so we’ll save that for later too.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Morning Pourover



The trick was to draw the coffee while making the coffee (with Sarah checking in, "So... how's the coffee coming"), an awkward juggle.

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

What's His Deal? Side-Eye McPompadour



Alright, next up: this guy. What's his deal? Name, backstory, preferred sock color, etc. (Sarah was picking up a Weimar Republic cabaret MC vibe. Your mileage may vary.)

Friday, March 31, 2017

What’s His Deal? Toothy McChunkmullet

Ooh! We haven’t played “What’s His/Her Deal?” in a while. Let’s do that! So...


This guy popped out of my doodle-cortex. What’s his deal? ('Cause I really don't know. He kind of freaks me out.) Y'know, name, backstory? Maybe a favorite color? Name of his cherished childhood stuffed animal...? Dealer’s choice.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Alligator Pear

Pop quiz:
Who is familiar with the term "alligator pear" as a name for an avocado?
That's what my grandparents called them.1 Is that an around-here thing? (I could Google it, but that's no fun.) Really, it's a pretty good name, like if an alligator and a pear had a baby, all green and bumpy:



(Though actually if they had a baby, it would probably have teeth, and the thought of an avocado with teeth is horrifying, so let's not think about that.)

I don't really hear it much these days, but maybe I'm just traveling in the wrong circles. I'm going to have to try it on for size (Avocado pear, avocado pear, acovado pear, avopado care, occupado bear, I walk out O'Hare...)

1 That was one of the many culinary peculiarities I had to adapt to when I came to visit my grandparents from the northern hinterlands (and beyond); that, and calling mayonnaise "my-oh-nez" and saying grace and having a soup course and "French bread" (po-boy bread) and eating tomato aspic and cows' tongues and pigs' feet and merlitons and creole cream cheese and pain perdu and animals that still had their eyes...

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Evening Sketch-A-Doodle: Little Red Cup Sitting on My Desk



Points to note:
And with that, it's time for bed. Goodnight, room. Goodnight, moon. Goodnight, red doodle. Goodnight, sleepy noodle...

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Check. Mate.

Sarah was in California last week for work/etc. and kept texting us photos of rolling wine country hills and majestic mountains and gorgeous rugged shorelines. It was really much too much.

So a quick trip to Rouse’s later… boom!



I sent her this photo: our first crawfish of the season.1

Check. Mate.

Is there any mountain more majestic than a mountain of hot well-seasoned crawfish ready for the eating? What our murky south-Louisiana swamps lack in scenic vistas, they make up for in cook-able deliciousness.

1 It really is thoughtful of nature, just as Carnival season winds down, to ease us into crawfish season. Lent is hardly a hardship when you can eat all the crawfish you want. (Not that most people around here seem overly burdened with Lenten austerity anyway; pre-Lenten indulgence gets a lot more emphasis.)

Monday, March 06, 2017

There's No Biz-ness Like Sno-Bliz-ness

Kids. The funny thing about kids is that, with proper care and watering, they turn into adults. Not all at once, but little by little, incrementally doing increasingly adult-ish things (they sneak it up on you, the crafty bastards), until before you know it, the little runtling who used to devotedly slurp down rainbow Hansen's Sno-Blizzes1



has grown about eight feet and gone out and gotten a frickin' job at Hansen's!



Yeah, an actual job with actual paychecks and stuff.2 She worked her first shift this weekend. (The toppings station.)

Holy crike-er-oni...

1 If you're not familiar, Hansen's takes some explaining, but suffice it to say, it's a unique magical (James-Beard-award-winning) sweet-frozen-delight-serving extrah-vuh-gahn-zuh. Immediately after dropping Louise off, I headed straight to the back of the line. It took me a full hour to actually get to the front, but my half-cream-of-almond/half-cream-of-ice-cream/topped-with-sweetened-condensed-milk Sno-Bliz was glorious!

2 I had to help her fill out her first W4s. I kindly explained to her, "Being an adult can be pretty cool, but the paperwork sucks."