Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Stateside: Life And Death In New Orleans

Stateside: Stacey Knott on Life And Death In New Orleans

Drunkenness on Bourbon Street, Mardi Gras, fresh shrimp and ghost tours have all returned since Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, but some neighbourhoods are still hounded by poverty, rotting homes and crime as Kiwi journalist Stacey Knott discovered this week - the fifth anniversary of “The Storm”.

Having just moved to New Orleans in time for the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I decided to venture out of the safety of the central city to some of the hardest hit neighbourhoods to hear peoples' stories, and see the destruction still evident five years later.

Hearing locals talk about the storm and how New Orleans has changed since was both heartbreaking and humbling, and the strength and resilience of the people was one of the most inspiring things I have experienced.

Because of the storm and subsequent levee breeches, 80 percent of New Orleans was flooded. In some parts of the city, there is little evidence of this destruction, while other parts still wear the pain of it all.

About a ten minute drive from the iconic French Quarter is the now infamous Lower Ninth Ward, also known as “Ground Zero” of the hurricane, where there is still ample evidence of Katrina's destruction.

Throughout New Orleans on the fifth anniversary of Katrina, there was commiseration, celebration, determination, dance, music, anger and tears. But as grey clouds lingered and bursts of rain drenched commemoration events, the mood was anything but sombre.

Like at a mock funeral for Hurricane Katrina in St Bernard's Parish where people put notes in a coffin for Katrina, but unlike a normal funeral, when the casket closed, everyone applauded. New Orleans Archbishop Greg Aymond said the event was to “let Katrina die,” and signified that “Katrina's spirit of disaster no longer lives in New Orleans.”

I attended a block party held to celebrate the work done by a local group who rebuild homes for low income, elderly and disabled residents, for free.

It was there I met Jeanne Bourgeois, developing director for the group Rebuilding Together New Orleans, a non-profit group which had just spent the week rebuilding 50 homes in New Orleans affected by Katrina.

Since 2005 the organisation has been constantly busy repairing and rebuilding homes at no cost to residents.

Bourgeois, a New Orleans native, was living in California when Katrina hit but came back four weeks after it hit to help friends and family.

“It was one of the most difficult and devastating things I have ever seen,” she said.

She recalls driving around the city and noticing “no lights and no sound. I got out of the car and sat there and cried like a child because I thought my city had lost her soul for a minute, but not for long because we always bounce back. It hurt me for people I don't know, it hurt me for my city to experience raw physical and emotional abandonment.”

She felt the recovery was “coming along wonderfully”, but aknowledged for some areas it was going to take longer.

“Areas people know about like the Ninth Ward are coming back, they have had support and focus, not enough, but it is coming back.”

But after visiting the Ninth Ward and witnessing the desolation there and talking to residents it was hard to see how it was “coming back”.

The Ninth Ward was almost completely submerged after levees along the Industrial Canal between the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain failed.

Residents told me stories of up to 10 feet of water inside their houses, being forced into attics and on roofs to escape the floods and using whatever buoyant materials they could find to survive.

The people of the Ninth Ward commemorated the hurricane by holding a march and a traditional New Orleanian “Second Line”, a parade centered around a brass band, and a core group of dancers.

I decided to attend this particular event because it went through an area that still clearly wears the scars of Katrina.

We marched in the pouring rain, chanting, singing, and dancing, and listened to residents share their harrowing stories over a megaphone.

The parade encouraged people from their homes to join in or dance on the side of the road as we passed.

On the march I met Marzuk, a freelance writer and home owner in the Lower Ninth Ward, who while pleased at the turn out at the march, gave me and idea of the harsh reality of living in the area.

“I just wish they would get rid of the thugs that are out here stealing from people, preventing them from rebuilding,” he said.

He had been living in Washington DC when Katrina hit, but his family were still in New Orleans.

As soon as he heard the news he was determined to move back and help his city.

“I came back because it's home, I want to help rebuild home,” he said.

When it comes to rebuilding and the cleanup, he still holds anger towards the local and US Government.

He likens looking to those two bodies for help as “a person to look to someone who robbed their house to have them come in and say 'let me help you get the stuff back we took out'.”

He said he did not look to the Bush Administration for anything, nor the previous mayor, but he says the new mayor is making big changes “you can see, feel and smell the change.”

He was optimistic about his neighborhood coming back as long as people “pull together”.

Also at the march was Young Sino, a record store owner and performer, who was born and raised in a housing project in the Ninth Ward.

He was in college in neighboring city Baton Rouge when Katrina hit, so instead of going home to New Orleans for the weekend as he usually did, he stayed in his two bedroom apartment and had 22 family and friends come stay while the storm washed away all they knew in New Orleans.

His grandmother's home was damaged by nine feet of water. She stayed back when the storm hit, and was rescued from her home on the third day of the storm.

Sino could see how those in richer neighborhoods would be optimistic about the rebuilding efforts in New Orleans, but he felt the urban mostly black populated parts of the city were being ignored.

He was particularly vexed about the lack of schools in his neighbourhood.

“That's one thing we still deal with each and every day because there are still not a lot of schools open for the kids and there still not a lot of healthcare.

“How could you bring the Superdome back before the schools back? To me that is saying you care more about football than our children. We got to get back to caring about human life than caring about what makes our pockets bigger.”

He talked about the crime rates in New Orleans, and said when more effort is put into the neighbourhood, then peoples spirits will be lifted, and there will be less crime.

Sino's sentiments were echoed by dancers and Seventh Ward residents Pervella Gant and Dakema Paynes.

Gant was forced to seek out higher ground on a road, where she remained for three days following Katrina, while Paynes returned to New Orleans from Atlanta to find she had absolutely nothing left.

Gant described the mayhem that prevailed.

“For them [the Government] to know a hurricane as bad as Katrina was coming, a category five, they should have got everybody out of the city. When it came that night everybody should have been evacuated that morning but instead they took their time and people starved and went into blistering heat, no clothes no shelter, people sleeping on roofs, on concrete, a branch on the interstate. You have guns in your face, people shooting you for no reason, it was like World War Three”.

Since the storm, they have both noticed more poverty, more murders and more homeless on the streets, they have also found it harder for people to get jobs.

“You would think the Government and the city would get together and put more into the city but they are taking their time while people are in need. It feels like nobody cares. Like we don't have help and we have been left out.”

They are still “absolutely angry” about it, but say they thank god for the charitable groups who want to help New Orleans.

While the anger is still in New Orleans, and people will remember Katrina for the rest of their lives, there is still hope and optimism, especially from the face of New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

An event to conclude the anniversary was held at the Mahalia Jackson Theatre where Landrieu was joined by 12 Mardi Gras Indians in full regalia, a brass band, and New Orleans musical groups.

Landrieu who has been in power for six months gave a motivating and heartfelt speech at the event.

“We must think back and remember to what seems like so long ago. The days and moments that have been etched into our memories flood back like the rising water. Oppressive heat and pitch black nights, the confusion and the fear, it all rushes back; a torrent of sights, sounds and smells,” he said.

He spoke of the haunting memories of the hum of motorboats and the silence of corpses lying face down in the water, also of a “mighty Mardi Gras Indian headdress, swept away. A favourite blanket or dress left behind now gone. So many photo albums, letters, birthday cards, and recipes lost in the water, forever.”

Since the event, he said ““every time we say goodnight we said it to someone we lost”.

But then things got better, he said.

“We were battered, bruised and scarred. But with grit, determination and help, the people of this city rose out of the water, bearing the burden together that none of us could bear alone.”

He concluded his speech with what everyone in the room, and perhaps the city seemed to be feeling: that “it is time to turn tragedy into triumph” because “come hell or high water we ain't going nowhere”.


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Lude awakening! Feds say they busted a drug plant in Greenpoint

Kent Street lab is raided in nationwide drug crackdown

Last Updated: 5:50 PM, April 7, 2010

Posted: 5:50 PM, April 7, 2010

Quaaludes are back and, apparently, popping up in Greenpoint.

Federal drug enforcement agents swarmed DL Labs on Kent Street on Wednesday, claiming that the lab is part of an underground Quaalude trafficking pipeline that stretched all the way to California.

The raid was part of “Operation Lude Behavior,” a three-year investigation into the alleged $3.5-million illegal drug network. The lab was a pivotal meeting point, prosecutors said.

“Thousands” of pills were reportedly seized, but it was unclear if any of the 1970s drug of choice was actually found.

A lab employee said he didn’t know how investigators got in.

“No one was here,” said the employee, who wished not to be named. “We’re all in the dark until we hear from our fearless leaders.”

Witnesses said that investigators blocked off both Franklin and West streets with police cruisers at 5 pm, before they executed their search warrant.

Federal prosecutors alleged that would-be quaalude king Dennis Patrick Fairley, a West Coast chemist, manufactured the pills at a lab in California — interestingly enough, the same lab that recently merged with DL Labs.

Farley then sold the drugs directly to suspects Frank Bisman, Jason Abbate and Neil Weinstock, who distributed them throughout the city.

Bisman and Abbate allegedly met with Fairley on a monthly basis at DL Labs, a place identified by investigators as “the Brooklyn lab.”

Bisman and his team reportedly bought the ’ludes for $7 a pill and sold them for $11, according to intercepted phone conservations. More than 100,000 quaaludes were bought and sold between 2008 and 2010, officials estimate.

The drug, also known as methaqualone, was a big hit in the 1970s and early ’80s because of its wide availability and its supposedly euphoric high.

Preet Bharara, the federal prosecutor for Manhattan, said that Fairley’s quaalude operation was a “toxic experiment.”

“[The arrests] nips in the bud any apparent re-emergency of quaaludes in our communities,” she said.

But DL Labs claims that it is not in the quaalude business. Its Web site claims that the chemical plant conducts independent tests on chalks, coatings and sealants.

— with Stacey Knott

Read more: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/brooklyn/lude_awakening_feds_say_they_busted_fa5noff9zflok2PIYqYMWJ#ixzz0n6vCQFcu

Monday, April 12, 2010

One-time Ringo clone is just a Jewish kid from Brooklyn

CNN Newspaper group

By Stacey Knott

What a long, strange trip it’s been for Jake Ehrenreich — from the day he hallucinated that his genitals had disappeared to the day he had part of his son’s genitals cut off.

In the actor’s new memoir, “A Jew Grows in Brooklyn — The Curious Reflections of a First-Generation American,” based on his Broadway show of the same name, he explores topics as diverse as the Jewish traditions he grew up in to his dalliances in sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll.

It all began for Ehrenreich in East Flatbush, where he was raised by his Polish immigrant parents, a family he described as “dysfunctional.” (There was that time his older sister chased him down the street wielding a kitchen knife screaming “I’ll kill you.” Obviously, she failed.)

While in junior high, Ehrenreich’s love affair with music began, and as a teenager, he started getting gigs in the Catskills. Soon, he was touring overseas in a Beatles cover band as Ringo Starr during the height of Beatlemania.

The rocker lifestyle also followed (as Ehrenreich tells it, he was pretty lucky with the ladies; it must have been the long, curly hair). That also included a drug addiction which Ehrenreich eventually shook, but not before hallucinating that his genitals had disappeared (not true, as it turned out).

On the night that he finally kicked the habit, Ehrenreich was so high on cocaine that he could barely breath, let alone sing. To get through the gig — and keep his job — he pretended the microphone wasn’t working during a crucial solo. It worked.

Fast-forward 30 years: Ehrenich is clean, has a new haircut, performed on Broadway in shows such as “Dancin’,” “Barnum,” and “They’re Playing Our Song,” as well as his own, and raised a family (that bris? It’s no laughing matter).

The actor currently lives upstate, but his love of Brooklyn shines through in his memoir.

“I think everybody has a warm feeling about where he grew up, I will say to my deathbed Brooklyn is a great place to grow up,” he said.

“I was exposed to so many different kinds of people and circumstances I can’t imagine anything else…it was some of the most wonderful memories of my life.”

Sharing his varied life experiences turned into a “voyage of self discovery” for Ehrenreich, who has taken lessons from the highs (pun intended) and the lows, which included losing his sister to early-onset Alzheimer’s, to try and find purpose in life.

Of particular import has been advice from his father, who taught him to “live your ideals, never compromise your integrity and let your actions speak louder than words.” No microphone needed.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Caitlin Sarubbi: Scholar, athlete, inspiration

By Stacey Knott and Michèle De Meglio
Courier Life publications
Monday, March 29, 2010 8:24 PM EDT

There’s no stopping Gerritsen Beach native Caitlin Sarubbi. The 20-year-old Harvard student just returned from competing at the Paralympic Games in Vancouver and, if things pan out, will intern at the White House this summer.

Sarubbi’s accomplishments are all the more impressive considering that she is legally blind and was born with a rare congenital syndrome requiring 57 reconstructive plastic surgeries to sculpt her face.

Throughout it all, she has maintained a positive attitude and achieved so much more than most of her peers.

“I have so much to be grateful for because I am so blessed. I just try and live a good fulfilled life and I take nothing for granted,” Sarubbi said.

At last week’s Paralympics, Sarubbi competed in the downhill skiing categories for visually-impaired athletes. While Sarubbi relies on her instincts, a guide travels down the slopes in front of her and warns her, via microphones and ear pieces in her helmet, about rough terrain.

“I got a couple of top-10 finishes, which I was happy with. I have only been training and racing full-time for a little over a year so I was extremely happy with my performance,” she said.

She placed seventh out of 15 in the Women’s Slalom and sixth out of 10 in the Women’s Super Combined.

Sarubbi was the youngest and least experienced competitor in her races.

“Experience always wins, you have to pay your dues, and work your way up,” she said. “I knew I wasn’t going to win, but I gave it my best shot and took it as a learning experience.”

She was nervous but decided to “go all out” — a motto she applies to all aspects of her life. She entered Harvard’s pre-med program in 2008, but took a year-and-a-half break to focus on skiing.

“I work hard. I know what I want my life to be like so I work hard to get that,” Sarubbi said.

One of the highlights of the games was carrying the flag in the Paralympics Torch Relay, which she described as an “exciting honor”.

“I got to keep the torch!” she gushed.

Sarubbi started skiing in 2001 when Disabled Sports USA invited her family to Colorado. The nonprofit organization wanted to sponsor a firefighter in a skiing competition but extended the offer to a firefighter’s child with a disability. Sarubbi fell in love with the feeling of rushing down the slopes, which she said gave her a great sense of freedom.

Sarubbi’s upcoming schedule remains busy. She is preparing for the U.S. Alpine National Championships, waiting for an acceptance letter for a summer internship at the White House, and planning to return to Harvard in September. She’s also preparing for the next Paralympic Games.

“My goal has been this Paralympics but I am definitely considering going to Sochi,” she said. “I am probably not going to stop until I have gold!”

Friday, March 19, 2010

A safe haven in Park Slope for nearly 20 years

Lesbian Herstory Archives runs on strength of the community

By Stacey Knott

Wednesday, March 10, 2010 10:14 AM EST
Tucked away in the rows of brownstones in Park Slope is a library — the biggest of its kind — dedicated to documenting and sharing the lives of lesbians the world over.

The Lesbian Herstory Archives has been at its current three-story spot since 1993 and is jam-packed with books, memorabilia, files, photos and videos that document the events, lives, struggles and successes of lesbians since the 1950s.

All the material in the Archives is donated from people in the community; much of it is from its many volunteers that keep it running.

Joan Nestle and Deborah Edel started the Archives in 1974 in an apartment in the Upper West Side, born out of their dismay at lesbian culture being virtually ignored by libraries, mainstream publishers and archives.

The two started to collect material to prove the existence of lesbians, and fast-forward 35 years, this idea appears to have met its fruition. The Park Slope building is covered floor to ceiling, and even unused sinks are used to display lesbian-themed badges and stickers. The material captures the lives of those in the lesbian community, both famous and ordinary.

The front room on the first floor has a wall lined with file cabinets covering everything from lesbians and abortions to lesbians and music festivals. Also in this room are shelves of books divided into categories like science-fiction and autobiography.

Mimi Lester, a volunteer at the Archives, said they shelve the books by the first name of the author, a throwback to “seventies feminists rejecting patriarchal last names.”

Directly behind the front room is the dining room, complete with a big wooden desk where visitors pore over the material. This room houses a shelf of pulp fiction books which the Archives call “survival fiction,” as some of it is the oldest material in the collection. These were written at a time when lesbianism was a huge taboo, so its lesbian subjects are written in a more discreet way.

Mimi has been volunteering at the Archives for the last few years while studying history and women’s studies at Brooklyn College.

She got involved with the Archives because she believed in the importance of preserving the history of the lesbian community.

“Our history is important, and so often it isn’t recorded or it’s actively destroyed,” said Mimi. “Maintaining a record, even if it’s just of an average person (who) didn’t do anything huge in their life, the fact that there is proof they existed and lived their life as they wanted to is important,” she said.

Mimi believed the Archives are a good place for people who want to explore sexuality; she called it a “safe haven for people to explore themselves.”

She said it is a welcome site in its Park Slope neighborhood and gets only positive responses.

On a recent Monday at the Archives, up on the second floor, surrounded by files of newspaper articles, conference files and a tee-shirt collection, was Kristen Singer, a New York University student working on her master’s thesis. She had been at the Archives full time for the last few months, researching the Daughters of Belasis, the first lesbian organization in the USA. She said the Archives had been “unimaginably important” to her research.

“Everything I need for this topic is here,” she said. Of particular note to the student was a huge video project the Archive had with interviews of members of the Daughters of Belasis. She said access to this material is “priceless. It’s really amazing.”

The Lesbian Herstory Archive is located at 484 14 Street, between Eighth Avenue and Prospect Park West, and is open to the public most days of the week. Upcoming events include a talk with Ann Bannon, an author of lesbian pulp fiction, on April 18, and a tour and guide to the Black Lesbian Herstory of the Collection focusing on the 1970s on April 24.

For more information about upcoming events and open hours, visit www.lesbianherstoryarchives.com or call 718-768-DYKE.