Pics in my life… Wednesday, Mar 30 2011 

Just some random pictures from the last couple weeks….

A sunset on the Domino sugar factory near my house

Domino Sugar factory sunset

Speaking of sugar, the cake my friend Sam made for a party…

Peeps Easter cake

So, we had a little storm…with several tornados and lots of power outages and flooding. There was thunder and lightning solidly from 7pm til midnight or so, and then again at about 5am.

Storm warnings

House markings on the second floor of an apartment complex (quad) on the street next to mine. The number at the top is the date (September 10th) that the building was searched after Hurricane Katrina. The writing on the left is the code for the search team that went through this unit. The number on the bottom is the number of dead bodies inside the the building. Yes, that is an 8. An 8.

house markings


When Levees Break – A Poem for Katrina Survivors Thursday, Mar 24 2011 

Before the levees break, only the sound of the wind

relentless as a freight train, glass shatter, and the rain, always the rushing rain.


Before the levees break, you know water.

Here where you are born, raised to the river, scent of magnolias

the last lingering note of a jazz tune.

Here where you drink in this thickness

with your first gulp for gulf air, carry it rich in your blood.


Before the levees break you are getting prayed up,

prayed up to God, and God please, God please, God please.

You fill up your tub with tap water, as instructed.

Let me be a vessel.


When the levees break with a boom, boom, boom,

You think they may have been blown up by the army.

It has been done before and after all,             if they can kill

a president, rig an election, or two, how hard

to drown a few thousand poor black people?


When the levee is breached by some hulking mass of barge,

an unexpected nightmare birth and water breaking

the levees break with water you climb

and pray, climb and pray higher:

your top step, your first floor window ledge, your attic, your roof.

your sign: The water is rising  — help us please!

When the copters fly by you wave

a red flag, a white flag, your help us please.


When the levees break the holidaying rich find it ironic.

Humanity Street is flooded, and the Circle Food Store is underwater.


When the levees break your neighbour floats

for three days, strapped to some beer kegs.

You tell him to stay strong, he’ll make it,

try to pass him some food, but you can’t reach

can’t swim, and another body floats by.


When the levees break, not just the levees break1

The truth pulled taut and thin snaps, an over-stretched elastic band

skipping lies and rumours, across dark waters

like flat, sharp stones, lodging in the vigilante heart.


When the levees break, herded in the Superdome like cattle in

some floundering land-locked ark.

No food, no water, no medicine (no rape, no murder, no mayhem).

Only the spirit of the people clapping it up

Your song and praise, shining, This little light of mine

and the big lovin brother who leads the parade.


When the levees break with a boom, boom, boom in Algiers,

spitting out white fear, untruth, racism with the buckshot,

they are hunting young black men for sport, like pheasant.


When the levees break, you, a vessel in the water

with a tire, an old door, refrigerators, your cousin’s boat

pulling the people, up and out, up and out

You, who stayed with your grandparents, saving.

But too late for Eddy, the guy next door

a body floating by, swolled up

two times larger than life.


When the levees break, you got nowhere to go

Stranded on an overpass, passed over, turned away at gunpoint.

Everywhere water: too much and not enough–

the tub you filled, washed away with your house–

And anything for a drop of rain on the tongue, a drop

of water that never comes.


When the levees break in Algiers

they are shooting young black men for sport, like pheasant.


When the levees break, not just the levees break

Your disappointed question, Where is my government?

Shopping, tasting, on the ranch: Gourmands Gone Fishing.

The despicable Bush, despicably absent

tells jokes, plays air guitar, looks out the window.

And nothing from FEMA, no drop

of water from FEMA, Fuck FEMA.


After the levees break, the buses that never come:

folks lined up on the sidewalk, cracking in the sun

waiting for days and four days waiting.

Pinning a note with your name and number

to your Mama slumped

dead in her wheelchair, waiting.

Though you push her body aside

she will always be waiting

slumped beside you.


After the levees break, not just the levees break

The violence of your rescue, ripped in two, four, six

on the block, refugeed away from home.

You in Utah, Oklahoma, Texas, your sister in Colorado.

And your precious child, where is your precious child?


After the levees break, you don’t know where you’re at

which pile of rubble is your house, which row of piles your street,

the corner where the old men drank their beer.

The insurance company offer: more money for your shed than your home.

You take pills to turn off your dreams, but they don’t work.

How you will find yourself, weeping.


After the levees break, the mourning after, your return

Here to the slow side shuffle step

the jazz funeral dirge down debris’d streets

Here where the Hot 8 Brass Band danced

the 2nd line parade in joy.

Here to the beat of the Mardi-Gras Indian drum

your return, your rebuild, your revive2


Years later as I watch your levees break,

Dry on the screen, not just your levees break

Mine break too.


Let me be a vessel.


  1 – See Not Just the Levees Broke: My Story During and After Hurricane Katrina, Phyllis Montana-Leblanc

2 – See When the Levees Broke, Spike Lee

By Daphne Paszterko, March 20, 2011.

 I wrote this poem to process, and to recognize the images and stories of Katrina survivors (mostly as depicted in When the Levees Broke which I found to be a very powerful and disturbing film).  I find that writing a poem can help me to express how I feel about a situation.  I often have questions (as I do in this case) if a poem is always fitting, especially with a catastrophic event like Katrina.  I also worry about appropriating voice, and the problems of trying to represent/capture someone else’s experience. So in the end this poem can only be incomplete,  just me relating to others’ stories.   — Daphne

Support the NOLA students Wednesday, Mar 23 2011 

Interested in what my students are doing? Want to help out? Ryerson issues charitable receipts for amounts over $20.

(Americans who wish to donate should support the St. Bernard Project directly).

To make an online donation to the entire group please see the following steps:

1. Go To

2. Go down the section that states

Step 1: Gift Information
Your gift may be designated for use in multiple areas. Choose the designations for your gift by clicking on the link below.

Choose Gift Designation

Click here to choose the designation(s) for your gift
(Click the bolded line above that takes you into a fund destination tree)

3. This brings you to the Fund Selection Page
You will see that New Orleans Community Services Trip has been added as a direct link to select to make a gift.

Click New Orleans …. and make the gift. Help us rebuild!!

Parks Canada Tuesday, Mar 22 2011 

Recently, I worked with Parks Canada to promote their speaker’s bureau and work that they are doing. Several members of Parks Canada were in New Orleans last week to attend the George Wright Society biennial conference.





While we weren’t able to garner as much publicity as we would have liked, one of the speakers bureau members – Denyse Lajeunesse – spoke at Tom Sherry’s Conservation Biology class in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Tulane University about Canada’s parks, bio-diversity and species at risk.  (They have a Dr. Darwin there even!!)



I learned a lot I didn’t know about Canada’s parks including that camping is on the decline, in part, because many new Canadians come from backgrounds where living in tents may have been part of an unhappy experience, rather than the fun experience it was for me as a child. We used to camp across the country when younger, and then set up a tent in my parents backyard for fun.

I also learned a lot about species at risk, and the success Canada is having rebuilding populations of endangered animals.

There was also a Parks Canada booth set-up to provide information about the work that is being done.

2011 is the 100th anniversary of Parks Canada. So there was also cake presented by the President of the George Wright Society board. Parks Canada is the oldest national park service in the world!! Go team Canada!!

The CEO of Parks Canada and the US National Parks Service spoke at a plenary on the future of parks. Both spoke about some amazingly innovative programs that are taking place across both countries to draw attention to both the wildlife aspects of parks and historic sites (which fall under the purview of parks). In New Orleans for example, Jean Lafitte park includes the Wildlife Preserve in Lafitte, the French Quarter and the Chalmette Battlefield, site of the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, where for some reason the US thinks it won  the War of 1812.

I also took Parks Canada folks on tours of the areas hardest hit by Katrina. They were able to see firsthand some of the devastation that continues here, as well as the impact of environmental degradation in Bayou Bienvenue.

“Indians in the wild” Monday, Mar 21 2011 

My dream since I moved to New Orleans was to see Mardi Gras Indians in a traditional place – ie the street – rather than in a touristy location such as at Mardi Gras, the Jazz Festival, a parade or in the French Quarter. Finally on Saturday – St. Joseph’s Day – my dream became a reality.

I knew that Indians usually masked – dressed in their costumes – and walked the streets to meet other Indians. (Faubourg) Treme is a typical location and I knew that I might find some under the Claiborne underpass by the Circle Food Store. This isn’t too far from my house…so I headed out, down St. Claude, planning to cross the bridge and then drive along N. Claiborne.

A few minutes out…still on St. Claude I ran into stalled traffic…and down the street…feathers!! I quickly parked my car, grabbed my camera and ran down the block.

At first, I could mostly see something like this…just feathers  of different colours…

Gradually, as the crowd spread out I began being able to separate out different tribes and groups. The largest tribe present was the Ninth Ward Hunters (in the deep green). They also had the biggest crowd singing and chanting along with them. It was very crowded and a bit wild, but the Mardi Gras Indians had met with the police to ensure safety and respect.

Mardi Gras Indians spend a lot of time each year making their costume. Traditionally, they took it apart and started again. In more recent years there is a lot of demand for the outfits by museums and collectors so many are being sold. I’m glad because these really are works of art.

Telling a Mardi Gras Indian that they’re pretty is the ultimate compliment. Please enjoy some pretty pretty costumes.

It’s the small stuff… Saturday, Mar 19 2011 

I gave 5 Katrina tours this week; 4 for Parks Canada staff and one for guests of the Creole Inn. In three days. Basically the same tour each time. It allowed me to really take a look at New Orleans through fresh eyes.

I think New Orleans is really coming back as a tourism destination. The French Quarter and the CBD are back to “normal”; whatever normal is in this crazy-ass town. But just outside the Vieux Carre is the devastation of the Lower Ninth that too many tourists never take the time to see. Even most of the tour companies no longer run Katrina tours, they just incorporate them into their city tour.

So I took folks through the Upper and Lower Ninth, out to Arabi and Chalmette, and up Esplanade to City Park to show them what was and wasn’t here. They were mostly shocked. Stunned. At least one was in tears.

But I saw the small stuff. Lots of groups of youth out working; building, cutting grass, digging, creating a path along Bayou Bienvenue. I saw a house being worked on that wasn’t started a few weeks ago. A house finished. A family moving in furniture from Rooms to Go.

I went to my branch of Whitney Bank in Chalmette between tours on Thursday and it had moved from a trailer into a real building. Lots of digging is happening at the site of the new St. Bernard Parish Hospital.

There were stores open. People on the streets. A couple old guys fishing and crabbing in the bayou.

And my tour guests got the message that New Orleans is back, and it isn’t back, at the same time. A message I trust they will carry home.

Japan…Katrina redux Monday, Mar 14 2011 

I am sure many of you share the horror I am experiencing as the images and stories come out of Japan following the earthquake and Tsunami on Friday. The continuing aftershocks are larger than many initial earthquakes that hit around the world; the potential remains for ongoing damage.

The death toll is officially over 2000 right now; realistically it will be in the tens of thousands. There will be a large number of bodies never found after being swept out to sea.

It was interesting to be in New Orleans following the earthquake. As I went to bed Thursday night, my phone flashed a message “earthquake in Japan”. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to sleep if I started watching news coverage, but when I woke in the morning I turned on CNN.

Within minutes I was crying; my PTSD flared up. I soon realized that I wasn’t alone. Many of my friends in New Orleans told me that they were unable to watch TV or read the news. Some weren’t tuning it at all, while others were peeking in at as much as they can handle.It was good to not feel alone; to be surrounded by those who also experience emotional upset at a different level than the general public watching the news.

There are similarities with Hurricane Katrina. The devastation…the surge of water pushing away everything in its path…the destruction of housing, livelihoods…the loss of life… the images published by Google Earth before and after Katrina and before/after Japan are similar.

Large-scale disaster is not uncommon. The earthquake in Haiti last January saw (most likely) a greater loss of life, as did the Indonesian Tsunami. I saw a news report on the weekend that said many thousands of lives were likely saved by the emergency preparedness that exists in Japan.

NPR reports:

Income inequality rarely matters so much as it does when it comes to surviving earthquakes. Japan is a wealthy nation that can afford to build structures capable of standing up to sustained shaking. But places like Haiti, which was already one of the world’s poorest nations before its devastating earthquake struck, can’t.

Japan faces enormous recovery and rebuilding costs, but it can afford to pay them, says Roger Bilham, a University of Colorado geologist. “Basically, when you have an earthquake in developing countries, they die,” he says. “In the developed countries, they pay.”

In poor countries, Bilham says, badly constructed houses are “an unrecognized weapon of mass destruction.”

The preparedness stems both from having money as Bilham states, but also from lessons learned since Katrina. The vulnerability factor is lessened in Japan; it will be surely shown that the most vulnerable in Japan will suffer the most.

Canadians wanting to donate can text ASIA to 30333  to donate $5 or see here for more ideas.

A random collection of thoughts…my brain still struggles to process, as does my heart. My thoughts and prayers go out to those with loved ones in Japan and all there, trying to survive and find their family members.


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