Sunday, March 25, 2007

La Nouvelle Maison, La Nouvelle Vie

Moving is no fun, but in some cases, the payoff is great!

The Hollywoods have moved from the Suburb of Kenner (which meant a 17 mile commute each way on crowded I-10, crossing the Mississippi River via the toll-required Crescent City Connection Bridge) to Old Gretna - a block and a half from church.

Our lives have changed for the better!

If any of Father Hollywood's readers are strapped with a long commute, you may want to consider downsizing and moving close. For most of my adult life, I have had long drives to work - spending thousands of hours on highways, fighting with traffic, spending countless amounts of money in gasoline and car maintenance - not to mention increasing my risk of an encounter with a jack-knifed tractor-trailer or a drunk driver. But now, I walk to and from work - a three minute pedestrian commute. Since moving, we hardly drive at all. In fact, I had to stop the police from towing our Saturn which was parked in front of church. A neighbor thought it had been abandoned!

Maybe I should ask Al Gore to buy some "green credits" from me! I don't really know what a "carbon footprint" is, but I know that buying gas is a rarity for our family now!

In just about three weeks since we've moved, my pants fit looser, I have a no stress from "road rage," and (this is a huge bonus) I get hours and hours more time at home with my family! I can walk home for lunch, to fetch a book, or just to have a coffee with my wife. Mrs. Hollywood and Lion-Boy routinely amble into our church and school for a visit. The days of leaving for work at 7:00 am and returning home at 10:00 pm are over. If it weren't Lent, I'd exclaim "Hallelujah" at this point...

Our new neighborhood is known as "Old Gretna" - which a member of our faculty at Salem describes quite accurately as a "Little French Quarter." It is an old historic area with train tracks running right down our street. It usually passes a couple times a day - which Leo greatly enjoys. He sits on the porch swing and waves as the cargo-carriers rumble by blasting their horns.

On Saturday mornings, we walk the one block to the Farmer's Market. Locals sell everything from milk, eggs, and yogurt, to orchids, salsa, and fruit trees. There is always a band playing, usually classic Southern rock or Louisiana blues. It's in the open air, there are people of all ages, and lots of critters on leashes. And the farm fresh food is really better. You have to shake the cream-laden milk (since it isn't ultra-pasteurized) and the farmers can tell you which hens laid which eggs by name. The quality is mind-blowing - far better than any of the agri-business slop sold at WalMart that we've come to accept as normal. I have been converted to family-farm food. My goodness! You can actually taste the food, and it really has color!

One Saturday a month, Old Gretna offers another treat - the Art Walk. Just a couple blocks past the Farmer's Market, just south on Huey P. Long Avenue in the Neutral Ground (which is New Orleanianese for the green space between the northbound and southbound lanes of the street), local artists and craftsmen sell their wares - everything from expensive oil paintings, right down to decorative fleur-de-lis and ladies' jewelry.

Only one block from home (on the way to both the Farmer's Market and Art Walk) is Common Grounds - a local restaurant and coffee shop. Not a chain, but a real neighborhood establishment, CG even has a shoe-shiner, a bar with a TV, and back rooms with couches and comfy chairs. They serve everything from cheeseburgers to crawfish, from cappuccino to Dixie Beer. There are high ceilings and friendly waitresses (as opposed to friendly ceilings and high waitresses, I suppose).

Old Gretna is a safe haven in the midst of crime-ridden post-Katrina New Orleans. We lie between two police stations within a short walk. It's safe to go on foot even at midnight (which means I don't have to load a briefcase up at the end of the work day and make sure I have everything). The neighbors are friendly, and take ownership of the neighborhood.

Four blocks from our house is the mighty Mississippi. We can stroll on over to the levy and sit on the bench, look at the skyline, and watch huge ships cruise the River. The ferry station is right there. We can ride for free back and forth across the river. There's not much to see on the other side (at Jackson and Tchoupitoulas - and if you can pronounce the latter, you must be a true New Orleanian), but the view on the River is remarkable. There are also running- and bike-paths along the levy for many miles. It's a great place to get in shape without spending a dime.

Now, if we drive for a few minutes to Algiers Point, we can take the other ferry over to the French Quarter. We look forward to doing that later on. When Leo is a little older, maybe we'll ride bikes along the path and bring them onto the ferry - and save the five bucks it costs to park at the station!

Our house itself is very comfy. It's a "shotgun" home from the late 19th century. We don't know exactly how old it is, but it probably dates back to just after Reconstruction (the older post-bellum, not the current post-hurricane Reconstruction - which went on in Louisiana until 1877, and was so harsh, that our state has only had one freely-elected Republican governor in our history. Of course, Louisiana politics is a topic in and of itself!) These homes were originally built as apartments for railroad workers. The name "shotgun" refers to the design - they are long and narrow, and typically have no hallways. One could shoot a shotgun in the front door and have the shells fly out the back door (don't try this at home...). These old homes were solidly constructed out of treated cypress wood, have no basements (heck, even our dead are above ground here!), and sit on blocks . Our home has survived over a century of hurricanes - including Camille, Betsy, and Katrina. As a result of Katrina, our home lost merely a couple of roof shingles. It goes without saying that they don't make them like they used to.

Now, a lot of people might be shocked to find out that our home is only 930 square feet. It's small, but somehow it seems bigger than that. The rooms are large (14 x 14) with ten-foot high ceilings. We have nice modern windows and ceiling fans. There are no closets - so we do have to be creative. There is a very large, solid outbuilding - calling it a "shed" doesn't do it justice. Whatever we end up calling it, it does give us a good bit of storage. There is also an attic that is, so far, unexploited. The previous owners installed new stainless steel appliances and magnificent granite countertops. There is also a gas fireplace, and beautiful kitchen cabinets. Once again, there are no hallways. One room opens up into another room.

Of course, our library has had to be distributed around the house. A lot of our books will have to go into our limited storage. Maybe at some point we can build in bookcases, but now, we'll just have to be selective about what gets displayed.

We have a large deck out back, a porch, and a porch swing. Along with the trains, the air resounds with the church bells and carillon from historic St. Joseph's Roman Catholic Church very nearby - which rings the Westminster Chimes, the Angelus, and magnificent hymns (including, for Lent, O Sacred Head Now Wounded, which was the first Lutheran hymn to appear in a Catholic hymn book).

The air is literally perfumed with the blossoms from our citrus trees. On the side of our small fenced-in lot is a magnificent little alley that looks like a courtyard. The stone walkway is lined with elephant ears and sago palms. There is a lemon tree and an orange tree, filled with sweet flowers and hundreds of fruits. There's also a bonus tree in the back we didn't know about when we bought the house - a tall, navel orange. The trees on the side are now nearly done, but the navel out back is just now filled with hundreds of unripe green fruits and blossoms. Whoever planted these trees had a great sense of planning. We'll not be lacking for vitamin C here!

Proximity is such a great thing for a pastor. I'm part of the community I serve. My neighbors see me strolling to church on Sunday mornings in my cassock - and contrary to what some might think - they dig it. Visiting shut-ins and making hospital visits no longer involve a long commute or extensive planning. I believe this move will ultimately make a better parish priest of me, and will allow both pastor and flock to be blessed by physical closeness to one another.

So, things are great here - thanks be to God! However, there are still a lot of boxes to unpack, and while our house in Kenner is still up for sale, we still have more work to do (though we do have a buyer now, God willing!). But even moving work isn't so bad when you can take a break, sit on the porch-swing sipping fresh-squeezed lemonade from your own tree, wave at the train conductor, listen to church bells, and breathe in the perfumed warm air with wife and son.

Vicar, Julius, Athena, and Churchill like the place too!


Rev. David M. said...

We just downsized into a 2-bedroom parsonage next door to my new congregation. No longer are we isolated in the country. We are now in the thick of things, with our bank, Dollar General Store, and many other amenities within eyesight!

The description of your new neighborhood makes me want to hop the City of New Orleans in Kankakee right now and visit for a few days. My wife and I have always wanted to take the train to Big Easy. One day we will do it. I think I know the perfect place to stay!

Harry said...

Just one quick spelling correction, since I grew up on the street. It's TchoupItoulas. I could pronounce it at age 3 and spell it by age 5 (in less than 2 seconds). Right next to Tips, which is on the corner of Tchoup and Napoleon. It's not the Tchoup house, and has it's own website:

Peter said...

Wonderful story. I'm very happy for you. (You really ought to consider doing a little travel-writing on the side, or getting a job for the local chamber of commerce.)

Father Hollywood said...

Dave: Of course, you and your family are always welcome! The train called the City of New Orleans reminds me of our somewhat close encounter with Arlo Guthrie on New Year's Eve a couple years back. It has become a tradition in the Hollywood rectory to view Alice's Restaurant on Thanksgiving. "Just a half-a-mile from the railroad track..."

Harry: Thanks for the correction - like my cats, the erroneous alphanation has been fixed. If anyone says: "There is no 'I' in 'Tchoupitoulas,'" let God be true and every man a liar! However, I don't think you really meant to say you "grew up on the street" (swimming with the nutria in the canals? foraging for Mardi Gras beads for food?)- but I do know about your being baptized in the same font as Lee Harvey Oswald (when you kill a president, you are referred to by all of your names, which must stem from the universal practice of maternal scolding).

Peter: Thanks for the compliment. I'm too poor to travel, and too busy to take on a government gig - but I am considering shooting a lot of pictures of Old Gretna and posting them to Flickr as a "photo essay." It's a visually interesting place. We did eat lunch at one of those wonderfully unique local establishments today (The Paris Deli, decorated like the South Pacific - and yes, there is a story...), and it was delightful and interesting enough to warrant a blog entry (if not a novel) if my tempus doesn't fugit.

Stoleman said...

Father Hollywood,

Congrats on your move closer to your parish. Having lived next to the church, five miles from the parish and three blocks from the parish I can see the benefits!!!

May your time found be seen as an opportunity to worship more the One Who gives us everything!!!

BTW, right now the commute is 1 hr one way. But the view from home can't be beat!!!

Darian L. Hybl