You Can Go Home Again
Thomas Wolfe once wrote, “You can’t go home again.” I wasn’t deliberately trying to disprove that dictum, but recently found it not to be true for me.
On Labor Day 2009, two friends and I drove to New Orleans, about 75 miles from my home in Baton Rouge. We had learned that the old Prytania movie theater had re-opened as an “Art House” and was showing digitally re-mastered prints of classic films such as An American in Paris, and Singin’ In the Rain.
We planned to attend a noon screening of To Kill A Mockingbird. Originally released in 1962, it is usually on every critic’s “10 Best” lists and is one of my favorites. Gregory Peck, when interviewed, said that Atticus Finch was his favorite role. Of course he won an Oscar for that performance.
It being Labor Day, holiday traffic on Interstate 10 was very light, and we arrived on the outskirts of New Orleans in a little over an hour.
I was married in Jefferson Heights, just beyond New Orleans city limits, and lived there from 1961-’66. We bough out first home, and our three children were all born there.
Hurricane [Katrina] devastated most of New Orleans in August 2005. Having business there, I revisited New Orleans in February 2006 – six months after the storm – and was saddened to see my old house at 430 Highway Drive had been half-destroyed.
Since we arrived in New Orleans well before the noon showtime, I asked my two friends, Mary and Joyce, if we could drive by my old home near the original Ochsner Medical Center, where my wife had worked as an R.N. Happily, not only had my old home been re-built, but it also had been re-modeled and was much better than when I owned it. I took a photograph, and we proceeded to the Prytania Theatre.
Originally built in 1915, the Prytania had been re-modeled in the 1940s in the Art Deco style and was a showplace. It is a single-screen theater, seating 250, making it a rarity in today’s world of multi-screen mall megaplexes.
In the 1960s it featured the best foreign films by Bergman, Fellini, Truffaut, Malle, Herzog and more. These innovative European films later became known as “New Wave Cinema,” and were loved by film buffs like my wife and me. We became regular patrons of the Prytania and the Gentilly Woods, which also showed foreign films.
Entering the theater, we were greeted by a tall, distinguished looking man. Mr. Rene Brunet, the owner, is a white-haired 89-year-old patrician gentleman, who cordially welcomed us into his world. Before the showing, Mr. Brunet, mic-in-hand, gave us (a capacity audience of 250) interesting background information about the theater and the film’s history.
As a former TV director, I really appreciated the fine digital projection system and the beautifully re-mastered print. Technically, it was better than the original.
Of course, it’s still a masterpiece that will be enjoyed by generations to come. Having seen it several times before, I decided to step outside for a smoke.
While chatting with my gracious host, a very tall, very bald man walked hurriedly out of the theater. I turned to Mr. Brunet. “Is that who I think it is?” “Yes it is,” came the reply.
It was James Carville, the political commentator who had been an advisor to former President Bill Clinton. Not only is he a regular patron, he is also a law professor at Tulane University, and a resident of “The Big Easy.”
With immense pleasure, I watched the remainder of the movie and left the theater with a warm glow. It was a sunny, lovely warm New Orleans afternoon, and I felt at home.
Even though it has been more than 40 years since I left New Orleans, I felt as though I had returned home.
Home is where the heart is, and my heart lies in New Orleans.
IN PRAISE OF DRAGOS
Re: “Making Spirits Bright,” Streetcar column, by Errol Laborde. November 2009 issue.
I am a loyal subscriber to New Orleans Magazine, and after reading your column on page 192, I’m hoping that others have also written to you in praise of Drago’s restaurant in Metairie and how they fed people after Hurricane Katrina.
I grew up in New Orleans, but now live in Knoxville, Tenn. Most of my family still lives in New Orleans (well, actually, Metairie) and I go back often. When Katrina hit, my sister and her family evacuated to Houston, where another sister lives, but my 88-year-old mother came to me. When we were finally allowed to go back in mid-October 2005, we all drove in to New Orleans on the same day to assess the damage and see what could be done. Thankfully, my mother’s house escaped with very little damage, but my sister’s house was destroyed except for one room upstairs.
I stayed for almost a week helping them to pick up, clean up and salvage whatever we could and put it all upstairs in the intact room. Like everyone else, we worked in the heat with rubber gloves and masks as the mold and stench was unbelievable. I don’t know how we would have managed to get it all done without the good people at Drago’s.
We somehow heard that Drago’s was giving out free food at noon every day. We stood in a “bread line” with 100 other people or so and we were given a to-go box with a concoction of either rice or pasta, bread and butter, a drink and a dessert. At that moment in time, it tasted better than any of the fantastic meals I’ve had at Antoine’s. What a sad, crazy feeling to see what the homeless at the mission must feel like. Actually, my sister and her family were homeless. We were so exhausted all the time that we could never have managed to stop and make ourselves some lunch every day.
That was absolutely the kindest, most wonderful thing anyone could have done for us and all of the others just like us. I think about Drago’s and that experience all the time and have recounted it many times over to friends. I hope that the story has been spread all around New Orleans. They really deserve to be given a lot of credit for their humanitarian efforts for their community.
Elene Beerman Miller
DECORATING THE ROOSEVELT
Re: “Dashing Through the Glow: A guide to Christmas events,” by Lilith Dorko. December 2009 issue.
In reporting about the Roosevelt Hotel’s Waldorf Wonderland Lobby, Blaine Kern Jr. was identified as the decorator.
In fact the decorations were done by The Plant Gallery, located at 9401 Airline Highway. We regret the error.
You Can Go Home Again