Thursday, May 04, 2006

Mother of All Distractions

I love our house. A two-story brick house with a wide second floor gallery, it’s built in a style often found in old New Orleans and Charleston, turned sideways to the street so that both the front door and all the French doors (three up, three down) open onto a secluded, plant-filled courtyard. My office is the room that would probably be designated “family room” on the floor plan. It stretches across the front of the house, facing Lake Pontchartrain some four or five blocks away. It’s a lovely room, with a brick fireplace and lots of built-in bookcases and a French door that opens onto the covered porch. Of all the rooms in the house, it was the only one that got walloped by both the floodwaters and ceiling damage. We had to gut it to the ceiling (we only had to take the walls in the other downstairs rooms up four feet). We made the room a priority, and while it’s not exactly finished yet—we’re still waiting on a replacement for the arched window that faces the street, and what was once a wet bar is still a gaping hole—it’s at the point that I have been able to set up the antique Australian cedar table I use as a computer desk (real boiled linseed oil from Lee Valley worked a miracle on the table’s legs). I’ve replaced about half the bookcases, and I’m slowly refilling them with the books that survived the deluge—along with the five boxes of new books I’ve somehow managed to accumulate in the last eight months. (The library recently had a fund-raising sale, and going to a book sale knowing you have empty shelves can be a disaster!)

I come here almost every day to write. We’re staying eight miles away, in my mother’s unflooded Metairie bungalow. It can be a long drive, with traffic slowed by trucks and work crews still picking up debris. Often I must stop along the way to deal with all the frustrating minutiae of trying to rebuild a house in the middle of a city that is also rebuilding itself—picking out tiles and paint colors, ordering mattresses and sofas. And then there are the flat tires, the inevitable result of roofing nails and debris scattered everywhere. When I tried to deal with my last flat, on a Saturday morning, I was met by a harassed man who simply threw up his hands and said, “I already 57 flat tires ahead of you!”

Where was I? Ah, yes. I come here to write. In the neighborhood around me, compressors kick on and off. Nail guns fire. Saws whirl. Bulldozers and trucks do their thing. Hammers bang. Work crews engage in their own version of the Battle of the Bands, their rival radios blaring hip hop and rock, country and classic pop. My neighbor across the street has hired two men to cut down his hurricane-damaged tree. They swing axes, fire up their chain saw. They argue (in Spanish). No, we do it this way! No, idiot, we need to do it like this! I feel like going to the door and screaming, “Yo! People! Trying to write a book here!”

What I’m reading…

Fiction: I’ve given up on the thriller; it committed the one unforgivable sin and became simply too boring to live. I’m reading another John Connolly, but the title escapes me for the moment.

Nonfiction: UNDERSTANDING THE VENEZUELAN REVOLUTION, by Marta Harnecker. Based on interviews with Hugo Chavez.


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