Sam and Kathy were part of the regular crowd at Le chat noir on St. Charles Ave where on Tuesday night the downtown dancers met for a few hours to massacre the tango.
Dispense the evocative image but consider that in 2000 we were newly arrived hardcore militants from the mecca of tango in North America, and not used to see middle age women wearing tight corsets, skirts with slits up to their navels periodically landing on their rear ends on the checkered tile floor.
They sure made a splash of lace, feathers, and white flesh as they struggled to get up while Oblivion was playing on the speakers.
The deal with Sam and Kathie was that they owned the Canal Guesthouse on Canal St. just a skip and a jump from the French Quarter.
The building was reported to have been a bordello way before David Vitter was of age to become a client.
We heard that the premium ticket to the Guesthouse was an invitation to watch the Endymion parade on the weekend prior to Mardi Gras. By February of 2001 we had already made our mark in the New Orleans tango scene, and we got invited to watch Endymion. That was a big deal, being on the balcony perched over the parade route experiencing for the first time the full shock effect of the mega krewe that Endymion is famous for.
The years went by and we didn’t see them around anymore, except maybe once or twice a year at some fund raising event. Then Katrina hit the city and the levees breached, and the city flooded, and life as we had gotten fond of enjoying came to an end.
We spent the next three years dealing with survivor’s guilt, providing shelter for dear friends who lost their homes, and giving one on one moral and spiritual support to many who were lost to the world of sanity and walked with an empty gaze in their eyes.
Gradually we returned to the sparse dancing events others were trying to keep going, and one day we read on a flier that Sam and Kathy were opening Canal Place, a mini dance studio on a former flooded garage at one end of the Guesthouse‘s ground floor.
One of our former dancers started holding classes there, and soon we suggested that he go ahead and moved his Friday milonga there.
Breaking a time honored tradition, we went out on New Year’s Eve fearing the bullets falling from the sky, and received 2010 at the Canal Place. It was a very important moment because we got to reunite with strayed friends.
We held classes there for a while, and the day I was released from the hospital after being rushed there because of a severe cause of anemia, the phone rang around 9:30 pm and when I picked it up, the Friday crowd at the milonga had stopped dancing and were singing happy birthday to me. That was April 16, 2010.
Of all the places we have danced in New Orleans, not counting the ones we hosted, the Canal Place was the most nurturing and non partisan place to dance tango. The long benches on one side instead of segregated tables perhaps discouraged the gossiping, evil eyes and tongue slashing that are so toxic to tango dancing.
So imagine how heartbroken I was the other day when driving by the 1900 block of Canal Street I noticed something odd. There was an empty lot where I had become used to see the Canal Guesthouse.
The state of Louisiana wants to build a couple of hospitals on historic grounds on what New Orleanians call Mid City, and the plans have been on a fast track despite alternative proposals and citizens’s protests. Earlier this year, the process of expropriation went into full speed, but somehow it seemed that we had been in a deep state of denial.
As I kept heading to the foot of Canal Street, I found myself mentally giving thanks to Sam and Kathy for all the memorable opportunities we had to replenish our life memories with wonderful experiences, and channeling Benny Grunch.
Photos courtesy of Canal Guesthouse
Aerial photo by Jackson Hill courtesy of Inside the Footprint Blogspot