While many would argue that the mantel was relinquished at Abu Ghraib—if it ever existed at all—American Exceptionalism is dead. It isn’t as if the broad promises of the nation haven’t before been violated. Watergate shattered Americans’ faith in its constitutional institutions. Restoration is an achievable challenge, but Fraysters this week—left, right, and center—consistently express bewilderment at what has increasingly become a lost era.
A little girl asks me if I have a dog and I instinctively hold back, knowing this is a bad subject for us. But I say I do indeed, have a dog, a Border Collie named Tasker. She listens carefully, watching my lips, and then says, ‘I have one too, a German Shepherd named Max,… he didn’t come with us, he’s waiting at our house’ And I think of Max sitting, perhaps on the roof of their house, waiting. I scoop out the mashed potatoes with ease after an hour or two of practice, an equal amount for every tray, placed just so, it is after all someone’s dinner. They are quiet as they pass by, nodding a thank you, looking down the line to see what’s waiting in the steaming pans. Come back for seconds, I say, or thirds, it’s okay, we’ll be here a while. An elderly man in a wheelchair sits quietly off to one side behind our line, eating his meal. My son strikes up a conversation with him and I watch. I can’t hear them but I marvel at the ease with which they fall into a nodding acquaintance. An aged black man with cloudy eyes and a muscular fratboy. Rows and rows of cots, flowered bedding, and plain, army blankets and blue comforters, a knotted afghan, new pillows and old. Plastic ID bracelets, clean, dry, mismatched clothes. Bottled water everywhere. Watchful adults scanning the doorways for a familiar face, children playing children’s games. People sleeping everwhere. A tiny corner of the whole, people trying to get by, looking for loved ones, anxious for news, tetanus shots all around, a joke shared with strangers, a busload of new arrivals, maybe news from home, a handshake and hug, a sheaf of paperwork, eyes scanning notes on a wall, lines for food, lines for phones and jobs and school, lines for the doctor, lines for the restroom, someone’s mother has died and a priest is called, a lady sits nearby waiting. And children playing children’s games.—MichaelRyerson, here, dispatching from the Astrodome.
…The doctrine of the current administration is highly in favor of autonomy. There has been great effort and rhetoric to that end. The party line on the slowness and incompetence of the response in New Orleans has been that leadership was the responsibility of state and local government, and the federal government was to play a support role. The slow response was in effect an attempt for the administration to demonstrate the principles involved. It has been said the governor of Louisiana failed to request federal intervention correctly. Why literal public screams for help by local officials does not constitute a request is a matter for another discussion. The fact is that the administration expects and in fact demands autonomy in all domestic situations. This in and of itself is not unreasonable, unless the tools for such are simply not available. I submit that was and is the case in Louisiana. First, no state could possibly have been expected to maintain the levy system around New Orleans. The manpower and budget requirements are simply too great. Second, it is unreasonable to expect city officials to be effective in responding to a disaster that for all practical purposes destroyed the city. Third it is unreasonable to expect the vast population of that city which has virtually no autonomy to be motivated or able to act with autonomy, that is to evacuate peacefully before the storm. I say this because I cannot believe that thousands of people living in a single city were collectively suicidal. There had to be other factors, and those factors had been in the mix for generations. In short, the administration demanded autonomous action from people who have no concept of the autonomy, much less the resources to exercise it… —fatman, here, on the failures of autonomy.
…There is little doubt that the federal government needs to be involved, indeed must inject itself immediately in crises of this nature, but I hold little hope that the wrangling in Congress will produce laudable substance, and the belated attempts by this administration at introspection are nothing short of humorous.
Perhaps elevating non-governmental organizations - subject to public scrutiny but not to political whims - might be an alternative. How many of us can think of ourselves as first-responders when the need arises? I have always considered the ability of the federal government to act with foresight to be suspect and even more so as the world keeps changing faster, the needs become greater, and the chasm between our left and right political brains grows wider.
Now faced with a stark image of what this country can do, I waiver in considering my next act. Should I write a letter to my congressman, or buy an axe? Fortunately, I live only a block or so from a grocery store - I can already cross the shopping cart off my list.—Ducadmo, here, armed and ready.
I’ve read all the beautiful tributes and essays here and elsewhere over the past week, regarding the iconic city of New Orleans.
Quite naturally, these writings predominantly speak to the unique character and culture of the French Quarter or the Garden District. Much has been written that is full of heartfelt allegiance to these specific neighborhoods - neighborhoods that narrowly withstood the hurricane and, sheerly by virtue of 5 feet of elevation, will most likely remain standing anyway.
Yet no one is preserving memories of the lower lying areas of Navarre, Pontchartrain Park, or the Lower Ninth Ward (which was built directly over a cypress swamp), the areas where poverty reigned supreme. There are no essays espousing the virtues of what essentially was a ghetto within a swamp.
Ecologically, scientifically, financially, politically, all the reports are out there for anyone to read. And all signs point to the sad fact that New Orleans should not be rebuilt. What once was, has now been rightfully reclaimed by nature itself. No amount of rebuilding will bring back this city, no matter how hallowed or legendary its ground.—topazz, here, abandoning hope.
If the selection process for supreme court nominees were stripped of the trappings of racial and sexual appeasement and political bartering we would probably have nine older Jewish guys up there. I ask: is that such a bad thing? Are the people who care about African American representation on the court pleased to have Clarence Thomas over a more qualified and more liberal jurist? If the court were that unrepresentative in its ethnic makeup wouldn’t it say more about our commitment to fairness of opportunity than this race and gender brokering we engage in? The elites who exert the political pressure that ensures most of the best legal minds won’t be considered underestimate the citizenry. We don’t want to be comforted by a group portrait that soothes our sense of gender and racial pride in place of the knowledge that the constitution is being defended by those most capable.—eladsinned, here, on the fallacy of the diverse Court.
I’m astounded how many of my students–college students–think that evolution is a nasty lie, perpetrated for some reason by scientists eager to send their souls to Hell. I’ve had students quit coming to my biology classes–some get up and walk out–when I began discussing evolution. I had one student in my Anatomy and Physiology class last semester who would actually put her hands over her ears any time I pointed out that some things in the human body work the way they do due to evolutionary history….
The problem is that some clergymen are afraid that those who believe in evolution will begin looking at other parts of the Bible with a grain of salt. If the part where God created all the animals in a week isn’t true, then maybe we should re-examine the parts that say we should give a tenth of our money to support an organization that is basically parasitic to society? Perhaps those sections that say that women should be subservient and that gays are abominations should be reevaluated? Perhaps we shouldn’t use a two-thousand year old book of parables as a science manual, or a basis for government, or even as a definitive history. Perhaps Joshua didn’t stop the sun in the sky and perhaps Noah didn’t collect two of every animal. Maybe the earth isn’t flat.—Archaeopteryx, here, swimming against the tide in the academy. *Please visitjohn_manjiro’s tremendous post, here, on the secularization of OberlinCollege vis-à-vis Darwin.
…Let’s call a regional conference and establish some parameters for dividing up Iraq into three separate sovereign states. Everything that the constitutional assembly in Baghdad has just failed to resolve should be on the table: boundaries, representation, political structure, oil revenues, militarization and limits thereon, the degree of secularization in the courts, the status of divided cities like Kirkuk, Mosul, Baghdad itself.
Even Mullahs can be reasonable when they get to exercise their own bit of “control” over the situation. I think a lot of people might be surprised at the degree of willingness on the part of both local forces and regional powers to work together to bring some order to Iraq, once a geo-political structure that guarantees each cultural group its own national entity is worked out.
The only people who will be left as absolute losers with this solution are all the neocon “idealists” who’ve staked their intellectual egos on the notion that our invasion would bring enlightened democracy to the Middle East. Oh, yeah, and all the people who are now dead as a result of this war, of course.—MarkEHaag, here, on the Federated States of Iraq.
Thursday, September 8, 2005
How much to invest, if anything, in the reconstruction of New Orleans is being framed by some as a debate of reason versus romance. Jack Shafer makes the case against rebuilding New Orleans:
before we refloat the sunken city, before we think of spending billions of dollars rebuilding levees that may not hold back the next storm, before we contemplate reconstructing the thousands of homes now disintegrating in the toxic tang of the flood, let’s investigate what sort of place Katrina destroyed. Urban planners, geologists, community leaders, and New Orleans luminaries will continue to weigh in on whether the Crescent City should be restored to its former glory. But Longleaf gets to the heart of the matter —namely that America doesn’t operate on that kind of calculus anymore. According to Longleaf, New Orleans will be rebuilt irrespective of any geological, historical, or cultural factors, but because
the renaissance of New Orleans will be not just a boondoggle, but the Mother of All Boondoggles. Since when do we factor issues like land use planning, subsidence, and poverty into large-scale equations like this? If the recent past is predictive of the future, it’s unlikely to happen in New Orleans. Still, so long as we’re hypothesizing, take a look at Anya Fanya’s smart prescriptions:
Despite visionary notions already being floated – New Orleans as an estuarine green space, a lovely green park at the mouth of the Mississippi, a restored and imaginatively engineered coastal wetlands, bulwark against the fury of Gulf storms – nothing of the kind will happen.
What will happen has already been rehearsed in lower Manhattan. If you followed closely the intricate waltz of the players in the reconstruction of the World Trade Center, the brutal back-room knife fights, the posturing and politics and deal-making and, in the end, the inevitable triumph of the dollar and its result – the preposterous mediocrity well on its way toward construction – well, now imagine the hustlers down south as the Really Big Dig gets under way.
And who will win? I’m just guessing – the oil guys, the petrochemical guys, the lumber guys, the developers and their protectors within the political Big Top. For these folks it really is The Big Easy. Y’all book early and come on down.
What happened in New Orleans is simply a symptom of a widespread disease in this country: poor land-use planning based on making a quick buck at the expense of the overall public good. Whether the issue is something as subtle as creating zoning laws that make it impossible to physically walk anywhere and then wondering why there is a national obesity epidemic, or as blatantly obvious as dredging land from the sea and then being surprised when the sea decides to take some of it back, city planners and developers avoid logic at all costs only to be shocked - SHOCKED! - when it all falls apart. Shellybell68 thinks we should scale back with “a more manageable” New Orleans:
Houses are built near sinkholes, mobile homes are a dominant form of housing in major hurricane and tornado regions, and the lack of a village planning model negatively impacts both the environment and public health every single day. Until zoning commissions and developers start thinking through the ramifications of their decisions, there will be many more catastrophes that could have been prevented by the application of a little brainpower.
Re-development should be encouraged in the topographically highest points, rubble from the destruction should be “greened” and then pulverized for landfill to help raise lots. Neighborhoods should be re-platted to encourage mixed use, mixed SES, pedestrian and streetcar friendly “old-fashioned” neighborhoods anchored by green spaces and shiny new public schools. Builders should be encouraged to incorporate salvaged architecural elements and traditional “Creole” design–like raised cottages with dormer windows and functional window shutters–that will help the city retain its unique visual charm, and withstand potential future hurricanes better than more modern styles (like slab foundation ranch homes) which are hopelessly ill suited to the climate. CDouglas makes the neo-liberal case for starting over:
Restoration of the coastal wetlands is an imperative project, the continued neglect of which will have ongoing catastrophic repurcussions for the entire nation. The successful restoration of this frail and gorgeous eco-system could make the city of New Orleans and the entire Gulf region safer in the future, and fuel the renaissance of tourism. Eco-tourism in Louisiana? Who’dve thunk it?
Why would anyone not want a newer home, with better infrastructure, in an area with better schools, away from assumptions and expectations that encourage failure? This is an opportunity for a great social experiment—allow people to choose where they want to go, free of cultural and economic restraints, and see how they make out. Still, prominent New Orleans Fray correspondent, James, can’t buy into Shafer’s defeatism:
It’s also an opportunity to restore the Mississippi delta by letting the river loose. The environmental benefits would be enormous.
Why would the Left find this an offensive idea?
Your tactic here reminds me of the ESPN reporter who never left the French Quarter and reported that everybody in the city of New Orleans gets drunk and staggers through the street all day. He was roundly ridiculed for that – and you’re right in his territory. Finally, The_Bell writes on the administration and accountability here … KA12:40 p.m.
You write: This city counts 188,000 occupied dwellings, with about half occupied by renters and half by owners. The housing stock is much older than the national average, with 43 percent built in 1949 or earlier (compared with 22 percent for the United States) and only 11 percent of them built since 1980 (compared with 35 for the United States).Is this an argument for abandoning New Orleans? Because its houses aren’t vintage 1985 McMansions? Again, you’re reminding me of that same pathetic ESPN reporter who complained that a lot of the buildings in New Orleans “look like they’re fifty years old.”
What’s left of your piece other than conclusions posited as evidence? You point out that New Orleans is uniquely vulnerable to hurricane damage. That is undisputed. But are not also any other cities on the Gulf Coast? Biloxi is not situated in a bowl, but it has been destroyed nonetheless. Do you advocate abandoning Biloxi? Would you advocate against rebuilding any city within striking distance of the hurricane breeding grounds? It is also undisputed that much of coastal California is uniquely vulnerable to earthquake damage. Would you advocate against rebuilding San Francisco when the next Big One hits? I don’t think you would.
Tuesday, September 6, 2005
More Fray Dispatching: New Orleans reader James finds some solace in the emotional response of local officials, such as Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard, who broke down on Meet the Press while recounting how one of his officers lost his mother Friday to the rising waters. James goes so far as to commend the ill-prepared Ray Nagin:
In the last week, I have seen a half dozen of my Local Public Officials break down into tears under the unbearable strain of managing the response to what has shaped up to be the worst natural disaster in American history… Many truths will emerge from the receding waters, but few more profound than the mediocrity of today’s public official at every level, from executive-in-chief to city-planning deputy. Try this exercise: Think about the best and the brightest you’ve encountered since freshman year of college. How many of those have opted for a career—or even a stint—in public service? How many participate at even the most rudimentary levels of government—as poll workers, CERT volunteers, or as neighborhood council members? Precious few. Why, then, should it come as a surprise that incompetents administer incompetence? Cat Lovers … : … abound in Dispatches Fray burying the lede in response to Blake Bailey, who left his feline behind while escaping New Orleans. If anyone needs further evidence that Bill Frist is a non-starter in 2008, then here it is. If Frist—who mined animal shelters in Boston for kitties to operate on while at Harvard Medical School—tries to mount a serious candidacy, there’s a silent, bipartisan army of kitten-return-address-sticker users ready to tar him. Feline Nation will make the Swift Boaters look like the 4-H Club. Fray Obit: An excellent eulogy on William Rehnquist from jag1222, a former student of the chief justice, in Jurisprudence Fray. Jag writes that although “[h]e was as conservative as I was liberal,” Rehnquist was “one of the most principled jurists to ever sit on the bench”:
It is a burden they should not have had to bear, a burden which I did not want to see them bear. I wanted them swept aside by the cool and commanding National Public Officials, with their phalanxes of assistants and their limitless resources to conquer any problem. They never appeared…
Still, they commanded the awesome powers and resources of the federal government, and as devoid of talent or initiative as they apparently were, as human beings they could have been expected to react accordingly. Why didn’t they? “We weren’t asked through the proper channels,” they plead. Nonsensical excuses. The excuses of incompetents, excuses which would merit immediate firing in any semi-well run company.
The body count has begun but is nowhere near complete. It will not be completed for a long time. Still, we already are virtually certain that thousands of people in New Orleans are dead. My people. Our people. Americans, many of whom had brothers or husbands or sons fighting in our military, in a national guard that has been sent on a fool’s errand and which should have been kept home precisely for times like this. Americans who didn’t have to die, but who did.
There are individuals who rose to meet the unspeakable horror and hardships brought on by Hurricane Katrina and the destruction of a great American city, individuals like Ray Nagin and Eddie Compass and Aaron Broussard. They have shown what they are made of – sterner stuff than men who hold far greater fame and prestige than they do. And, there were those did nothing but hold press conferences and photo-ops, and peddle excuses that are beneath contempt.
He taught me how to set aside my passions in order to come to a reasoned conclusion. He stressed the importance of ethics as an attorney. He spoke of patriotism, love of country, and good government. He believed, just as the Lord Chancellor sung in “Iolanthe,” that the “Law is the true embodiment of everything that’s excellent.” He was a public servant until the very end. He was my teacher. He was a mentor. And I will be forever grateful that I had the opportunity to learn from him. Joe_JP chalks up the timing of the vacancy as another bit of serendipitous good fortune for Bush. Soothsayer of the Week: Yep, Degsme called it six weeks ago … KA9:05 a.m.
Friday, September 2, 2005
It’s difficult not to resort to pedestrian cries such as, “This is America?” As omnibus1reader wrote Wednesday, “I want my country back. Truth, justice, liberty and the American Way where some frail old black lady in a garret in New Orleans is equal to kings.” The images are an indelible scar on our collective character. If there’s a silver lining, then it’s the opportunity for national self-examination—an exercise that’s long overdue:
…As our government falters and one of our great cities reverts in the face of catastrophe to a Hobbesian–not Rousseauan–state of nature, one can’t help but feel the the civilizational veneer overlaying our baser natures is thinner than even we dedicated cynics thought. That modernity can be reduced to tenebrous, dysenteric anarchy within a passage of days, and that the entire governing mechanism of our society is utterly impotent in the face of such disintegration, should give us pause. Before we go remolding the world in our image, we might search out a mirror. In Iraq, for example, the descent into chaos following catastrophe is suddenly more real, more visceral, and more comprehensible. It turns out that it had nothing to do with preconditioning from life under dictatorship, nor does it have anything to do with any particular quality of sectarianism or societal backwardness. Base tribalism, violent territorialism, rejection of aid from outsiders, self-propogating despair–these are the steady-state conditions of a species that’s spent thousands of years divesting itself of any real capacity for survival in the natural world. Every aspect of our lives presumes higher authority. In its absence, we falter, often fatally.
Nothing about our lives or society is God-ordained or even remotely eternal. If any good comes of the still-unravelling disaster along our Gulf Coast, it must be an immediate reevaluation of the fragility of our sustaining web–recognition that rugged individualism is a myth born out of comfort and national wealth. I say this as a person who deeply, deeply distrusts government and central authority and who advocates libertarianism wherever it’s feasible: our failure to acknowledge collective interdependence on a civilizational level is the intellectual error that will doom us all.
The right to be left alone is one thing. Quite another to be left alone to die.—IOZ, here, watching the levitathan rot from within. …Yes, the hardest hit who will take the longest to recover are the poor, the elderly, the disabled. But in truth, the ones who know how best to survive in hard times are the poor, the elderely, the disabled. Suffering is relative, and those who know no different, tend to handle the hard times better than those who have no experience living in crisis or survival mode. There is no question that in New Orleans and a number of MS towns, the black population has suffered greatly at the hands of Katrina. It is tragic that some of those have foolishly sought to take advantage of the time to steal what will be worthless to them rather than focusing solely on survival. When they are forced to walk away from their homes, none of those stolen items will have value to them, and most will be lost in the clean up to come before New Orleans will again be inhabitable. The lack of judgment is understandable, if not justifiable. But many of the same towns in MS and a number of those in New Orleans are not blacks, but caucasians - some elderly, some who could have left, but couldn’t bring themselves to leave their family home and the only life they’ve ever known. Economics won’t change the devastation they feel knowing their way of life has been forever altered. And for many of the “advantaged”, they are facing an unknown future without the experience or skills to deal with what’s coming. That sense of hopelessness will not be salved by savings accounts or privilege, and while the poor and underprivileged will find a way to survive, I wonder how many of the others will not.—jd-14too, here, on class and coping. …There is one opportunity here–we can change the way we handle our national priorities. We can’t change the mismanaged policies of the past, but we can resolve that not even the government can violate the second law of thermodynamics with impunity–you can’t get something for nothing. We can plan better. We can realign our priorities. We can stop fooling ourselves and pretending that nothing really needs to change in our lives, that no sacrifices are necessary and that these decisions won’t really affect us. Because the truth is, as we are all finally discovering–it affects every single one of us because we are woven together in the fabric of this society, and the pain of one region inevitably ripples out to us all, and there is no insulating ourselves from the consequences. We’d do well to remember that…—Demosthenes2, here, looking ahead. I have read other posts on the issue with varying degrees of interest, and most seem to fall on fairly predictable lines. For those on the right … this kind of issue seems to be absolute fresh bloody red meat; the excessive focus on looting by the right wing media looks to me like fairly overt racism dressed in the thinnest clothes of “news.” The left, meanwhile, practically falls over itself finding ways to excuse or minimize the phenomenon’s importance; I’m not quite sure if this is because of a fear of saying anything negative about African-Americans (a pathologic fear of the left) or just an aversive reaction to the ugly example from the far right.
Regardless, what really hasn’t been said is that this is both typical consequence and partial cause of the problems New Orleans is having right now. Looters after an evacuation there are as predictable as the tides, which is quite possibly due to the nature of the city itself - if you pride yourself on being a place free of rules, you can hardly express surprise when those rules you choose to try to enforce are flouted, particularly in a chaotic situation like this. The addition of guns to the equation is simply a reflection of the fact that this time it’s survival at stake, not just property loss and self-enrichment.
The other half of the strange correlation is not as often noted: just as hurricane evacuations lead to looting, the fear of looting causes many people to stay in order to protect their property. The people who can least afford to be looted are those without insurance or money to replace the goods lost, which adds yet another layer to the number of reasons why poorer people are more likely to be those standing in the path of the storm when it hits.
So do I care about people looting TVs? Probably not - by planning for entertainment rather than survival, they are marking themselves as unlikely to be among the longer-term survivors. Should I care? As it is one of the things that contributes to more people being at ground zero of the storm, I would have to say yes.—Sawbones, here, on the politics of looting.…I am leaving the lush, sensual, overripe place of my birth, the land of swamps and sugarcane, of Huey Long and the good ol’ boys, of fixed tickets and bribery scandals a la Edwin Edwards (he gave that money to my wife, it doesn’t have anything to do with me - only the players names change, and even then, not by much.) of liquid lunches at Galatoires that stretch into dinner (the old guard just cannot accept that there are women waiters now - sexual harrassment? oh no, he’s just flirting, honey, he don’t mean nothin’ by it.) And leaving the charming beautiful men who can neither commit nor grow up - stuck in the spoiled youthful belief that the universe revolves around them, as their mommas’ taught them so long ago (and why should they believe otherwise? Here in New Orleans its still true.)
I am leaving this beautiful tragic city that is full of my past history (there’s grandma’s house on Carrolton where grandpa proposed to her on the front porch), the house we lost to greed where grandma, grandpa, mom and dad all died (I hope they haunt the new owners every once in a while, just for fun), the house uptown where my birthday is carved in the wood, but the year is in the 1800’s, not 1900’s and the name is a soldier’s and family relation, not mine. I am leaving the thoughts of what could have been, and leaving the past - but not forgetting it - leaving in order to move forward and get on with living life - I have come home and buried my dead, now its time to move on.—Rachel-5, here, writing from New Orleans, July 8, 2002 (special thanks from chango for the referral).
Wednesday, August 31, 2005
Hurricane Parties: Precious memories from Sawbones:
Living in New Orleans after 9/11, I remember resorting to dark humor when the subject of terrorism came up in conversation; my response was that the Big Easy was safe because any enemy of the United States would not want to remove such a deadweight on the American economy and national character. I was only half-joking. Most who have lived there for an extended period (thirteen years myself, a short-timer by local standards) will tell you that they felt for the city the way one might feel about a crazy relative; sometimes exasperated, sometimes baffled, sometimes hopeless, but loving regardless and incapable of letting go.Destruction of place is a gut-wrenching sort of loss that we don’t experience a lot in this country; it speaks to a beautiful—and heartbreaking—corner of our memory. Remembering New Orleans: Author T.D. McKinney dropped into the Fray to respond to New Orleans native Josh Levin:
There are few places in the world with, as Walker Percy put it, such a triumphant mediocrity. Service is almost uniformly terrible at nearly any business you choose. There is a disdain for intellect and seriousness that runs bone-deep. The government is utterly and absolutely corrupt (the current mayor bucked this trend upon taking office). You can gauge whether a driver is a resident of an area by whether he can successfully negotiate the maze of never- or barely-repaired potholes - most have been there long enough to seem like one’s children.
I used to see people wearing T-shirts with a slogan (and a grain of truth): “Louisiana: Third World and Proud of It.” But that was exactly what made the city so unique and irreplaceable in American culture. I’m aware of the appeal of the usual tourist destinations - Mardi Gras, the French Quarter, Bourbon Street, or Jazz Fest. Those were all treasured parts of my life, but more than that was the atmosphere that permeated every activity there, the feeling that, no matter what, everything and everyone would manage to muddle through and sort themselves out in a reasonably good way. Provided the beer didn’t run out, that is.
I remember being a part of “hurricane parties” on a couple of occasions when my occupation prevented me from leaving town with a storm approaching. As the hours ticked away, the barometric pressure fell precipitously; think of that strange, electric feeling in the air before a thunderstorm, and multiply it times ten. The sensible people were in their cars, spraying their windshields with spittle and curses as they crawled in 5 mph traffic away from the city. The rest of us barbecued.
I remember walking down Carondelet Street with a six-pack in hand, walking past the neighbors’ houses. Probably every other home had a grill set up on the sidewalk in front, with every imaginable food cooking in a wild chaos of aroma. I’d trade a beer for a chicken wing, a burger, or some grilled animal body part which I hadn’t previously realized edible. When I got back home, I would greet others at my house with food of my own for the same price of trade. Most people didn’t talk about the incoming hurricane, or if they did, they talked in tones of cheerful fatalism rather than worry. In a city with its share of racial tension, this was one moment in which black and white seemed able to mingle without fear or suspicion. Even my grumpy downstairs neighbor came out an joined us for a while.
I went to sleep that night with a pleasant buzz, the mildly disappointing knowledge that I had to work the next day, and a complete lack of worry. Tonight, and I imagine for a long time, I will not sleep as well. I’m thinking of friends I have not yet reached by phone, places I may never see again, and the great mass of terrified people sweating this thing out in ones, twos and ten thousands. And I am wondering with regret whether I will again be a part of a hurricane party.
I am so happy that I did and saw many of the things mentioned in your article. I’ve always made it a point to visit at least twice a year - more if possible and just spent a long weekend there a couple months ago. Sometimes all I did was walk the streets and talk to people.Josh’s piece indirectly poses the question—if your city disappeared tomorrow, what would you have missed from its canon? And which of your memories would you hold onto the tightest? On that note, Montfort acknowledges the elephant in the room … KA4:35 p.m.
I firmly believe–I have to for my own sanity–that the city will rebuild and will not be too different in feel and culture from what we know. There will be dancing in the streets, the food will still be incredible, the drinks will be the best in the world, and there will still be a jam session at Liuzza’s on Thursday nights.
If nothing else, New Orleans will live on in the novels I write. It’s suddenly more important than ever that people see the city the way I saw it.
Shutting up now before I cry.