The Second Line Continues

Thursday, December 15, 2005

My Christmas wish comes true.

The federal government has finally agreed to rebuild the levees stronger than they were before. They haven't promised Category 5 protection, but it's progress anyway. Now if they'll just allocate some money to restore the wetlands...

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Rose on Mardi Gras

In his latest column, Chris Rose defends the idea of celebrating Mardi Gras in spite of (or perhaps because of) everything New Orleanians have been through recently.

I've always hated the way the national media outlets cover Mardi Gras. Chris Rose says it better than I ever could:

If the national news wants to show people puking on Bourbon Street as a metaphor for some sort of displaced priorities in this town, so be it. The only puking I've seen at Mardi Gras in the past 10 years is little babies throwing up on their mothers' shoulders after a bottle.

To encapsulate the notion of Mardi Gras as nothing more than a big drunk is to take the simple and stupid way out, and I, for one, am getting tired of staying stuck on simple and stupid.

Mardi Gras is not a parade. Mardi Gras is not girls flashing on French Quarter balconies. Mardi Gras is not an alcoholic binge.

Mardi Gras is bars and restaurants changing out all the CDs in their jukeboxes to Professor Longhair and the Neville Brothers, and it is annual front-porch crawfish boils hours before the parades so your stomach and attitude reach a state of grace, and it is returning to the same street corner, year after year, and standing next to the same people, year after year -- people whose names you may or may not even know but you've watched their kids grow up in this public tableau and when they're not there, you wonder: Where are those guys this year?

It is dressing your dog in a stupid costume and cheering when the marching bands go crazy and clapping and saluting the military bands when they crisply snap to.

Now, that part, more than ever.

It's mad piano professors converging on our city from all over the world and banging the 88s until dawn and laughing at the hairy-shouldered men in dresses too tight and stalking the Indians under the Claiborne overpass and thrilling on the years you find them and lamenting the years you don't and promising yourself you will next year.


I can see both sides of the Mardi Gras issue. I do think that the City Council could devote fewer meetings to saving Mardi Gras and more time to figuring out where to put FEMA trailers and how to get evacuees to come back to the city. On the other hand, Mardi Gras will bring in some desperately needed tax revenue and provide a badly needed distraction for hurricane-weary New Orleans residents. I'm with Chris Rose on this one.

Saving the Universities



I was heartened to see that the Bush Clinton Katrina fund is donating a huge sum of money to the universities in New Orleans. These institutions employ a lot of people and provide badly needed job training. The historically black schools (Xavier, Dillard, and Southern) have played a key role in expanding the black middle class, not just in New Orleans but in the U.S. as a whole. All of them were badly damaged by the storm and the exodus of students afterward. Unlike the aid from the Red Cross and Salvation Army, which focused mainly on short-term needs, this money will help the city and its residents long-term.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

What will it take?

Apparently despite his impassioned speech about saving New Orleans, Bush still hasn't decided whether the U.S. will pay for stronger levees to protect New Orleans.

A room of my own, part six

Actually, despite the lack of food on our last night in Mobile, we had a pretty good time. We played Old Maid with some kids (ironically enough, they were from our neighborhood in Slidell), and then we started playing football with beer cans in hand as we ran around the courtyard like asses. The Drunken New Orleanians were across the hall from us, and we dropped in to have some more alcohol and Cheese Nips and listen to the radio on a battery powered transistor.

That was when we heard the news – “The water is starting to rise, don’t even think about coming home yet”. Two people died about four miles from our house when they got caught in rising water at the junction of I-10, I-12, and I-59. We sobered up pretty quick as the news trickled in. Word of the Superdome fiasco and the convention center was out, and I started crying uncontrollably. I was worried about everything, and T was worried about nothing. We didn’t know if we had a house. I didn’t know if I had a job. We were hearing that there would be thousands dead. It was awful – probably the most scary moment in my life. We packed in the dark, with the aid of flashlights, and the next morning, we set out for the beach.

Good News, Bad News

It’s a good news, bad news scenario:

Good:
The weather is cooler, and therefore people gutting their houses are not sweltering as they work.
Bad:
Thousands of people lost their coats, and heating prices are soaring.

Good:
The economy in my parish, St. Tammany, has grown immensely with 100,000 additional residents since Katrina.
Bad:
There are 300,000 people still displaced.

Good:
The D-Day Museum is open.
Bad:
The Veterans Administration hospital is closed.

Good:
New sections of New Orleans are open to workers and families trying to rebuild.
Bad:
One-Third of the city is still without electricity.

Good:
Carnival is housing first-responders on two cruise ships, and is making a heck of a profit doing it. The “tenants” are being housed in “luxury” and are eating restaurant-type food daily. (I’d get bored with only restaurant food.)
Bad:
It’s costing the government about $115,449,984 dollars more to house these 7,116 people than it would to send them on a six-month cruise. The people have cramped quarters, no way to cook, communication lines (cellular) won’t work, and the kids have no toys or room to play. Sounds really luxurious. (I've spoken with people staying on the ships, and they just shake their heads and say "I wanna go home".)

There is no good news that is not balanced by bad here in the Crescent City. And there is lots of bad news that has no good news counterpart.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Thanksgiving

Here are two Katrina-related Thanksgiving stories, one from NPR, and another from the New York Times.

NPR aired interviews with Katrina exiles celebrating Thanksgiving far away from home.

I copied and pasted the following New York Times editorial by John Biguenet. If you're reading this, especially if you live in any state besides Louisiana, please write your senator or representative and tell them that New Orleans needs Category 5 levee protection.

Turkey With a Dash of Bitters
By JOHN BIGUENET
Published: November 23, 2005


New Orleans
I DON'T recall much about last Thanksgiving. Happy days tend to blur together, I guess. But I'll remember for the rest of my life every detail of the bitter holiday we'll celebrate tomorrow.

The mood here has turned angry in the last month, as we've begun to lose hope we will get the hurricane protection the future of the city depends on. On the street, the sense of betrayal boils over into empty talk of closing our oil and gas pipelines, which supply much of the nation's needs: "They won't build us levees that work? Then let them freeze in the dark."

Even the reliably conservative Times-Picayune ran a heated front-page editorial on Sunday, blasting the federal response to a disaster caused by one of its own agencies. Noting the false assurances we received that our levees would protect us in a Category 3 storm - all that was left of a weakened Hurricane Katrina by the time it sideswiped the city on Aug. 29 - the paper exhorted its readers to flood Washington with demands for protection against Category 5 storms: "Flood them with mail the way we were flooded by Katrina."

Why are we all so angry? An afternoon working beside me would make that clear. Like many of my fellow New Orleanians, I've spent much of every day for the last two months gutting my flooded house: dragging soggy furniture and reeking appliances to the curb, ripping out moldy walls, throwing my children's mementoes on a huge trash heap of ruined clothing and family photos and books and artwork.

On my way every day to where we used to live, I drive through a city I love that lies in ruins. The park that lines one side of a boulevard I follow home is now a solid wall of debris 20 feet high. On the other side of the street, desolate houses destroyed by the flood gape back with shattered windows, open doors and ragged holes in rooftops kicked out by families trapped in their attics when the water rose. Every single thing - wrecked houses, abandoned cars, even the people - everything is covered in a pall of gray dust, as if all the color of this once vibrant city has been leached out.

And why have we had to face this ordeal? Because, as has been amply documented, the Army Corps of Engineers designed and oversaw construction of levees so defective they are now the subject of criminal investigations by the Louisiana attorney general, the United States attorney here and the F.B.I.

We New Orleanians would have been back home two or three days after Hurricane Katrina if a manmade catastrophe had not engulfed the city in a flood. Instead, nearly three months later, only 15 percent or so of residents have returned. Most people can't come home. As The Times recently reported, half the houses in New Orleans are still not reconnected to the city sewer system and as many still lack natural gas for heating and cooking, 40 percent have no electricity and a quarter of the city is without drinkable water.

New Orleans is on the verge of death, but still, just as in the days after our levees crumbled, the government dithers, refusing to offer an unequivocal commitment to provide protection against Category 5 hurricanes.

Why is this so critical an issue? After what we have been through in the last three months and face in the coming year, there is not a homeowner or a business executive who will invest insurance proceeds in rebuilding if we are to remain vulnerable to a similar catastrophe every hurricane season. Anything short of protection against Category 5 hurricanes will condemn the city to a slow death.

So far, the president, Republican leaders in Congress and even the reconstruction czar, Donald Powell, have declined to provide any commitment beyond repairing the levees already breached. But if the United States refuses to protect New Orleans, what will the world - and what will history - make of a nation that let one of its most celebrated cities die?

When we sit down to dinner tomorrow, we will be thankful that our daughter and son-in-law are expecting their first child. We will be thankful for the enormous generosity of the individual Americans we encountered in our 3,500-mile odyssey after we fled the storm. And we will be thankful to have at least one more Thanksgiving in New Orleans. But without the government's commitment to protect the city, by next Thanksgiving we won't have New Orleans - or at least the New Orleans we have known and loved - to give thanks for.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Thanksgiving New Orleans Style

How can I be disgusted or irritated or sad? I should be happy. I am grateful that it is Thanksgiving and that I have things to be grateful for. I am thankful for my pregnancy, my family, my safety, and my city. But GOD, PEOPLE!!! Help!

The Saints are not the most important thing right now. Neither is Thanksgiving. Mardi Gras (despite my personal interest) is not all that important. Half of New Orleans can't afford Christmas. The "Life Goes On" argument only goes so far.

LOOK AT US, WORLD. We are desperate and hungry and sad and ready for change. Don't we deserve better? We entertained you for years. Please don't forget us.

The government has no answers, and we are no longer mentioned in the "who to pray for" column in the church newsletters. We need change. We need electricity. We need people to pay attention.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Hippies and Christians

One of the things I noticed when I went down to Louisiana in October was that the storm had formed bonds between groups of people who wouldn't normally have interacted with each other. People were constantly striking up conversations with strangers. At the Vietnamese restaurant where we ate, I watched as a middle-aged black man exchanged survivor stories with a young Vietnamese man, a total stranger, then sat down to eat with him.

Today AP ran a story about a makeshift relief operation run by hippies and church volunteers. Cross-dressing, seaweed-eating hippies befriending Evangelical Christians. It is surreal and beautiful.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Thanksgiving

My mother told me this morning that a church in Indiana has arranged for a thousand Thanksgiving meals to be delivered to my hometown and distributed by our parents' church. This Thanskgiving is bittersweet for me. I feel almost guilty saying, "I'm thankful that my family survived Katrina," or "I'm thankful that I have a roof over my head and food to eat," knowing that there are a lot of people (including many I love) in the Gulf Coast region who can't say the same.

But I can say that I am thankful for the spirit of generosity that I've seen in so many people in the wake of the storm. I'm thankful for Christians acting like Christians. I'm thankful for the church I grew up in, which is now home to three other congregations that lost their buildings. I'm thankful for the volunteers who took time off work, spent money out of their own pockets, and drove halfway across the country to pass out food and help renovate the homes of hurricane victims.

Despite everything we saw on the news, I really believe that in most cases, Katrina brought out the best in people.