New Orleans has always occupied a magical place in the American mind, dark and rough and beautiful. It's one of the vast majority of cities in the world I've never been to, but I've read Tennessee Williams write about it and heard Tom Waits sing about it and man does this suck. I've got kinfolk in Mississippi, my mother the most recent immigrant there, they're without power, which sucks but not nearly as much as the idea that one of the great American cities is being devastated, possibly beyond salvaging.
On the topic of ways I've been exposed to the town, most recently I heard these amazing stories about the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival from master storyteller Rik Reppe, an event that he made sound like the epicenter of magic in the universe. His one man show about the festival was a work of evangelism, now I'm haunted by the prospect that it's become a eulogy.
I'm angry in a very selfish way because I'll never, ever get to see this place the way it was.
I'm angry that the national news media has apparently decided, in the face of the single greatest natural disaster in America since 1906, and the greatest domestic refugee crisis ever, that this is a "Negroes Run Amok" story. The Associated Press is running photos of black people wading in eight feet of water carrying bread over their heads with captions about "looting", and simultaneously running photos of white people doing the same thing with captions about "finding food in abandoned grocery stores".
Let me clue you in folks, when you break into an abandoned grocery store in the middle of a major disaster to grab as much food as you can carry that's called SURVIVING, not looting.
I don't doubt there are some bad people roaming the soggy, soggy streets of the Big Very Very Difficult right now, but you know who could have helped with that and so much else? Oh yeah, the NATIONAL FREAKING GUARD! This is why we have those guys, but they seem to be elsewhere at the moment, and so are the billions and billions of dollars we should be spending on the reconstruction of this town.
As with most events on this godforsaken planet, there's nothing I can say, nothing I can do but laugh at my own impotence until I move on to something else.
I think you have a good angle for any savvy politician to pick up on. Bring home the National Guard to deal with domestic emergencies. Because there will be a few down the road, whether or not the odd Exxon-sponsored lobbyist disputes that climate change is manmade.
If you've got a petition, you've got my signature.
Just a couple of years ago, I saw this exact scenario on (I think) the Discovery Channel. Big hurricane blows in, bursts levees around Lake Pontchartrain, floods the city. However, the simulation was much tidier. Almost cool. Completely unlike reality.
I can't help but wonder if our elected representatives will boost their numbers by packing the Discovery Channel staff off somewhere they can't hurt us. Or if any unelected men of God will boost their numbers by claiming they deserved it.
If it will help leaven your sadness at never seeing the city, I can tell you about the New Orleans I saw a year ago. It had history, but the history was buried under layers of commerce. I can't blame the place -- no place looks historic when it's being wandered through by phalanxes of white people sporting nametags. Bourbon Street -- every fifteen feet another bar, another loudspeaker emanating zydeco music. The Garden District -- beautiful houses with huge, inviting wraparound porches, deserted so people taking the guided tours wouldn't stare at the residents.
Still, my sister and I found a nice quiet bar in the Quarter. Frank's Corner, I think it was called. And another place with top-notch (and I mean top-notch) burritos. The Flying Burrito, I'm pretty sure. Not to mention sitting in Jackson Square the next morning, with coffee from Cafe du Monde and those doughnut holes in a bag of powdered sugar that are a special treat there.
Now, all of America is getting the tour.