Thinking of New Orleans
Posted by Tony & Cheri on August 31, 2008
Tonight our hearts are in New Orleans.
We have loved New Orleans for many years. It is a special place for us. There is a magical devil-may-care spirit in that city, and we love to drink it in. Whether it is Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, Halloween or just a spring weekend in the Quarter, whenever we go to New Orleans life gets crazier, stranger, freer and better.
We have partied with porn stars, danced with vampires and watched ghosts wander home in the pre-dawn darkness. We have been in the crowd to hear the greats of modern music play on the stages of Jazz Fest, and we have walked alone on a cobblestone street following the sounds of a solitary saxophone. We have dined with the social elite at one of the oldest restaurants in America and with transvestites at a greasy hamburger counter down the street. For us, New Orleans is soulful… in every meaning of the word.
We arrived in Playa Del Carmen three years ago as Hurricane Katrina tore our beloved New Orleans apart. And we watched in horror as the City That Care Forgot was herself forgotten by America. We were filled with anger and disgust as the politically powerful, Republican and Democrat, ignored the danger, abandoned the helpless and ran for political cover even as the victims of the storm ran for shelter. The shame should haunt all of us forever.
A short story by the wonderful James Lee Burke tells of a man who is drowning in Katrina’s flood waters. As the waters take him away to his death he notices a wooden statue of Jesus is being swept along with him. He talks to the statue in his final moments and remembers the beauty of the place now dying along with him:
“That’s the way it was back then. You woke up in the morning to the smell of gardenias, the electric smell of the street cars, chicory coffee, and the stone that has turned green with lichen. The light was always filtered through the trees, so it was never harsh, and the flowers bloomed year-round. New Orleans was a poem, man, a song in your heart that never died.
I got only one regret. Nobody ever bothered to explain why nobody came for us.”
~Jesus Out to Sea by James Lee Burke
We didn’t make it back to New Orleans for over a year. But as we started our new life in Playa del Carmen we never forgot the city we loved so much. When we could finally return for a visit in 2007, we found a city destroyed and a people in pain. Places that had existed for generations were shuttered. The empty wreckage of homes were tattooed in paint with the strange code that told other relief workers it had been searched and how many dead could be found inside. People we had known and seen for years were gone–disappeared or dead we would never know. And among those left was a sorrow that could not be described. Friends and strangers would tearfully tell us their stories. Waiters and cab drivers would stop working to begin to cry with us, for their families, and for themselves.
Slowly and painfully New Orleans struggled to breathe. And the people stayed. They didn’t give up on themselves. They survived by their own strength and by the love and gifts of good people around the country. By the time we went to Jazz Fest this year, we saw the spirit of the place we loved starting to swell again. It was a joy to behold.
Sadly, tonight New Orleans again faces destruction. As we write this Hurricane Gustav is poised to strike the Gulf Coast just as Katrina did three years ago. Predictions are that it will arrive as a category four hurricane with its deadliest power centered on the levees of New Orleans which are built to only withstand a category three storm. Massive flooding and damage is expected.
Once the storm passes New Orleans will begin again. Of that there is no doubt. But they will need help. We hope that people will answer the call for help without waiting for the politicians and corporations who never came last time. There are many fine charities and organizations already in place. We will post some of them in the days ahead. We will ask the people who know us, or simply know of us through this blog, to try and help. Please help. Do what you can.
And tonight please join us, if only in your hearts, in New Orleans.
Obama/Biden in 2008