Thursday, July 13, 2006

New Orleans: Post-Katrina Visit #1

The first thing you notice is the blue tarps. Maybe not so many, near the airport, not the worst-hit area, but enough to catch your attention, to let you know it isn't exactly the same as you left it. Then you look a little closer, squinting out of the airplane window, and you see other things: missing shingles, timbers sunk down and in, debris in yards.

It's almost a year later, and everything that was familiar still is -- but something seems slightly amiss.

In a lot of ways, however, it is peculiarly hard to tell. New Orleans is a rundown, sketchy-looking place by its nature. And yet the ride from the airport to the Vieux Carre still reveals places and buildings that seem quite a lot more weathered than you remembered. Then you remind yourself: This isn't the area that suffered the full brunt of Her. Those areas, you need to make an effort to see. Those areas, tourists don't ever go.

I talked to an elderly woman on the plane ride over, a native of the city. She told me a thing or two. She lived here through Betsy and Camille, Katrina's evil sisters. She's been afraid of storms ever since she was 12 and needed to evacuate her home. She was the last one out, and the storm bore down so rapidly it shook the entire house as she exited. She never forgot. Maybe this residual fear saved her when she fled Katrina. Or Betsy, or Camille. But still this is her home.

Familiar landmarks exist and continue to operate: dba, Port of Call, the Funky Butt, Snug Harbor. In some ways, life seems as it always was here, before the fanciful and fancified CNN reports about murder, rape, cannibalism, and savagery absolutely unknown to these shores. Will we ever know the exact truth of those days? I bet you a beer no, we won't.

I haven't yet traipsed around the French Quarter, but I will more than likely do some of that tomorrow, as the two friends I'm traveling with need to see the area.

I'm writing this from what can almost be described as a ruin on Esplanade Ave. But this is New Orleans, and I can state unequivocally to you, dear readers, that it is a beautiful ruin. For those who have been here before, you know what I mean. For those who haven't, I invite you to come down and find out what it is to live, even in the midst of what might be called, in any other city, "blight." I call it charm, perseverance, strength, continuity. Convince me I'm wrong. You won't.