Monday, August 30, 2010

the city that care forgot

i have a hard time writing about katrina. i didn't experience the storm firsthand; i watched it wreak its havoc from a thousand miles away, sitting in my living room with my cadre of gulf-coast-raised friends in a kind of dull horror. i took a trip across the south about two weeks after the storm, turning north from oxford, mississippi instead of south, meeting dazed evacuees in every town. i watched the nation's people come through in whatever small way they could as the nation's government was perfectly content to let an entire region drown. the wounds ran deep enough for those of us who love the place; for those who live there, who call it home, it's an unimaginable grief.

it's five years later. i have written a couple of times about my love for the pelican state and my special relationship to new orleans. i firmly believe that new orleans is the most special, unique and soulful city in this nation. it's the shot of tabasco in our melting pot. and it kills me that still, even now, it's not okay yet. but there's one thing i know of this place. i've seen it myself. there's a toughness to new orleanians, and by extension everyone in the region, from mobile across to lake charles, that should be the model for american backbone. it takes true grit to call that place home. you either have it or you don't.

but beyond the toughness, the gulf south has a kind of well-worn sparkle about it that's hard to describe. it's not the glitz of new york or los angeles, the flash of las vegas or miami, or the sophistication of DC or chicago, but there's a louche, bluesy redolence about the area. the spirit of new orleans is hard to put into words, but it touches the whole region in varying degrees. you have to experience it for yourself to truly understand, but once you've opened yourself up to the city, it's in your blood forever and you'll never be the same.

so five years after the storm, we mourn what's lost and celebrate what's left. i hold that wondrous city, brassy, beautiful, loud and sticky, in my heart with everything i have. there's much left to do, and it's vital to keep moving forward. the soul of our nation lives in new orleans. never forget it.


  1. New Orleans.. I love that city. I also love Oxford, MS, but I digress.

    I mourn for the Mississippi Gulf Coast to get the national attention that NOLA has. We are still rebuilding down there. Five years later, we have areas (Bay St. Louis and Waveland, for example) that still look ravaged. This is the area where Katrina made landfall.

    By the time Katrina hit the Miss Gulf Coast, I believe she had been down-graded to a Category III whereas Camille (August, '69) was a Category V. Yet, the devastation of Katrina on the Miss Gulf Coast was many times greater than Camille.

    In the days that followed, I remember hearing a state official make the comment that Camille killed more people in 2005 than she did in 1969. The person conducting the interview said, 'You mean Katrina killed more in 2005... right?'

    The official said, 'No... many people rode out Camille... and because of that, they didn't leave. They should have left.'

    When I think of what transpired in the days after the levees failed in and around NOLA, how much of the human suffering could have been avoided had the people left the area.

    The State government had made arrangements for buses to be available. I don't think that the people who remained behind thought it could get that bad. From the standpoint of the storm damage itself, Katrina didn't impact NOLA the way it did Mississippi. The levees failed.

    In the days that followed, there were massive fuck-ups from the beginning by the city government, the state government, and from the federal government.

    My daughter moved to NOLA almost a year to the date after Katrina hit... when the city was beginning its recovery. I remember visiting the neighborhood where she lived at the time, and seeing the different markings on the houses in her neighborhood that had been marked by responders, that the houses had been checked for survivors.

    Everything you say about the city is correct, Magnolia... and then some! I want to go back!!


  2. I can't believe it's been five years. I remember just feeling helpless, watching so many people lose everything from so far away, and not being able to do a damn thing about it.

    Here's to remembering Katrina.

  3. this is a beautiful post. Third I've read today on the anniversary - very well written.

  4. You told this well. I can feel your angst and hope.
    Its a brave thing, remembering this tragedy, digging up those initial feelings of shock and loss.


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