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.
Letter 70: Be Louder
5 weeks ago