Friday, December 30, 2005

What Remains


It's been four months and a day since Hurricane Katrina tore through New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. Today I set out to document some of the remaining damage. I took over 100 photographs and scarcely covered a tiny fraction of the devastation that remains. You can view some of these pictures here. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Happy Christmas

I want to apologize to all my friends for the few rare postings I have made since August. And, of course, I offer my thanks and gratitude for your concern during these past months - for myself, my neighbors who have been washed away, and for our beloved city. My business has been elsewhere, not here pecking out my puny concerns and solutions for the problems of the world.

How ineffectual, how childish. I've learned that all that may be useless. No, what you do is survey the damage facing you and start picking up the pieces, branch by branch, splintered board by board. Then you mop your floors.

When you run into a neighbor, you listen. Everyone has a story she must tell, if for no other reason than that it is mightily beyond belief and she must expose it so that the listener may validate her revulsion.

Concetta came back to New Orleans yesterday afternoon. Her home has been destroyed. She wants a trailer until she can get into another place, but FEMA has placed her in a hotel room. The room has a hot tub. She is sleeping on embroidered linen. When she registered, the hotel staff asked what sort of cocktails she likes so they would have them waiting in her room when she arrived from work each day - no cost, ma'am.

Of course, that is wrong. The room costs $375.00 per night. FEMA cannot help her with the blood pressure medication she must take because of a prior stroke or the heart meds she needs to keep going, but it will shell out an obscene amount of money for a bed to spend eight hours lying on.

She has always been a self-sufficient woman and now, in her sixties, she believes what is happening is wrong. She is right.

So I listen, and I validate.

At work, it's the same. I am displaced because my office building has not yet reopened. I am being housed in another location where I track reopening businesses and troubleshoot problems people are having with their various governmental benefits. It doesn't begin to compare with the complexities I am accustomed to dealing with, but I believe I am doing some good, picking up rubble, piece by piece, as it were.

Until this week, I was (perhaps) dangerously low, overwhelmed by the pressure of listening, always listening. But gradually I began to detect a change coming over me. I was losing my despair. I had been willing myself to go on, to have hope. By Thursday or Friday, I realized I was not sad as I approached this Christmas. I had received a small grace. For years I have endured this holiday in depression. But today I am not ill in that way.

I have discovered joy in mopping my floors.

I wish you a peaceful, serene, and joyous Christmas. And I extend my wish with a smile and a happy laugh.

Thursday, December 8, 2005

Malaise and Despair

Malaise, despair, and suicide are becoming common now. And no one not here living day to day in this dark swamp comprehends or cares what is happening to us.

Each morning brings greater clarity to the vacuum of leadership at the local, state, and federal levels. We begin to see the decades of neglect and criminal disregard that gambled that a devastating storm would not happen. People whose job it was to envision the reality of late August did not do so, preferring to believe there was time enough to think about that tomorrow. And tomorrow was, of course, another day.

Unfortunately, tomorrow is yesterday now, and we are suffering. Does anyone hear? It doesn’t seem so. I begin to wonder if New Orleans wasn’t truly a unique American city – more unlike any other city in this country than any of us ever realized.

I don’t mean the picture-postcard aspects of New Orleans. Any place can be photographed in forms and shades of beauty. It’s the nature of pictorial representation to aspire to a degree of beauty even when its subject matter is the monstrous or the catastrophic. No, no one who has not lived here and submitted to the seductions of New Orleans can understand our grief.

She is a city of rhythms and keening voices, a sensuous city, tactile in her wet heat. She is a city of generations. People here lived in homes their great-grandparents had built. Elsewhere in the nation, people reside in cities where they have jobs. They stay in houses where they eat and sleep and wake to leave to drive to work again. Here, for more than two centuries, we have lived in homes in neighborhoods where we celebrated together the sacred rites of birth and life and passing and birth and life again and yet again, seemingly never to end until the end of time.

Can anyone not here understand what we risk losing? Is there anyone left to care?
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