Heaven and Hell in the City that Care Forgot

So, Angel and I are back from our church's single handed attempt to save New Orleans. It didn't work. Don't get me wrong, rumors of New Orleans' demise have been greatly exaggerated, but outside of the tourist core and the affluent Garden district the city is still largely a festering wound on America's underbelly.

The funny thing about the city is that you can't help but love it. The heat is oppressive, but forces you to slow down, relax, and not work so hard, even if the city needs it. Three houses per block have FEMA markings, but they also exude European/African/American/Confederate history and voodoo mystery. The citizens are desperately poor in a third-world sort of way, and they murder each other at a rate higher than any other American city, but they come off as the friendliest folks you'll meet. The streets are teeming with drunks at all hours, but you get the impression that you should get drunk too, because it's more fun that way. The government has failed New Orleanians at every level, but they seem to be used to it--they don't trust the gov't, hate it even, but also don't use it as a scapegoat. You get the sense that it's still a party town because laughing is better than crying, and those really are the options in their situation.

America as a nation genuinely is failing New Orleans--It's probably the most interesting city in the country, but it has holes the size of neighborhoods now. The majority of the 9th Ward community is probably gone for good, and will probably become stripmalls, condos, or somesuch. Half the city has moved away, and the other half has post-traumatic stress disorder. Two years down the road, George Bush and his cronies apparently still don't care about black people, and neither do the insurance companies. Luckily some private citizens do, or nothing would have changed, according to the people there. When we were there, we saw literally hundreds of other volunteers, and there were probably actually thousands in the city giving time and cash to help rebuild. It makes me proud to be an Episcopalian, because we are at least doing something, but ashamed to be an American, because we're failing our citizens on so many levels.

On the bright side, the beignets at Cafe du Monde are still excellent. I actually had a lot of fun on the trip, b/c I was with teenagers whose positivity couldn't be shaken, and who taught me to pop, lock n' drop it. God, though, the situation there is depressing if you let yourself think about it too much. Read this book and Save NOLA.


Anonymous said…
Nawlins. As a Southerner, budding Francophile, and epicurean, Nawlins is the Southeastern cultural mecca to which I've never made pilgrimage. But, its the place that occupies the top and bottom on my list of cities to live. You saw, perhaps, the problems that I've only read about. And no doubt, you only experienced a fraction of its food and culture that I know of. My guess would be that the place hasnt changed much: some structures destroyed, some people gone, yet no shortage of low-lifes, great cooks, and corrupt politicians.
The whole incident reaffirms my distrust, disgust, and disdain for government in all of its manifestations; my faith in the churches, private organizations, and good ole' citizens. A truly sad case of individuals (black or white) completely dependent on government, ultimately let down, and somehow people are surprised by the fact. Should anyone be surprised or appalled that liars and thieves (writ large) act as such?
Anonymous said…
You really should move there. It's my new favorite city.