Monday, May 29, 2006

Refugees Twice Over

This morning I drove Danielle to visit her friend Di (pronounced “Zee”) who lives on Magazine Street. Amazingly enough, all but half a dozen of the traffic lights we drove through on our way there now work. Of course, the streets are all torn up, there are no street signs, and more than half the houses we passed are still empty, but I actually found the trip encouraging. Most of the flooded cars along Napoleon have been towed away, and I only saw one abandoned boat still on a neutral ground.

Di and her family have just moved back from Natchez, where they’d been living since September. Di’s father runs an antique store and restores furniture, and they rode out Katrina in the apartment over his shop. Sometime during the night, the winds tore off the workshop at the back of the store and collapsed the upper back wall. They stayed for two more days, without water or power, listening to the distant sound of gunfire and the continuous drone of helicopters overhead. Di still cries when she talks about the dead bodies they passed on their way out of town.

Di’s parents came here from Vietnam, so this was their second experience at being made refugees. Because of that, I would have expected Katrina to be especially traumatic for them. But Di’s father laughs when he talks about how their house in New Orleans East flooded with 8 inches of water from Katrina and then 12 inches from Rita. It’s certainly true that he now has more antique furniture to restore than one man could handle in a lifetime. We spent a long time talking about boiled linseed oil and shellac, denatured alcohol and turpentine. He’s my antiques restoration coach. I’ve decided to tackle most of the furniture myself. I figure it’s already ruined, so if I mess up, so what?

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