Friday, May 05, 2006

I Am New Orleans


This weekend at the Fair Grounds in New Orleans, a miracle is taking place. It is a human miracle, wrought by human determination and courage. It is the New Orleans Jazz Festival.

There were those who said it could never happen, those who wanted to move the festival elsewhere. But some very strong, visionary people where indomitable. We would have a Jazz Fest this year and we would have it here, in New Orleans. How many of us believed, all those months ago in the dark days after the storm, that we could really pull it off? But pull it off we did, and splendidly.

I did a signing today in the Book Tent. The sun shone bright, the heat’s sting lessened by a breeze blowing off the lake. The music was grand, the food divine, the crowds thick but good humored. People stopped by our table to chat and conversation turned, as always, to the experience that unites us. How much water did y’all get? You back in your house yet? Where’d you evacuate to? But there were others, too, from far away--a lady from New York, a man from England; people who had come here to celebrate with us, to celebrate music and life.

As we left the Fair Grounds, my husband and I drove through the part of New Orleans known as Gentilly. It’s a forlorn place these days, with block after block of devastated houses rotting in the sun. After such a glorious day of joy and laughter, I felt my throat tighten up the way it always does at the sight of shattered roofs and gaping windows. I stared out at once-picturesque cottages now tilting drunkenly, hopelessly on their undermined foundations; I saw weed-grown schools and silent churches. All empty, abandoned. And then I saw a small brick house, its insides gutted, its flood-ravaged yard almost hidden by the gleaming white bulk of a FEMA trailer. And I smiled, because beside the trailer, someone had stuck a sign in the brown grass, a sign that proudly declared,
I am coming home.
I am rebuilding.
I am New Orleans.

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