Thursday, July 26, 2007

Thoughts on an Anniversary


This weekend it will have been an entire year since we moved back into our house post-Katrina. The house was still far from finished at the time, but we felt such an intense need to be home that we rushed it. We had this idea that if we were in the house we’d be able to spend more time working on it. In fact, the opposite happened. Once we were actually in the house, we slacked off. Life took over.

I wish I had taken pictures of the house as it was a year ago. Then I’d be able to look back and see how much progress we’ve made—all the boxes we’ve unpacked, all the furniture we’ve replaced. Instead, I see what isn’t finished. The upstairs hall is still just plywood. We still need new carpet on the stairs. The arched windows are still raw openings (arches are REALLY hard to do). The front gallery is still a torn mess. Just yesterday I noticed that the baseboards in the entry were never nailed in or painted. How do you forget something like that? The list goes on and on. When we didn’t make our “we’ll be finished by Christmas” goal last year, we said, “Next Christmas.” Now we’re saying, Christmas of ’08. Ha. So I look at other pictures, like the one I've posted here taken sometime in October 05. Then I remember how far we've come.

A month or so ago I thought I’d found someone to rebuild the gallery. One of the brothers was about to get married, but they promised they’d start as soon as he got back from his honeymoon. Maybe his wife strangled him on his wedding night or something, but he seems to have disappeared. Such is life and rebuilding in post-Katrina New Orleans.

Sometimes it all gets to me. Sometimes I think we’ll never be put right again. I see signs of progress every time we drive into the city. Ruined commercial buildings from the Ugly Decades of the twentieth century are starting to be knocked down—finally! New business buildings are going up, here and there. I try to focus on that, rather than the miles and miles of largely empty houses and storefronts.

In the months after Katrina, city officials worried about what they called the “jack-o’-lantern effect”—renovated homes scattered amidst rows of dark empty houses. It’s what we now have. On my street, we have only something like half a dozen empty houses, but in many neighborhoods there are twenty empty houses for every one that’s inhabited.

I heard the other day that the 17th Street Canal on the Metairie side is collapsing. The Corps of Engineers isn’t going to do anything about it because they can’t figure out why it’s happening and “routine maintenance isn’t their job.” The parish is saying it’s collapsing because of what the Corps is doing on the Orleans Parish side of the canal. And I’m thinking, Yo, people! Just fix it, all right!!

When I was in Florida recently, people were surprised when they heard the city wasn’t back to normal. With the exception of the narrow tourist strip along the river—the French Quarter and the Garden District—New Orleans today is a Third World country. The death rate has soared. It’s a national disgrace, only no one seems to know about it, no one seems to be holding our president and his minions accountable. In another month, it will be two years since Katrina. Who’d have thought?

7 comments:

Steve Malley said...

I've heard rumours too that maybe it's intentional. Something like, "Pre-Katrina, New Orleans had too many people for its economy and resources. Now's our chance to keep it manageably small."

Don't know if there's any truth to that. On the one hand, a lot of conspiracy theorists underestimate the power of ordinary human vice and ineptitude. On the other, conspiracies *do* happen.

Another heartbreaking post about a place I loved...

Shauna Roberts said...

I wonder whether the Jack-o-lantern effect is as terrible as the mayor and others imply. Out in the boonies, people live far from a fire station (which may be manned only by volunteers) and police station, may not have 911 service, don't have cable service or high-speed Internet, have dirt roads, and don't have neighbors close by. It sounds terrible to a city person, but these people have chosen to live like that.

If some New Orleanians have to live like country people for a couple of years, I don't see that it's a disaster, particularly given they have chosen to be pioneers in rebuilding their neighborhoods.

Slowly but surely, people are returning to the area, according to Post Office and other data.

The empty spots will fill in. Some people will come home when they get their Road Home money. (We walked through Broadmoor recently and saw exactly that--nearly every house on nearly every street had work just getting started, presumably because they'd finally gotten their checks.) Some people will sell their lots to their neighbors, who will grow nice gardens or put in swimming pools or just let their kids enjoy the extra space. Some people will sell their damaged houses to people whose homes were destroyed or to young people from out of town who think helping to restore New Orleans is an exciting project and a way to make their lives count for something.

Eventually, people who didn't live here before Katrina won't be able to tell today's ghost neighborhoods from the rest.

That's my take on it, anyway. I have no doubt that New Orleans will return. I also have no doubt that it will take many years, and that some people (probably including my husband) will not have the patience to wait for New Orleans life to become somewhat normal again.

I've experienced the same disbelief of how bad some things still are here. We've had people send us urgent important documents by U.S. mail, despite our telling them not to because they would take a week to 10 days to arrive, if they arrive at all. People can't comprehend that we're lacking services that basic.

Shauna Roberts said...

P.S. to previous post
I sometimes think that our best course of action would be secede from the U.S. We'd be a tiny country, true. But we would have one of the world's most important ports and control a large oil reserve, which is a good start on an economy. Most important, we could apply for foreign aid from the U.S. That should bring in a lot more money than what the government is grudgingly giving us for recovery now from a government-caused disaster.

Sphinx Ink said...

I endorse Shauna's perceptive remarks (in her first comment). To paraphrase William Faulkner's Nobel Prize acceptance speech, New Orleans will not just survive, it will endure. It will look different and life in it will be different in some ways, but many things won't change. It will always be New Orleans. As for Shauna's P.S. comment, secession might seem like a good idea, but I fear the current administration would try to bomb us into rejoining the Union.

Charles Gramlich said...

I'd be for secession myself if I thought we'd get any decent local politicians to run our new country. Unforunately, I don't have much faith in them. Plus Bush would probably name us as part of the Axis of Evil and invade us anyway.

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