Saturday, August 28, 2010

Katrina Plus Five

I suppose eventually a time will come when August 29th rolls around and passes without me giving it a second thought.

I’m not there yet. Every year, New Orleanians watch with an uneasy kind of awareness as the temperature climbs and the anniversary of Katrina approaches. Part of it can be put down to good old fashioned fear: when the Gulf heats up and we enter those six dangerous weeks that stretch from August 15th to September 30th, it’s hard not to start each morning by nervously casting an eye over the “Tropical & Hurricane” section of But there’s also the realization that even if we squeak through another season without getting clobbered again, during this last week in August we’ll still be hearing those howling winds in our dreams, still find ourselves in quiet moments remembering sights and smells and moments of weakness and despair we don’t really want to revisit again.

For the first couple of years after the storm, I used to mark the day by getting together with a group of Katrina survivors for lunch at Voodoo Barbecue on St. Charles Avenue. We’d eat and talk and laugh about the ridiculous horrors of those days, then we’d go on a “Misery Tour” to assess the city’s progress or lack thereof. But in 2008 our anniversary luncheon had to be cancelled because we were all evacuated for Hurricane Gustav, and after that we never started the tradition up again.

This year, Steve and I will be spending the day working on one of the rebuilding projects on our house that is still not quite finished, five years on. But at some point I know we’ll stop to open a bottle of wine and sit around with my two daughters and laugh about the days when roofs hung in trees and the phones didn’t work for eight months and National Guardsmen with machine guns patrolled our streets.

Notice I said, “laugh about” it? In reality, there was probably nothing funny about those days. What’s funny about seeing a coffin and a jet ski washed up on a railroad embankment? About feeding a couple dozen cats in two different neighborhoods for months because their owners abandoned them and then couldn’t pluck up the courage to come back for them? About burying your aunt in a graveyard up the river because the cemetery where her husband is buried is still underwater?

But laugh, we will. For as the years pass and life as we once lived it in Katrinaville becomes a memory rather than a current reality, I’ve realized that the two most important lessons I’ve carried away from those days are both contradictory and yet oddly complementary. Katrina left me with an unflinching, visceral understanding of the fragility of all that we tend to take for granted in our everyday lives. You never forget that kind of up-close and personal demonstration of one of life’s most fundamental but easily ignored realities, which is that the veil of civilization is whisper thin and unbelievably fragile and can be shredded and ripped away in an instant.

And yet I don’t think I ever laughed as much as I did in those months after the storm, when every day confronted us with startling, sublimely ridiculous new examples of a world gone topsy-turvy. It wasn’t just me; we all laughed. We made jokes about stinking refrigerators and blue tarps and a few things we probably really shouldn’t have been joking about. Which brings me to the second lesson I learned, or what perhaps could more accurately be called a new appreciation or even a sense of awe, for the power of the human spirit to keep on laughing, no matter how dark the days.

Cheers, everyone.


Erik Donald France said...

I wasn't intending to, but got sucked into the new Spike Lee documentary, which is compelling, as is this post.

A salute to to y'all and to NOLA!

Charles Gramlich said...

I find myself not thinking so much about it these days, although there are ample reminders every August, and sometimes throughout the year. I do remember the laughter, though, at the ridiculous way our world was turned to havoc.

Lainey said...

A horrific disaster as was the lack of response from authorities.
All of you who carried on there are truly amazing survivors.

Steve Malley said...

Don't know why, but that post really touched me. I can't wait til the day I can visit New Orleans again... :-/

orannia said...

I hope that the hurricanes pass you by again this year. Thank you for an amazing post.

Pax Deux said...

New Orleans is one of my favorite cities. Growing up my family visited whenever we where in the United States; as a young adult, I returned for a summer as youth organizer, and spent many a night at Tipitina's and the Maple Leaf with friends. Raucous laughter and jolly good times in the face of great adversity is something I will always associate with New Orleans. I am glad that the Katrina did not manage to destroy that part of the New Orleans experience.

cs harris said...

Erik, I haven't seen it yet. Thanks, I'll have to be sure and watch it.

Charles, I honestly don't see how I'll ever quit thinking about it. I think about it less, but it simply had to much of an impact on us, in so many ways.

Lainey, definitely not our government's finest hour. But the people--yes, they did rise to the occasion.

Steve, thank you. You'll probably make it back here before I make it back to New Zealand!

Orannia, so far, so good.

Pax Deux, up until the early 20th century, yellow fever was endemic down here, giving New Orleans an annual death rate that was something like 10x the national average. I suspect that has a lot to do with the way people live down here--as if they could die tomorrow. Even after a hundred years, that kind of attitude sticks.

le fleur said...

Thank you so much for this post. I had not even realized the anniversary. My husband went down there to help clean up, but that was the extent to our families involvement. Thank you for sharing, so that others can remember.

Steve Malley said...

Hi Candy, just wanted to let you know that I'm all right. Conditions aren't too bad here-- having to boil our water is about the worst of it.

cs harris said...

le fleur, I'm always amazed at how many people came down here to help clean up. Whenever I start complaining about human nature, that memory is one that gives me hope. Thank you, and tell your husband thank you.

Steve, glad to hear it! Obviously you have either power or cell phone service. Hopefully the boil water advisory won't last too long--that can get to be a real pain.

Rodrigo Abogado said...

I wish that all people in New Orleans will be good today and they recover them dreams.

Youngoqxk said...

The History of Phentermine phentermine diet pills 37.5mg Des Moines Increases the bodys fat burning ability

Anonymous said...

I'm very pleased to uncover this site. I need to to thank you for your time just for this wonderful read!! I definitely enjoyed every bit of it and i also have you saved as a favorite to look at new information in your website.

My weblog; internet marketing

Anonymous said...

I believe that is one of the such a lot important
info for me. And i am satisfied reading your article.
However want to commentary on few basic issues, The web site style is perfect, the articles is really great :
D. Just right task, cheers

Here is my website: radio control boats

Anonymous said...

I leave a leave a response each time I appreciate a post on
a blog or I have something to valuable to contribute to the discussion.
Usually it's caused by the fire displayed in the post I looked at. And on this post "Katrina Plus Five". I was moved enough to drop a comment :-) I actually do have some questions for you if you tend not to mind. Could it be only me or do a few of these responses appear as if they are coming from brain dead visitors? :-P And, if you are posting on other online social sites, I would like to follow everything new you have to post. Would you list every one of your communal pages like your linkedin profile, Facebook page or twitter feed?

My blog -

Anonymous said...

electronic cigarette, electronic cigarette, e cigarette, best electronic cigarette, electronic cigarettes reviews, e cigarette