December 11, 2005
New Orleans Needs Santa - Now!
I received the following letter today from a long time friend (from college), John Pope, who is a writer for the New Orleans Times Picayune. Today's letter seemed to merit as wide a readership as possible, so I asked his permission to post it on this blog, and he graciously assented. It's an eye-opener, one that should make us all think about our connections to one another. Although not planned this way, the theme fits quite well with yesterday's post on ending homelessness. -- HG
In the first scene of John Patrick Shanley's remarkable play "Doubt,"
a priest delivering a sermon has this to say about the aftermath of a
"Imagine the isolation. You see the world as through a window. On the
one side of the glass: happy, untroubled people. On the other side:
you. Something has happened, you have to carry it, and it's
incommunicable. For those so afflicted, only God knows their pain.
Their secret. The secret of their alienating sorrow. And when such a
person, as they must, howl to the sky, to God: 'Help me!' What if no
That, more than almost anything else I've heard in the past 3 1/2
months, summarizes the way we feel in this part of the world in the
wake of Katrina, a ghastly storm whose malign, pervasive influence
will be felt for years to come in ways we haven't begun to imagine.
When I've been in other cities this fall, watching people going about
their daily lives, I've felt like an outsider, an emissary from hell
because so much has happened to my part of the world and no one I see
has a clue about what's on my mind.
And who cares? Everyone here worries about the answer to this
question. When President Bush spoke in Jackson Square, he promised
that this part of the world would see the biggest reconstruction
program ever. Well, we're waiting for evidence of this massive
commitment, and we can't help but feel that the concern about this
ravaged region died along with the generator-powered lights that had
illuminated him, Andrew Jackson's statue and St. Louis Cathedral,
where the hands were stopped at 6:35, when the power died as Katrina
swept through. (That detail continues to fascinate me, probably
because it reminds me of watches recovered from Hiroshima and
Nagasaki that stopped when the bomb hit the ground.)
I'm hoping that we all will be proved wrong, but I'm not holding my
breath, especially when national leaders question the wisdom of
rebuilding New Orleans -- no one ever said anything like that after
the earthquakes that rocked San Francisco and Los Angeles, even
though each sits atop the San Andreas Fault -- and much of the money
that should be coming this way is being poured into Iraq.
Because the destruction was so massive, we need nothing less than a
strong national initiative -- a domestic Marshall Plan, if you will
-- and I just don't see evidence that this is going to happen, or
that anyone is going to emerge with enough charisma to get this done.
Paul Krugman wrote eloquently about our plight in yesterday's New
York Times, and a front-page editorial in The Times-Picayune a few
Sundays ago urged readers to lobby representatives and senators, even
providing phone numbers and e-mail addresses. Jim Amoss, our editor,
made a similar argument in an op-ed piece in The Washington Post.
If you feel like writing, calling or otherwise lobbying lawmakers and
other decision-makers, please feel free. As I've traveled around in
the past few months, I've gotten tired of being the object of pity
when I mention my hometown, but I must admit that we need all the
help we can get.
If this assistance doesn't come through, our city -- a place many
outsiders profess to love -- is going to become a ruined shell. The
French Quarter and most of Uptown, where we live, will be more or
less recognizable and inhabitable, but much of the rest will be a
dead zone because people who have fled to all corners of the country
will have no reason to come back and help the city rebuild. (If
Emeril Lagasse, who has made millions off this city, can't bother to
show his face here, what message does that send? He could do a lot of
good here, if he cared.)
Sorry about the blast of cynicism during what is supposed to be a
blessed, blissful time of year, but it's hard to be merry when one
lives in a city where vast regions are still dark and streets are
still lined with piles of Sheetrock, furniture, trashed cars and
ruined refrigerators bound shut with duct tape. Many of us have
developed scratchy throats from being in dust-filled areas; the
condition is called "Katrina cough."
There have been some improvements here and there. For instance, on
the micro level, I'm happy to report that two crews are looking this
weekend at our Eleonore Street home so they can submit bids on
replacing the roof, which has a hole over the dining room, where
Pinckley and I were married. Once that chore is done, possibly before
Christmas, we can welcome new tenants, who have vowed to help with
replacing Sheetrock that became infested with mold.
The farmers market, many of whose vendors were ruined by the storm,
has returned, with one market a week instead of four. This morning,
its annual Festivus celebration (inspired by "Seinfeld," complete
with aluminum tree and the airing of grievances) attracted a mob.
Pinckley, the market's immediate past board chair, feels especially
passionate about this enterprise because it has helped so many people
find markets for their produce, seafood and baked goods. It will do
so again, I'm sure. (Incidentally, there was an extra pole for
Pinckley also has become involved with helping the city's library
system, which took a major hit after the storm when virtually all the
staff was laid off. (You can expect to hear from her soon on this.)
Because there hasn't been much medical research to write about, I'm
doing more reporting on higher education these days, and I'm finding
good news: Impressive numbers of students plan to return to local
colleges and universities for the spring semester. (Unfortunately,
I've also been writing about massive layoffs at these institutions,
which have had to cope with millions of dollars in damages.)
More good news: Restaurants are reopening, and Pinckley and I, along
with hordes of other foodies, have enjoyed patronizing favorite
haunts again, not only to enjoy favorite dishes but also to greet
friends on the staff and among fellow diners. I can't help thinking
that it's a reverse version of the last scene in "The Cherry
Orchard," in which Madame Ranevskaya runs around her beloved home,
trying to absorb everything before being evicted. In New Orleans,
we're moving back in, and we're eating and greeting as we try to re-
establish contact with as much of our old lives as possible.
It's joyful, and very New Orleans. One pediatrician friend wonders
when people will start shaking hands again because the universal
social greeting here has become a great big hug.
Posted by hgroteva at December 11, 2005 6:52 AM | Society