We have been inundated all week with pictures of Katrina’s
wrath. To live here and confront so many
graphic reminders covered in the newspaper, documentaries on the television,
oral histories on the radio, portraits of destruction in the art galleries and
dirges in the music clubs, it has been a long week. There are more moist eyes, hollow stomachs,
catches in the throat and searing aches this week than usual. The last few days the air has been full of remembrances
from people deciding to evacuate and the folly of what they took with them
thinking they would gone a week, not the months and sometimes years until they
could return home. Those who stayed have
tales of horror and bravery which still seem unfathomable.
We purchased the Sully Mansion four months after Katrina and
came to inspect the property on my birthday, November 5 2005. The city had been partially re-opened a scant
two weeks before we came. We will never
forget what the city looked like on that ironically sunny weekend. Television coverage never prepares you for
wholesale destruction. Block upon block
of toppled homes, a layer of mud film on every surface and crevice, cars in their
sides, boats upended on sidewalks and the formerly lush city brown and fetid,
no birds, no sounds. From that nuclear
looking weekend to today we were struck by the determination and zealousness of
New Orleanians to reclaim their home.
Back then there were little purple yard signs claiming WE’RE HOME on the
lawns of those who had returned. They
were our new urban flower.
We have lived through a New Orleans with no street signs or
doctors, no streetcars or water pressure, unplanned reunions in grocery stores
of friends unaware the other had returned, the tears in gift shop from women
who had lost everything- the marching bands so reduced in number that first
Mardi Gras, the aching sadness of Jazz Fest 2006 as each musician paid homage
to what was lost, the slippery feeling we would just never get traction to get
things moving again. Still small steps,
some political gains with levee boards and assessors, block by block
rebuilding, mothers less frightful to let their children attend college here, a
growth of farmers markets, young people from across the country flocking here
to make a difference, new leadership, less tolerance for corruption and
apathy. And throughout these five years
have been our guests, first just journalist and those coming to tie up loose
ends and move away, followed by the curious and those who love the city and
wanted to help by spending tourist dollars and for the last two years the new
and returning visitors who fall under the city’s spell.
We have lived in five different American cities and know nowhere
else would have people pulled together so tightly and worked so hard to reclaim
their hometown. Is it all we dream it
could be? Absolutely not, old habits of provincialness,
laziness and graft are still with us.
Is our trajectory right?
Absolutely, with new leadership and pride the city is on an upward
path. Are we recovered? Not yet there much work to do before everyone
can come home to a city they deserve and there is still six weeks left of
hurricane season and the great unknown of the long term impact of the BP spill
to determine. Bu there is nowhere else
in America we would want to be.
So on this fifth anniversary of Katrina please join us in remembering
all those we have lost, thank all of those who have volunteered to help rebuild
our city and vow that this will be the year you come and experience this great
experiment in living and visit New Orleans.