Monday, September 05, 2005

A Requiem for a City, New Orleans, RIP.

Even if New Orleans is not demolished with the option of moving further uphill, it will take three years for it to make a comeback structurally, and ten years economically. When people think about Katrina, they see bodies floating in the water, they see people dramatically rescued from their roofs via helicopter, they see whiners about Bush, and MPs in the streets.

Let me tell you what I see.

I see New Orleans as it was. The Cities of the Dead, six- and seven-foot-high mausoleums the homes of this ‘parish’ of New Orleans, keeping the dead buried aboveground, since six feet under the city was water. The stone tombs were also designed to be ‘natural’ crematories. At one point, the Catholic Church had banned cremations, and since New Orleans was very Catholic—or at least very French—they obeyed. They came up with a way around it by making the mausoleums act as natural ovens operating on heat from the sun. The inside of the coffins would reach over three hundred degrees Fahrenheit. By the time another body had to be buried, the coffin would be slid in, sweeping the remains of the previous body to the back, to fall down a vent to the bottom of the sepulcher.

When you first get out of the plane, you feel like you've fallen into a pool of warm water, except you're was on solid, semi-dry ground. Then again, you are about thirty feet below sea level, the only think from making Lake Ponchatrain from becoming Lake Orleans is a dam, and luck during the hurricane season, for a good hurricane will just shove the lake into the city, and the Levies can't withstand more than a Category 3 hurricane.

Bourbon Street, New Orleans in the Sunday predawn hours was not exactly pleasant, since the time was in-between: after the party the previous night and before the cleanup the morning after, when all the shops took hoses to their sidewalks and sprayed off the three types of beer: spilt, vomited and excreted.

Bourbon Street is where you think of when you think New Orleans, and Marte Gras, and it's also New Orleans’ red light district. A row of strip clubs, bars, restaurants, and tourist traps. In one window there was a video-loop of woman stripping her clothes off in a translucent window backlit by a yellow light. The neon lights flashed along the street, and scattered groups of people from all ages danced to jazz still pouring out from the nightclubs.
A tiny ambulette slowly rolls down the street to collect drunks for the drunk tanks and dries them out.
On the same street is the Royal Sonesta Hotel, and you wonder if you’re in the same place. It opens into a the expansive hotel lobby behind crystal class doors. The floor laid with marble and chandeliers hung from the ceiling. The hotel bar on the right and a hallway filled with gift shops on the left.
It is also the home of Brennan’s—where, on Sunday mornings, you can go and have a late breakfast that IS dinner. A breakfast where they serve absinth and huge pink iced drinks with an umbrella in them; fillet mignon that melts in your mouth, topped with poached eggs with hollandaise sauce as an entrĂ©e.

It is a land of “Live and Let Die”, of Anne Rice’s vampires, James Lee Burke’s policemen, Sherylon Kenyon’s dark hunters, the home of voodoo in America, of jambalaya and zydico. It is the last place in the world where the Napoleonic Code still exists at THE law.

It is the home of the con: “Give me a dollar and I’ll tell you where you got your shoes.” The inevitable answer being ‘You got your shoes, on your feet on Bourbon Street.” You’re usually so busy laughing you didn’t notice that you just got scammed and he’s making off with you money. A city where the fast and loose play faster and looser.

At the moment, New Orleans is a city of the dead, and only the dead. But, God Willing, it will once again be a home of the living and the lively.

Raquel and Jason have good articles on the hurricane proper, with great analysis of what went wrong, and links to charity organizations. I just felt like someone needed to say a eulogy.

Be well, and God bless.


Socio-Sweetie said...

Beautiful article. Really, it was just great. Only thing was that I would suggest reading it over for errors.

Otherwise, it's a fantastic piece.

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