Saturday, August 29, 2015
Ten Years After…and Don’t Call it Katrina
Television brought us heartbreaking images and stories—elderly residents abandoned to drown in a flooded-out nursing home, families making their way through foul waist-high water, thousands stranded on rooftops and bridges and in the Superdome and at the convention center, baking and some dying in the hot sun. (I've avoided using the most shocking images here.)
Thousands of homes were uninhabitable because of water damage, toxic mold, and lack of utilities. We heard that FEMA would bring in emergency trailers. There was a supply of trailers available nearby—in Mississippi, as I recall. They were locally built, so if FEMA used them and ordered more, they would be boosting a regional economy also disrupted by hurricane damage. Instead, FEMA held out for trailers that would be built in Alaska and transported to Louisiana. When I heard that, it dawned on me: They are stalling so their friends can get into position to profit from this. Just as Halliburton got excessive no-bid contracts in Iraq, a fleet of out-of-town contractors would profit from exceedingly favorable treatment in the cleanup and redevelopment of New Orleans.
When we visited this past April, our cab drivers were seldom New Orleans natives; during Easter Week a nice young man from Jordan asked whether we could explain the Good Friday tradition. The wait staff at one Cajun-Creole restaurant was entirely Latino and at another entirely southeast Asian, seemingly imported from elsewhere when a restaurant reopened or changed hands. They provided competent service, but they didn’t know beans about rice and beans. Something similar must have happened in the kitchens; traditional New Orleans food was simply not quite as rich and tasty as it should have been. The problem is not the addition of new ethnicities; it is the decreased presence of those who, like generations before them, shaped the remarkable culture unique to New Orleans.
Of all the expressions of New Orleans culture, music seems to have survived best. Some of the city’s most successful musicians (the Marsalis family, Harry Conick Jr., Dr. John and others) banded together to support the many musicians who were wiped out, and often forced to flee, by the flood. They raised money, built a musician’s village through Habitat for Humanity, established a music school for city children, and kept on playing. New Orleans music is not just an art form, not just a tourist attraction, it is vital part of life. The spirit of second-line parades and “Indian” parades, together with New Orleans jazz, blues, zydeco, and the rest, give a sense of the culture and strength that brought the city’s people through the flood and its aftermath.
available on Blu-Ray. I can promise that watching it will be much more fascinating, enlightening, surprising, disturbing, and ultimately inspiring than the feel-good ten-years-after pieces we’ve been seeing in the media the past couple of weeks.