Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Song of Unquenchable Desire

It seems unfair and demeaning of me to use references to wars that I did not live through, and yet, the only thing that my mind returns to is every picture of every bombed out city in Europe through to the end of World War II...this is the thing that I cannot strike from my mind's eye, now that I am back out of the remains of the city of New Orleans. We drove in by a different route this time, finally able to come in along Interstate 10...it's funny that only now, I remember the first Louisiana joke I ever learned during my early days there..."What's the only good thing to ever come out of Alabama? I-10!" Not so funny anymore..

Our trip brought us through Slidell and then finally into New Orleans East and afforded us the views of monstrous dumping sites burgeoning with debris of innumerable sources and unstoppable stench. Passing exit after exit in the East, we could see every surface was covered with a ghostly (ghastly?) film...every car dealership with its wares dressed out in their finest Katrina Patina, as we have heard it called. Once marshy spots have dried up and crackled like the great salt flats, owing to the ironic fact that the region has had little to no rain since Rita skirted by. Brush fire, anyone? The wetlands have turned to prairie and lawns to deserts. We found ourselves unable to stop comparing the waterline marks from neighborhood to neighborhood, grimly speculating what it had looked like and what anyone's chances for salvaging the smallest tokens would be.

I am struggling with the idea of so much wasteland, for all that this word means now, in this once lush, pseudo-tropical purgatory...and even more with the odd, nearly desperate struggle for a kind of normality in the French Quarter. The Quarter was never normal...stop trying to do something even more unnatural to it now. Let it mourn and let it heal. What at first appears to be the spirit of initiative and the drive to rebuild are poorly masked frustration and yearning that border on not-so-quiet anger and pervasive denial. What use is there in pretending that it's all ok when it spectacularly isn't? People are returning in great numbers and businesses are reopening and there are jobs of certain kinds to be had and all of that is good...No, not just good, but wonderful and amazing and breathtaking. But give it all time to mend itself well and be ready for the wounds to need dressing for years to come. Be part of the healing...but choose the right tools, the right medicine.

New Orleans, and the rest of southeast Louisiana, has always tolerated life with a sense of an acceptable level of tragedy, knowing that each year, some hamlet would flood or a shrimp boat would sink or 500 more residents would be murdered or several more politicians would be indicted but seldom convicted or that someone's favorite restaurant would close or that the school board would find new ways to deny our students the education they deserve or another legendary musician would pass on to the next Big Gig. All of those, individually and sometimes collectively, were always all bearable...and often were the very things that allowed us to see all the other extraordinarily beautiful treasures around us, even if it was the simple, earnest hello from another local as you passed them on the street. It took me far too long to get over my initial reaction to that--you would never greet someone so idly, so carelessly, especially a stranger, in my former life in New England, without first counting the cost or benefit. For the longest time, I was sure that people were "smiling in my face, but peeing in my cocktail." I could not have been more wrong.

It is exactly that predisposition of locals (and those who eventually become locals) to engage the rest of the world, to invite y'all to nothing more than a passing pleasantry and make the day the slightest bit better for it. It is qualities like this, and the desire to take care of each other and every single person who ever set foot in our fair city, that reassure me that there will be a kind of Mardi Gras some day, that will almost but not quite entirely seem like something I remember...and that the word "debris" will take on other layers of meaning, but will eventually once again become associated with blissfully messy, gut-churning po'boys...that I will marvel at how azure blue the sky is over all the rooftops and think how very lucky I am that the city picked me to live there. To be sure, for now there is great disquiet in New Orleans, but there is also great desire...is it really any coincidence that the word "Desire" can mean so many different things to so many people on one day, and the all the same thing the next?

2 comment(s):

katpa
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Delhui

Katpa should die of the monkey pox.

"Disquiet and desire... what you want and what you're scared to wish for... oh, please God, can you dig it?"

Ambassador, you are breaking my heart. But you make me believe that broken heart can mend, that New Orleans will once more rise... and that the fabled city will be better than ever.

If we all don't get blown to Kingdom Come first.

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