Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Another French Quarter Moment

We stayed.

Because we stayed, we were able to bear witness to what happened in the days following Hurricane Katrina, when the levees broke and flooded more than 3/4 of our beautiful old city.

Looting. Buildings on fire. Flooding. Majestic Oaks denuded. Gunshots.

Ah. But the other side. There are so many stories you don't hear.

Without power to keep it cold (and safe), food had to be cooked. And man, can people in New Orleans cook. So we did.

And in the process, we fed many friends, neighbors...and on our last night in the Quarter before our Exodus, many strangers too. A neighbor leaving town brought us 2 turkeys that he didn't want to throw out (and didn't want to face in his freezer whenever he returned) - my apartment had gas still, so we cooked the turkeys, stripped the meat, added veggies and seasoning and Voila! Turkey Soup Surprise. After eating our fill, we armed ourselves with ladles and started touring the neighborhood.

We dubbed ourselves The Soup Ladies.

I regret not having a picture of this moment, but the memory is still just as strong today. We knocked on doors, shouted into courtyards, and just generally offered what we had to anyone who was hungry.

Oh. That. Hunger.

We were all hungry most of each day. One meal a day, with a handful of granola or cereal randomly throughout the day. And here was this hot meal, arriving so unexpectedly.

We got hugs. A young hipster broke down and cried. One guy made us some very strong cocktails - we chose not to ask him where he got the ice, or how he was keeping it frozen. Somethings, you just don't need to know.

And then the soup was gone. Mission Accomplished. Drunky McStagger should be so lucky.

We did not walk through water to feed anyone. The French Quarter did not flood. You may have seen some idiots wading through waist-deep water, claiming they were on Bourbon Street - having just seen an alligator/shark/piranha just swim by. My favorite was the young lady (I chose another phrase at first, but it wasn't very nice) who was in a kayak, dramatically reporting on this and that, when a man walked across directly behind her. Through a couple inches of water. Yeesh.

No flooding there. Yes, we did see the water in other neighborhoods. We probably saw too much before we finally left.

Only one friend asked (because she had to) if I'd seen any bodies.

No.

We were spared. I will always be grateful for that.

Here it is, 20 months later - and so much is still untold, still misunderstood. Still so vastly misrepresented. We know that rest of the world will never hear all the stories or understand everything that happened or comprehend why some of us stayed when we could have gotten out.

We don't expect that - and at times, I think it would diminish what we've come through if the whole world did understand.

Mostly these day, we just want to get on with life.

Not life as it was. That's gone.

Life as it is. Life.

We just want to live. In our city. In our ways. With our friends and neighbors and folks who aren't quite strangers anymore.

And so we live.

I apologize if anyone thought the photo from yesterday's post was of a flooded French Quarter immediately post-Levee Failure. It was actually taken shortly after a heavy rain in June 2006 - one of the very few rains of any amount that we've had since Katrina. (The city is almost 12" behind in rainfall this year already - that translates to burn bans and cancelled fireworks.) That puddle formed because the catch basin and drain had not been properly cleaned out since Katrina - a city responsibility now left to citizens.

9 comment(s):

Jenn in Holland

Ambassador-
You see this is one of those incredibly chilling posts of yours that I have an intense emotional response to, but have no idea how I could really comment. Mostly because nothing I say could add to the poetry of your writing, nor to the understanding of your experience.
I do love the soup story. But the reality of hunger surrounding that? That kills me.
Thanks for putting this out there, for sharing the truth, for just being you.

Ambassador

Jenn--

It's like you said in Sharing Secrets, about always writing - this is all there in my head and heart, and writing it out doesn't make it go away. More like it distills it into things I can now better understand.

Luckily, I get to be frivolous and funny sometimes too. Thanks for reading - and I love your comments! Ken

soccer mom in denial

Selfishly I am glad you brought up the flooding, or lack of, in the French Quarter.

Thank you for getting these out. The soup story is one of my favorites.

I love you.

cathouse teri

Very nice story.

Gunfighter

The FRench had the good sense to build on high ground... that sort of thing was important then.

I am glad that you had the courage to help others. So many people don't.

cathouse teri

I think I'll just start calling you "the soup lady." :)

Rose

Thank you for sharing that vision of the "Soup Ladies" out feeding the hungry. You paint a powerful picture.

Jenn

It is so good to read a story that is so different from everything else that is out there about the flooding.

Living in Nanjing, sometimes I wonder about the stories that were never told for one reason or another here. And it is depressing to know that every year the ability to retrieve those stories becomes less possible because the people to tell them aren't here anymore.

Do you know if anyone is working on compiling some of these? I'd assume many people are, but I am hoping they are more like yours and less like the news.

Amazing post and a wonderfully told story.

Sheena

Thank you for telling your experiences, the only way most of us will know, is for you to tell.

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