Friday, March 31, 2006

The Southern Belle Sounds Off

The Southern Belle Sounds Off

NEW ORLEANS – City of My Heart

I just returned from New Orleans. No matter where I live, it will always be the home of my heart. And it’s never looked so beautiful or so sad. It’s a city on the edge, both fragile and graceful, eating, drinking, making music, and worried about the next storm.

I stayed with friends in the suburbs where life goes on as usual... more or less. When my hosts ran into people he hadn’t seen in some time the greeting was not how are you doing? Or what’s up? But how’s your house? What have you lost?

My husband and I drove out to Lakeview. Unlike the now famous 9th Ward, Lakeview was home to middle-class and upper-middle-class families mostly white. These were people who’d made it, who’d bought a home between City Park with its sculpture garden, museum, oak trees, the shores of Lake Pontchartrain and tragically near the 17th Street Canal, where the Army Corps of Engineers underestimated the weakness of the soil.

For the most part these houses survived Katrina, the earthen levees along the lake held, but not those around the 17th Street Canal. Now you drive through block after block after block of ghosts. The houses stand. They look OK until you realize they’re empty shells.

In each of these neat, modern homes were families who before the storm worried about what we all worry about-- how to pay the mortgage, why weren’t their children applying themselves in school, how to build their business, or the stupidity of their bosses. Regular things. Now their lives have been changed forever. It’s as if the raised cemeteries spread out to cover over half the city. The freeway underpasses are still burial grounds for hundreds maybe thousands of abandoned cars.

Ed Reams, tv news reporter at WDSU was kind enough to give me a tour of the station and let me shadow him to research my next novel. Seven months after the hurricane, local news is still all about aftermath Katrina. The flood maps, new homes projected, and FEMA’s refusal to renegotiate no-bid contracts. Their coverage of local crime is no longer, “if it bleeds it leads,” but about contractor fraud.

And still the music, the cultural life of the city goes on. More next time.

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