Book Review: All Night It Is Morning

allnightI’ve read many books of poetry this year but none like “All Night It Is Morning” by Andy Young and published by Lavender Ink Press/Dialogos Books. The subjects of Ms Young’s poetry spans continents and cultures in a very personal voice including Egypt, Chile, Morocco, West Virginia, and New Orleans, among others. The book has a strong thread of disaster running through it; the struggle of life in the war torn Middle East, in the coal mines of West Virginia,  and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Her voice clearly and bravely documents these events, the horror and the pain revealed with humility and grace. I particularly enjoyed her poems about West Virginia and the hard lives lived there in the coal mining community. The strength and purity of the people, her relatives, shone like a light of hope. I think my favorite poem in the book is Sower, written about her Grandmother. This passage in the poem just grabbed my heart:

She worked the earth through
drought and strike, through her
husband’s slow asphyxiation,

through childbirth and stillbirth
and bad blood even sassafras
can’t clean. When the trees were

chopped as easy as thieves necks
and the nearby mill flooded her field,
when she buried another daughter,

In fact, she writes a good deal about the struggles of women in war, in life, in love, in mothering. Her mentions of her own children are sweet and poignant and often shiver-inducing, such as this:

I study the flutter
of your breath, your arms

folded by your sides,
your ear that could fit in a thimble.

Your infant face is still
like glass as the children

of Qana are wiped of their dust.

New Orleanians and others who’ve lived in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina will nod their heads, saying Yes! while reading her memories of that challenging time. Reading those poems brought back memories to me that I hadn’t thought of in a long time such as the sunflowers that sprouted all over the city in the inhospitable muck left behind. Remember how amazed we all were at the sight of those flowers? Her Katrina poems do not disappoint. Be prepared to find tears in your eyes.

While the mood of the book tends toward the dark side, Ms Young also gives us sunbeams as in the sweet (and another favorite) Meet Me in Morocco:

There are a thousand ways
to name the morning, morning
of jasmine, morning of lemon

blossom. Swallow my words
with your mouth. the earth springs
new beneath our feet.

Ms Young weaves the narrative of all these places and events throughout the book with a deft hand, sometimes intermingling them within a single piece which I found quite effective. This book was very satisfying to read and I find myself going back to reread many of the poems, finding even more layers each time.

Ms Young will be reading from this book Saturday, December 20 at Faubourg Wines, 2805 St. Claude Ave.

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Hot Reads 8/17/14

Another week has passed and another list of great reading to share with you. First up are three essays about New Orleans. Well, we can never get in enough reading about our city, now can we? One is about cocktails and culture, one has all the color and flair of the French Quarter and one of its legendary characters, and another features one woman’s unique way of coping after Katrina and how it changed her life. All three are wonderful in different ways.

Photo credit: Pableaux Johnson for The Bitter Southerner

Photo credit: Pableaux Johnson for The Bitter Southerner

First up, from The Bitter Southerner (an online journal I just love): “No.4” in their Cocktail Series featuring SoBou bartender Abigail Gullo.
Favorite quote: “Steen’s Cane Syrup is such an integral part of my own life that I’ve often worried that eventually I’ll be drowned in a great wave of the sticky-sweet cane juice, preserved forever like a gluttonous bug in amber.”
Note: True dat! If you grew up in Louisiana or Mississippi and didn’t have Steen’s in the house, what was wrong with your family?

 

 

 

 

 

 

From The Oxford American: “The Chess King of Decatur Street”
Favorite Quote: “Acers pushed his plastic chair back, stood, and made a grand bow, sweeping his arm from high above his head to down around his ankles. “Dear sir,” he cried, “we shall not speak of things that cannot come to pass.””

Image Credit: Dadu Shin for The New York Times

Image Credit: Dadu Shin for The New York Times

From The New York Times: “What the Sparrows Told Me”
Favorite Quote: ” My father had been told that he had terminal cancer 40 days after Katrina. He didn’t know a Mugimaki flycatcher from a Hudsonian godwit. But during his last days he loved to watch the birds come to his feeders. If watching birds could help my father die, maybe it could help me live and teach.”
Note: I remember well the eerie quiet after the storm, the absence of birdsong. It was a sweet moment when I realized I was hearing the tweets of the first returned birds.

 

 

From Unclutterer blog: Modified Principals of Sanitary Design
Favorite quote: “This list may seem restrictive, but we have found when items do pass the test, they last longer, we use them more often, and we have very little mess to clean up afterwards.”
Note: Despite the dry, textbook title of this piece, it has some good ideas about what to take into consideration when you’re about to make a purchase. This was a timely article for me because lately I find myself thinking, “I wouldn’t have bought this if I’d realized what a chore it would be to keep clean”!

Photo Credit: Antoine Bruy

Photo Credit: Antoine Bruy

 

From HuffPo: “Photographer Documents The Men And Women Who Choose To Live Off The Grid”
Favorite quote: “These are, in some ways, spontaneous responses to the societies these men and women have left behind. This documentary project is an attempt to make a kind of contemporary tale and to give back a little bit of magic to our modern civilization.”

 

From Women Writers, Women’s Books: “5 Life Lessons From Women Writers”
Favorite Quote: “And finally, Maya Angelou, Pam Houston, and Amy Tan taught me that laughter, and in particular the ability to laugh at yourself and life’s absurdities, is key to moving from merely surviving to thriving.”

 

MILLENNIALS_COMBO-master495From The New York Times: “The Millennials Are Generation Nice”
Favorite Quote: “Taken together, these habits and tastes look less like narcissism than communalism. And its highest value isn’t self-promotion, but its opposite, empathy — an open-minded and -hearted connection to others.”
Note: This piece made me look at Millennials in a deeper way, as more than social media addicts and narcissists.

 

 

Our book list of the week comes from Bitch Media:  “Hot Off the Small Press”, “As summer is quickly coming to a close, take some time to bask in the sun and soak in a good book. Here are some short, sweet, stellar reads for the rest of August, all works are recent releases from independent publishers.”

And, finally, our poem of the week is “Long Gone and Never Coming Back” by Michael Gillian Maxwell on Literary Orphans.
Favorite Quote (rather,stanza):

“a soldier in fatigues, just back from deployment
tattoos on his knuckles, his face a mask
of sorrows and regrets”

Have a great reading week, y’all. Don’t forget to check in with our Hot Reads From NOLAFemmes.com Pinterest board.

August 29th

It will probably be mentioned as an afterthought on the nightly news, but here in Southeastern Louisiana August 29th is a day that is more memorable than the rest of the year.  On this date 8 years ago – August 29, 2005 – Hurricane Katrina roared ashore on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, devastating the small towns of Waveland and Bay St. Louis.

She also flattened Gulfport and Biloxi.

I’m not even going to go into the political impact of these storm. I’m also not going to dwell the repulsive comments from our “fellow Americans”. Although the haters represent a small chunk of our fellow citizens, their vitriol hurt. And they’re still at it today. I feel sorry for people with that much hate in their hearts.

A lot of the immediate coverage was centered around New Orleans, and rightly so.

There are so many stories of horror and survival. Even today – 8 years after the storm – when you meet someone in line at a festival or in the store, the subject usually comes up. We survivors feel the need to talk about “The Storm”. I don’t think we’ll ever NOT want to talk about it. It’s therapy to those of us who lived through it and still want to live here.

I’ve put together a montage of Katrina’s devastation on this page. After The Storm I was out of work for 2 months, so I taught myself basic HTML and created the page. It kind of helped my survivor’s guilt.

Memories of The Storm are anywhere one travels in Katrina’s path: overgrown lots, forgotten decrepit houses, flattened beachfront properties on the coast. To offset those sights, it is still evident that the area is still coming back, 8 years later.

Oh, yeah. Something else happened on August 29th: Hurricane Isaac. The odds of this storm hitting on the same date as Katrina blew us away. Isaac blew away our electricity for almost a week, flooded our streets. He did much less than Katrina, he was just a nuisance.

We survived both storms and the ineptitude of the U.S. Government in the aftermath. Today – August 29, 2013 – we are blessed with cool weather and clear blue skies. Many thanks to those who’ve cared, contributed toward our rebirth and all of the prayers.

Sandy, Katrina and Life Thereafter

I can’t get Sandy and it’s victims out of my mind. I live my life as does everyone else, day after day doing the best I can but always, always in the back of my mind are the people who’ve lost everything to this storm, as many here in New Orleans did to Katrina and the failure of the federally built levees. Every news story I read brings back the memories of life after the storm and I grieve for those going through that hell now, as we did then. I didn’t lose my house, my loved ones, my life as so many did but I lived the days afterward in a broken city. I was lucky. I may have been inconvenienced for several months, I might have suffered survivors guilt and depression but I knew, I knew in my heart that I was one of the lucky ones. Be that as it may, I do believe that my close proximity to disaster, loss, death and despair made me a more empathetic person. I know personally people who did lose everything, who put their lives on the line to help others, who lost their own lives in the face of a disaster.

When I read how Congress has waited so long, so very long – 78 days – , to vote to give aid to the victims of Sandy it makes my blood boil. Yes, we may have lost many more lives to our storm than theirs but that should only make us all more empathetic.  We have lived through disaster, we have slogged through the red tape and politicians bullsh*t and that should make us more empathetic. The comparisons between the storms really don’t matter. This is not a competition as to who suffered more. We all have suffered. It doesn’t matter now who opined that we lived below sea level and deserved our fate and whether or not they say the same about New Jersey, New York and Connecticut. No one – no one- deserves to lose their entire life like this. But, it happens. Through natural means or man-made means, it happens.

We, as New Orleanians, know just how devestating and how damn hard it is to live after a disaster such as Sandy. We lived through the pain, the despair, the hardship, the depression. We lived through months of Fema trailers, garbage, no city services, the stink, the flies, the limited store hours, the food and gas shortages, the lack of medical facilities, the fight with insurance companies and on and on and on. We know the hard, relentless slog of life and the mental fortitude it takes to keep on going. We know what the Sandy survivors are living through right now.

May it never happen to you. This is what I think about at 1:30 in the morning when I cannot sleep. The memories may fade a bit with time, but they never pass entirely.

Survivors August

It’s August in New Orleans and autumn seems as far away as Australia. Forget the dogs, these are the cat days of summer at my house. The yard cats lie around making barely a bump in the languid landscape. They follow me as I perform my gardening snips an sweeps with eyes both exhausted and persnickity as though I alone were responsible for their unwelcome malaise.

August and September are the months I dread the most. They’re the hottest and most humid months in a city that’s often hot and humid and they are the most likely months to host hurricanes, with September 10 being the peak of the season. Although we New Orleanians bitch and moan about the humidity and heat we are a stalwart clan so we slog through these wretched months the only way we know how: dancin’, drinkin’ and singin’. We go to Satchmo Fest early to get seats under the tents and under the oaks and settle in for an afternoon of lawn chair bump-and-grind while keeping a firm grasp on our Abita’s. We run, walk and stagger through The Red Dress Run employing veteran strategies for making it all the way to the end without heat stroke. We revel in the best live music in the world at The Maple Leaf and Tipitina’s, stepping out to catch a cool river breeze when bodies get too sweaty and the air too electric.

In these ways, and others, we mark off the days of August and occupy ourselves so as not to dwell too long on the date that sends prickles up our spines. For those of us living in New Orleans in 2005, memories of a rushed and nerve-wracking evacuation followed by anxiety ridden weeks of an enforced exile loom larger each day that brings us closer to the 29th day. Thoughts of the fetid flood waters that drowned our city and took the lives of our loved ones and neighbors come at unexpected moments throughout the year while shopping at Rouses or on Magazine Street or as we sit in our courtyards and on our porches watching the sun set over the city we love so much. But the memories come hard and fast during August and they still make the heart pound and the ears ring.
Our collective experience of the hours before and the months after the levees broke bind us together in a unique way that only a catastrophic event can do. We may have returned to a certain complacency about some things in the seven years since Katrina but we will never forget the price that was paid nor lose the bond that was formed in the aftermath.

A Tribute to a Pioneer of the NOLA Blogosphere: Ashley Morris

Photo by LisaPal

Back in the days before social media, blogging was pretty much the way people communicated, ranted, raved and commiserated in the months following The Federal Flood of 2005, also known as Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans had a vigorous and active group of bloggers and Ashley Morris was undeniably the loudest voice in the New Orleans blogosphere and one of the founding members of the Rising Tide Conference. Today is the fourth anniversary of his untimely death and Mark’s post today got me thinking of Ashley and what I wrote on my now defunct blog, Casa de Charlotte Della Luna,  when I found out about his death.

Here is an exerpt of that post with links to some of Ashley’s famous rants. A bit of NOLA blogging history. RIP, Ashley.

Thursday I opened the laptop to check my email which is where I learned of Ashley’s death.

I wish I could write good enough to make you see how much we’ve lost in his death. There just aren’t enough words and I cannot come close to writing them, still in the weak,baby lamb state that I’m in.

In the last couple of days and nights since I learned of it, I’ve dreamed of Ashley off and on in my feverish cocoon. I’ve dreamed of his wife and three small children…of how he will never see them grow up and how he will never grow old with H.

Ashley had such passion and commitment, with a rowdy, bawdy spot-on commentary that set him apart from all the rest.
I never knew anyone who had more of a fierce, burning father-love for New Orleans. Never. He commuted weekly to his job in Chicago so he could live in New Orleans. He was a loyal and outspoken fan of The New Orleans Saints and I daresay never missed a home game. He was an advocate for displaced musicians after The Flood. He raised his voice and beat his drum in the people’s march against violence back in January ’07. I was honored to be in that march with him and all the other Nola bloggers. And he kicked Ray-Ray’s butt up down and all around until the day he died. Huzzah!
Ashley was a fighter, a doer, a warrior, a ranter extraordinaire and an inspiration to us all.

Varg said about Ash: “He detested all things snooty or uppity.”
That observation is so very true and one of the things Ash and I had in common. I have, at times, earned myself the reputation of being, shall we say, too blunt. My bluntness is especially pronounced when I perceive “snooty or uppity” behaviour. On several occasions Ash emailed me and encouraged me to speak my mind, reminding me that I had the same right as anyone else to do so. Yes, we had our conversations and they are a big part of why I love Ash. He wasn’t a kinda-sorta “when I have time” friend. He was the real deal. Even if it was mainly an online friendship, as ours was.

Ashley has left a proud and colorful legacy to his three children. They will know their father was a true patriot of New Orleans, a well-loved and respected man.

Guest Blogger Sandy Rosenthal: Stopping Katrina Myths From Becoming Household Knowledge

Sandy Rosenthal with her son, Stanford

On Halloween Day, six years ago, I realized I had to do something about the myths that were taking root and quickly becoming established fact about the New Orleans flooding during Katrina.

Nine weeks after the levee failures and deadly flooding, I applied my skills (and my 15-year old son Stanford applied his) to respond to many myths, but mainly, the myth that the residents of greater New Orleans understood the risk they faced from hurricanes and thus were stupid for living there.

My most recent Huffington Post article was a Myth Buster revealing that even the most insistent calls from public officials to New Orleans area residents to evacuate for Katrina did not warn that the levees could break. A commenter called ‘royalcroc’ left what seems to be a sarcastic comment aimed at the victims of the 2005 flood.

It is totally sane to live at sea level and rely on bending moment resisting walls pounded into clay for protection from 20 foot storm surges; as opposed to either stout earth levees or T-Walls.

Engineer and blogger Matt McBride left a comment so creative that, with his permission, we have reprinted his comment here as its own post.

———–

The issue at hand is not the particular type of design of the walls or levees. The issue is whether the citizens of the greater New Orleans area were fully informed of the risks arising from the inadequate engineering of those walls and levees. And the answer is they were not. What would that warning have looked like? I suppose it would go something like,

“We, the Corps of Engineers, have full scale testing that shows the millions of dollars of I-walls we have constructed along the outfall and Industrial canals will likely fail below their design heights. As a result, we have commissioned a stem-to-stern independent review of these life-safety devices, including their original design assumptions for the soil mechanics underlying them. That review has found those assumptions and our calculation methods to be overly broad and dangerously simplistic. There is a better than (very large number near 100) percent chance one or more of these walls, which back on peoples’ homes all over the metro area and protect hundreds of thousands of citizens from over a dozen feet of flooding, could collapse when they are supposed to be holding back floodwaters, causing Lake Pontchartrain to flow into the city. This could happen even in a category 1 hurricane.

“Because of this deeply serious situation we have requested “X” billion (where “X” is some suitably large number) dollars from Congress in an emergency supplemental bill to address these grave failures of engineering, design, and construction on our part. In the interim, we are moving forward with emergency repairs to bolster the areas the independent panel feels are the weakest. The emergency supplemental bill will also provide funding through various FEMA programs for those citizens who wish to raise their homes to do so on an expedited basis. In addition, we have formed a task force with FEMA’s flood mapping program to quickly revise New Orleans-area flood maps to reflect this scenario, since the current flood maps – which act as implicit warnings against what we thought were ‘safe’ conditions – are obviously incorrect. Flood insurance rates, due to the unique circumstances of this situation, will not change, and policies will be made available to citizens whose homes lie within this newly designated floodplain at substantially subsidized rates. Local municipalities will receive additional funding to deal with this unanticipated and extreme change in their floodplain management policies.”

Such a warning, or something like it, would have come out at the beginning of every hurricane season and been a part of all the local TV channels’ specials, as well as the Times-Picayune’s usual series of articles around June 1st. It would have spawned numerous investigative series. It would likely have resulted in multiple civil court cases, and certainly would have gotten Congress’ and the White House’s attention. You would have seen hundreds, if not thousands of homes being raised over 10 feet in the air every year. You would have had a massive debate in the national sphere about whether this was money worth spending. And the Corps’ prestige would have lay in tatters. That – putting all the facts out there in plain English and seeing the massive consequences that would result – is what would constitute fair warning and would produce an informed populace.

But that didn’t happen – ever.

Some of it came to pass, but only after the storm, when hundreds lay dead and the city was brought to its knees.

So please stop pretending that the people of New Orleans and the surrounding parishes were adequately warned and were thus foolish to live where they did, and currently do. It is offensive and odious in the extreme, and only reveals your own ignorance and lack of compassion. –Matt McBride

__________________________

New Orleanian Sandy Rosenthal is the founder of Levees.org.

Daisy Pignetti: Blogging the Unfinished Story in Post-Katrina New Orleans

Daisy Pignetti* is participating on a panel at the Oxford Internet Institute symposium at Oxford University in England and is presenting her paper “Blogging the Unfinished Story in post-Katrina New Orleans” on Friday. Her paper features my writing from my personal blog, TravelingMermaid,  in the months after the storm and up to 2009. I am honored that Daisy felt my frustrated scribbles was worthy to include in her paper so I wanted to share this news with y’all.

Daisy contacted the “NOLA Bloggers”, a group of people who blogged and networked after the storm, through Think NOLA in 2006 asking for volunteers to talk about their blogging experiences for a research project. I think it’s important to note that Think NOLA, the New Orleans Wiki (both now defunct) and Alan Gutierrez were instrumental in organizing the Nola blogosphere into a cohesive group and deserves a lot of credit for doing so.

The abstract from Daisy’s paper reads as follows:

“With the growing familiarity of the blog genre, much has been published about the use of information and communication technologies for grassroots and community endeavors, but there is still research to be done, particularly of placeblogs that coincide with sites of natural and/or national disaster. Unlike other scholarly Internet inquiries where issues of identity might influence the structures and processes of the research, the population discussed here stands out in its transparent use of blogs and other Web 2.0 technologies.

The New Orleans blogger community proves to be one built upon the shared experience of Hurricane Katrina and is thereby focused on reporting the facts surrounding and actions needed for recovery to take place. While their individual blog audiences may be small, their disclosing details about their lives ‘after the levees broke’ allows these ‘NOLA Bloggers’ to be in control of their storm stories and potentially receive feedback within minutes of sharing, which is fundamental during times of crisis.

After a brief overview of my autoethnographic research methods, I present a profile of a blogger whose writing presents readers with a truer understanding of what life is like in post-Katrina New Orleans. Since the hurricane hit in 2005, Charlotte’s writing has progressed from emotional outpourings of survivor’s guilt to reflective posts illustrating the way web 2.0 technologies have empowered her local identity since the storm. “

Several bloggers and/or blogs from the NOLA blogosphere who were posting immediately after the storm are mentioned in the paper, including:

Humid City
NOLA Slate (Sam recently guest posted for NOLAFemmes – you may read her post here.)
DotCalm
Polimom
Wetbank Guide
Maitri’s Vatulblog
Think NOLA

Also mentioned is the list of New Orleans Bloggers and the Rising Tide Conference.

After the success of last year’s 5th anniversary project on this blog, I had hoped to publish a series for the 6th anniversary featuring some of the NOLA bloggers that I personally read after the storm, people who came to mean so much to me, but personal issues prevented me from seeing that project through. Maybe next year.

There’s really nothing more I can add except, read this paper. Scroll down the programme to Friday and click on Daisy Pignetti’s name after which you can download the paper. It’s fascinating reading and gratifying to realize that all our ranting and kvetching about life post-Katrina was heard and really is a little piece of history.

________________________________________________

*Daisy Pignetti is an Assistant Professor in the Department of English and Philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. A proud New Orleans native, her research into the rebuilding of New Orleans through new media endeavors can be read in scholarly journals such as Computers and Composition Online and Reflections: A Journal of Writing, Service-Learning, and Community Literacy as well as on prominent blog sites such as the Open Society Institute’s Katrina: An UnNatural Disaster and the Harvard University hosted Publius Project. She credits these publications and opportunities to the wonderful group of Internet researchers, faculty, and staff she met during the 2007 Oxford Internet Institute Summer Doctoral Programme.

Guest Blogger Sam Jasper: On Writing in the Wake of Katrina

On Writing in the Wake of Katrina

I watched CNN on Sunday for a long time, following the path of Hurricane Irene, worrying about relatives and friends who were in various states along the storm’s expected travels. As it became clear that the inland flooding from overflowing riverbanks would be by far the greatest danger to them, a tiny part of me jumped into a familiar anxiety mode, while another was outraged by the screaming coverage on television. While I pray for the families who lost loved ones, and I do empathize with the people, and there are many, who lost their homes, I was nevertheless annoyed by the continuous loop of video showing a lifeguard station in New Jersey coming off the sand and running into the boardwalk. That video was followed, on a fairly regular basis, by a photograph of a park bench, half hidden by water perhaps 3 ft deep, that the anchors kept looking at in amazement remarking that it had moved—all the way across the street. They were nearly dumbstruck with awe. I meanwhile remembered the endless loop of people on roofs, helicopters with little kids hanging in baskets and, of course, one bit of footage of a looter that was looped like the yarn on my grandmother’s crochet hooks around every other bit of footage as the levees broke six years ago. The coverage was frustrating and more than a little infuriating.

Doubtless there is someone in one of those states looking at the destruction Irene left behind and screaming with fury at the looping footage that doesn’t tell even a tenth of the story.

As Katrina headed in towards land, we had left on the Sunday afternoon before the storm after flipping a coin. Not the best way to make a decision, but one that we admit to as it is true. Under a sound roof in Alabama, we watched that looping footage, switching stations frantically to get more information, maybe better information. What was happening to our city, to the people in it? As the video of water coursing through neighborhoods started, we were shocked.

Then came the reports of what was happening in the Superdome, at the Convention Center, on roofs and overpasses. People. Lots and lots of people waiting for help. Some asking for water, just some drinking water. Reporters saying there were bodies floating near the overpasses. This in our city. Our country. Another couple days went by and we decided to return home after scouring nola.com for other news, connecting with some people, finding comfort in communication, being told we were crazy to go back. We were told it was the Wild West, it was a catastrophe of monumental proportions, it was illegal. We put the map on the dining room table, plotted a route home that would take us north through Hattiesburg and Bogalusa, a route that took us about 150 miles out of our way. We’d buy gas along the way wherever we could find it. We couldn’t sit watching the video loops another minute. We felt compelled to come back and at least make an attempt to help.

As we headed south to the Sunshine Bridge in order to come up 90, we hooked up with some other New Orleans-bound travelers. All of us with the same compulsion to get back, to pitch in. We talked a lot when we stopped for gas or supplies about what we’d do if we couldn’t get into town. What if all the exits were blocked by Guardsmen? We all decided to risk it. As we came north, the southbound lanes looked like something out of a Steinbeck novel. People with furniture tied to the roofs of their cars, passengers sitting on tied down mattresses in the beds of pickup trucks. Not a vehicle was moving. A giant parking lot full of frantic people and a few of their possessions. We wondered where they were planning to go, but we kept heading up toward the city. In the lanes next to us were a few National Guard trucks, humvees, and some personnel. We and the other couple traveling in their car were the only civilians we saw. We got to our exit and miraculously it wasn’t blocked. There was no one around as we approached our house. It appeared that there was no one anywhere. We saw no chaos other than a house in the middle of an intersection and downed trees and power lines everywhere. We lived on the Westbank at that time. We had been lucky. Just the other side of the river it was an entirely different story.

After a quick recon around the neighborhood, we found out who was home, and there were several. We gathered all the news we could, but the information void put us into an alternate reality: we only knew what we saw or what we heard in our little area. It was that way for people in other neighborhoods as well we found out later. We found out that a food distribution point was going to be set up at Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras world so the next day we went to offer our services. The people on Powder Street needed medication. The lady by the levee was hooking up with animal rescue folks and needed our dog crate.

Our power was out but the phone line miraculously still worked. We had brought enough gasoline in with us to get us back out if that’s what we thought we should do. Instead we poured it into a generator that our neighbor had and we shared that generator one hour a day. I still had a dial up modem in my computer so I rigged a connection to a dial up number for AOL in New Mexico. It worked. On September 12, 2005 I wrote my first mass email explaining what we were seeing here at that time. I wrote every couple days after that well into March of 2006.

I was asked what it felt like to write during that time. Necessary. That’s how it felt. It was necessary. It was eminently clear that news coverage was limited at best. That people in other parts of the country were getting barely a piece of the story. While I certainly couldn’t give a view of the entire city, I could absolutely tell people what was going on in my neck of New Orleans: what we had, what we didn’t have, when the power was expected to come on, where the food distribution was and who was distributing it.

After one week my mailing list swelled to over 200 as people forwarded my emails to each other and dropped me a line asking to be included on any future updates. AOL was convinced that I was running a gigantic spam operation, so I wrote them and explained where I was and what I was doing. They relented, allowing the emails to go out, and eventually the mailing list grew by another 50. I was getting emails from locals asking if we could check on their houses and post photos, I was getting emails from people outside of the country asking what they could do, I got emails from friends and others asking what they could send and how to send it as the post office wasn’t in service. I was getting emails from people saying that the original mail had been forwarded ten times until it reached them and that their thoughts and prayers were with us.

What started as a simple “we’re okay don’t worry” email had morphed into an on the ground news dissemination system and people wanted the information, not the stuff they were seeing on the news. They wanted the stories of what we were doing, who we had met, the incredible generosity of some guys who drove through the night to deliver much needed goods. We eventually managed to photograph several houses for people who couldn’t get back, and although it was slow going on dial up, we sent them out. It eventually got to a point where we could no longer send individual thank you emails, there were too many and our generator time was too short.

I said earlier that it was necessary to write at that time. It was. Not just because the news coverage was initially so bad, but because once that first email went out the responses we got sustained us. I am not sure how we would have managed those first few weeks without the support of all those emails. People we didn’t know were keeping us going when all we wanted to do was cry. A bond was forged with those strangers on my computer screen. I kept writing. They kept responding, and I felt a duty to continue sending out updates.

Many people sent boxes of supplies. Others sent vitamins and tasty things. They all came with notes of support, often with cash in them, and all with a comment about the frustration of trying to find a tangible way to help in that moment. So many kindnesses to balance the unfathomable cruelty of Katrina. It still chokes me up.

I had always written, an article here, a story there but nothing as regular as the emails written at that time. As the anger mounted and the sadness dropped us into pits of despair, the words were there being read somewhere by someone who cared even if we didn’t know their name. They met the people in my neighborhood, the people helping out. They heard the stories of the noble sons who’d stayed with their elderly, ill mothers. They heard the stories of lost people and our panic over their whereabouts. They heard about little triumphs and major hurdles. They heard about the heat and the exhaustion, the jubilation of power being turned back on, our first sight of Jackson Square covered in satellite trucks and humvees and old bandages instead of artists, and how many nails a tire can absorb before it becomes unusable.

In the writing of those missives I found the strength to cope with what I was seeing around me, and if the responses were to be believed, I was giving the people who read them a more realistic view of what was happening here during that time. Interestingly enough, six years later, sometimes those emails swirl through my consciousness with the tenacity of a CNN video loop.

~

Sam blogs at New Orleans Slate and is a contributing author and co-editor of A Howling in the Wires: An Anthology of Writing from Postdiluvian New Orleans. Her emails chronicling the days after Katrina can be read at Katrina Refrigerator.

Out With Katrina, In With The Tricentennial

I’m over it. Now this doesn’t mean I’m going to forget what happened, or that the scars I have and fears I carry will ever disappear. But I’ve learned to live with it, and I’ve moved on, just as the vast majority of New Orleans has. All the morbid documentaries on TV this week are not for us, they are for the rest of America or the world, that wants to wallow in gratuitous disaster porn.

I remember / Je me souviens / Recuerdo

That’s what I said last year for the 5th anniversary of Katrina, and I feel the same way now on the 6th. I’m more interested in living in the present and looking toward the future. I’m running out of things to say about the past. We know what our problems are, and we’re on the path to fixing them with an enthusiasm that didn’t exist here before. The trick now is to keep up the momentum, and never return to the apathy of before.

When I think of anniversaries I think of happy things, not miserable things. So this year, instead of rehashing Katrina I’m thinking of New Orleans’ 300th birthday.

On May 7th, 2018, New Orleans turns 300. Which means we have less than seven years to plan something for the tricentennial. I’ve only noticed a few minor mentions of this subject over the last few years, and I don’t even know if it’s on City Hall’s to-do list yet.

city park tricentennial place plan

City Park Tricentennial Place Plan

So are any plans in the works for the big day? I turned up one major project that is currently on track to be completed before 2018. City Park seems to constantly be under construction, and there is a reason for that. They are building dozens of new attractions, including the biggie – New Orleans Tricentennial Place. If the plans are any indication, it looks like we’re going to have an impressive metropolitan park.

“The Great Lawn stretches across what has come to be known as Tri-Centennial Place, a regal concept incorporating new parking, an expansion of the Bestoff Sculpture Garden, an amphitheater, a splash park, rock climbing and Peristyle. Although in its infancy, Tri-Centennial Place will be another huge draw for the park. The splash park and amphitheater, viewed as large revenue streams, are included in Phase One of the $24 million Capitol Campaign of the Master Plan .” –New Orleans Magazine, March 2010

The press has only made minor mentions of the tricentennial in the last few years. In 2008, Errol Laborde suggested that we develop the New Orleans Lakefront for our birthday, however, we all know what happens whenever someone wants to make the Lakefront useful. Plus, that means going near the unholy trinity – Louisiana, politics, and real estate. We should avoid it like the Ebola virus. New Orleans is not New York, or San Francisco, or Chicago. The idea that we should build some grand expensive structure, much less develop the entire Lakefront during bad economic times is irresponsible, and something we’re not good at anyway. Building more than a statue or sculpture on the Lakefront might incur some bad juju.

Other suggestions were closer to the mark. In 2009, Richard Campanella (who will be speaking at the Rising Tide Conference this weekend) wrote about his ideas for the upcoming tricentennial. He suggested a more reasonable path in planning a “World’s Fair” type event.

“A tricentennial event might also offer an opportunity to present to the world the recovered and stabilized city we all hope emerges from this post-catastrophe era. The 1884 world’s fair aimed, in part, to demonstrate the city’s rebound after Civil War-era tumult.” –Times Picayune, May 2009

I agree that this would be a good opportunity to show off our recovery, however, I’m not okay with this being a celebration for visitors. We LIVE here. I want to party with my own people – like after Superbowl 2010. Just for one weekend, I want the French Quarter to belong to us. To celebrate US.

We should stick with what we know – and that’s parties. We can get some ideas for this from our colonial sister city, Quebec. They have an annual festival celebrating their founding as part of “New France” called Fêtes de la Nouvelle-France (Louisiana was part of New France too, by the way). Much like our fests they have local music and food, but for this they add a big parade, re-enactments and period costumes, crafts and art, young folks juggling and twirling fire in the street, old folks running a local names genealogy booth – it’s like ren-faire-meets-Mardi-Gras. And even though Quebec is a tourist city like New Orleans, this fest feels very local.

Our version of something like this, Fête de la Nouvelle-Orléans or New Orleans Fest, would be a kick. I mean, this is WHAT WE DO. And we have six years to plan it. We threw an epic internationally covered Superbowl party in under a week. And like that party, our tricentennial bash should be for the people of New Orleans first, the travelers second. They’re welcome of course, but it shouldn’t be designed for them.

In the end, I’d rather see a huge fire-lit Fleur de Lis atop the Superdome with a gritty old blues guitarist playing in the middle of it for a month rather than build some tower on the Lakefront, or put on fair airs for rich foreigners. It’s much cheaper, and definitely more fun. Also, we’ve got a history to envy, so this festival and parade thing should plan itself. Just brainstorm for a minute about what this place has been through in 300 years and you’ll see what I mean (I predict more people will be crammed on the Storyville re-enactment block than the Saints Superbowl Square).

We have so much to celebrate (and reflect on) as a city, and for once, we should not make tourists the priority, but ourselves. Because this is how we’ll keep up the momentum. We have to constantly feed our spirits great moments, or we’ll forget what we’re working for. That euphoric feeling of being where you belong, with those you love, and those who love you, is that reinforcing rush that motivates us to keep improving and to keep going forward.

Originally published at Pistolette.net, August 2011.

Superbowl 2010, Bourbon St

Bourbon St after the Saints won Superbowl 2010.