Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Are we watching a city die?

The hurricanes and resulting flood waters have brought chaos to New Orleans and a call for a full evacuation. Have we ever seen a city destroyed this way? A co-worker said the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan was on a similar scale - maybe that's the only comparable event. The media keeps reporting that this is the largest U.S. relief effort since 9/11. As terrible as that event was, it was confined to a specific area. Now of course all of New York City was affected, but Ground Zero was 16 acres of devastation. Right now, all of New Orleans is underwater and, more importantly, the fabric of the city is deteriorating as the hours go by.

When I was 17, my father and I left Chicago and drove down the Mississippi until we arrived in New Orleans. There really is a magic to the place, and I don't just mean the visual charms of the French Quarter. There is something more. I can,’t even remember how long we stayed -– just two or three days,– but I left there having had experiences that just felt to be a part of the city. Not just coffee at Cafe Du Monde, jazz Preservation Hall, parties on Bourbon Street, and the action at Jackson Sqaure. What I'm talking about is walking into a hat store and leaving with plans to have dinner with the owners. Or when I was watching my dad slurp oysters in an empty bar in the late afternoon, I (being 17) refused to try one. The worker behind the counter walked to the front door, flipped the open sign to "“closed", locked the door and said, "“You ain't leaving until you try one of them oysters." These are the kinds of encounters that I think of when I remember New Orleans. This is what I mourn as I watch the city drown.