Sunday, August 29, 2010

five years later

pierce lewis called new orleans "an inevitable city on an impossible site." and there you have it; a history of storms, fires, floods, diseases, violence, oil spills, and one earthquake. somehow, despite it all or maybe because of it all, new orleans still stands. i have loved this city from the first moment i laid eyes on her. new orleans, the pleasure capital of the country. she is the lure of gypsies, bohemians, musicians, and artists. my new orleans, a fucked up, broken down, debauched, corrupt banana republic sexing up the steamy swamps and driving us all a little mad with her seduction.

the city was founded in 1718 in the middle of a sinking, sweltering swamp. in 1722, a storm blew through and knocked down most of the buildings in the city. bienville situated his colony near the mouth of the river in order to ensure french supremacy over river trade. by the 1830's, new orleans was the wealthiest city in the country. it quickly became the nation's 2nd largest port. it lured men with the promise of financial gain. fortunes were won and lost. despite new orleans' victorian era ascendancy, there was always an air of decay about the city, being both moral and physical. prostitutes brazenly plied their trade with carpets under their arms and when solicited, they unfurled them and took the men right there on the streets. in 1857, yellow fever claimed some 12,000 lives. bodies were stacked up in the streets rotting beneath the infernal haze of tar being burned to combat the swampy miasma. new orleans was dirty, dangerous, and terribly exciting. it remains so to this day.

i came to new orleans to escape the suffocation of my conservative, religious upbringing and here, i found a freedom that i had never known before. it was a freedom to love the things about me that my childhood had taught me to hate. i will always be grateful to this city for that.

katrina hit and the city flooded. i sat huddled around the battery powered radio, listening in disbelief as the reports of multiple levee breaches came in. i remember the announcer's voice breaking as he said, "it's all gone. the whole city has flooded." i will never forget the phone calls of people coming into the radio, saying they were trapped in their attics with the water rising fast and no way out. they had the sick. they had children. they had the old. the announcer was crying when he said that no help was coming and their lines, one by one, went dead. how can i forget the dead pit bull on the corner of my block that i watched decay until there was nothing left but the bleached out bones? what about my dead neighbor? all the hours i spent searching houses? all the times i had to flag someone down to report another one dead? it is five years later and sometimes it seems like it is still happening.

new orleans, you have survived the wreckage of your years. you stand up, only to fall again. yet when you rise, you rise like no other city. you rise up with music...the second line sweetness of jazz. you refuse to stay down. god knows you deserve a rest but you RISE up. we all rise up. we all rose up, the living and the dead...their ghosts parading our streets. so rise up new orleans. rise up like no other city can.

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