Saturday, May 12, 2012

Thoughts about New Orleans: A Rant Written While Drinking Coffee in New Orleans at Home

There is a feeling you get when coming in to New Orleans, either by car or by plane. It is the feeling of entering another world, or even another dimension of existence.

Part 1: Arriving

By plane, all you see out the window as you descend into Louis Armstrong Airport (once known as Moisant Field) is swamp and water. You have enough time to wonder where the plane will actually land-is there an island somewhere close? And the color of the swamp from the air is a vivid dark green, giving the impression of luxurious growth, like a jungle canopy. From a car the impressions are the same but for different reasons. There are billboards with obscure references to things within the unique New Orleans culture: Po-boys on Special, Sale on Doubloons and Beads, Crawfish in Season, Home of the Best Muffulettas, Bo Jacque's Cafe(Laissez les Bon Temps Rouler), Houma/Boutte Next Exit. If you are coming into town from the west, you must first cross over the 7 or 8 mile stretch of the Bonnet Carre ('bonnie carry") Spillway, which is open these days to divert the excess water from the Mississippi away from New Orleans.

 Part 2: Just Sayin'

The shrimpers hate it when they open the Spillway, because all that freshwater tends to either drive the shrimp out into the Gulf, or either outright kill them. Thank God it doesn't happen often. Many of those shrimpers used to live up in Bucktown, an actual fishing village (mostly built on stilts over Lake Pontchartrain), but Katrina blew that away. For me, that was the second saddest part of the storm. All of Bucktown-Federico's Bar, Bruning's Restaurant, Fitzgerald's, Sid-Mar's, Sportsman's Paradise, not to mention that old man and his fifty million cats-is gone, as if they never existed. But I'm afraid I've gotten off on a tangent; sorry, but I got carried away. You see, coming into New Orleans from the west has always been my favorite. It brings up pleasant memories of catching crawfish with my dad. When the spillway is closed, you see, some of the water remains in the lower spots, usually on both sides of the railroad bed that goes through. Crawfish teem in those places, and it is a favorite spot for locals to come. And at night from the I-10 bridge, you can see the lights and fires from the Norco refineries way off on the horizon. As I've said, there is this distinct sense that you are entering another world. The lake stretches off to the horizon, and on a clear day, the downtown skyline is visible. It's like, "hey! there's actually a city down here, a vibrant city filled with people, history, culture and unique charm", because the spillway ends abruptly, suddenly: the Loyola Exit pops up like a jack-in-the-box, and now you are in suburban Kenner, amidst the sprawling suburban mess of East Jefferson.

Part Three: Arriving, Part 2, and a Declaration

Coming in from the east is a similar experience, but it leaves an entirely different impression on my mind, for uniquely personal reasons. This is the land of Slidell, St. Tammany Parish, and New Orleans East-as well as the Rigolets, US highway 90, Bayou Sauvage, and the Twin Spans. It is also the gateway to St. Bernard Parish, where my daddy used to live before Katrina reduced his home to mold.

Anyway, environmentalists should beware, because I, John, appoint myself your nemesis:

"I remember when I was a lad, crawfishin' and stuff with my dad. We knew back then that there would be always be a New Orleans, that our city was indeed special and unique. And so New Orleans has indeed survived the horrible onslaught of Katrina, and is limping along gracefully. There are many people there who think the mess was only a little worse than Betsy was, and are proceeding to rebuild and renovate."

But there are people in New Orleans who are directly responsible for the breaching of the levees, people who were alive back in 1977 when Save our Wetlands successfully sued the Army Corps of Engineers, and blocked indefinitely any major flood protection for New Orleans. It's that simple. Specific organizations and people were involved  in this lawsuit: these people are guilty by association in the deaths of 1,800+ people, and the reduction of a once great city to mold and ruin.

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