Every morning when I awake and consciousness elbows its way back into my brain, I think the same thing: "New Orleans is still destroyed and may never recover." Though the day will no doubt bring many alarming facts both small (Am I getting fatter? Again?) and monstrous (see: Barbara Bush) this newish fact has me reeling.
No doubt many Americans (and more than a few tourists) will take a long time in facing facts. The New Orleans that we've known and loved may be gone forever and its demise has already been suggested by House Speaker Dennis Hastert: "It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed."
Even the town's die-hards have to wonder her fate. In a recent blog posting, WWOZ's (THE jazz and blues station in NO) General Manager David Freedman asked openly about recovering the music: "How do we rebuild that particular community which is so treasured by people all over the world, the community that gave New Orleans its unique character? How do we gather up as many pieces of that shattered culture and, where possible, provide a suitable context for it to re-establish itself?"
As my cousin/pal/roommate Ryan said to me last night, "It's strange to think that one our country's major cities now sits largely uninhabited." Places like Dallas, San Francisco, Boston or New York are never supposed to be ghosts towns. That is a distinction reserved for towns like Bountiful, UT or Flint, Michigan; Hamilton, North Dakota or Limbo, Nevada. NO was (oh, here comes the past tense!) was our crown jewels with all of its dark, European/Creole roots - its unrestrained jazz and its voodoo shops.
My last visit was on Valentine's weekend of 2004. I'd flown in for a whirlwind visit to see my beau, James, who was there helping a friend move. He was staying in a century-old mansion and made an incredible candlight meal - crab cakes, crawfish bisque, pralines, etc. As we ate on the porch, we heard the clicking of Mardi Gras beads, as revelers wobbled up and down the street.
Later, we visited The Maple Leaf, and danced to an amazing rock/brass band. I remember the shiny, yellow elbow of a trombone sliding in and out of my face and then, things got fuzzy.
Anyway, perhaps I'm mourning too soon but this modern-day Pompeii has my sensibilities whacked out, even 2300 miles away. If cities were people, New Orleans would be the lovable old black guy who drank a lot but never really got drunk. He was about 100 years old, had three teeth in his head but could play any instrument you put in front of him. Some said he was poor but he always dressed in style and tipped his hat to the ladies. He was full of history, kindness and dirty jokes.
I hope he comes back.