Friday, May 04, 2007

notes from New Orleans

Just back from shooting in New Orleans.

The Lower 9th Ward is a blast zone. Whole blocks of homes are just gone. Others, still standing here and there, appear to have been picked up, their contents shaken, then put back down more or less — but often less — where they were before. It was amazing, and not in the good way. It was almost unbelievable . . . but there it was. We have pictures. It is what it is.

Nearby, Saint Bernards Parish is middle and working class housing — sturdy brick construction — flushed by a relentless current that appears to have run ten, maybe 12 feet deep. Ceilings soaked and gave way. The fortunate families had their homes gutted by kindly bands of outsiders. They are stripped to the studs inside, dessicated as if by radical surgery; they are patients who may or may not survive.

Stories, stories . . . some more horrid than I want to repeat just yet. Others heartwarming, courageous, grateful, gently funny.

Well duh: Imagine something on the order of 240,000 refrigerators all powering down on the same day and remaining unattended for a month. Take a deep breath; let your olfactory memory do the imagining . . .

We are invited to a community crawfish boil undertaken with a noisy and playful generosity. The Liutenent Governor gamely submits to the dunking tank. A band plays loud. The food is abundant and cheap and messy and eye-rollingly wonderful. Even so, there is — I suppose will be — an undercurrent of loss and defiant hope.

A woman asks if we are a neighborhood family — she does not recognize us. We tell her we are working on a documentary film. She thanks us for coming — not to the crawfish boil but to New Orleans. She thanks us for caring.

"Did you evacuate?" I ask.

"Yes," she says, and, "We were lucky," then unfolds an abbreiviated tale of reoccupying her home that is funny in the way that old film The Money Pit would have been, had it been funny. this woman's story walks the razor edge between comedy and flat out tragedy. The only thing that keeps her from sliding off on the tragic side is the truth of her opening line: Compared to others, she says . . . hundreds of thousands of others . . . "we were lucky."

A common thread of conversation everywhere in the city: Recovery will take ten years, minimum.


Michele Rowe said...

I was lucky enough to visit NOLA some years ago. Granted, I only really visited the French Quarter, but I think what happened there is tragic; more so because it happened in what is supposedly the richest and most powerful country in the world.


jim hancock said...

Yeh, I found a sense of bewildered abandonment wherever I went. Mayor Nagin seems to have weathered the storm with the citizens I spoke with. And the Coast Guard are local heroes, credited with saying "screw the rules," saving thousands of lives and eventually securing the city. But I didn't hear a kind word for the Governor, the Army Corps of Engineers, FEMA, or the Bush Adminstration. I don't think New Orleanians will ever forget what was left undone there.