Visiting New Orleans

July 22nd, 2008 | by Andrew Ó Baoill |

Approximately 225,000 people left New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina flooded most city neighborhoods in August 2005. A sizeable number came from the 9th ward. Some 1800 people died during the floods; later, hundreds more succumbed to stress-related ailments. [Saul Landau]

My parents visited the US recently, and we took the opportunity to take a road-trip south through Memphis to New Orleans. Landau’s ZNet commentary of 20 July summed up much of our experience – though NOLA is such a riot of sounds and sights, a veritable sensory overload, that it’s difficult for anything to do justice to the devastation of the Lower Ninth, the opulence of St Charles Avenue, the energy (and in places the timeless beauty) of the French Quarter.

Last week at the end of my regular A Critical Ear show on WRFU I interviewed my father about our visit. It’s available now on Radio4All. I hope some of you will find it interesting, as we talk about the balance between bearing witness and voyeurism, the shame of how Katrina (and its aftermath) was handled, and more.

Here’s some more excerpt’s from Landau’s powerful piece – it’s available to subscribers to ZNet. (Consider signing up here):

The French Quarter vibrates with sounds and smells of perpetual Spring Break. Was a film crew shooting the young men and women, drinks in hands, screaming “let’s party.” No. The celebrants were acting goofy on their own, as they routinely do in Ft. Lauderdale and Cancun.

Just inside the Hustler Club doorway, two women wearing forced smiles and a few strings, stood beside the barker, trying to lure “partying” crowd members inside. “Look at the rack on these babes,” he pointed at her uncovered milk producing organs.

Four college-age kids, reeking of booze, shared the hotel elevator. “Join us, you’re not too old,” a young man invited. “We’ve got more,” pointing to his paper cup containing a rum drink. “We also got you know what in the room,” making an inhaling sound and putting two fingers to his lips.

The next day, we drove through the once densely populated 9th Ward, now a semi rural looking expanse of empty streets and stray dogs. Amidst boarded up houses and empty lots, we heard sounds of wind and birds chirping. Downright bucolic!

Shirley Jackson, president of a neighborhood council in ward 9, pointed to the vast acreage of empty lots. “Every lot used to have a home on it,” she explained. Since the government has not helped, she continued, volunteers have to do the job. She runs a mini tractor helping high school volunteers from Concord Massachusetts with their land clearing project. She pointed to a pseudo sculpture she’d erected on the site where her house once stood — a few concrete blocks in a pile.

A woman from Needham Massachusetts explained that she and other volunteers had come down to help “because these people need it. That’s all. Just being good neighbors.”

General Services Administration records prove that for two years FEMA didn’t distribute needed goods to Hurricane victims and then gave 121 truckloads of material to other agencies. http://www.planetizen.com/node/33442

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