Monday, June 05, 2006

New Orleans Detox

My friend Bill Gerrity wrote this to me in a great email from Shanghai:

>...there will be a reservoir of great human strength and wisdom that will grow in the gulf coast as a result of the losses that people have experienced and the perseverance necessary to rise above it.

Yes. I was blown away, not only by how determined the folks I talked to are, but how generous, friendly and open they were with their stories. It was very humbling. Yet, at the same time, it was a wonderful 1st time to visit New Orleans. All of the seeds of its phenomenal culture were laid bare. Racial cooperation, DIY attitudes about building happy lives and businesses, good attitudes in the face of oppressive heat, humidity, and poverty, all leading up to a attitude of celebration just for getting by another day. And MAN! Did I eat! Did I party! I ended up with 3 mormon relief workers, 2 homeless guys, a freestyle rapper from Detroit, a six pack, a guitar, flute, and kazoo playing Jethro Tull on the street. I feel like New Orleans has always been a reservoir, although the metaphor has creepy connotations going into flood season again.

I met Rosalind Richard through a friend from Kent that she is renting a house from in Galveston. She was very helpful with information about her experiences as well as others. The following are photographs she sent to me of the Colliseum Theatre.

I've pasted some of her emails below.

Email, dated 5/24/06

This was written just before Thanksgiving.

My Hurricane Katrina Experience

August 25th was the Friday before Katrina made landfall. At that time, the hurricane was due south of New Orleans and slowly plodding northward. It was Friday night when local news media became insistent that a major hurricane was headed our way. Still, similar such warnings had popped up almost every other year for a decade. Though constant reminders and dire predictions of the catastrophic effects of a "direct hit" on the city was a staple of life in New Orleans, every threatening hurricane had taken a turn to the east at the last minute. Thus, Florida's panhandle had been hit again but New Orleans had been largely unscathed. There was no reason not to assume this hurricane would take a similar course.

Then, on Saturday, August 26th, Katrina was still plodding due North and was getting closer. At that point, though still unconvinced the hurricane would not make an eastward turn, booking a room someplace outside the city seemed like a sensible precautions. Unfortunately, all hotels were booked as far north as Memphis. Yet as I lived in a low lying basement apartment, riding out even a glancing hurricane blow at home seemed not quite the best option. Thus, I booked a room in in a hotel in New Orleans. A friend owned a hotel which had originally been built as an orphanage in the 1800s. It was a solidly built 3 story structure. I booked a room on the 2nd floor, high enough to be safe from flooding, and not subject to having the roof blown off. My friend also took a huge load off my mind by allowing me to bring my 80lb black Labrador retriever named Bear who thinks he is just a toy poodle. At any rate, I was planning on checking in Su

However, on Sunday, August 27th, I arose early to check the weather and discovered that Katrina showed no inkling of moving east, and was now a category 5 monster! For the first time I had doubts as to the wisdom of staying in New Orleans, and felt a real anxiety about the situation. Up until now, I had been more afraid of the stress, frustration and exhaustion that accompany evacuation than I was of the effects of the hurricane. The overwhelming feelings of helplessness entailed with long slowly crawling traffic are familiar to anyone who has taken part in a mass evacuation. Now, I was holding back an ever growing feeling of unease as I contemplated my quandary. Then, the phone rang. It was my older sister, and she demanded I come to her house in North Louisiana to be safe. She had invited me for previous hurricanes, but I had always declined. This time I accepted!

I already had a bag packed for 3 days in the hotel (Pj's, 1 pair of shorts, 1 skirt, 1 dress, a few shirts, and a bathing suit), so I called my boyfriend whom I knew had similarly put off leaving, and we decided to evacuate together -- taking his more reliable late model pickup instead my older Honda sedan.

Still, before I left, I convinced the couple who lived upstairs from me to take my hotel room in New Orleans. Health concerns prevented them from leaving (the wife had suffered a recent mild heart attack), and they had planned on staying in their second story apartment. Notably, the hotel was of sturdier construction and on higher ground.

My boyfriend and I made a pact that we would not allow ourselves to become frustrated or angry during what was sure to be a long and arduous trip. We would listen to the radio, enjoy each other's company, try to take in new scenery and just keep our minds occupied with anything other than impatience at the slow pace of traffic. That attitude made all the difference. We were able to notice that there were at least as many intervals of where traffic flowed unimpeded as there were of bumper to bumper crawls. And even then, one felt a kinship with similarly situated people just trying to be cautious and keep safe. When stops for gas were required, we met people who were also trying to cope good naturedly with the situation. It turns out, after we had left, the mayor had called for an immediate mandatory evacuation. Many of the people we met had been at church when the mandatory evacuation order went out, and thus left with only the nice clot

Eventually, we got to my sisters' home. I do not even know how long the trip took, because my boyfriend and I had agreed not to keep track of time so as not to count the hours. At any rate, we arrived to discover that almost my entire New Orleans area family were already there. We were now a group of 14 people and 4 dogs. We were all looking forward to a few days together at the large rambling house in rural Louisiana, thinking that within a couple of days we would be facing an arduous journey once again as we trekked back to New Orleans. In the meantime, we would enjoy each other and make the best of it.

Then, hurricane Katrina blew through New Orleans early on Monday, August 28th, and it came through northern Louisiana later that day, even blowing down trees in the yard of the house we were staying. Unfortunately, we all developed the bad habit of staring at the TV for information as to what was going on in New Orleans. We soon heard of the breaches in the canal levees and discovered that our homes were threatened. Actually, it turned out that for most of my family, their homes and possessions were intact. However, my basement apartment lay directly across from one of the canal levees that gave way, and everything I had not taken with me had become inundated by the flood. Further, what had started out as a novel weekend with my family, soon turned into a grueling ordeal as we were all powerless to do anything but watch and wait, as returning to New Orleans was no longer possible. None of us knew what was to become of us, as we could not all s

Eventually, we all decided on taking different paths. Some of my family moved to Baton Rouge, finding an apartment together. For those with children, immediate decisions had to be made about getting them into school and re-establishing a routine. Pressing actions had to be taken regarding jobs and income. Paperwork with the disaster relief agencies had to be filed. My boyfriend and were able to make arrangements to be taking in with his brother in Galveston. The trip to Galveston was another arduous journey, but once again our spirits held up and we made it an enjoyable outing. We came to the island taking the ferry from Bolivar, and were greeted by several dolphins as we crossed Galveston Bay.

Now it turns out that boyfriend and I both had lost all our worldly possessions. Everything we owned spent three weeks under eleven feet of muddy water. A subsequent trip back since the water has receded revealed only that nothing was salvageable. Everything was destroyed -- clothes, tools, appliances, furniture, family photos, knick-knacks, etc. And yet, I only feel blessed. It is hard to describe, but none of what I lost seems important now. I am only aware of how much more others have lost, and how wonderful and giving people have been. My boyfriend's brother and his wife were our first angels, introducing us to their friends and their church. I have learned to humbly ask for help when in need, and the blessing of gratitude that comes when complete strangers respond. Upon reflection, even the long week of anxiety together with my family while we were all stuck and afraid in northern Louisiana was a blessing. Usually

Honestly though, I would like to stop having to evacuate for hurricanes. After being in Galveston only a short time, we had to get out of Rita's way. We went to San Antonio, and stayed with the mother of a friend from New Orleans. My friend had evacuated to her mother's for hurricane Katrina, so it was nice to be able to visit with her and her mother.

Now though, I have a wonderful apartment in a unique and enchanting island city and am making new friends and looking forward to getting married.


Email, dated 5/24/06

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Chris Rose: Louisiana ambassadors say hello
Dear America,

I suppose we should introduce ourselves: We're South

We have arrived on your doorstep on short notice and
we apologize for that, but we never were much for
waiting around for invitations. We're not much on
formalities like that.

And we might be staying around your town for a while,
enrolling in your schools and looking for jobs, so we
wanted to tell you a few things about us. We know you
didn't ask for this and neither did we, so we're just
going to have to make the best of it.

First of all, we thank you. For your money, your
water, your food, your prayers, your boats and buses
and the men and women of your National Guards, fire

Email, dated 5/25/06

"where will you be in New Orleans... where will you be staying?? One of my_friends Ellis came back right after the storm his pictures are showing @ the New Orleans Museum of Art... he is a great guy I'll try to get you a meeting w/ him if you like. While down there go to a local bookstore and find a book by Chris Rose ONE DEAD IN ATTIC They were sold out last time I was there.... If you do find it please buy one for me.. I want to give one to Don.. I'll pay you when you get here. Chris is a writer for the paper. the book is a compilation of his stories just after the storm.... he wrote the HELLO AMERICA story I emailed you. Also the last place I worked before the storm is back and running... 2 of the cooks stayed for the storm and had to suffer through the whole superdome mess.. I bet they have incredible stories They are at Joey K's Restaurant 3001 Magazine ( near Commanders Palace) in the Garden District. I have another friend Tammy who lived in Chalmette. lost her home... right after the storm lost her sister ( she was ill before the storm). came back to New Orleans started working again after they did almost 1/2 million in repairs. from the storm (photography & film studio).I am a foodstylist and had a photo shoot that I was driving in for on a Monday.... the Friday before she & I are on the phone.. I am telling her.. OF ALL OF MY FRIENDS YOU HAVE LOST THE MOST .. BUT HAVE THE BEST ATTITUDE!!!! YOU HAVE_REALLY KEPT YOUR HEAD UP!!!! she then says HANG ON SOMEBODY UP FRONT IS YELLING......... she gets back on the phone and says THEY ARE SAYING SOMETHING LIKE GET OUT..... ANYWAY ROZ . IT CAN'T GET ANY WORSE then I hear door slam open and a mans voice yelling GET OUT THE BUILDINGS ON FIRE!!!!! 2 hours later 5 pm she calls back crying REMEMBER HOW I SAID IT COULDN'T GET ANY WORSE??? IT JUST DID!!! This beautiful historic old building burned to the ground.2 helicopters dropping water and 5 fire stations.. and they couldn't save it... Now she has that tinge of depression in her voice just like the rest of my friends. It's very sad. The city is truly broken. If you'd like to talk to her I'll call her and ask. I think it would be good for her to talk about it. anyway you are the one with the schedule lets play it by ear whenever you get here will be fine.. Enjoy Chicago... go to the billy goat have a cheeseburger chips and a pepsi for me!! Roz__"

Email sent, 5/28/06

"I know it's long, but read it. This guy writes for the Times Picayune. If you like it, go purchase his book post Katrina "One Dead In Attic"

Chris Rose's commencement speech at Ursuline University


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