01 January 2006

New Orleans - Day 6 - good food, revisiting the 9th ward, staying jazzy

Waking up at 11:45am was the best part of the trip so far, actually it was a sign that this would be the best day of the trip. Rallying the team to motion by 1:00 we split up for lunch, some opting for a trip to the area near Tulane for lunch and relaxation (we got Mediterranean food, it was fantastic, so much better than the generally fried food of the French Quarter … I know there’s good food there, but it’s out of our price range, so fried and greasy it is), others to a “Black Church” which turned out to have finished services before they arrived.

At 3:00 we got coffee au lait at CafĂ© Du Monde and returned to the 9th ward in separate cars. My car ride veered toward the St. Bernard parish area, we ended up near a breached levy area where one house was perfectly settled in the middle of the road on top of a Ford F350. Many of the houses which had been on cement piers or raised up to avoid water damage turned out to be easier to move as the water came in so quickly and powerfully so they were pushed away from their foundations. Others stayed in place but had canisters and plastic and bits of wood on their roofs (usually where the roof made an angle over a garage or carport). The most common item I recall making it to the roofs was a red and yellow plastic toy car that toddlers usually sit in and push around Flintstone style. Even brick houses had walls missing, including a school auditorium. Local newspapers suggest that perhaps 8,000 people have returned from an original population over 65,000. We was less than a half dozen people mostly moving debris to piles in their front yards or moving around outside trailers they’ve put in their yards to live in while they clean up. Signs threatening looters are prevalent, though I’m not sure how serious the threat is anymore. Others have tagged their homes with phone number and instructions for agencies: “do not bulldoze,” “crush/tow truck,” “gut,” or just statements like “thanks for the memories.”

The damage to individual homes is incredible, but looking at them you think, “well, with some new drywall, removing the carpet, get rid of the trash, well gosh that house may be livable again.” Yet as you drive for miles and miles through thousands of destroyed homes the problem becomes so much bigger, it’s worst the a fire or a bomb, ever house needs an incredible amount of work and it starts to seem impossible. As Eddie Izzard says, if you kill someone you are put to death and hated, but if you kill thousands it’s almost as if we’re all kind of impressed, ‘you must get out of bed very early in the morning!’ The problems here have the same kind of numbing power; Habitat for Humanity may be helping people build houses one at a time, but at that rate rebuilding these communities would take decades, maybe it will.

In the lower Ninth there is a law enforcement “camp” of sorts next to an industrial area bordered by the railroad. There silos on one side and green military tents flanked by white pre-built housing units for staff. The major FEMA disaster relief center is in the Wal-Mart parking lot. The connections between police power and commerce are as clear as could be. The cops are closer to the industrial and commercial sites than any thing else, the homes are only patrolled by Red Cross trucks and residents. The whole thing reminds me of the Port of Oakland where the environmental impact is placed completely on the residents while those who benefit financially live far, far away.

After our “tour” (one house even advertised “tours within”) we returned to the hotel and figured out dinner: fortunate for us the “it” Indian food place has reopened on Magazine st (Nirvana, 4308 Magazine st, great buffet) and we got a very filling dinner.

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