Monday, January 16, 2006

"You'd better look all of this up before you move down there!" my dad said over the phone.

I stayed silent after my noncommital "uh-huh", knowing he was right. I can't take much of this moving stuff for granted anymore. I can't just assume that doctors, pediatricians, hospital facilities, shopping, even the excellent restaurants we once knew so well are still alive and well and operating like they once did. My husband Dan reassures me there are still such things going on just as they once did, only with limited hours.

The kicker is, I have to look it up quick. We're moving back to New Orleans next month.

I dropped that bomb to our friends and fellow members on our synagogue listserve a couple of weeks ago, and they understood our reasons, yet they didn't understand. It's expensive living in the New York area. Dan's job situation only pushed us to find a new place to live and a new job for him, a position he'd found in Baton Rouge last spring that we weren't ready to jump on at the time. Socially the life and friends we left behind four years ago are in New Orleans, as is the house we've been renting out all that time.

The part that people didn't understand, unless they'd gotten to know us really well, was why we're going back now, after all that's happened.

Well, it was going to happen eventually. We both loved New Orleans and hated to leave it when we had to. We kept in touch with our friends down there and visited frequently. Our three year old son knows our friend Edie's house and pets from frequent visits, and assumed for a long time that the cell phone was around expressly for calling Edie. It's in our blood. In Dan's case, it's probably astrological destiny - a Scorpio put in touch with a Scorpio city. Such a combination!

What our friends up here only got from us in bits and pieces was the effects of what happened down south...and it's still tough to convey all of what we went through. For a long time, we were the information lifelines for our friends who were scattered all over for over a month. It meant so much to Edie that we found a number for the Orleans parish school system employees to call to keep them informed about the financial end of their newly dissolved jobs. Finding a phone number for our friend Justin so that he could call a friend in the Dakotas and let him know he was all right was a major lift for his spirits. Informing my former boss about developments looter-wise in the neighborhood of her business at least kept her informed and relieved in the end when things were not as bad as we'd thought.

We both reached some boiling points, Dan and I. He was completely speechless and couldn't work at all on the Tuesday when the levees breached. Out of curiosity, I looked up the Audubon Zoo's provisions for a disaster such as this (I had been watching a nature program about komodo dragons and thought immediately about the zoo's komodo exhibit, one of my favorites) and suddenly realized, after seeing that only five animals died and that the provisions were better for the animals than for the people of the city of New Orleans, that I couldn't take in any more disaster information and dissemination. We both felt guilty and impotent in a way we couldn't fully describe. It was all I could do to get up in the morning and take my son to preschool.

So this move was eventual for us. What remains to be seen is what they day-to-day living will be like down there - hence this blog. Granted this wasn't the reasson why I signed on to this site in the first place, but I need to vent somehow...

My other reasons for this blog are C-Span and Nick Spitzer.

Flipping through channels on the tube one night, Dan and I stopped at an Army Corps of Engineers tour of the Ninth Ward that was being given to a bunch of congressional muckety mucks, who were themselves wandering about in major amounts of muck left behind by the flood waters. Innumerable numbers of flooded houses could be seen from the tour bus. What got me steamed, however, was what one AC of E fellow said to the members of the tour at the entrance to the "temporary" building of the Jackson Barracks, the Louisiana National Guard's station in the Ninth Ward. It was something to the effect that health-wise, it wouldn't be good to go in to the building because of all the mold, so some people could take a pass if they wanted to. I found myself yelling at the TV. These people had to go in there. They had to see what had happened to this place, damn it, because congressional reps had to get some idea of what was happening, damage-wise, to places other than the Jackson Barracks. The cameraman did go in, as did all of the congressional members on the tour, bless them. What they saw was mold that had made its way over all the walls and loads of flood damaged furniture. Just a teeny, necessary glimpse into what recovery's beginnings would be like for eighty percent of the city.

Why Nick Spitzer? Every so often, I would tune into "American Routes" on our local public radio station that carried it and listen in on some little vignettes of New Orleans life way before the storms and the floods. A show that carried a small interview of a Verti-Mart delivery guy one night got me missing the city so bad, it wasn't funny. After the floods, Nick was exiled to Lafayette, Louisiana, where the public radio folks there have generously allowed him to use their broadcasting facilities, and thank goodness they have. This is a man who is really doing a service I would liken to that of the WPA folks in the thirties who were going around and interviewing people about their lives and cultures, interviews which culminated in books such as Gumbo Ya-Ya and the like. Or maybe this guy is just Alan Lomax with a broader mind. I found that when things seemed to be darkest for the people that we knew, when I felt so down about the situation, I would listen to "American Routes" and feel a little less alone. It felt good hearing D.L. Menard's explanation as to why hurricanes are better than earthquakes (one that echoes my husband's explanation - Dan ought to know, having grown up on the left coast). I listened to a great story about a rescue of a bunch of sunburned Palestinian Chalmatians (people from Chalmette, for those not in the know) who decided to walk the levee on down into the city and became trapped by the water, only to be rescued by the storyteller.

What do such things have in common? The news media has moved on to the latest and greatest story since all the goings-on in August-September, which is typical. There have been some occasional revisitations of the story since then, but the recovery of such a great city and of a region that deserves way more respect is becoming a grind and a long haul...not necessarily newsworthy. A glacier melting seems to be more fun for folks to contemplate sometimes.

Nick Spitzer and congressional tours have a way of giving us a much needed jolt, however. I have never been more excited and more scared as I am now that this move is underway for my family. All I know is that it helps to talk about it, to tell these stories that have begun to pile up in my brain and my being...and to go and see it all for myself, as much as I can with a family in tow.

I'll be keeping you all posted...

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