Tuesday, March 21, 2006

It's been a while since my last post, largely because I have been having Internet problems, but also because my first long period of time here without my husband nearly drove me off the deep end.

Not that he had any say about it. He's on a 90-day probationary period with his new job. It means he has to be there on time for the next three months, he only leaves the area when they send him out (like they did for a long weekend out in LA recently), and the only time he can escape are on the weekends. You'd think it was the army, but no, it's corporate America, folks. I'm glad I've never been seriously involved with it myself, but there it is.

The plain truth is that motherhood can be isolating. The three-year-old mindset is exhausting, much as I love my son. This was really the first week since we've returned that I have wanted to run screaming from the house in agony, my brain fried from cleaning up after humans and pets, from too much Nickelodeon and PBS Kids, from trying to concoct amusements that can accomodate a short attention span. I finally broke down at the playgroup one day, and the other moms and administrators urged me to find a preschool for him right away. With a bolstering mom sympathy session having propped me up after a good crying jag, I moseyed on down to the local JCC and put him in a preschool class right away. Not for the whole day every day, just the mornings, but it has restored some semblance of sanity. Now if I could just work on the rest of my surroundings, life would be good.

It didn't help much that when my husband left, I went with Edie and my son to a community meeting at the Chalmette courthouse in St Bernard Parish. And I thought New Orleans was hit hard by Katrina. Crossing the bridge from off I-10 into the parish revealed an area on way less land than ever before. Most of the buildings are shells of their former selves - skeleton businesses are operating in what few places have been cleaned up enough to accomodate customers. Boats and debris poked their way out of the waters that are now nearly up to the edge of the highway. The prospects for planning and rebuilding in the area were what were being discussed the night I went to the courthouse, and the place was packed to the gills, with many people spilling out into the hallway, where a massive projection screen had been set up to broadcast the proceedings inside the filled courtroom. My son settled in on the floor with me after obtaining some snacks - I think he thought he was watching a movie. It gave me a chance to see the keynote speaker, Andres Duany, give his housing plans talk to those assembled.

Many people who had once lived in the area came to hear this man speak. For a bare bones synopsis, I'd direct you to www.louisianaspeaks.com - but no synopsis could give you a clue as to what it was like being in that room. Duany went through a brief historical analysis of each type of housing in the area, and he also evaluated the storm surge preparedness of each housing type. Older, in many ways, was better, largely because the construction was better and, more importantly, the older homes were usually jacked up off the ground, since earlier homeowners were more attuned to the nature of periodic flooding from the Mississippi and from storm surges.

The groans that came up from the audience came from Duany's correct assessment of the homes built on slabs 30-40 years ago, homes that made up the bulk of the housing in St Bernard before Katrina. The neighborhood in which the courthouse sat attested to how poorly constructed the slab housing was in terms of the storm surges, how much the flood waters had destroyed these homes. They needed to be jacked up, which was an atrocious decision architecturally speaking, or simply cleared away from their sites to accomodate a design that hearkened back to the structures of old. Most of the people assembled couldn't afford the solutions proposed, and the rest of the folks assembled began to trickle out of the courthouse. By then, my son had had enough, too, so we had to leave even though I was curious about Duany's proposals for completely remaking Chalmette into a town with a smaller, more condensed city center minus the tract sprawl.

Writer Philip Lopate has said it is not easy trying to create a community gathering place out of scratch, that such spaces had historically tended to develop over time, with only some goading from the designs of such places...but what Lopate has never seen down here is how much people like to congregate any place they can, whether it is (usually) over food and drink or just lolling in the sun, out on the porch with good company sticking around or passing by. I would have liked to see Duany's stab at it. I need to take my own advice and check out the Louisiana Speaks website, I guess.

I am already half-regretting resubscribing to the Times-Picayune here, however, because I am stuck with the inability to keep up with all the recovery logistics it reports, the recovery stories, the continual finger-pointing as to who did what to whom and where and why it was unfair. I have a big pile that is accumulating on my kitchen counter, and I am torn between saying I will get through it all and just tossing it all out. The front page can just exhaust me sometimes. Recent front pages have featured the Army Corps of Engineers' levee assessments being made public - all attesting to the inadequacy of the levee protection. Car removal stories also abound - as do stories about the Bring New Orleans Back Commission, and the catch-22 that exists here now concerning the rebuilding of those decimated parts of the city (it will all depend on how many people come back to those areas, but of course those areas need to be made somewhat viable for residents before any of them can return). Somewhat more uplifting stories within the paper are the ones regarding cooking in one's home when the first floor is being reclaimed from flood damage (since the first floor is usually the one where the kitchen was), something friends of ours are going through right now. A project to carve sculptures out of downed tree stumps, the KatRita project, is in the works with the help of some chainsaw-wielding sculptors. A recent article on the deaths of most of the inhabitants of the local aquarium and its recovery was featured over the weekend, too. And a new passel of parades came through town, from which I have finally recovered.

The way this town celebrates St Patrick's Day, for those not in the know, is with parading as well as the wearin' of the green and the imbibing of verdigris beer and all. Yeah, there are beaded throws, but there are also produce throws - cabbages, potatoes, carrots, onions, and ramen noodles, to be exact. After wrassling with my son for a time at this year's parade and then decididng to just take him home, Dan and Edie stayed at the parade route and lugged home a bag of at least fourteen cabbages and other veggies courtesy of the parading Irishmen and women. I would have thought they would both know better, especially my husband - he used to spend the parade day protecting his first residence's windows from errant cabbages and 'taters when he first lived in New Orleans. But with him, it's catch the stuff first and worry about what to do with it later.

So off and on for the past week or so, it has been cabbages on my counter, in the bag they came home in, on the chopping block, in the Cuisinart, in the freezer, as a part of three casserole dishes full of stuffed cabbage we are now eating our way through. At the very end of my cabbage ordeal, I told my husband I wanted him to sign a contract saying he would personally deal with all the cabbages from next year's parade, and leave me out of it. He of course came out with a "can you top that" comment that a coworker was trying to get rid of forty-two cabbages her family had ganged up and caught from the parades. Don't dodge the issue, o husband of mine, I wanted to say, even after I exclaimed at the supermarket-busting number.

Then again, it can be good to get out from under the cabbage crush and breathe fresh, un-cabbage-tainted air again. After six-plus months of recovery talk and doings amongst residents here, it's no wonder they want to get out of the physical and emotional debris that is littering their lives down here, too. Yet another article down here, this time in New Orleans magazine, talks of the need for residents to take a vacation, any vacation, so long as the buildings are intact at the vacationing spot. What's one of the suggested places other articles in the same magazine issue feature? The town of Corleone in Sicily! Out of the politically corrupt frying pan and into the gates of hell, a town with a reputation as a Mafia haven and a museum to prove it.

I love this city, I really do...

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