Wednesday, January 10, 2007

In the mornings, I wake up in a city that is in a constant fight to the death...with time.

I live in this place that puts itself across to the rest of the world as a sort of shrine to the Moment, if such a thing even exists. All I need to do, however, is look around my own house, walk outside and see my cobblestoned street, and view all the other nineteenth-century era relics that people live in on my block and others in the neighborhood, and I know that the Moment is not the only thing that matters.

And yet, ephemerality is a part of the geologic foundations of this very place. University professor and historical geographer Richard Campanella tells us in one of the first sentences of his latest book: "New Orleans, one of the nation's older cities, lies upon the youngest sizable earthen surface of North America." Sieur de Bienville didn't care about geology when he founded this city, however - all he cared about was a viable French gateway to the interior of this New World territory that France was determined to hold down. In the colonial era of this part of the earth, no one wanted to be left out, or caught with their pants down.

Notice I haven't talked about the weather...yet. Not only is this place an experiment in geologic defiance, it is also an ongoing experiment in defiance of any nasty stuff that mother nature seems to throw this way, be it diseases, hurricanes, floods, termites, what have you. All of the resistance to this only feeds a mythic sense of futility in residents here that shrugs at the very real fact that all they see could well be gone tomorrow. It has all happened many times before, you see - and yet, this place IS still around. So savor the Moment.

Evidence of this attitude is writ all over every entry of this place's blog contest. And there are so many ways in which this attitude is great. Granted, many of these entries make my city sound a bit like Norman Rockwell for adults, and if it hadn't been for the fact that I, too, have experienced many of the same things these people are talking about, I'd pooh-pooh it all as such major mythical, idyllic crap.

The downside of the Moment, however, is that people will sell their souls for it, instead of just letting it happen. When it doesn't happen, people will go so far as to devalue all of life around them in order to chase the Moment. That is when other aspects of life suffer.

Before the 2005 hurricane season, everyone here seemed to be in parallel worlds, and in different time zones, all within the parish limits. It was a well known problem that politicians around here had always angled for more power and always would. The police force was a notoriously crooked operation, but most everything else was working, so that was okay. Wealthy residents who wielded some community power chose to use that power only within their own circles - and those circles had dwindled to everyone mentioned in local high society pages and the exclusive membership of various Carnival organizations. Everyone else in the city put up with the way things were, because life here, when it was sweet, was sooo sweet.
Full of Moments - JazzFest, Mardi Gras, St Patrick's Day, any good live band playing at any given bar or club on any night. Music on Quarter streets. A walk along the Mississippi. Football games. Pickup basketball games. Sitting out on your porch on a hot, hot day and shooting the breeze with anyone who passes by (I told y'all I've experienced a lot of this stuff myself).

Katrina and Rita has revealed how shallow these Moments were for everyone in this city. Even the Army Corps of Engineers has been stuck in some mighty deep water (and something else that's just as deep). Things could not go on the way they did before.

And yet...and yet...

Our do-nothing walking id of a mayor is still in office. An (allegedly) crooked US Congressional representative is still in office, too...for right now. Even though the police have had their ranks supplemented by National Guardsmen, they are still stymied by the crime sweeping this city. A spate of murders has shown that many in the current population believe in pursuing the Moment, all right - that Moment of instant death.

Time is marching on, and this place that I love is hanging in the balance. Deep down, I don't want to leave, but this isn't just about me anymore.

My son deserves a large number of Moments of his own. If the leadership and the law enforcement of this place doesn't snap out of their own sense that this is all a bad dream out of time, however, this place will surely die. And that most glorious of all Moments, that of hope, will die with it.

No comments: