Back in Uptown

I’ve been back in the city for 7 days now and I’ve wanted to blog about it. Somehow I couldn’t. Things are good, at least Uptown. In Lakeview they’re bad. Soul-wrentchingly depressing. In New Orleans East, Chalmette and St. Bernard it’s gritty dusty scene from an ‘end of the world’ science-fiction movie.

There is no longer any fiction in New Orleans; there is only truth. And the truth is different for everyone, and it is the same. Everyone who lived in this city faces the truth that the city has been crippled. It was put in a strange-dimensional washing machine for 12 hours when Katrina hit. Followed then by a chaotic rinse cycle of rumors and half-baked notions (people shooting at rescue workers, people eating their young to survive). Now we are at the end of the spin cycle. Life is becoming familiar again. At least for some of us, those who can return to their homes and live within the part of the city that is still able to sustain communal life.

I went jogging this morning in Audubon Park for the first time since the Sunday before Katrina hit. The jogging path is much different now. Tree limbs are everywhere. And the trees look like Godzilla came through and smashed the tops off. No, the jog through Audubon Park is not quite the same. No more dappled sunlight.

If the sunlight represents the truth of this city’s state of being then it is fitting that the sunlight be intense and unfiltered. When I finished jogging my friend Vincent asked me how the jog was. I told him it was sad. He then asked what I meant by that. I thought about it and replied that perhaps ‘sad’ was the wrong word.

He asked what the ‘right’ word was. I thought some more and realized that there was no ‘right word.’ The best I could come up with was an image. The city now is like one of those friendly three-legged dogs you see in an unfamiliar street. It’s not sad exactly because the dog is happy and coping and you know that it is making its way the best that it can. But, it’s, well… you know: not cheerful, either.

I plan to write more about New Orleans in the next days. I have the material written out, but I need to figure out what I really want to say. There is a lot to say about this city and the people who are here now. Mostly, it’s good. People are eager to rebuild and to make the city vibrant. But not everyone who wants to be here can be. Many people have lost their homes, their jobs, or their will to return.

New Orleans will never be the same. And yet, at the same time, it will always be the same. Is that a contradiction? Probably, but then so is this city. If you lived here and you understood the city then you’ll know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t lived here and want to understand then come see what’s going on. It’s pretty amazing, but unfortunately I don’t even have an image to describe it. All I can say is that it’s worth being close to.

New Orleans is coming back to life. Have you ever witnessed the rebirth of a city? Creation of any kind is very hard to explain, especially when it happens to an entire community. So I won’t try. But if you are interested you should come here and see what’s going on. If you stand perfectly still and close your eyes you can feel the magic flowing in and saturating everything from the deepest soil to the tallest limbs.

5 Comments so far

  1. Phil Orgeron (unregistered) on October 17th, 2005 @ 10:54 am

    Hi Ernie,

    Your description is brilliant.

    But I’m not as optimistic as you.

    The sheer scope of the situation is bigger than anything this country has ever experienced.

    And if the powers that be don’t get movng soon I’m afraid that the tragedy in New Orleans will make Sept 11 look like a fire in a garbage can.


  2. Drury (unregistered) on October 17th, 2005 @ 4:04 pm

    Please continue writing out your thoughts and observations Ernie.

  3. Daisy (unregistered) on October 17th, 2005 @ 6:57 pm

    I’ve been following this blog since Katrina hit as I quickly found out that more people read mine to see if me and my parents were ok. Your points are so true. I’m in Tampa for school at the moment but lived in NOLA my whole life–went to Holy Angels on St Claude, Loyola and then taught at Xavier for three years. I want to help but hearing the daily reports from my parents who go back to our house in Gentilly every couple of days, I don’t know how I can or if I could if I were there.

    Then I talk to some friends who are optimistic and are trying to resume normal life by going out to eat and cleaning up on Magazine St.

    Anyway I am rambling…I just wanted you to know that I appreciate this blog’s views and will continue to visit everyday.

  4. Ann (unregistered) on October 17th, 2005 @ 8:34 pm

    Daisy – I feel your pain. My family is rebuilding and it’s so hard to be so far. I pester them constantly about what they need, can I help yadda yadda yadda. But Louisianians are soooo stubbornly self-reliant (despite their portrayl to the contrary in the MSM) I’m hitting my head against a brick wall. :-p I’ve ventured as far as Natchez – so many tags so far from home. :-( I’m afraid to go deeper, but I know I will in time. And time heals all things, right?


  5. Craig (unregistered) on October 17th, 2005 @ 9:35 pm

    Glad to see you posting again Ernie and your thoughts are exactly in line with all I’m hearing from others.

    I get the feeling that while life used to be work/play (or play/work), the new reality is more a case of work/play/help in whichever order, with a heavy emphasis on the “help.” I can’t imagine any of us going back and trying to simply see things as they used to be.

    Thanks for your great post and we’ll be joining you Uptown at midweek.

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