Archive for August, 2010

Tonight At 8pm: A BRIDGE LIFE On The Documentary Channel

We just got a very nice note from one of the higher-ups at the Documentary Channel alerting us to tonight’s premiere of A Bridge Life: Finding Our Way Home. It debuts at 8pm. (I assume that’s CST.)

Unfortunately, Cox doesn’t carry the Documentary Channel, so a huge chunk of New Orleanians (including me) are SOL. If you subscribe to other providers — and if you have the stomach for it after everything churned up yesterday — you’re in luck:

DISH Network – Channel 197
DIRECTV – Channel 267

In the meantime, I suppose I’ll have to make do with this YouTube trailer (which I can’t embed thanks to our wonky WordPress system) and a brief synopsis:

A Bridge Life: Finding Our Way Home follows one man’s efforts to come to the aid of victims of Hurricane Katrina in September, 2005, when New Orleans’ levees failed, causing a devastating flood that engulfed the Crescent City and forced hundreds of thousands of residents to flee for their lives.

The focus of the documentary is Dan Sheffer, a middle class Florida loan officer who travels to Houston’s Astrodome, where most of the evacuees were transferred immediately after the disaster. His goal: transport 10 evacuees to Plantation, Florida and help them get back on their feet by providing aid, shelter, and temporary jobs–in essence, ‘a bridge life.’

While at the Astrodome, Dan meets Cynthia and Edwin Pierre, an African-American couple who had managed to find each other after being separated by the storm. They agree to go with Dan to Florida with the aim of starting over. Along with five other evacuees, they board a United Airlines flight the next day. And what follows changes everyone’s life forever.

Through the prism of one tragedy and six success stories, A Bridge Life tells the tale of Dan’s Good Samaritan mission and how his band of survivors made a new life for themselves in the months after the catastrophe. In the end, through ordinary people doing extraordinary things, the film underscores the importance of hope and the indomitable human spirit as America struggles to find its way home from Katrina.

Five Years After Katrina, Five Lessons Learned

When things were still in chaos; when the streets of Lakeview and the Lower Ninth were drier but not dry; when all we knew about our city came from fifth-hand reports of neighbors who’d stayed or first-hand reports by journalists who’d just arrived; when no one was in charge, right before everyone was in charge: then they broke the news. And the news was this: things won’t be normal in New Orleans, not for a while. Five years, maybe ten.

“Five years?” some gasped as they shoved soggy remembrances into cars and U-Hauls, rushing to move on with their lives. “Five years?” others shrugged, happy to have something to look forward to, an endpoint, no matter how elusive. The thought of half a decade became a dividing line: the patient and the rooted dug in, while the overwhelmed, the anxious, and the helpless surrendered to the fact that their migration was permanent.

As it turns out, five years hasn’t been enough time for recovery, except in places where it has. In certain parts of the city — some rich, some poor — life resumed its usual pace within a few months. In other areas — some poor, some rich — people still check the mail with crossed fingers, hoping for insurance settlements so they can rebuild what the floodwaters spared. But for a tragedy this broad, this pervasive, this everywhereyoulook, there is no normal, only “normal”. It is the same as before, but different: a life made special because we’ve come through it with scars of varying size and shape.

Some would like to go back, to inhabit that pre-Katrina world that was always a gamble anyway, but most of those people live elsewhere now — theoretically safer places like Atlantadallasnashville. Many others, myself included, refuse to budge. Us, we look to our unofficial patron saint, Lafcadio Hearn, who crafted our unofficial novena 130+ years ago:

Times are not good here. The city is crumbling into ashes. It has been buried under a lava flood of taxes and frauds and maladministrations so that it has become only a study for archaeologists. …But it is better to live here in sackcloth and ashes, than to own the whole state of Ohio. (1879)

With all due respect to the good people of Ohio, of course.

We have learned so much in these five years, so much that we can share with others affected by calamity, so much that those from other places — Kobe, Istanbul, Amsterdam — once tried to share with us, only we couldn’t hear them. We can’t be guaranteed that anyone will listen to us either, but we’re obligated to write.

And so: some not-so-simple rules for surviving disaster.


This is the easy one. Anyone can see superficial havoc after it’s been wreaked by earth, wind, air, or fire. Anyone can grasp the complicated baby steps of rebuilding infrastructure. Roads, homes, doorways: all means of communication are fragile, and there’s no guarantee that you and your neighbors will be at the top of the government’s priority list. Your electricity and drinking water could be restored in three weeks or maybe four, but don’t bank on it.

And it gets worse: the warrens of bureaucracy. Permits, grants, insurance claims, and lawsuits all take time and paperwork. You will be told five different things by six different people. There will be a surge of information and a void of it, all at once. If you’ve ever been to the DMV, you’ve seen the tip of the iceberg (which is itself another potent symbol of things gone terribly, terribly wrong).

Your response: patience and more patience. And watch what you eat. Lots of us still carry ten extra pounds thanks to stress-snacking.


After the obvious problems come things you hadn’t expected. Depending on the tragedy, you may have already lost loved ones. But beyond that — yes, there is a beyond that — you will lose even more. You will lose friends and family who cannot be there, cannot walk the same streets, the same hallways, the same gardens they did before, because they don’t have the time, will, energy, or means. They will leave, and you will have to navigate a new, unfamiliar landscape with fewer shoulders at arm’s reach.

As they shuffle off, other tragedies will befall you. Bills, unseen physical damage, crime: the world will be a closet of boogeymen, and some will escape, even in broad daylight.

Your response: grief and slow acceptance. And a lot more patience.


There will be many, many people vying for a turn at the podium. Far more will stand behind them, one eye on their fearless leader, the other checking the TV monitor to gauge how much screen real estate they’re getting. There will be a lot of talk and some action.

There are exceptions to this rule, but they aren’t common. Rudolph Guiliani comes to mind. He wasn’t perfect, but he did what leaders must do, what they are meant to do, especially in the face of disaster: he was compelling. He was a figurehead. He was a champion, around which the people of New York — the nation, the world — rallied. Maybe the extraordinary circumstances of September 11, 2001 made Mr. Guiliani stand out, excel. But then, every disaster is extraordinary to the people who live through it.

Your response: organize, communicate with neighbors, and make yourself be heard. Shout, but shout in chorus.


Some — mostly those living far away, mostly those who go to sleep with full stomachs in warm beds, who have never known another life — some of those people will attack you. They will accuse you of expecting handouts and of expecting others to come to your rescue. They will ridicule you for being lazy, for not being prepared, for playing with fire. This is especially true in America, where Calvin and his work ethic still work hard, except on the Sabbath.

They will blame the victim: “You live on a fault line, what did you expect?” Which is, in fact, the same as asking, “Your skirt was too short, what did you expect?” But humans aren’t always prudent or rational, and that’s partly what makes us human. What’s more, and what these people forget, is that no place is truly safe apart from a presidential army bunker. And would even the president want to live there?

There will also be interlopers, people who come to help. Most will have their heart in exactly the right spot, but some will tell you that you’ve been doing it wrong all along and their way is better. Which is one letter away from bitter.

Your response: hold your head high, ignore the critics as long as you can. Accept help from those who offer it. Listen to those who offer advice. Then put your head down and do the work you have to do.


Or maybe don’t “expect”. But don’t be surprised when it happens. Those next door will step up to the plate and organize. Those across the country will offer comfort and support. They will fill the gap left by the boutonniered politicians at the podium and mend the wounds caused by detractors.

Some of you may not believe me. And that’s fine, be pessimistic if you like. But here’s the thing, the Very Big Thing: humans are social, and when there’s a rip in the social fabric, we tend to get out the needle and thread. Laugh all you want at that terrible metaphor, but what’s underneath it is true.

Your response: live up to your end of the bargain.

A Guest Post From The CitizenGlobal Outreach Team

We’re still awfully busy over here, but that doesn’t mean there’s no news to share. As a matter of fact, there’s plenty — especially with regard to a certain BP oil spill/leak/screwup.

Thankfully, Joel Dominic of the CitizenGlobal Outreach Team agreed to pen a guest post today. CitizenGlobal is documenting the BP disaster, and if you have a camera, vidcam, or cell phone, they need your help. The details are pretty self explanatory, but if you have questions, you can email them to

We’ll be back soon…

Sharing Stories of the Gulf Coast Oil Disaster

Did you know there’s a way for you to tell your story to help bring attention and crowd-sourced solutions to those affected by one of the worst environmental disaster in US History – the Deepwater Horizon oil spill?

If you own a cell phone, a camera or even if you are a musician, you can upload your pictures, videos or music clips to CitizenGlobal’s Gulf Coast News Desk to tell your side of the story. The uploaded media is repurposed in a variety of ways: mainstream media outlets can browse, purchase, edit, and publish on a variety of platforms; and filmmakers, advocacy groups and other parties interested in documenting the historical narrative emerging from the gulf can utilize footage from CitizenGlobal in any number of media campaigns, news articles, films, etc.

The Gulf Coast News Desk is a “virtual studio” on CitizenGlobal dedicated to telling the story of the oil spill and its effects, set against the background of the legacy of Katrina, as it continues to unfold. More and more, the Internet has provided individuals with an effective way to gather and spread information, as well as influence popular media. As such, any local footage of the spill, along with the people, wildlife and communities affected by it can be shared on the Gulf Coast News Desk where it will go a long way in telling a very important story and keeping others informed. As the fifth anniversary of Katrina and activities around that occasion approach, we want to hear all your stories, including stories of communities becoming empowered and coming together to support each other. You can learn more at:

Please spread the word around on social media and to your favorite organizations that are making and sharing news. Please follow us on Twitter @gulfnewsdesk and fan us on Facebook at

Please share any upcoming events where footage might be taken at:

Let’s keep the story and the region alive and prevent the spill from becoming yesterday’s news!

Guest Post from ProPublica About The BP Claims Process

Some of us are a tad too busy to write at the moment, but ProPublica has an important message to get out, so we’ve asked them to pen a guest post for today. Please give them your full attention — especially those of you in the back of the class. Surely, no one wants another detention slip?


We’re ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative newsroom, and we’re taking a close look at BP’s claims process. We’d like your help with this project. 

More than 100,000 claims have been filed.  So far, BP has paid less than a third of the claims it has received, and spent a little over $200 million, about 1 percent of the $20 billion that it set aside in an escrow account to pay damages. Sometime this month, Kenneth Feinberg, an independent claims administrator appointed by President Barack Obama, will take over the claims process from BP.

ProPublica wants to hear about YOUR experience filing a claim with BP. In its first piece, the site reported that BP has left many damage claims waiting in limbo.

If you have filed a claim on behalf of your business or local government, please share your experience. If you offer your information, reporters from Pro Publica may contact you for a follow-up interview.

If you have no plans to file a claim, you can help find claimants in other ways — tweet this, post it to Facebook or share with friends in the Gulf Coast who may be affected by the Gulf oil disaster.

Thanks in advance for your help!

This Month In New Orleans Culture: Theater, Vetiver, And The World Air Sex Championship

New Orleans has been dealing with a lot of heavy stuff the past few months, what with all the oil and the heat and the threat of storms and the new mayor who simply refuses to to be stupid so that we, the citizens can have something to laugh at. (Thankfully, Maggie Gallagher fills the void. Thoroughly.)

Given all that, I’m thinking it’s time for a little break — just a little one — to look at some less vexing stuff:

1. New Orleans is losing (briefly, hopefully) a lovely woman, a fantastic writer, and a fabulous dog/house-sitter: Barbara Hermann. She plans to return later this year, but for now, she’s penned a beautiful adieu post about local parfumeur Hové and its magnificent “vetivert” line.

2. Former New Orleanian Ralph McGinnis and his pal Sarah Keough have just published their second issue of Put A Egg On It, featuring essays by another former NOLA resident of note, Miss Susie K (anyone remember Candace’s On Conti?), as well as one of my best friends, culinary historian par excellence, Elizabeth Pearce. The issue runs a whole $7, including shipping.

3. The Air Sex World Championship will stop at the Howlin’ Wolf on Sunday, August 26 Thursday, August 19. Apparently, air sex is kind of like air guitar, only “simulated fingering” takes on a very different meaning: behold. I’d say that I’ll see you there, but that’s my birthday, and I’m going to get drunk and go bowling like a sensible person.

4. A certain theater company is remounting The Really Desperate Housewives of Stepford Parish this weekend at Le Chat Noir. You should buy your tickets now because it is 100% awesome. Also: it’s freakin’ hot outside, so what else are you gonna do?

We now return you to your regularly scheduled anxiety and heat index.

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