b Papa Dog's Blog: Yes, I Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans

Papa Dog's Blog

A Thing Wherein I Infrequently Write Some Stuff

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Yes, I Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans

“If I knew that things would no longer be,” says Sam Krichinsky in Avalon, the warm heart of Barry Levinson’s Baltimore tetralogy,* “I would have tried to remember better. Sam was talking about the changes wrought on a city by passage of time, but surely the same thought applies to a city that has been suddenly flattened by a natural or man-made catastrophe. I haven’t been posting much about my thoughts on New Orleans, mostly because I figured the world didn’t need one more blogger’s thoughts on New Orleans. But I have been thinking about my old home, my adopted native land, and I have been obsessively watching the pictures on CNN of my poor sunken love. It’s impossible to guess now what course will ultimately be taken in rebuilding the town, or whether the town will even be rebuilt at all. Will they relocate? Will it be remade by the backers of the fake President into just another mall-based American town? Will it be neutered and Disneyfied like Las Vegas? I shudder to think, but I fear that whatever the end result might be, it won’t be the New Orleans I knew and loved…so before it’s too late, I’ll try here to remember it better, if randomly…

The office at the fuck motel, where homeless couples would pay for their night’s stay with twenty dollars in panhandled quarters.

Charity Hospital, the site of untold misery this past week…even more so than usual. Charity, the downtrodden free hospital for the poor folk, was known as the place to go if you ever got shot or stabbed, because even though it was underfunded and overstressed, it had the most experienced trauma staff in the city. I temped at Charity several times. It was a land of the lost in the best of times. There were never enough beds, never enough staff, never enough time to care for everyone who needed help. One job I did there involved a patient care audit. A form was attached to a patient’s chart at admission and it had to be initialled at regular milestones through to discharge. My job was to enter all this data in a spreadsheet. I was bemused to notice that in many cases the noted time of discharge was actually earlier than the time of admission. I couldn’t figure out how this error could possibly have been made. Then one morning, walking through the lobby, I happened to check the time on two different clocks – and saw they disagreed by about twenty minutes. I looked around more and realised that no two clocks in the hospital told the same time. I always found that a pretty apt metaphor for the chaos that Charity struggled vainly to hold at bay.

The causeway bridge, now broken, crossing Lake Pontchartrain to Slidell. D. Rex & T and I broke down halfway across that bridge on American Thanksgiving in 1994. D. Rex just wouldn’t believe me that it wasn’t a hardship for me to be alone on a holiday that I didn’t grow up with and don’t celebrate, and insisted that I come along and have dinner with his family. The automotive failure and the resultant tow across the bridge ended up making it the most memorable American Thanksgiving I’ve ever sort of celebrated. I haven’t heard from D. Rex or T and have no idea now how to get in touch with them. I sure hope his parents got the hell away from that damn lake before the storm came.

Marquette House, my first home in New Orleans. The first friends I made in town were at Marquette House, and of course they all came from somewhere else – England, France, Austria, Australia, Japan, Israel. Ambrose and I were staying at Marquette when Hurricane Andrew came in 1992. I remember there was an Australian woman there who worked in radio. She was on vacation, but the happenstance that placed her in the scene of a disaster made her have to work through the storm, phoning in dispatches as the story developed. I imagine there were a lot of people there this time who got roped into staying just the same way, little realising that Andrew was pretty much nothing compared to Katrina.

The sweaty, smoky interior of Preservation Hall, and the fierce glare the bandleader would give anyone who dared make use of flash photography in defiance of the posted warnings to the contrary. I remember one night hearing probably the best version ever of “What a Wonderful World.” I imagine that song playing over the sunken foot of Canal Street, drowned City Park, Mid-City MIA.
*Tetralogy-plus if you count TV.


Blogger Judy said...

Those of us who have known and loved the Big Easy will never see it the same again. I can't even watch the news more than 2 or 3 minutes before tearing up.

Where will we ever find a Cafe du Monde like that one? Or the open air market? How about Brennan's? Jackson Square?

9:00 AM  
Anonymous ambrose said...

it was already being disneyfied... last time i was there it was really noticeable... the reconstruction will just continue the process already underway the last few yrs... d

8:59 PM  

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