29 August 2006

What I Didn't Tell You That Night

On this day last year I returned home from trip to Thailand to discover that the hurricane we all thought hadn’t harmed New Orleans too badly had actually precipitated the biggest disaster in US history. I spent the end of 2005 in my favorite city, and wrote this in mid-January upon returning to the UK:

We'd driven down, and had dropped off the extra rental car at the Louis Armstrong airport, caught a cab, and, eyes peeled for any signs of damage, took off down the highway into the city. As we'd searched for the rental car drop-off we had seen a lot full of brand new white FEMA trailers all lined up in neat little rows, windows still wrapped in factory plastic. As we drove through the outskirts of the city we saw tattered billboards, chain hotels with broken glass in the windows, parking lots with a few dusty, seemingly abandoned cars. Nothing out of the ordinary for this place, the corrupt and dirty state where I've spent half of my life. It's part of the charm for some of us, the reason others always choose to forget us. From time to time we'd pass a suburban subdivision and catch sight of a patch of blue on a roof. But there was nothing to suggest the damage we'd seen on the news; we'd see this a couple of days later as we disaster-toured through St. Bernard and the 7th Ward, my dad snapping pix from the trunk of my parents' SUV that we'd all managed to squeeze into. It was late afternoon as we hit Treme. We had fleeting glimpses of the old housing projects, but not enough sight of them to see how these self-contained near-villages, formerly full of deep bass beats and people walking, driving, barbecuing, partying and napping on porches, had been abandoned.

We entered the Quarter on St. Ann because we were meeting our families at Place d'Armes, our 3rd or 4th and final accommodation option because our first choices in Treme and the Marigny had never re-opened or were occupied by contracters doing important rebuilding works for the city such as sorting out Saks 5th Avenue and the mall. I opened a window hoping to catch the old familiar smell. It was faint but still there. Spices, pralines, and from time to time urine and beer. Intoxicating. We did tourist-y things in the Quarter that first evening because your family had never visted the city before. Things were tame but jumping; the curfew had recently been extended. There were military vehicles along Bourbon and yankee animal rescue brigades and contracter-tourists strolling around with those ubiquitous flourescent grenade drinks that started appearing in the 1990s; the whole thing felt a bit like cinematic Casablanca, an insider place for outsiders to get away from the surrounding hell. We dropped in to a few mostly empty bars and listened to some live music. I watched the bandleader at one place sing "All of Me" ("go on take all of me, Katrina") unsmilingly, his eyes darting out to the sidewalk outside every couple of minutes to judge whether they'd get more than our table in that night. Down the street at the more populated Fritzell's, we asked the band to play "Waltzing Matilda" for you and your family. They told us later, as people would keep telling us over the coming days--sometimes accompanied by tears, sometimes by unexpected bear hugs--how happy they were that we had come back, that we were there with them, and that they themselves had gotten to come home, however many pieces there were to pick up or to try futiley to replace.

It had been four months since I had been living with the news stories, the pictures, the testaments on blogs. With the big and little daily news of Editor B, Jim Louis, The Book, Cliff, Clayton, Michael H., World Class New Orleans, Dangerblond, Poppy Z. B. and so many others, some of whom know each other in real life, some of whom met through blogging, others who maybe don't even know about each other but who are living the same thing in very different ways. I recorded--and continue to record--so much of it, sometimes with sadness, sometimes with hope, and sometimes taken beyond any disecernable feelings by the surreality of it all. Four months I'd spent compiling and mourning for something that I never had any real claim to to begin with. Moping around, obsessing about it all as if I'd been unwillingly separated from some dream boy I was teenager-y smitten with, you said, annoyedly, at one point. And then suddenly I was there in the middle of it, not quite believing it was all still standing, and yet not quite believing that it would ever be back to normal, to the way I remembered it as a little girl on fieldtrips or as an adult on--well, adult trips. Everywhere were little signs, even around the Quarter. The closed shops, the abbreviated menus, the absence of well-known characters and the lemon ice stands, the darkened aquarium, the midwestern college kids working in the tourist bars (like the Pat O'Brien's waiter who tried to fob me off--or was so green he didn't know--about Mr. Eddie, who we knew had perished in the flood). But mostly it was the people we saw everywhere who seemed to have been blown completely away and then had randomly blown back again, sometimes in pieces and sometimes not where they started from and not yet back to where they were meant to be. There was a sense of shell-shockedness about everyone we met. And yet everyone was happy to be home. As was I, in my own way.

That first night it was already getting hot; it would be one of the hottest New Year's Eves on record in a couple of days. We turned on the noisy ceilng fan to sleep in our room that smelled damp and musty from being shut off for four months; we were the first to sleep in it since late August. I went to the bathroom to get ready for bed, and then it all hit me at once. I couldn't stop crying. It all flooded out of me, all the compulsive collecting and containing and digesting I'd been doing as "research" for some film or book project was seeping out of the careful archives I'd created for it and was all around me, suffocatingly big, frustratingly at a stand-still, with no certain future and a washed-away past. And yet I was there, right in the middle of it all, and so much was still standing, and how could I be here just four months later when in September I'd thought it might have all washed away by the time I got back?

I couldn't tell you this properly that night because I was crying too hard, and you were annoyed, and maybe a little scared at this sudden outburst from me, and the way that a place and my past could haunt me so much in the present. So I came to bed and sobbed as silently as I could, thinking of all the people who will never get to come back, even to visit like we were. I thought of everything that surrounded us: the thousands of former pets who'd been left behind, driven frantic and wild by fear and hunger and who were at that moment running in packs all throughout the dark city; the tonnes and tonnes of collapsed and waterlogged wood, bricks and clay that had once stood strong and tall, and that had been built by someone's grandfather, who was proud to call the 9th Ward home at one time; the abandoned carcases of cars and boats and, we'd find out later, people; dolls, photographs, books, and the other scattered artefacts of people's lives, encased in mud in the sidewalks and front yards, waiting futilely for their owners to come back for them, or to at least give them a decent burial; the stifling darkness and quiet of the rest of the city, surrounding us on all sides.

The next morning we got up and had beignets and cafe au laits and were tourists again.

28 August 2006

Big in China

My brother and his girlfriend are playing American author Pearl S. Buck and her brother in a film by CCTV, China’s aptly named national television company.

They just finished shooting on Mt. Lushan near Jiujang this weekend.


The Happy Headlines Just Keep Rolling In

The UK's "one year later" reporting on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast has, as expected, got me a bit down. Of course I’m glad it’s actually in the news again. It’s disturbing to me when it’s not. No news is not good news. But I can’t help but wonder whether the stories that darken the papers today and tomorrow (and then inevitably disappear till Mardi Gras) engender much sympathy among those who already think New Orleanians who’ve elected to stay or who are still trying to return home are crazy and that the whole city should be left to Ernesto or whichever hurricane finally finishes it off.

NOLA’s doing a better job than I could of compiling the anniversary coverage appearing nationally and internationally.


But if you want to get a real picture of the daily struggles and triumphs happening in New Orleans, and a sense for why it’s the greatest city in the world, despite its old and new problems, you can’t do much better than starting with this list of New Orleans bloggers.

Many of these bloggers were involved in organising the Rising Tide Conference that took place over the weekend, a conference that aimed to "dispel myths, promote facts, share personal testimonies, highlight progress and regress, discuss recovery ideas, and promote sound policies at all levels." They "aim to be a 'real life' demonstration of internet activism as the nation prepares to mark the one year anniversary of a massive natural disaster followed by governmental failures on a similar scale."

27 August 2006

How Did You Know?



A Tekken competition
and dancing till dawn
to Public Enemy and The Fall
= my idea of perfect happiness.

Thanks for Friday night, guys!

23 August 2006

"Presenting our case to strangers in our neighbor to the north, America ... well, that will take some doing."

Apt quote from New Orleans author and blogger Poppy Z. Brite, who is probably one of quite a few writers and other New Orleans figures being asked to give their take on the state of things in the national press as the anniversary of Katrina nears. As a regular reader of her blog (but not her novels yet), I have faith she can pull it off. And if she can't, we make like "the Muslims" and create a Hezbollah-like organisation that looks after things in the absence of any real help from elected officials given the “state within a non-state” that New Orleans is, and always has been.

I both dread and look forward to the UK coverage of the anniversary. Around this time last year I was having to explain to my bemused--bemused!--middle-England neighbour that it wasn't just "stupidity" that caused people to not evacuate. I'm not sure if he had even registered that thousands of people (and animals) were still missing, trapped or dying as we spoke. I’m not even sure if I or even the evacuees registered it at that point.

I'm getting drunk just thinking about this! Being the media-slut I am when it comes to all things New Orleans, it's going to be a hard week.

Voodoo

I've been in Edinburgh the last few days with these freaks:

11 August 2006

Best New Orleans Recovery Plan I've Heard

"We have a silent majority here that really believes in violence and believes that America's against them. You remember the ramifications from New Orleans, that a lot of dissatisfied people here could ultimately join up with the Muslims or sympathize with them. It's a scary thing here as well as in the UK."

--Charles Payne on one of Fox "News"'s "business" programmes yesterday


Sympathy for the plight of Muslims, another opressed group of people in post 9-11 America?

An awareness of the government's apathy towards New Orleans and the popular hatred of and prejudice against its evacuees?

I'd say it's most definitely time for an organised revolution of dissatisfied residents and exiles of my favourite city, and I'll be the first to join up. I hope it leaves you quaking in your Prada boots Mr Payne.

10 August 2006

Welcome Home to Me



I was looking for the Psychadelic Furs to get me back in the mood of being back in the UK, but I found this instead. What a wanker.

07 August 2006

Houston, Again.

Castanets on my ipod: we could have taken any of these roads, but nobody knows about this one we chose, and who knows friend how far it goes.

I remember lying in bed in our hotel room in NYC a few months ago, feeling the immensity of the USA. Roads, waterways, tracks all snaking around our hotel and out of the city, across rivers and mountains and plains, like a living, pulsing vascular system. Lost highways through dark trees, modern ovepasses around skyscrapers and bypassing ancient downtowns below, suburban interstates strectching for miles and miles before giving way to plains, little capillaries reaching into the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic. We could have gotten into a car and taken any of these roads out of the city. We could have driven through mountains and fields and over river bridges, and we could have been in New Orleans or Little Rock the very next day, in the Texas dessert twilight or the LA airport to Oz in two. An overnight road down south leads straight to my parents, my childhood, my past. It was just one of many roads, right outside our hotel room.

It could start here, I remember thinking. We could get in a car and go down any of these roads. They're all connected. All okay. Everything pulsing like blood and in harmony. Everything connected.

Here at the airport in Houston it's raining and steam is rising off the runways in the dusk and the 100F air, and all the roads I see lead to the sky and then disappear. Even a phone call feels like a stretch like now. I can't make things fit together.

05 August 2006

04 August 2006

Road Kill Record

AR/LA Hwys. 82, 78, 157, 371; 21/07-03/08

Armadillos: 6
Bats: 1
Birds of Prey: 2
Bobcats: 1
Butterflies: 10+
Cats: 2
Deer: 7
Dogs: 3
Dragonflies: 20+
Fowl: 1
Frogs: 3
Migratory Birds: 1
Possums: 7
Rabbits: 4
Raccoons: 3
Snakes: 1
Squirrels: 2
Texas Grasshoppers: 1
Turtles: 1
Unidentifiable masses of fur: 10+
Waterbirds: 1

01 August 2006

Lethally

Flanagans knowing blue eye took in everything. She just dropped out of the race as if she startedrunning backwards. His eagerness, burning in his eyes, sent pleasant little shiversthrough her. If it washer you were for marrying youd have nothing to worry about.

Hey MLJ

Phallic Long Distance Dedication. A moi de toi, xx.