Monday, September 12, 2005

While I Was Away: Katrina With a Capital K

Oh yes, while I was away there was this capital K Katrina thing, a big fish story so far little mentioned here at A Better Nation.

And oh yes, while I was away, someone else was on vacation. Have you seen the pretty funny fake photo of the Bush presidents (father and son) fishing (successfully, I might add) the flood waters in New Orleans? You can Google it. Meanwhile....


Mark Twain said there are four unique American cities, and I am sure you can take a wet and wild guess at one of them.

Yes, pirates and paupers and a confederacy of dunces and gay playwrights and Dixieland's desires, alleyways of old stone, a jazzy haven for whores and Superbowl fans and cravers of heapin' plates of crawdaddies, glasses heaped high with Hurricanes (the drink) and the bodacious sins of Mardi Gras and open liquor laws, underneath the peeling paint, a bit of the earthy Old World just down the river from the corporate New. A bawdy port with a long history of looting, over 400 years of lifting goods from the bowels of sailing ships to the bowels of Best Buy.

New Orleans may be under water and below sea level, but it's never been quite tied down to the rest of American culture. Hence it's akilter charm. But that sort of shadowy, drawling, opportunistic, back pocket/back room charm can lend itself to exacerbating calamity, as we can see.

New Orleans is one of Monsieur Clemens' picks, yuh, for true, as in, "Whann you gitdon to Cajun country, you gonna lahk'it for TRUE." New Orleans, seemingly metroplitan capital of this fluke of immigration, now more stuck in the mud than ever. Nawlins, the Big Easy, where it's easy to find crawfish and corruption and impossible to stay dry. You can get high there (legally or illegally) a lot easier than you can get to high ground. And that thick, rich atmospheric atmosphere, ah, even in winter, the humidity from Houston to Tallahasee is what I call "Gulf Glue." Like the seemingly incessant wind out on the high plains, it can seep into your skin and just drive you crazy. You get twitchy in that wind. You wilt in the thick haze they call "air" down there.

New Orleans. So many of us have been there, and it's famous to nearly everybody, whether you've been there or not. And it's photogenic, too. Those aerial shots from the helicopters look dramatic. They're telegenic. They draw viewers. They boost ratings.

So the medium leads the message. The hyperbolic declarations of 10,000 dead get some serious airtime until proven just that, hyperbolic, about as melodramatic and desperate as looters carrying television sets down the drowned alleyways of a city without electricity, much less any electrical plugs above water.

And as we knew there would be, there are some great human interest stories, good and bad and good again, and we can all feel reassured that the looters were a bad dream and that life and American civilization as we know it will go on - WITH $4 gas, coming soon to a station near you.

But day after day, it's the buildings of New Orleans that take center stage in this hovering, helicopter-driven scene. Meanwhile, as of today, more Katrina-related deaths have been confirmed in Mississippi than in Louisiana. But Mississippi lacks that grand old look of Nawlins, so the cameramen and "on the ground" reporters haven't flocked there, to those truly squalid shacks and trailers and muddy messes. New Orleans is old stone, and much of it will look as it did just a few months from now. I wager the tourist season will come back into full swing by Mardi Gras '06, if not Christmas '05. There will be fresh waves, not of water but of tourists sympathetic to the city, having loved it before or having always wanted an excuse to go there.

But who's curious to see how Mississippi will be doing six months and six years down the road. The second poorest state of the 50, right in there with the newly impoverished New Mexico. These two state vie for a number one spot nobody would want.

Wither New Orleans? There may be so much money and so many eyes watching the renovation of the city that it's entrenched corruption and decrepitude will almost certainly improve, meaning decrease.

Wither Mississippi? It's citizens may well be left behind, if not now and soon then certainly in a year or two, lacking as they do a photogenic French Quarter and king-sized Superdome and convention market and plain to see international notoriety.

Nawlins will rise again. But what about the South?

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