Friday, August 04, 2006

Last few days in New Orleans

I was in N.O. the last three days, thanks to the hospitality of my old friends E. and D. and, also thanks to E.'s patience I spent most of Wednesday tooling around, documtening the Ninth Ward and Chalmette with pictures.

Supper at the Taqueria Corona was terrific as usual, and Wednesday we had a great time watching "The Big Lebowski" at home. E. worked Thursday at Kaboom Books down on Bsarracks St. in the Quarter, and, as usual when I'm in the Quarter, I ran into an old friend from college, a lawyer who was buying cookbooks. It's wonderful how paths seem to cross and recross in tis great town.

My impression of how N.O. is doing is mixed. On Calhoun between St. Charles and Claiborne the renovations and restoration are going great guns, almost every house with evidence of new or ongoing construction and lots of fresh paint. In the upper Ninth, it was a different story. Most houses look untouched since the flood. Plenty of damage, many houses gutted, many not. But the lower Ninth was a vision of the last days of Empire. Most houses don't seem even remotely salvageable. Here and there a brick house escaped complete destruction and has been gutted, but most seem to be completely unslavageable, not even worth gutting, too dangerous to even try to salvage belongings. It's not unlikely that several more sets of human remains will be found in houses that have been tossed around and left crooked, many feet from their original foundations. The area directly around the levee breach has mostly been cleared, and now overgrown with weeds, it could pass for a fallow field in the country, except for here and there a fence post, or a set of concrete steps poking up above the vegetation. Ten or fifteen blocks away, further south, the damage is still catastrophic, broken back houses litter the landscape. Every several blocks, heavy machinery is at work completing the destruction and clearing the lots of houses now turned into rubbish. That's the only activity in the neighborhood. Aside from one or two trailers, virtually nothing gives any sign of renewal.

If you squint traveling through Chalmette you might be able to convince yourself that nothing much is wrong. Large shopping centers seem to be untouched -- that is, till you look more closely and notice that there are no cars in the parking lots, and nothing in the windows of the shops. Off the main drag, the houses seem mostly untouched-- again if you squint -- but a second loook tells you that the devastation was complete here too, though it looks like Chalmette is working hard to come back. Most of the house are shells now, but in N.O. now gutting is a sign of progress. It indicates that owners are intend to come back some day, or at least, intend to sell. It's an optimistic scene compared to the lower Ninth.

There are signs that things may soon start looking up for N.O. when the Road Home money starts trickling, then pouring in. But it seems to me that it's been a long wait for people who have lost everything.

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