Monday, February 18, 2008

Letter from New Orleans,

NOTE: This letter is from my friend Linda in New Orleans. I had asked her about her life post-Katrina. She and her husband, John, were temporarily relocated and lived in Houston before they could return to their home. These are her words.

New Orleans

Two words that used to inspire smiles and shared memories from strangers. They had either had a great time in this town or planned to have one someday. Now say you're from NO and people look at you with pity and fear (you must be nuts if you live there.) Half the planet thinks that we're fine and apparently, the other half thinks we're still underwater. If confusion were a place, it would be here. That being said, I would like to set the record straight (granted, it will be as straight as the Mississippi, but here goes.)

This is a great town. This is a horrible town. Are you with me?
In the two years that I have been back since “The Thing,” I have seen incredible heartache and incredible joy. It's a little like living on the precipice of a love affair you're not sure is going to work out. I live in what local writer Chris Rose likes to call "the sliver by the river" or "the isle of denial.” I live uptown in the Irish Channel. My neighborhood didn't flood. Wind damage only. Our house; my husband's and mine, was still standing after the storm. It had blown off it's piers on one side, but didn't break. We lost some wood siding, part of our fence, a washer and dryer, and one refrigerator.
Note: I'm sure everyone has read about the refrigerators down here. I tried to clean mine out. It had been said you could salvage it. Take my advice, if you ever evacuate, take all of your food with you. The city morgue probably smelled better than the refrigerator. We had what looked like sesame seeds on the outside of it and things I could no longer identify on the inside. I can only imagine what anyone with flooding may have found.
Of all of the things that we lost; and the material things were not many, I miss the people that were ripped out of my life the most. I still see them occasionally, and talk as frequently as different jobs and time zones allow. However, there are no more Saturday night get-togethers of potluck dinners that rivaled even the finest restaurants, or quiet nights of playing cards with friends. Some stayed, some came back and then left, and others never returned.
Two years later, some of the residents are back. The roads are still horrible, but then they always were. There are still people living in FEMA trailers. People are still waiting to figure out how to rebuild and with what money. For all the billions of dollars poured into NOLA it is definitely going to take more.
The things that have changed are many. I would bet that we have the most politically and socially active people in the world living here now. We are going to rebuild it right. It will never be perfect, but that's okay because it will still be interesting. The schools are really trying to improve. People pick up their trash. You never realize how lucky you are to have garbage service until you don't have it. After the storm, we had the Katrina Krewe to help. Just a group of average citizens who wanted to pick up the trash. All volunteers. New Orleanians that needed to make a difference.&n bsp; Now we have Sidney Torres. The city practically sparkles. The fountain that hadn't worked in Coliseum Park for at least the 12 years I've lived here now cheerfully sprays water in a beautifully manicured park thanks to guerrilla maintenance crews. The government waste is being cut. When you don't have the resources, you start to really look at the bottom line. We have multi-million dollar condominiums going up everywhere. The French Quarter is nicer than it has ever been. We have more restaurants than we had pre-Katrina. Well, we do love our food here, it's part of life for us, like air for other people. People want to be here. The music is back. There are second lines everywhere on any random weekend.
There are also plenty of abandoned houses, overgrown lots, and homeless people. Changes will be made. Rome wasn't built in a day and neither was NOLA. Brad Pitt started the "Pink House" campaign. I think it's great and it is going to make a difference. Sometimes the only thing keeping this town alive is the work and money celebrities bring here. CNN is done with our story. Our 15 minutes are up because American Idol is on. If it wasn't for Brad, Harry, Wynton, and Branford, I don't know if anyone in America would remember that we still need help. Brad's houses will be much more modern, but with a nod to traditional New Orleans homes. Those places are gone in the Ninth ward and St. Bernard. Some can be salvaged, some cannot. I don't see any problem with modernizing some of the architecture here. It has always been an amalgam of styles, as people added on to the homes they bought. My house is 165 years old in the front and 120 in the back. The inside is brand new. Times change. This city will always preserve its history, but it will also continue to look towards the future.
You had asked about issues important to me. I want to see the education system become a shining example for the rest of the world. I think it would help solve some of the other social issues in this town. Once the public schools provide the same education as the private schools, changes can start to take place in the homes as well. Education opens doors. Kids here have had a lot of doors slammed on them for a long time. It's time to give them opportunities that haven't existed in 50 years.
I want to see the neighborhoods rebuilt with the wisdom of lessons learned. We need to have the growth of the populace keep pace with the growth of the infrastructure. I WANT THE DUTCH TO BUILD OUR LEVEES!! I want a real levee system. Not one made out of tin cans. KATRINA DID NOT DESTROY NEW ORLEANS! BAD ENGINEERING DID! I want wetland restoration to take priority. I want the American government to realize how important this city is to the rest of the country. America needs our port. The Mid-west is crippled without it. I want our oil related tax revenues back. We could afford to rebuild ourselves. I don't know which political genius gave that up, or what he got for it, but I hope his house flooded. Greed is not the way to go.
This has turned into a rant. It's hard to talk about the way you feel without getting overly emotional. I know how refugees feel. I've been one in my own country. That will leave you angry and confused. I still can't watch clips of Katrina's aftermath without feeling as if my heart will literally shatter into a million pieces. Sometimes, I can't even drive by houses with water lines still on them without feeling slightly defeated. Other days, when the sun is shining, and I see a few houses sitting repaired and pristine among the wreckage, I feel the infinite joy of watching the miracle of birth and the resilience of the human spirit and know that everything will be just fine. It's only going to take time. Something this city has plenty more of, even if I never live to be that old. We've been here for 300 years. We'll be here for at least 300 more. We're just crazy-stubborn like that and besides, nobody cooks like we do.
Linda Dietrich

The Dietrichs
Thank you and I love you guys!


Rechelle said...

Beautiful post - passionately written. I love new Orleans - it is my favorite American City and I hope to get back to visit soon. I will link up Lisa.

scrappy girl said...

Wow, that's so moving. I hope you get your beautiful, unique city back soon.

Anonymous said...

Thank you both so much for caring about our city. It makes those of us living here remember that we are not alone. If you are ever in NOLA look me up. I'd love to show you our city. Linda

maritza said...

Thank you for sharing this. New Orleans is a fabulous city, and its people are strong. They always have been. It's inspiring to hear how everyone's become more politically active. All the best to you and your family.