Wednesday, August 09, 2006

We got in New Orleans Monday evening. This is my first trip here. For all the Mardi Gras associations, it looks to me much less like a party city than an old port city that was once a colony of the French and Spanish. The streets are narrow, and the buildings (particularly in the downtown area where we are staying) and no taller than four stories, and very close together. It also looks less French than I expected; the French Quarter, where we're sleeping and eating dinners, has a lot of distinctively Spanish architecture. (I did not make that last observation, one of my colleagues did but Wikipedia confimed it for me.) It's hard to tell whether its filthy look derives from it being an exceptionally old city, or the hurricane last August.

My professor/boss drove me through east New Orleans and Bay St. Louis, Missisipi yesterday. We saw some water and wind damage Monday on our way in, but what we saw on the east part of town was astonishing. There are entire, miles-long stretches that look like post-apocalyptic wastelands. There are huge apartment complexes that are virtually destroyed and totally abandoned, and there are piles of debris everywhere. Nobody we have spoken with here has expressed that they thought it would be less than a decade before things are cleaned up.

A photographer here could produce a grim series of juxtapositions. The dead are buried in above-ground cemetaries (the water table is just inches beneath the ground), and in at least one part of town a field of white, stone sarcophagi sit across the street from a field of white FEMA trailers, similarly laid out (the trailers aren't much bigger); vacant apartment complexes, left with windows left open or smashed, with piles of debris, and absent walls and ceilings sit with surprisingly fresh looking banners proclaiming, "New Recreation Room." It's a mess here.


ryan said...

I would be really curious to see NO right now. I've always found it to be a city that was both absolutely stunningly beautiful and itensely depressing. More than likely, much of the grime and grit of the French Quarter isn't all that new. Everything about that city has always been filthy and poverty-stricken. I can't be there for more than about a day or so without getting terribly depressed. I never saw the Ninth Ward, or East Side, or whatever it's called, but I can only hope that with as many lives were destroyed, hopefully the city will return more beautiful and glamorous than ever. Which wouldn't be too difficult to do. But it does have its run-down charm that's pretty romantic.

christopher Hrasky said...

my experience with new orleans has always been similar to ryan's. i find it both an amazing and horrifying city. what i find most interesting is that it never really looked like it was part of the US. it seems like Central America or some weird island city.

anyway, good luck. take care.