Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Back From the Holidays

Which I spent visiting my parents in Metairie, a suburb of New Orleans, as some of you may know.

Driving into the subdivision where my parents live was startling -- it's been four months since Katrina: piles of rubble stripped from the insides of houses are still heaped on every street corner and along all the gutters; downed trees are everywhere. Only about half the houses, my father says, in the neighborhood he lives in, are currently being lived in, and that's a pretty good average, a good neighborhood, one that didn't get hit very hard. People were working on the houses everywhere we went in that neighborhood. FEMA trailers were in many yards. Almost no houses there had simply been abandoned.

My mother took us, on the second day, driving through Lakeview and Gentilly -- these are areas that were hit bad. Lakeview is where the 17th Street Canal levee breach was, where the water came through so hard it pushed houses off their foundations. Gentilly is where my youngest brother's house is. In both of these neighborhoods, although some people are at work on the the houses, many more -- even most -- of the houses are still standing abandoned. Abandoned cars, whitened by flood waters, are everywhere. Boats, too, washed up on the neutral grounds and in empty lawns. Most of the trash left by the flood (my brother said the original piles were forty feet high in the neutral grounds) has been cleared away, but new piles are forming. Not many people are in these areas of the city.

The houses are empty and bleached gray or white by the flood. The windows are broken. Some have blue tarps on their roofs -- FEMA roofs, these are called, even if they're not really from FEMA -- and some have FEMA trailers in front of them. These are the houses being worked on. Not many of them, not in this part of town. My brother and his wife are up for a FEMA trailer. Once you get a trailer, you can start rebuilding the house. Plumbing and power and water are all available, but not, obviously, until you have pipes and wiring and walls and a roof. And the material all that calls for. Which is all in high demand in New Orleans at the moment. I'll get to all this later.

Down near the Quarter and in downtown itself, in the Garden District, and near River Road, where it never flooded, things are much better. We went down there -- took the kid to the zoo, walked around. Lots of people down there. People are back, down there. Lots of them. The zoo is open on weekends, the restaurants are open, when they can find workers (more on this later too), the shops are open, when they can get staff (ditto), some of the populations is back (100,000, my mother said, but I'm wondering if this is all real population, or does it count FEMA and insurance folk and people that have come to do construction?).

The roads are battered. The street lights don't work -- it's a charming and amusing experience, with the way folks in New Orleans drive anyway, coming up on a street with traffic approaching from all four directions and who knows who's supposed to go now? Obviously it ought to be treated like a four-way stop, but, hey, this is New Orleans! "It's like a roller coaster," I told mr. delagar, "only real."

Also, very few of the street signs survived, so often you don't really know where you are, driving about. Luckily it's very hard to get lost in New Orleans. Eventually you either hit the river or the lake, and then you know where you are.

And the city is keeping its sense of humor. At the zoo, one of the exhibits was the Louisiana Swamp: on the swamp was a houseboat, with a blue roof, and on the porch a taped-up refrigerator, and a box of MREs, and, spray-painted on its door, the symbol that marks most of the abandoned houses in the city: the big X, with the date of when the house had been checked, and the initials of who checked it, and other bits of code, and underneath it, information about whatever pets had been found inside (I saw, as we were driving around the city, things like: cat not found; dogs pawprints seen; kitten recovered; cat outside): this one said: GATORS FED. There's also a hot song in the city right now called "Temporarily Not There Anymore," which is basically a list of all the places in the city that are closed or don't exist at the moment.

More tomorrow.


zelda1 said...

I am so happy you made it back safe and sound. No dangerous snow storms? I am also happy that you got to see your home town, see it before it is all rebuilt, not that I think people need to see devastation, but I think for all of those people from NO, I think they should have first hand knowledge for their oral history, so you can impart this to the baby when she is grown, things she will not remember, details that will give her life more. Also, those kinds of things, disastors that is, touch a part of your heart, the creative part, that spurs you along. I am glad you were able to see the blue roofs, the trailers, the piles of rubbish, and the zoo. I am also glad you were spared the look of it immediately after. By the way, Happy Hanukah.

Anonymous said...

Next time to go to Metairie, let me know; I'm just across the pond.

I went to Lakeview and it was really depressing. Uptown looks much better, and I understand from my dinner guest last night that a lot more things are open now. They weren't a month ago.