I lack the power to describe the magnetic pull my spirit feels towards natural disaster scenes: the day off of work, the glamor and comfort of chainsaws in the morning and neighbors standing around, just gawking in wide-eyed wonder at having once again escaped what could have easily been the end for all of us, the feeling of having somehow triumphed through a combination of luck and will.
Of course, that isn't what's happening in New Orleans anymore. Maybe Tuesday. Wednesday a little bit. By today, triumph has got to just feel trapped. And, presumtuous as it sounds, my magnetic pull is starting to make me feel trapped as well. Can we please just get these people out and start the draining and rebuilding? Please. Before hope vanishes.
Rick Bragg: "What a place, so at ease here at the elbow of death, where I once marched and was almost compelled to dance in a jazz funeral for a street-corner conjurer named Chicken Man, who was carried to his resting place by a hot-stepping brass band and a procession of mourners who drank long-neck beers and laughed out loud as his hearse rolled past doorways filled with men and women who clapped in time.
Now, for those of us who borrowed that spirit and used that love and then moved away, these past few awful days have seemed like a hospital death watch -- and, in fact, for so many people it has been. And we stare deep into the television screen, at the water that had always seemed like just one more witch, one more story to scare ourselves into a warmer, deeper sleep, and we wonder if there is just too much water and too much death this time."
I went there once, with Matt, about twelve years ago. We stayed for five days in a guest house on Chartres, in the French Quarter, between the levee and Bourbon Street. What else is there to tell? We were stuffed with po' boys, dark coffee, cold draft root beer, and hot sauce. Everyone talked to us. Everyone charmed us. I fell in love with a singer at the piano bar, Jean Lafitte's, named Samirah Evans, who had a radio show at the city-run jazz and blues station. The next day, we listened and she played "My Funny Valentine" just for me. Or was it "Wang Dang Doodle"? I carried her business card around in my wallet for about seven years until my wallet accidentally went through the washing machine.
We did nothing but walk the streets and eat for days. I was in my heavy drinking phase and kept a 'go cup' in hand pretty much the entire time. We went in record shops, used bookstores off of Jackson Square, and the voodoo museum. I believe in voodoo as much, if not more than I believe in Christ. We sat on stoops and in alleys. We bellied up at out-of-the-way bars that served their beer in last year's commemorative Sugar Bowl cups. We saw New Year's fireworks over the levee. The damned levee.
Was it too much water? Too much witchcraft? Nah. I don't believe so. I am sure that the city will never be the same. Of course, there are people who said the city was never the same after the big flood of 1927, and in many ways, I'm sure it wasn't. But it was, and is, still New Orleans, where people believe in a dark, fun voodoo magic and Mardi Gras will happen and the city will continue to be poor, dreadfully poor.
Hell, maybe I'll go down in a year or so and see what it holds for me. It could be fun. The stranger in an even stranger town.
More Rick Bragg: "My wife, as wives do, voiced what most of us are afraid to say.
'I'm glad you took me there,' she said. 'Before.'
We went there on our honeymoon.
Just a few weeks ago, I spent a week there, walking along Magazine, walking the Quarter, not minding the heat because that is what the devil sends, heat and water, to make you appreciate the smell of crushed cherries and whiskey on the balcony at the Columns Hotel, to make you savor the barbecued shrimp, to make you hear, really hear, the sound of a 12-year-old boy blowing his own heart out into a battered trumpet by a ragged cardboard box full of pocket change.
How long, before that city reforms. Some people say it never will.
But I have seen these people dance, laughing, to the edge of a grave.
I believe that, now, they will dance back from it."