The setting: Lunch at Fiorella‘s (45 French Market Place, 504-528-9566), a favorite amongst the locals both for his good food and low prices. Always eat where the locals eat, you can’t go wrong. And if you go to Fiorella’s, get the pork chops. Delish.
I lunched with Andrew, a fellow bartender at Oz and a delightful person all-around. Andrew grew up in New Orleans, and he sings the praises of his beloved city. “People born here will never leave,” he said. “Except the people who do leave always come back. The whole place could catch fire, and we’d just move out onto our front lawns.” But then I asked how he felt about his beloved city with all the recent hurricane-related unpleasantness–and he bristled, shaking his head. “You see all these news reports about how the poor, saying the government won’t help them because they’re poor,” he said. “But the government isn’t helping anybody.”
Since I had only seen the French Quarter (beautiful and fantastic) and part of Canal Street when I got lost (totally gross), Andrew suggested we take a tour through some of the neighborhoods that were wrecked during Katrina. Perhaps we’d see a few abandoned houses, I thought? A boarded-up window or two?
The neighborhoods evacuated after Hurricane Katrina are miles across–literally, blocks and blocks of empty houses, still no electricity, front yards filled with junk and cars. Imagine miles of empty houses, no people. Very spooky. I took this picture right across the street from a levee breach; notice the water on the ground? It’s still leaking.
Notice the size of this house–this is a very nice neighborhood. Yet we only saw one work crew consisting of three people doing any clean-up efforts. Should you wish to buy some land, Andrew said lots are very cheap; but no one can get homeowners’ insurance. So rebuilding is all but a dream. Remember, this is the way this neighborhood looks now, seven months later. The whole area is obviously being abandoned.
There are a few things in this photo to notice. The yellow-ish line at Andrew’s eye level is the water line; the blue house at the left of the picture was carried over into this house’s lot. Andrew is reading a sign on the door that said “This house had been deemed unstable and unfit for occupancy” or something of the sort. REALLY? Perhaps the diagonal front porch should have been a giveaway.
Andrew tried the door. It was unlocked. We went inside.
The furniture had all been rearranged by the floodwaters. On the ground were kids’ toys, stuffed animals, a Whiffle bat, etc.
Notice the diagonally-leaning wall at the right of the picture, which was the slant of the whole house. All the clothes were still on hangars, but were caked in mud; the water rose to the mud line on the picture on the right, just under the clothes rack, so everything on the shelves was still there. Whoever lived here was a pretty good pool player, with all those trophies. But then…notice all the clothes are still in the closet. And really, they’d be alright if you washed them, they weren’t left there because they are ruined.
There are a few things to notice here: first, the two-inch thick cakes of mud were all over the counters, the floor, everything. Second, the dishes are still in the sink. That kitchen was like a really depressing time capsule, perfectly preserved from the day of the floods. It seems like they finished eating, put the dishes in the sink to do later…and then they were gone. These people ran. They didn’t take their clothes, they left the kitchen a mess. And they haven’t been back in seven months. Telling this story to my mother, she said “Maybe they’re arguing with their insurance company.” But that’s not the reason, not really.
It has been seven months since the hurricanes hit the Gulf, and it looks like it happened yesterday. It’s politically-correct to say how sad everything is, how devastating this must have been for the people who lived there; but then you go there, and you walk through someone’s house who may or may not be dead. It’s exhilirating, to see all the broken glass and imagine how much water there was and how fast it washed in. But then you see the little kid’s toys on the ground, and it all comes down to wondering if that little kid is okay.