Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Rebuilding and Renewing - New Orleans Style

When we visited New Orleans in 2006 we refused to take a ‘Katrina Tour’ for many reasons. The first reason was the tour companies were the ones who would benefit instead of the people who had lost everything. We also didn’t want to be rubberneckers viewing other people’s pain and loss. We had seen enough on tv – we didn’t need to see it with out own eyes while the affected tried to pick up their lives again. Having driven in from the east – we saw the piles of wreckage in the middle of the streets, the buildings smashed to pieces, the signs of destruction everywhere. We didn’t want to go into the worst of it and take pictures. To us it would have been like walking through a war zone and taking souvenirs. It would have ripped out our hearts and handed them back to us as minced meat.

Now – in 2008 – the word was out that they were rebuilding and renewing New Orleans. Eco-friendly houses were being built in the 9th Ward by people like Brad Pitt and Mike Holmes (he of the huge muscles and overalls). The other day I saw that Dan Ackroyd has added his name to the list of people who are helping rebuild. When I came across a write-up of a tour being given of one of these houses in the 9th Ward I decided it was time to take a deep breath and go have a look.

We started by attending an art show in a park found in the Upper 9th Ward. As we headed out we came across this - storage(?)area. When we first drove past I didn't know what I was looking at. When my brain and my eyes finally connected, I asked The Man to turn around so I could take some pictures. This is what we saw.










A police car graveyard for the vehicles that had been destroyed in Katrina.
We then followed our handy GPS to the little park where the art show was being held and parked along the side of the street. As we got out of our car, a woman with 2 little boys came up to us and asked us for any change to help one of the little boys who had lost his parents in Katrina. The Man unloaded his pockets into her container and they all beamed at us as the woman dashed tears from her eyes and I had to brush away mine too. The woman then crossed the street and approached another man who was just about to get into his car. I heard him angrily tell her that he hadn’t worked for 2 years and didn’t have any money. He then got into his new BMW and drove away. The woman patted the little boys on the head and held her head high and continued on – throwing us a smile and a nod as they walked away.

I’ve wondered many times since about that man. Had he told the truth? Was the new car his FEMA money purchase? Was the colour difference an issue for him? Perhaps he had been inundated with requests for money since Katrina. Or was he just a jerk. I’ll never know.

As we drove around the Upper 9th I fell in love with all the different styles of houses and the colours they were painted - the obvious love that had been put into decorating them.










Some of the houses had been freshly painted and the evidence of the house inspections after Katrina had been painted over. I’m talking about that famous huge X with the numbers or words written in the corners to show the house had been searched by someone after the hurricane and broken levees. Other houses had left the X as a symbol of their pride that they had endured. Some even decorated around it!












From the Upper 9th we then ventured into the Lower 9th Ward in our search for the eco-friendly house. Of course we got there too late (not pointing any fingers here) and we had to be happy to drive around the outside and imagine what was inside. We drove around the streets then and I took some pictures. Some of the houses were intact and beautiful while others stood vacant – their windows blank, shutters hanging, roofs with holes in them or gone, the lawns turned into a small overgrown field. In some places the front steps led up to – nothing – only sky.









All you could see was a pad where the house had stood proudly once upon a time. A whole neighbourhood looked like it had been washed away and all that remained was the overgrown earth and cement.

As we drove around we smiled at the people who were tearing down and rebuilding. They looked happy and sad at the same time and my heart ached for them. I wanted to tell them that but I didn’t want to intrude – didn’t want to add my heartache to theirs.

We drove past Brad Pitt’s famous houses that now sported signs on the front lawn that said they were private residences. They were – amazing. I’m sorry that I don’t have a good pic of them but I didn’t want to look like a vulture as we gawked at them.

Since I’ve returned home I’ve read 8 books about Katrina and New Orleans. They opened my eyes even further to the devastation of Katrina and all it entailed. I cried as we drove around the Lower 9th Ward – and I cried again and again as I read what these people and this city endured. For anyone interested in reading more about this – I’m going to list the titles and authors of some of the books I read.

The Great Deluge – Douglas Brinkley
Lost In Katrina – Mikel Schaefer
1 Dead in Attic – Chris Rose

32 comments:

Akelamalu said...

Nice to know that the phoenix (New Orleans) is rising from the ashes (floods). It has been on my list of places to visit for years. :)

Thumbelina said...

It really wasn't that long ago was it? The pain is still there, and the grief. But like Akelamalu, I am glad to see something positive now rising from all that destruction. The tales of hope and of future.
Thanks for posting this. It doesn't hurt to remember and it humbles my heart.

Sorry I haven't visited in a while. I will try not to leave it so long till next time...

Maggie May said...

Glad that the city is being renovated again. Was a terrible thing and will be etched on people's hearts for a long time.
Loved the colours of the little houses.
Was a good post.

Dr.John said...

Thank you for showing us the resilient human spirit. I felt bad when Katrina hit and I still feel bad but it is good to see people rebuilding and finding new lives.
It's odd but your phrase
"All you could see was a pad where the house had stood proudly once upon a time. A whole neighbourhood looked like it had been washed away and all that remained was the overgrown earth and cement" reminded me of a number of places in Upper Michigan where there were once thriving villages but now just caving basements and cement slabs. The mines went and the towns went with them.

Leatherdykeuk said...

Good to see their pride wasn't broken. I'm pleased they're rebuilding.

Thalia's Child said...

It makes my heart happy to know that rebuilding is going on and NOLA is recovering. But it breaks my heart to see your pictures, and it brought me to tears, which is a rarity.

Thank you for sharing.

Melanie said...

It's good to see that recovery is starting to take place and that the hurricane is being accepted as part of the history of New Orleans. It's good that many of the new houses are eco houses.

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Poverty and destrcution - what totally vulnerable people. It's heartenng to see regeneration and let's hope that more join the effort and hasten the whole project. X

grandmamargie said...

Words fail me. What a great post.

Crystal Jigsaw said...

You described it all beautifully and given me a clear image of how awful it must have been for those poor folk.

CJ xx

Daryl said...

Did you get to see the houses that were built for the musicians? Or the Fats Domino museum/house? Harry Connick Jr is another private donor along with Habitat for Humanity ...

doctorj2u said...

aims,
I wish you had done the tour in 2006 because words cannot descibe what you saw. Supporters of the city were in total agreement that Americans NEEDED to know and the only way to know was to see it with your own eyes. I took the tour myself when my sister came to visit from California in July 2006. I could not bring myself to take pictures. The anger and sadness was too great. I have a picture in my mind though that will never leave me. It was an elderly man (probably in his eighties)in front of his devastated tiny suburban home in Lakeview by himself cutting 2x4s. He was shirtless and he looked up to the van and I felt like complete dirt. I will NEVER forget the look in his eyes. This was a prideful man. How could we as a country abandon our fellow Americans? I am sure he had lived by the rules his whole life and this was not the plan he had for his golden years, deserted by his country and on display in his misery. Still I am glad I saw. I am a witness. I will carry the sadness with me my entire life. And I should, for the people that suffered and died needlessly. As to the man you saw that rejected the woman, it could have been any of the reasons you said. Also there are a lot of scam artists, so you have to be wary. I am glad you helped her. There are so many that still need help. The city now is well on the way to healing though. I went the the MS Gulf Coast this weekend to visit my mother and for the FIRST time I can say I saw true progress in her town. A corner has been turned and Katrina is starting to be part of history and not a real present part of everyday life. But like the Alamo, we can NEVER FORGET!
Oh, and to your previous posts, no the swamp does not stink. It has an organic, earthy smell. Again you beat me! I have not been to visit Avery Island. Chris Rose's book is my favorite Katrina book. A new one that just came out is called "Nine Lives" by Dan Baum. It is the story of 9 New Orleanians from Hurricane Besty til after Katrina. It gives you a very good sense of what it is like to be a New Orleanian. Thanks again for writing such beautiful and truthful posts about a city I love with my whole heart.

Mean Mom said...

A thought provoking post. I'm glad that rebuilding is taking place, but it must seem like a very slow process to the people who lost their homes. It was a dreadful tragedy.

Living the Dream said...

For us in the UK who really don't have "extremes" of weather, (well not until recently) we can only imagine what it must have been like and even then, you have to witness something like that to understand. A brilliant post as always

San said...

My daughter had a chance to go to New Orleans last year. She fell in love with the city.

I really enjoyed your narrative and the sweet colors of the houses delight me. As to the man in the BMW: it's possible he is truly out of work. It's also possible he was having a bad day that had nothing to do with the innocent people who asked for help. Too bad.

CIndy Lietz, Polymer Clay Tutor said...

What an interesting post. Very moving! Must have been quite the experience for you. I didn't know about those X's. It was touching to see people had decorated around them and what they symbolized for them. Mother Earth is a powerful creature... so are humans. You story proves that!

doctorj2u said...

aims,
I thought you might be interested in this article in today's Times Picayune. Art is the only way to describe what NOLA has been through. It is through art that the city will heal its heart and soul.
http://blog.nola.com/living/2009/05/shotgun_uses_pair_of_families.html

aims said...

Thanks to everyone who has left a comment here!

Thumbelina - good to see you again.

Cindy - Hey! Thanks for coming to take a look!

Doctorj2u - Thank you so much for letting us know about the swamps. I imagine an earthy smell - organic - not smelly or 'ripe' at all. And - thank you for your impressions of your Katrina tour. I wondered if the man was angry you were witnessing his pain - or angry at the world.....My heart aches for him - someone I don't even know - but still. I also went to your link and read the writeup about the play. I would love to see that! How I wish we could just pick up and come back. It is something I long for every single day.
Here's another simple question. Do you think you could give me some way of contacting you? I've gone to your profile and there is nothing.

To everyone else - Like Doctorj2u says - Never Forget Katrina and what happened to the city and the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.

rosiero said...

I love those colourful houses. It's amazing how humans can overcome sorrow and rebuild their lives again. Good on you for not wanting to intrude into their sorrow.

Salute said...

Glad that they are trying to rebuild the city and move on with their lives. I know it won't be easy, but with prayer and hope I am sure they will overcome.

david mcmahon said...

Thanks for the very sensitive virtual tour, Aims.

lisaschaos said...

I find it interesting that some people leave the Xs. You didn't just visit New Orleans, you immersed yourself in it.

Lane said...

Great post Aims. Sensitive and informative. Thank you.
Those painted houses are so beautiful.

bermudabluez said...

aims...you did an amazing job with this post....it is truly amazing what those folks went through. Have you ever heard of "Trouble the Water"? It is a documentary shot during Katrina. If you get the chance....watch it. Powerful stuff. I am going to try to read some of the books that you suggest! I love the colored houses you took the photos of and am glad that people like Brad Pitt are helping out to rebuild. I would like to revisit New Orleans also....in the winter. It was WAY tooooooo humid when we went...in April.

tale of many cities said...

by way of david @ authorblog, i enjoyed reading your account of your experience in new orleans...and appreciate the photos. i felt the pain & strength of it's people through your words, so thank you.

blessings,
-Tracie

aims said...

I have heard of the documentary film called "Trouble the Water".

Unfortunately it hasn't been available to us here in Alberta - but to anyone who gets a chance to see it - I would recommend it.

It is a documentary filmed around 2 survivors of Katrina. Actualy footage taken by these two during Katrina and the flooding afterwards makes up this film.

It was nominated for an Oscar but didn't win. Still - it was nominated!

If you get a chance - "Trouble The Water".

Daryl said...

Back to say congrats on the POTD mention!

doctorj2u said...

Hi Aims!
I think the man was angry AND ashamed and I understood both emotions totally. I think he was angry at a tour van looking at his misery, angry at a government that caused the suffering and then abandoned all to the consequences, and ashamed that THIS is where the course of his life had brought him. When I get some free time this weekend I will send you pictures fron NOLA and Pass Christian, MS 6 weeks after the storm. I LOVE that some people have left the x's. It is in remembrance; it is in defiance; it is a sign NEVER to forget. I have actually seem one house that had the x reproduced in iron to last the ages. I got a chuckle from the Canadian that had visited us in April and felt it was too muggy. April-May is the only time during the year where the weather is bearable to us. Not too cold, not too hot. I have a feeling I would never make it through a Canadian winter. LOL! Thank you all for your kind words. On most blogs in the US we get a multitude of remarks like "New Orleans is a cesspool. Bulldoze it." "God punished you for your evil ways." and "Stop whing and take care of yourself." It is refreashing to find a place where people understand and sympathize with the trauma and understand how beautiful it is for people to rebuild and go on from such a low point. You all are the best!!!

BT said...

I loved the photos, especially those lovely brightly painted houses. I didn't know about the X. A very moving account Aims. I don't blame you for not wanting to go on the 'Katrina tour'. It sounds goulish.

♥ bfs~"Mimi"♥ said...

A wonderful and important post. Here from David's blog, and congrats on the nod your way. Thank you for writing this.

sallymandy said...

Thanks for these photos. I've never been to N.O. before or after Katrina, but a friend was working with the Forest Service near there and had many photos also. It's tragic and inspiring all at once that people are rebuilding as they are. love, sallymandy

Biddie said...

I saw so much tragedy in the photos and news coverage of Katrina.
It's good to know that there is still hope. Thanks for the photos :)