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The Gross National Debt

Monday, April 03, 2006

There is a great post that went up yesterday on Daily Kos and has stayed on the recommended list. I have asked for and have received permission from the diarist to repost his work here in its entirety.

Katrina is a special issue for me - one that continues to resonate as I see what is and is not being done to help those in the Gulf region recover from this unparalleled disaster. The post which follows is from a New Orleans resident living in New Orleans as it tries to recover. Please enjoy it.

Only in New Orleans: I couldn't have made these events up myself
By bigbenbob

You never know what you'll find in New Orleans.  It's still living as I keep finding out.  

My name is Ben Rosow and I live in New Orleans.  I am an engineer
and a musician. I am one of the lucky ones because my Uptown house in the "Sliver by the River" did not flood after Katrina, although it did receive extensive damage that remains un-repaired to this day, due to the scarcity of contractors.

Continue after the fold for more.

Today is Sunday so this afternoon I decided to take a bike ride around the neighborhood to get some exercise and to force myself to get closer to the reality of what is going on all around me in my city in limbo. I tooled around the Tulane University campus where I saw a huge sports complex that occupies about half the ground area undergoing a massive renovation. This includes a brand new football practice facility which will double as a soccer and track stadium, and a total renovation of the baseball diamond. It made me question the shutting down of so many university departments (including mechanical engineering) and the essential gutting of many departments that the public has been told are being retained. We know so many professors who are leaving that it makes me wonder if Tulane can survive the harsh cuts that most residents feel are horrible management decisions.

But enough about Tulane...I next tooled up across Claiborne avenue where the flooding really got bad. I got my fill of deserted houses and the spring weeds that are starting to turn into jungles in the front yards. The hopeful signs I did see were that where 4 months ago I would see maybe one house every 2 blocks with some activity, now I was seeing about 5 houses with residents, trailers, or workers per block. This is MUCH better than what we had back then and I feel nothing but awed admiration for the families that can survive such total losses and still come back to destroyed neighborhoods to make our city whole again. They embody the resilience and determination that we Americans like to think we possess. We need to treat these people right, even when their neighborhoods are not fit for flood-free existence. If it's not practical for them to have their neighborhoods back, I feel that we owe it to them to find a way for these courageous "flood pioneers" to come back to rebuild our city. If you lived in a disaster area, wouldn't you want the most determined folks, who are willing to gut it out, to be the ones to help you rebuild?

It was a sunny balmy day this afternoon, the air clear and dry like California. But beautiful days like this are always laced with irony and sadness in post Katrina New Orleans. So after riding my bike through many blocks of flood zone on this gorgeous day, I was in a fragile mood when I crossed back over Claiborne Street by the empty McMain High School. I pulled over to the side of the street when I passed near the third floor room with the open windows where I used to stop to hear the band practicing on Wednesday and Friday afternoons. If you have ever heard a New Orleans High School marching band, then you know where jazz and rock and Roll came from. In an age where teenagers around the country are listening to mind numbing rap at hellish volume, or vapid post punk with no new musical content, this was the only city in the America where, on a Saturday morning, you could see 7 young black pre-teens walking down the streetcar line passing a saxophone or a euphonium back and forth and trying to be the macho man who could play the impossible lick from the days band practice that nobody could get right. What a sight! You know that music is part of the culture when teenage boys think that horn playing is a mans work.

So I stood on my bike on the sidewalk below the band room at McMain and I imagined that I heard the band playing, horribly out of tune, scratching out a new chart for the first time. I imagined I heard a loud sax player enthusiastically showing off his favorite tune of the week. No...No, I was actually hearing a sax player, and playing exceptionally well. It wasn't coming from the band room, but the auditorium was right next door so I moved a few feet down the street toward the auditorium door. But it wasn't coming from there either. It was coming from across the street at the Ursuline Academy. Now the ground around Ursuline is about 2 feet lower than that of McMain so where McMain took on about 4 feet of water, Ursuline took on about 6. But there is no flood line left on the walls of Ursuline and I noticed a few cars parked in a back access lot. So I crossed the street and started following the sound on my bike. I couldn't tell if it was coming from inside the chapel or if the music was outdoors but this was a seriously good player with a very full sound. The tune was something I definitely recognized but I couldn't quite place it. I followed the sound around a few corners until I came to a dead end between two wings of the building with a formidable plank door at the other end. THAT was where the sound was coming from.

As I sat and listened, an old nun appeared at a window and mouthed to me, "It's really loud isn't it? I think they can hear it down on Canal Street."

"Well I heard it on the street but it isn't so loud there," I said. "I like it."

"Would you like to come in?" she said, motioning to the heavy wooden door.

"Really? Yes, very much" I said, envisioning a lone guy enjoying the special sound of his horn in an empty chapel. I quickly parked my bike by the wall without locking it. Nobody would bother to steal it here away from the street. The old nun opened the door and I met her at the top of the steps. When I walked through, I felt like the Ronald Coleman character in the movie "Lost Horizon" when he stepped through the crack in the mountains and first laid eyes on Shangri-la. I never had imagined that the plain brick walls of Ursuline Academy hid from public view a beautiful court yard the size of a couple of basketball courts, with statues, benches, palm trees, and grassy knolls. It was filled with families today, black and white, hundreds of people. "Wow. What is this?" I asked the nun.

"It's our annual spaghetti dinner," she said matter of factly. "Come in. We do this every year. I hope it's not too loud for you."

"No, no...I love it. Thank-you." I was already starting to be overcome by emotion. I loved this, especially the fact that this event was so gracefully and calmly integrated. I began to walk to where I could see the sax player whose sound was much clearer inside the courtyard. His style was becoming more recognizable to me as I listened. When I got close enough to see a black man with a shaved head I began wondering. I turned to a guy in a folding chair. "Is that Gary Brown?" I asked. He just shook his head that he didn't know.

Now Gary Brown is a national treasure who has worked five nights a week down at a French Quarter clip joint for the last twenty plus years. He always has a wonderful band and he is a most charismatic performer, in addition to being a most lyrical and flat out hot horn player. He mugs for the women and looks into your eyes when he thinks that you need to really hear what he's about to play. A business associate from Denmark once said to me, "How come he plays in a dump in the French Quarter? If he played in Europe, he'd be famous. He'd play to sold out theaters. How come nobody knows him here?"

So there was Gary Brown on a stage in the middle of the beautiful courtyard on a sunny day playing to a harmoniously integrated crowd of families. He had a little boombox CD player patched into the PA system playing the backing tracks from one of his his CDs. A most cheesy setup but he was PLAYING FOR KEEPS. And that doesn't mean playing loud and honking. He was playing sweetly with every melodic trick he could think of. By this time there was a ring of about 6 little kids sitting on the patio right in front of the stage. So Gary pulled out his Sopranino, a tiny little sax, and began to play an exquisite ballad called Paper Mache. He came off the stage and stood directly in front of the kids and played just to them as if they wee the most important audience in the world. He would go up to each one of them in turn, the bell of his horn a foot from each little face. He'd take a breath and play special phrases directly to each one. And the children just sat there, mesmerized, gazing into his face. And this went on for song after song.

On this wonderful day, in this little Shangri-la behind the walls of a Catholic school started by the very first group of women that came to New Orleans in the 1600's, everything was so perfectly alive and healthy that, needless to say, I started crying. I tried to not make a fool of myself, but anyone who saw me knew. But I could not leave. I had to soak in it. I wiped my eyes with my bicycle glove and composed myself as I watched and listened to the very epitome of what makes New Orleans so special. Yes, we have inequality and incompetence. Yes we have graft, apathy, and seemingly immoveable inertia. Yes we are ridiculously close to sea level and we are at risk from the encroaching Gulf of Mexico. But we also have the key to life here in this crazy place. Those who don't want to see it, will never see it. Those who do, can't ever forget it. This nutty city is a treasure and a source of sanity for the rest of the country. To let it die of neglect would be like letting Boston or New York or San Francisco or Chicago die. America would never be the same without it. If you weren't sure that you know enough to believe that New Orleans is a treasure, take it from one who knows, that's me.

Katrina Relief Links:

Tipitina Foundation
Music Rising
Katrina-related charities - A list of 14 well-known relief charities working for the human and animal victims of Katrina
Shop NOLA - A list of NOLA businesses trying to survive. Patronizing them could mean the difference between survival or failure of the business. Won't you buy someone (or yourself) a gift from one of these businesses today?

posted by RenaRF at 2:06 PM 2 comments links to this post


Blogger Bri said...

not only that, but FEMA is kicking out volunteers from New Orleans on April 10

see my blog for postings, and articles at WWL-tv and CBN for more info.

10:41 PM  
Blogger scout prime said...

We've started a campaign to get Bush to fund the New Orleans levees and bring attention to the issue.
We're asking people to send their Mardi Gras Beads (any beads will do) to Bush with a message to fund the levees.

Info is here...
Send Your Beads to Bush

We need pictures of people getting their beads ready to send. CAn you help? Send any pics to scoutp@charter.net

7:41 PM  

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