September 04, 2005

Katrina and the waves

And you know what? I remember New Orleans too. The fleshy, rip-roaring drunken exuberance of Mardi Gras time. The visit to Preservation Hall, where a gang of 80-plus-year-olds played jazz and the blues so much from the heart, those sweet, muscular tones of the sax; and then in turn, the young 80-plus-year-olds got up and shook legs at us as they played. The trellises of the French Quarter, lined that one evening with drinking hordes asking goodnaturedly of the ladies passing below to raise their T-shirts. That fabulous Audobon Zoo. The buskers keeping whole crowds of passersby in splits. The genteel old homes all over, outlined with pink flowers and climbing vines. The city of Fats Domino and Zydeco and jambalaya (on the bayou).

The dyke that's never far away, the reminder of one reality of this city.

For the past week, with so many others, I've been wondering what it means for a city to be so completely destroyed. I don't mean that Katrina has wiped the buildings of Nawlins away, it hasn't. But there's a sense in which it has destroyed the city nevertheless: if you consider the looting, the huge evacuation, the misery among camping victims, the talk of what it will take to rebuild here. How do you rebuild the mood of a city?

And no mistake, this was a city that had a mood, a drift, a life, an idiom all its own. How do you rebuild any of that, let alone all of it?

Is it selfish, in the face of so much heartbreak, to feel a pang for Preservation Hall and that mood? Yet I do. Selfish it must be, then.


Anonymous said...

Touching post, and evocative questions.

uma said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
uma said...

thanks for this. nf played a preservation hall recording of 'when the saints go marching in' today, and people reminisced about how, though entry was free, they would charge one dollar at p-hall to play the other songs, but for this one they'd charge five dollars...we all felt a pang for preservation hall, and for that mood.

great post, dilip.

Sunil said...

Selfish it must be.....

The wife and I were planning to visit Nawlins this december...spend a week or so there, and get some good music, and perhaps see Fats Domino or Preservation Hall...

An extra pang of sadness (that lingers) along with the sadness seeing the destruction and the lack of help and apathy from the government.

Anonymous said...


you bring back great memories of the last time i was in the Big Easy in 2000. Seems eons away...especially now after this carnage

This was once a regular blog but, after six said...

nice, D. i've been contemplating a post about a wild weekend at Mardi Gras in my freshman year of college but haven't felt it was right to write. i feel the pangs too. yet maybe, sooner than we all think, it'll be back to the days of 'son of a gun, we'll have big fun on the bayou'.

papamali said...

Nice post.
Strange to think that Nola got wiped out in a trice. Can it be rebuilt?
But check this out (Reuters this morning)
Good times roll, sort of, in New Orleans' bars
Mon Sep 5, 2005 5:03 AM ET

By Mark Babineck

NEW ORLEANS, Sept 5 (Reuters) - At least two bars in New Orleans' fabled French Quarter are honoring the tradition that drinking establishments in the boisterous tourist district stay open during hurricanes, even apocalyptic monsters like Hurricane Katrina.

Molly's at the Market shut down the evening of Aug. 28 as Katrina bore down on New Orleans. The storm struck the city with damaging winds that night, then floodwaters began to seep in through levee breaches on the north end of town the next day.

Except for wind damage, the Quarter stayed high and dry and so did Molly's and Johnny White's. And both were back in business on Monday, Aug. 29, with little apparent damage despite a lack of electricity and running water.

"That's our job. That's just what we do," Molly's owner Jim Monaghan, 47, said.

Molly's somehow managed to serve iced drinks on Sunday to a mixed crowd of die-hard locals, visiting authorities and the media gaggle. Monaghan wouldn't say where he got the ice, and any inquisitors didn't much care.

"This is gold," said Sonny Fyler, 45, a builder who chatted over a well-iced vodka and cranberry cocktail. "This is definitely gold. I'm coming in here every day."

While Molly's stays open only during daylight hours and caters to a varied clientele, the customers at Johnny White's were different. A late-night visit found a group of dedicated, mostly intoxicated, locals who drank uncooled cocktails by candlelight in the bar at the corner of Orleans and Bourbon in the heart of the Quarter.

The open air joint has no doors, so the proprietors decided to hang on for as long as possible.

New Orleans police, normally ambivalent about the public drunkenness that occurs most nights throughout the district, seemed strangely intolerant of it over the weekend even as it seemed they had bigger problems at hand, such as mass deaths and destruction throughout the region.

"We have a makeshift jail. You cross this line, and we'll take your ass there," a policeman, drawing an imaginary line at the doorway, screamed at a drunken middle-aged woman who had stumbled out the door momentarily.

A few minutes later, the woman collapsed to the floor in an alcoholic stupor.

If he can give folks, whether they're locals or visitors, a short respite from the despair gripping New Orleans, Monaghan said his bar on Decatur Street on the Quarter's edge is doing a public service.

"I believe this city is coming back," he said. "I wouldn't have stayed open if I didn't think that."

Dilip D'Souza said...

Thank you all. I'm sure Nawlins will rebuild, but will it be the same? Who knows. Speaking of which, here's a fine movie recommendation: "The Big Easy", starring Dennis Quaid and Ellen Barkin (what a woman! be still my beating heart). Fine movie, fine soundtrack, lots of zydeco.

Carol Stafford said...

New Orleans never lost its "moood"its ambiance, its attitude, Katrina just stirred it up a bit. Make no bones about it; there is more love in that square mile the Quaters embraces than anywhere else on earth, and the very thing that make N'Awlisn N'Awlins is love and tolerance and music. Music is oxygen. Buildings will be rebuilt. Teh heart and soul of N'Awlin was never lost. and God Bless Jim Monaghan, I love you. Drink one for me.

Anonymous said...

I do so hope that new orleans recovers, my family has lived there since the 1700's. One good thing about this storm Katrina, since the hurricane there has not been one murder, not one, in a city that has on a routine basis approx. 5 a nite. Hope it stays that way.

Anonymous said...

I went down to the city in the aftermath with some Special Forces guys to help in the rescue/recovery effort. We slept at Johnny White's and took respite there.

Every time I woke up there were two (albeit warm) beers on each side of my head. The first time this happened I told the guy behind the bar that "...someone left their beers over by me when I was sleeping". To which he responded "those are your beers, thanks for helping us". I'll never forget that moment.

Also, FYI: "N'Awlins" is a tourist slur to some of us natives. It's alomst as bad as that "other" N' word. The city's name is NEW ORLEANS. NOLA is acceptable, but Nawlins makes our skin crawl. Not a rant, just informing.


Dilip D'Souza said...

Tom, that's a great story, thanks for telling it. And thanks too for clarifying about the insult. I had no idea, but now I do. Can you tell me why it's considered insulting?