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.