The Pre-Game Party

From Spike Lee to Mexican 'storm catchers,' dry times in a new New Orleans

On Wednesday, March 1, the cruise ships that have housed police, EMT workers and other first responders are set to close. "You have a lot of police officers coming off the boats, there's a lot of anxiety," said Wondell Smith, a New Orleans police officer.

My first night here, we dumped ten pounds of cooked crawdads on an unread copy of the Times-Picayune. "There's nothing in there that's right anyway," said Reverend Walker, tongue in cheek. There's a palpable sense, that like the UNICEF billboard on Highway 10 asking for Tsunami Relief donations, the official version of events do not correspond with reality.

"I can't come back, it seems like it's doomed," said Francis, who rented in East New Orleans and fled by car before the levees broke.

'There's going to be so many Mexicans in this place that it's going to be called Nuevo Orleans'
photo: Eleni Papadopoulou
'There's going to be so many Mexicans in this place that it's going to be called Nuevo Orleans'

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    There are talks that a single drug store is filling thousands of prescriptions for anti-depressants daily. There are rumors that the levies were blown up on purpose, that snipers snuffed out untold numbers of New Orleans residents. I write to neither deny nor confirm them, nor to add the rumor-mongering, only to report that these stories are talked about in the light of day.

    Like any city that's cheated death or been cheated by it, the sense of humor tends toward morbid. McClendon told me she had seen a neighborhood parade where the float featured two models of larger-than-life women, arms raised and wrestling. The black woman had on a shirt that said Katrina, and the white woman, Rita.

    There is also the unintentionally humorous. The signs offering mobile notary publics. The omnipresent billboards, lit it up in fluorescent shades of mardi gras purple and green, that advertise both an RV show and Gun Show coming soon to the Convention Center.

    As I finish this piece at a Starbucks on Magazine street in the upscale (and upwardly elevated) Uptown neighborhood, its possible to look around and see people and streets that look like they haven't been ravaged by a hurricane. It's only a trick I can pull as carpetbagging visitor. For the returnees, once you've seen your city underwater, it's almost impossible to picture it dry. As the Reverend Walker put it, "We can reminisce but what we got right now is something we can't come back to."

    A semi-anonymous poster named ajoe on the Times-Picayune website (a sort of multi-featured blog for the flood's diaspora) put up the only question worth asking about New Orleans these days.

    "Will neighbors come back in sufficient numbers to restore the vitality—and affordable level of city services—that were known before the storm? Or will the revival be scattershot, with only a small percentage of households returning amid vast stretches of abandonment and blight?"

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