Sunday, February 19, 2006

Times are not good here

I have found myself collecting quotes for future use here as I read every word I can about New Orleans. I confess I have not yet gotten around to ordering up any of the work of Lafcadio Hearn,a nineteenth century observer of Creole culture.

This quote from a letter Hearn wrote in 1879, far down in today's Times-Picayune story on THEIR MARDI GRAS ... OUR MARDI GRAS caught my eye:

"Times are not good here. The city is crumbling into ashes. It has been buried under a lava flood of taxes and frauds and maladministrations so that it has become only a study for archaeologists. Its condition is so bad that when I write about it, as I intend to do soon, nobody will believe I am telling the truth. But it is better to live here in sackcloth and ashes than to own the whole state of Ohio."
I think when I wander onto on-line forums where the crotchety old ladies warn me I am a fool to come home, to bring my children there, that I will no longer rant at them. I will just simply paste that into the thread, with a date on it.

One book I am reading is Wade Davis' The Serpent and The Rainbow, about Haitian voodoo. In it, Davis has repeated conversations in a mysterious stranger in the hotel where he stays when he is in the country. This one I I have been carrying about with me in my Palm Pilot, and I read it whenever I find myself grinding my teeth over a headline from Washington:

The world is not after Haiti as so many of us feel. The could truth is the world's indifference, and if there is one thing a Haitian hates it is to be unconsequential. It does not matter what is said about you, as long as you are the subject of conversation. Perhaps at some international soiree idle chatter passes to Haiti, but I doubt it.

Finally, credit to the excellent Da Po Blog for first finding this gem when Time Magazine interviewed Coast Guard Vice Admiral Thad Allen:

Actually, my flash of optimism came after reading Rising Tide [John Barry's book about the Mississippi flood of 1927]. Have you read it? I had a sense that if you didn't have New Orleans, you'd have to create one. Because of the requirements of commerce, where it's at on the river and so forth. So it's not a question of whether New Orleans comes back, it's how New Orleans comes back.
These words from a man who spent most of the second half of last year in New Orleans should be run with the T-P's banner, and read at the start of every newscast in New Orleans. There is a lot of despair watching the news from Baton Rouge and Washington, a lot of exhaustion from fighting FEMA bureaucrats. I read the last post on SOS Katrina - We Are Not OK as blogger Dangle gives up in hopelessness and vows never to cross the causeway again, and beg him to keep writing.

I read the angst on Thoughts of the Dark Rose or Polimom and many of the other blogs you find at right, and I think how can I give people heart from a thousand miles away, except to say: hold on. We are coming home. We are all coming home. Yes it is unimaginably tough. I read your words and can almost hear the tears falling on your keyboard or the pounding of your first on the desk as you write.

In spite of what you write, even though the news from the capitols is never good, you are there and we will be soon because the words Hearn wrote 125 years ago are still true. Times are not good in New Orleans. But it is better to live there in sackcloth and ashes than to own the whole state of Ohio.

Thank you for that. I have been sending out emails since I came back the day after Labor Day. Started as a "hey we're okay" kind of thing and now they are literally going around the world. I try to write once a week and let people know that things are not okay here yet, but that some things are getting better. It's like walking a high wire sometimes.

Your post and that quote will be printed out and taped to my desk for the days when it's hard to remember why I love it here so much.
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"And when we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcome, but when we are silent we are still afraid. So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive." -- Audie Lorde

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