Thursday, September 21, 2006

Come on, rise up

Collapse? Or rise up? A trip around Mid-City to shoot pictures of a couple of houses, one facing demolition by intent, the other (above) demolition by inertia, led me to discover a number of area homes rising up above the street on new piers. As I snapped these pictures, I found myself asking, are we a city are we at the edge of collapse or one just getting ready to rise up, to rise above it all?

It depends, in part, on which parts of the paper you are first inclined to read. Reading the news columns of the Times-Picayune has become like standing out in a driving rain at a parade with an endless procession of floats, each covered in a dull paper mache' made from the endlessly grey words, the glaring headlines and frightful pictures of a year of struggle. The old line krewe members hang listlessly about the float as they do when the throws are gone, unconcerned with the passing scene, sharing a drink and a conversation that does not concern us. There are no flambeaux.

I had hoped that the doldrums of August would pass, that each hour that ticked us further away from 8-29 and closer to the end of the hurricane season on Nov. 1, each day that cool breezes somehow drove back the tsunami of humidity back into the Gulf, would take us that much further toward recovery.

I take the collective temperature and pulse of the city by reading my fellow bloggers. They have not been a universally cheerful lot, those that have found time to write much in the last few weeks. . One laments that she can't find the energy to post, eliciting a wave of sympathy from her friends and colleagues. Others struggle too much with the daily task of rebuilding lives to find time to write. Some, like Dambala on American Zombie, review another suicide by someone as invested as they are in the survial of the city, and throw up their hands in despair. We've not been a happy lot of late, but we all have try so hard to find that golden sunflower pushing up through the rubble to remind us all that its worth it.

All of that changed last weekend. While my wife skulked about the house simmering over her alma matre's embarresment against Michigan and friends lamented the hapless Tiger's game, something beyond all belief occured. The Saints game started with a predictable 'Aints performance, a series of possesions so comical I expected to see Harpo coming down the field riding in an old fashioned dustman's cart like Ben-Hur.

And then something happened, something as simple and profound and mysterious as the apperance of ice in Macondo. Somewhere deep in their collective soul, the Saints found a depth of spirit we thought they, like the hapless Cubs, were denied by the gods for reasons mere mortals might never know. From the depths of impending catastrophe, they stood up, played three quarters of reasonably solid ball, and won. For the second time in a row. On the road.

People outside the city watching the game would have seen nothing miraculous, no golden ray of light from the parted clouds illuminating the field, would feel no sudden tremor in the earth, see no breath-stealing moment of glory to be celebrated endlessly on the sports highlight shows. For the people of the Federal Flood, we saw the one thing we have sorely lacked these last months. We saw a set of people of high position in the city stand up and do their job.

We became, in a moment, not the rabble I lamented last week, but a People in a sense that any storefront Old Testament prophet would recognize, a tribe which after long wandering through the desert came to the crest of another weary dry hill and suddenly glimpsed the promised land. We were elevated from that rabble into the community of saints. I open the paper this week and see stories of redemption not on the religion page (I don't think the T-P still manages one), certainly not on page one but instead on the sports page.

For almost two decades I heard the sisters and brothers, the fathers and monsignors preach that the saints offered us intercession on the road the salvation. The older I grew, the more I scoffed at what they taught me. Suddenly last Sunday, I learned that I was wrong. The Saints have in fact interceded for us, have lifted a burden from our shoulders and shown us the light. We became a city in which, at Preservation Hall, they might change the sign board so that we might all hear "When the Saints Go Marching In" for only a dollar.

As I drove several of the less recovered blocks of central Mid-City today in search of decrepit houses, I was not disappointed. I found the targets of concern, the ones the neighborhood group is worried about. But the real antidote to disappointment were the houses that were being rebuilt and raised, made ready for the long campaign ahead to win the next three centuries for New Orleans, a scene I found in a city I saw through eyes opened not on the road to Jeruselum but on the road to the Superdome

For a long time, we have been the city of Bruce Springsteen's City of Ruins. "There is a blood red circle/On the cold dark ground/And the rain is falling down/The church door's thrown open/I can hear the organ's song/But the congregation's gone/... Young men on the corner/Like scattered leaves,/The boarded up windows,/The empty streets/While my brother's down on his knees/My city of ruins/My city of ruins..."

The bleak picture he paints is only a foil, there to set us up for the tremendous chorus, the call to rise up. Those are the words I hear ringing in my head as I contemplate the impact the Saints have had on the psyche of a half million wounded souls, as I look to the long road ahead and find among the ruins houses rising up out of the rubble It is the one pop song that we should hear at every Jazz Fest from this year forward, the song that more than any other is the anthem of our past year, and the one for our future.

Come on, rise up.

N.B.--I am told Bruce Springsteen did play "City of Ruins" at Jazz Fest in 2006, and I corrected this piece to reflect that. Thanks MC.

Added tags for Saints and New Orleans Saints.

Nicely said Mark.

Congrats Saints fans

And for us cheeseheads...well it's more decline :-()
Ahh we've been there before so...
i have been trying to cover mid city demos on my squandered blog
Yes Brother!
A few cool fronts making there way through hasn't hurt either!
Two observations. 1) I don't know much about sports but I have learned the following rule regarding the Saints, which I think everyone in New Orleans needs to keep in mind: Never, ever get your hopes up. They will only be crushed. 2) Yeah, I noticed a lot of rebuilding activity 'round Mid-City lately too.
No, Bart, I don't think the Saints are going to do much better than .500 if that. It's the moment and its impact on the population that's important.

And I apologize and stand corrected. I am told Springsteen did sing City of Ruins at Jazz Fest. I wasn't there and shouldn't have lept to a convenient assumption.
Hearing Bruce Springsteen sing My City of Ruins at Jazzfest was one of the most powerful moments of my life. And Mark, great post as always. In the words of the Skids, "The Saints Are Coming!"
That's quite some video isn't it...

My City of Ruins is one of Bruce's most poignant songs in his vast repetoire...I've heard it live multiple times...and I don't believe I've ever made it through with dry eyes...

"Now there's tears on the pillow
Darlin' where we slept
And you took my heart when you left
Without your sweet kiss
My soul is lost, my friend
Tell me how do I begin again?
My city's in ruins
My city's in ruins"

I look forward to the game on Monday night at the Superdome...I have great expectations for U2 and Greendays' performance as the Saints come marching in...
The intercession of saints. Perfect. Great post (cool reference to Aureliano's memories).
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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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