Sunday, February 05, 2006

Give up hope?

If you read the Times-Picayune on-line as I do, you might miss this cheerful story by Laura Maggi, as it is lurking behind the More Stories link.

Feds counter state's damage tally
State must make hard decisions, official says
BATON ROUGE -- The message state officials are getting from the White House is clear: Give up on the hope that the federal government will provide a bailout for every hurricane-damaged home in Louisiana and make do with the money you have.
Reading that article set me off writing another screed against the damned politicians, but the line about giving up hope kept jumping off the page at me and made me pause. Clearly some people have not given up hope. I've already written about our own decision to return to New Orleans. One thing I haven't talked about is how hard it is to find a house.

Someone is snapping up houses, especially dry or minimally damaged houses, almost as fast as they come on the market. Somebody is coming back, or at least gambling that people will come back, and looking to make a buck off that proposition.

Maggi, people gave up hope when it comes to the feds a long time ago. Still, people are coming home, with or without help from Washington. When life gives you lemons, you invite your friends over and you make a whiskey sours. They haven't given up hope for New Orleans.

I believe the people of New Orleans haven't given up hope because we had so little of it to begin with. The venality of politicians, the inefficiency of government, the vicissitudes of weather and termites, of social and economic decay, all of these breed a certain sense of fatalism, an "if Allah wills it" quality that is alien to most Americans.

We have a sense that New Orleans, without those burdens, would no longer be the place we love. We cherish a notion of ourselves as the equivalent of a nineteenth century sailor's Shanghai, a colonial outpost of sensuality and corruption and decay. We don't want to be 21st century Singapore, a model of totalitarian efficiency and cleanliness. It just ain't who we are.

And yet, the insha'Allah and the ennui are a mask, one we wear not just on a certain winter Tuesday, but most days of the year. Behind that mask are the people who get up five days a week and haul their kids to school, then go to work. They get up on a sweltering Saturday and overcome their tropical torpor to mow the grass. Later that night, they go out to try that new restaurant.

They get up on Sunday and hope that, this time, the Saints might win. Somewhere today in New Orleans (or Houston or Baton Rouge or Atlanta), someone will put down their beer, and talk about how wild it will be in the Quarter the year the Saints win the Super Bowl.

At some level, and as much as we might not want to admit it, we are a hopeful people. Hedged in by levees that may or may not hold, beset Formosan termites and feckless politicians at every level, it would be impossible to live here without it.

Its a funny kind of hope, as old as Abraham. When you expect the worst around every corner, as often as not you will turn that corner and find some small thing that gives you a tremendous lift. That's where we find hope, like a glinting half dollar on the broken sidewalk as you walk from a bad day at the track to Liuzza's, the little mystical sign that maybe today or at least tomorrow is going to turn out all right.

Its the kind of hope we like, because it lets us wear that cynical mask of the weary nabob struggling through another rainy season, slightly superior to our surroundings yet completely captivated by it, certain the natives are stealing from us even as we steal from them and hoping we all at least come out even.

So why are people snapping up all the houses? Its because they haven't given up hope, even if it's the jaded hope of people who have beaten the odds for 300 years, and aren't about to get up from the table now. Perhaps they want to be here the year the Saints play the Super Bowl. Who wouldn't want to be? It'll be something, when it finally happens. Yeah, you right.


When I was refugeeing in Chicago, I watched the last 3 outs of the world series in a Chicago bar, and then walked back to my apartment on the south side.

While seeing the revelers, who to me only appeared to be excited because the media told them to be excited (ymmv), two thoughts went into my mind:

1) too bad Bill Veeck wasn't here for this

2) man, is it gonna be a party when the Saints win the Super Bowl. Forshiggidy!
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