Volume 18 • Issue 15 | September 01 - 08, 2005

The Penny Post

Love note to New Orleans

By Andrei Codrescu

It’s heartbreaking watching my beautiful city sink, but I’m at a safe distance 90 miles away and my heartbreak is nothing compared to the suffering of people still in the city. New Orleans will be rebuilt, but it will never again be the city I knew and loved. I often compared it to Venice because of its beauty and tenuousness, its love of music, art, and carnival. The problem of engineering the survival of Venice has preoccupied the world for centuries, but very little thought has gone into saving New Orleans in the same way. New Orleans was, and it may be yet, a thriving commercial city crucial to controlling the mouth of the Mississippi River, vital to American industry and access to the Gulf of Mexico. Jean de Bienville founded the city here in 1718, ignoring his engineers’ warning about settling a patch of swampland between the Mississippi River, the Gulf of Mexico and a massive lake to the north. The needs of the American republic continued to compound Bienville’s original sin, requiring more and more engineering to correct nature at one of its grandest meeting points. The wetlands that once served to tame the savagery of the winds are gone, victims of big oil and global warming. The seas are hotter, people, and this is the result! Pay attention, global-warming deniers, this is the real thing! The saving grace of New Orleans was its music, its food, its festivals and its poor. This was the most brutal slave market in America and the northernemost point of the Caribbean trade in guns, rum and human beings. The slaves and subsequent refugees, immigrants, pirates, and quick-buck artists brought culture with them from Africa and places they ran from. New Orleans music traveled upriver and became America’s music. We’ve been a generator of human and cultural energy for centuries, but all this bounty brought the city no careful engineering, no thought for its future, no worldwide cry of help for its inevitable demise. The Army Corps of Engineers saved the city heroically at least once during the floods of 1927, but it was then as now a response to crisis, no forethought, no concern for the future. Our corrupt local politicians insured that any idea worth money was milked for their own profit. So here we are, sinking into the water around us, drowning in our own waste, poverty, incompetence and the greed of those who came before us. This is the time for straight reporting, of heartbreaking stories, of heroic rescues and superhuman efforts by good-hearted individuals and the weary but always-ready charities. It’s not a time for anger, but I can’t help wondering: what is going to survive of our culture? We already know who’s going to pay for all this: the poor. They always do because, like New Orleans itself, the whole country’s garbage flows down the Mississippi to them. Until now, they turned all that waste into song, they took the sins of America unto themselves. But this blues now is just too big.

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