Volume 18 • Issue 18 | September 23 - 29, 2005

The Penny Post

Stages of grief

By Andrei Codrescu

A reader accused me of writing premature elegies for New Orleans. The city isn’t dead, he said, we’re bringing it back. Okay, so that’s how I feel, too. On Tuesday. On Monday I felt like crying. On Wednesday I got mad at everybody, starting with Bush and going on down the line to my reader. On Thursday I was all three, sad, stubborn, and angry. And so it went and so it goes, day after day, my moods swinging along with everybody else’s moods, sometimes in synch, sometimes not. What doesn’t change is the swinging, but to be perfectly honest, it doesn’t matter. If you’re going back to New Orleans you have to think positively and fight to bring the city back. If you’re not going back, you’ll still have to think positively about your future. There is no point in indulging swinging moods, they’ll always swing. What needs to be done is thinking about how to do what you have to do. It’s all technical for a while. The absolute necessities are: accurate information and some idea of the future. The first is hard to discern, but is doable if you can navigate between the various media, from television networks to the word-of-the-mouth e-media of e-mails, phone calls, and hearsay. The second is harder because there are several futures: your own, your neighborhood’s, and your city’s. If you can think of all three as one thing, that’s good. It’s also hard because nobody ever did, except at Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest, or when somebody in another city looked genuinely impressed that you were from New Orleans. For outsiders, and that includes the national media, there is no Uptown, Treme, Ninth Ward, Downtown, Bywater, Marigny, the French Quarter (well, maybe the French Quarter): there is only a place called New Orleans. Before the storm, this “New Orleans” was a place shrouded in made-up stories intermingled with real ones, attractive enough to bring tourists to town. After the storm, a new “New Orleans” showed up on the map, a New Orleans of poor people living in flood zones, huge masses of the poor, sick people untended-to, inept officials, and criminals. Between these pre- and post-storm New Orleanses there is a blank place on the map that will have to be bridged by the people rebuilding. The New Orleans of myth and legend was always just that – myth and legend — but New Orleans needed it for tourism, its biggest source of revenue. The tourists won’t come back if it isn’t there, and then the real New Orleans will have to stand up and have a whole different economy. So here is the problem: Is the future New Orleans going to be a city for New Orleanians or for tourists? Is it going to be one big Mardi Gras or a sane place like, let’s say, Portland, with a decent infrastructure and responsible government? Maybe that’s a premature question, too, and another reader will bring me up short.



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