Tuesday, August 31, 2010

5 years later

Happened to be down in NOLA (New Orleans La) this past weekend, not becuz it was the 5th anniversary, but because Lorna Donaldson, that straw bale maven, was arriving in NOLA and I needed to gather a little bit of pick up footage. The timing seemed to meld with our personal missions perfectly.. Only after I booked my flight did I realize...good lord. Five years to the day. And the TV was , excuse me, flooded with mini and maxi documentaries, all of which I watched. I'm afraid nothing totally lit my jets. No, not even Spike Lee's If God willing an da Creek Don't Rise. Harrowing scenes, and the pain Lee found was painted in living color, and it was terrible to watch but there was something else I wanted to see and exactly what that is, I don't know.

Lorna has been loaned a double shot gun, which is a house design that has an unfortunate connotation, but refers to the possibility (ONLY please, the connotation, but good god, not the reality though it sometimes is) -- of firing a shotgun and having the bullet sail cleanly through the front and back doors, passing through the living room, a bedroom, another bedroom the kitchen a wash room -- every room in the long narrow house. In New York, we call them railroad apartments. The function of the shotgun design is to allow fan stirred breezes to cool things down. And they do. Beautifully. In the mornings of my four day stay, I threw open the inner solid doors, front and back, kept the wrought iron gates latched, turned on all four fans, and did my I Chuan exercises, and it was exhilerating to feel the breezes whipping through the house. Traditionally, the shotguns in the Lower 9th ward didn't have doors (according to mama sue) and the hard wood floors have mostly become linoleum.

The stats say that only 25% of the residents of the Lower 9th have returned. Here are four shotguns I took pictures of. One (right) has been rebuilt to a faretheewell, including a sweet front yard flower garden. The house has been painted meticulously, but amazingly, AROUND, not effacing, the crude 'X' that the City inspectors drew in the days after the storm, noting three things -- at the top, the date, the initials of the inspector and in one space inside the intersecting lines whether any dead bodies had been found. Or dead or living animals. The owners of this house, as with many around the city of NO, have chosen to preserve the X and the hastily written code. No, we don't want to forget how it looked. That 'X' was the best bit of memorializing "art" I've seen.

So many have become overgrown with vines, the land and power of nature drawing them back into the dense Mississippi delta mud. The one at the top of the post I worried had been left to rot, but I'm hopeful still someone might adopt it. There's someone who cares, at least a little. A small business card with the owner's name is wedged into the brand spanking new chain link fence that has put up to guard against the crackheads who are causing mischief up and down the streets. I was -- strangely, I know -- tempted to jot the e-mail address down. I loved the way it was set back from the street, and boasted a second story. Imagine the breeze on that upper balcony. I'd keep the strangling vines.

The one Lorna and I stayed in (above) has been rebuilt, painted a sober New England gray, the 'X' covered over, for what seems to be an investment. In about four months, after which Lorna will mostly likely have left, paying tenants will live in them. But down the road, in the farther along the way future, when the fate of the Lower 9th has been decided, these shotguns might fetch a good price.

So, our lovely double Shotgun begs the question: What will happen when the city of NO decides enough is enough and the 50+ percent of these houses have to be razed? Who is going to lay claim to the land, the real estate of the Lower Ninth? That's what I haven't seen in the gut wrenching films that have chosen to revisit the Katrina disaster. The wailing continues in the poor districts, and among the poor in general. I know from Mama Sue how the debt to that storm will never be paid off. But now it's time to look into the board rooms, and back rooms. Have yet to see some fine journalism on that subject.

But for me, looking at the face of an aging Katrina meant looking at the clapboard shotgun houses. How are they looking five years later?

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