Friday, June 18, 2010

A human metropolis

I visited Bayou Bienville again, a melancholy visit.  I've been to this part of the Lower Ninth Ward before but this morning didn't make it any less surreal to see.  I brought company with me this time and while we sat on the levee overlooking the brackish marsh that is Bayou Bienville, my companion could only say, "This is such a lonely place."

Lonely indeed.  Not only is the bayou an expanse of unrippled algae mats punctuated by decades-old, dead cypress stumps; in the other direction are the overgrown, abandoned blocks of the north side of the Lower Ninth Ward.  The land isn't totally abandoned to nature, but the scrub grass and shrubbery are running a slow motion, quiet riot over evidence of civilization.  Bushes overtake half the roadways.  We turned down one street and had to turn back, the pavement had dissolved into muddy, impassable sink holes.  It is quiet in this part of New Orleans.  Too quiet.  There are inhabited homes scattered along the remaining grid of streets but they are few and far between.  It must be lonely to live there, especially if, half a decade ago, you were used to having neighbors.

I stopped for gas on North Claiborne Avenue and found the best price I've had the pleasure to pay in a long, long while: $2.34 for a gallon.  While filling the tank everyone who walked past between pumps and cashier said hello.  Even in this part of New Orleans where the evidence of tragedy is self-evident for anyone with eyes to see, people partake of common courtesy and humanity.  As usual, we chatted motorcycles and weather while the gas pumps filled our tanks, mine much quicker than anyone else's.

"Hope you don't get caught in the rain," one man said.  "No thunderheads yet," I replied, looking up. "Not yet, but they're coming.  Keep dry," he answered.  "Will do.  You too," I said.

We took North Claiborne home.  My companion said, "The Ninth Ward is still devastated so many years after the fact."  I couldn't do anything but agree.  The further you get from downtown in that direction the more proof you see that work needs to be done.  Tourists don't see it.  We don't really see it where we live, but the wounds inflicted on the city remain deep and raw, undressed.  If they are being addressed, it is a slow process and most probably a painful one.  It is a black mark against the federal government's reputation as much as the oil slick currently polluting the Gulf of Mexico.

I have a lot to learn about my new city, the good about it as well as the less so.  I remember my New Orleans moment on the corner of Humanity and Metropolitan Streets.  I hate to keep bringing it up but it cemented my view of this city, one that is bittersweet yet full of hope and the scope of life.  I am a stranger in a strange land yet I feel I'm home even if I don't speak the language fluently.  Sure, I'm part poseur and neophyte.  Sure, I romanticize what I experience.  Struck with so much culture shock traveling from block to block, how can I be anything else?   I cannot apologize for being what I am not.  Like New Orleans, I can only strive to be better than what I am today.  Time will take the measure of this man as it will take the measure of this city in the face of all odds against it.

With Union, Justice, and Confidence,
Qui Transtulit Sustinet.

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