There's The Spirit
I've sat here for the last three weeks, my Katrina solitude interrupted only by two people over a total of 22 days not counting the random survivalist neighbors, and then suddenly, three lawyers, two scientists, a librarian, an Emeril's chef and me. New Orleans came roaring back last night and if I had any doubts about her survival - they were quashed.
That defiant, self-deprecating, shoot the bird at the devil while drinking a Huge Ass Beer New Orleans' humor and attitude IS alive and well.
These friends were all trickling in, making there way back into the city from points like Memphis, Big Bend National Park, Atlanta, Annapolis, Alabama, and other points. All seeking a first-hand view of their homes in either Orleans or St. Bernard Parish. Their discoveries were mixed - some shockingly good news, and of course, some bad.
The most startling news came from Curt and Alice, whose home in old Arabi, that's in St. Bernard Parish, turned out to only have moderate roof damage - no water. We laughed a bit, because Curt, had only married his native New Orleans wife nine months ago - moving down here from Seattle at the same time and experienced Hurricane Cindy and then this. Welcome to New Orleans bud.
Our resident chef hooked us up with what was my first home-cooked meal since the event - red beans, steamed broccoli, green beans, dirty rice, salad, collard greens and a pork loin... heaven.
For lunch yesterday they all had their first MRE, prefaced by an MRE training seminar. The little tobasco bottles are a huge hit, but the general consensus is that Rumsfeld needs to work on his jambalaya and creole rice recipes.
With a lot of beer and booze drinking happening, the funniest moment of the night was the rehashing of George Bush's speech in front of Jackson Square. Not only was it bizarre for us to hear the President saying the words "Second Line", we couldn't imagine what the rest of the country thought of that. But we nearly died when someone said they expected Bush to break out an umbrella and a napkin at the end of the speech and start "Second Lining" with Cheney, the first wives and whoever in front of the Cathedral. It was really too damn funny... maybe you had to be there... I don't know.
There was an interesting dialectic happening also. All these exiles were fascinated by my stories - yet all I wanted to hear was their exile stories. It was killing me to hear about free admission to Graceland, comped meals, exile drinking gatherings in the middle of nowhere, boozy nights of hanging up "Viva Nagin" signs off overpasses in rural Alabama... it was killing me, even though I understood the incredible frustration they all had with simply not even being able to see their homes, neighborhoods and city. I know I'd be climbing the walls.
What was truly amazing though were the stories of families taking care of families. The media harps on the exiles housed in camps and the Astrodome or wherever... but the truth is that large amounts of New Orleanians have been taken in by their extended family. Eight and nine people living under one roof.
Family... taking care of family. Americans taking care of Americans.
It was a good night.