New Orleans, Ten Years Past The Flood: Resilience Follies, Part 6 (Presidents, Big Chiefs & The Smoothie King)

The 10th Anniversary Memorial of Hurricane Katrina
The 10th annual Katrina March & Second Line/ photo copyright Craig Morse

Anniversaries are weird to begin with, whether what’s to commemorate is blessed or damned.
In my experience, the things we celebrate and honor and mourn, and time itself, are slippery and continuous. Bar lines can’t contain a thought in Delta blues or bebop solos. Traditional New Orleans jazz never really ages.
Yet we mark time and memorialize. And I guess we should.
Still, these events, their consequences and meanings, don’t freeze in time. My strong and unpleasant suspicion is that, now that a decade since the 2005 flood in New Orleans has been duly noted, now that the TV people have packed up cameras and the sponsored panel-discussion banners are down, we’ll lose any focus at all on what has happened, what should happen, and what will happen in New Orleans.
I fear that care will again, inevitably, forget this City that Care Forgot. As one of my New Orleans friends said to me the other day, “It’ll take another 15 years before anyone thinks about us again because 25 is the next big number. ‘Until then, we’re on our own again.”
Was yesterday the right day, anyway? Yes, Hurricane Katrina made landfall in New Orleans on Aug. 29, 2005, and the 17th Street, London Avenue and Industrial Canal levees were breached on that date. But one could rightly argue that the true anniversary of this disaster should be marked on August 30; that’s when the last of the levee breaches occurred and, more importantly, when the flooding of the city began to rise to irretreivable disaster, when the dimensions of pain and loss as well as the weakness or utter lack of proper response came clear. Hell, one could argue that this anniversary requires a festival, stretching a full week (that Times-Picayune front-page headline: “7 Days of Hell”) or maybe a decade, accurately marking the time, for many, away from a home they longed for, or spent mired in the suffering born of unequal and inequitable recovery.
Yet Saturday, August 29, was the date we took. Among the New Orleans residents I know, some celebrated renewal. Some mourned loss. Others touted progress or lamented lingering inequity. Some did these things publicly, some privately. Some just left town. Some stayed in and drew shutters. Still others sought just another day, a regular one, in the place they still, for better or worse, call home.
The city, meanwhile, was dotted with commemorative events. Continue reading “New Orleans, Ten Years Past The Flood: Resilience Follies, Part 6 (Presidents, Big Chiefs & The Smoothie King)”

New Orleans, Ten Years Past The Flood: Resilience Follies, Part 5 (Fresh Blooms, Dead Roses & Artificial Flowers)

4934660549_f2b79cf971Headline of the day: “Corps Ruled 100% Liable for MR-GO Wetland Fix
As reported by Mark Schleifstein, in the Times-Picayune:

The Army Corps of Engineers must pay the full $3 billion cost of restoring wetlands destroyed by the agency’s improper construction and maintenance of the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet, a federal judge in New Orleans ruled Thursday (Aug. 27).
In a major victory for Louisiana, U.S. District Judge Lance Africk ruled the corps improperly tried to stick the state with 35 percent of the restoration cost. When the state declined to pay, the corps refused to begin the restoration program, all in violation of Congressional intent, Africk ruled.
“Ten years after Hurricane Katrina vital ecosystem restoration remains incomplete,” Africk wrote. “Rather than abide by the clear intent of Congress and begin immediate implementation of a plan to restore that which the corps helped destroy, defendants arbitrarily and capriciously misconstrued their clear mandate to restore an ecosystem ravaged by the MR-GO.”

Also today, the Times-Picayune ran a special section of front-page stories from 2005, with this introduction that explained, “Never before seen by many who fled.” Included were banner headlines like these: “”Underwater”; “First Water, Now Fire”; “Clear Out or Else”; “Help Us, Please” “7th Day Of Hell.”
Back at the Sheraton Hotel, I caught a “Katrina 10” panel discussion titled “The Prophetic City: What can New Orleans teach the nation?” Continue reading “New Orleans, Ten Years Past The Flood: Resilience Follies, Part 5 (Fresh Blooms, Dead Roses & Artificial Flowers)”

New Orleans, Ten Years Past The Flood: Resilience Follies, Part 4 (Barack and Brownie)

Trumpeter Nicholas Payton used this cartoon for his blog post (see below), and it seemed apt for me, too.

Headline of the day: “Stop Blaming Me For Hurricane Katrina”
Ten years past disaster, former FEMA head Michael Brown—“Brownie,” as we came to know him—paused to reflect. Here’s what he came up with, in Politico:

“Had I left the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the spring of 2005, my life would be very different today. And I really wish, in retrospect, that I had. But after the 2004 hurricane season, when FEMA’s excellent responses to hurricanes Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne in Florida were widely praised, White House chief of staff Andy Card persuaded me to stay on as director through the 2005 hurricane season. I didn’t want to disappoint President George W. Bush. We’d developed a good relationship. Heck, he even gave me my own nickname: ‘Brownie.’
“By the end of the summer, it was a nickname the whole world would know. I, in turn, would have learned many lessons in how Washington fails—and how it assigns blame. People are still saying now, as they said then, that what went wrong in New Orleans a decade ago was all my fault. They were wrong then, and they are wrong now….”

You just can’t make this stuff up, folks.
Here’s another headline, from the blog of trumpeter and New Orleans native Nicholas Payton, whose independence and forthrightness with both his music and his words makes him an unconventional but also essential voice in both arenas:
An Adversarial Katrinaversary And The Delusional Post-Diluvial New Orleans — A Manmade Disaster
Payton effectively captures a sentiment that’s fairly widespread right now in New Orleans: Continue reading “New Orleans, Ten Years Past The Flood: Resilience Follies, Part 4 (Barack and Brownie)”

New Orleans, Ten Years Past The Flood: Resilience Follies, Part 3 (Masters of Disaster)

Shearer adReaders of today’s New Orleans Advocate found this full-page ad in today’s front section, courtesy of Harry Shearer.
Shearer, who has a home in the French Quarter, has played many roles during his career: Spinal Tap’s affably insecure bassist, Derek Smalls; the megalomaniacal Mr. Burns of “The Simpsons”; and, on last year’s brilliant series “Nixon’s The One,” the 37th president of the United States.
He’s every bit as compelling in his roles as commentator of his syndicated radio program “Le Show,” and as New Orleans homeowner committed to both the ugly truths that underlie the 2005 flood and the beautiful truths that uphold the city’s indigenous culture.
I ran into Shearer a few years ago on St. Joseph’s night, when Mardi Gras Indians come out after dark. It’s my single favorite time to be in the city—for the mystery, odd pageantry and communal spirit of this annual event. And yet, this tradition, too, has met with serious tensions involving New Orleans police. On one St. Jo’s night, Shearer and I got to talking about the things that oppose or impede New Orleans culture—why, for instance, a brass band might get shut down on its usual corner due to a phoned-in complaint.
“This city doesn’t hand out a manual or an informational DVD when you moved here,” Shearer said. “But maybe it should. People need to understand what’s going on so they can learn to respect it.”
On Monday night, Shearer sat in the front row at the Basin St. Station panel discussion I moderated. When it came time for questions, he asked something along these lines (I’m paraphrasing, having not yet transcribed…): “Once these cultural traditions become entertainment commodities doesn’t it demean them or rob them of their spiritual and cultural purpose?” That made me think about a long list of jazz musicians—from Louis Armstrong though Miles Davis and on—who seemed to uphold both functions at once. Yet I’m still wondering if Shearer has a good point when it comes to stuff that grows from and is functional to neighborhoods first and foremost (Louis and Miles were onstage or in recording studios, after all).
Shearer created a documentary for BBC Radio, “New Orleans: The Crescent and the Shadow,” that reflects on the experience of the 2005 flood and its aftermath today: It airs Sat. Aug 29 at 3 pm ET, and can be found here.
On the website, Shearer’s comments include these: Continue reading “New Orleans, Ten Years Past The Flood: Resilience Follies, Part 3 (Masters of Disaster)”

New Orleans, Ten Years Past The Flood: Resilience Follies, Part 2 (Talking About Culture)

New Yorker cover: “Second Line,” by Kadir Nelson

Headline of the day, the New Orleans Advocate:
Has New Orleans Recovered? Depends On Who You Ask?” Wherein, Della Hasselle reports:

“According to a survey released Monday by the Manship School of Mass Communication’s Reilly Center for Media and Public Affairs at LSU, nearly 80 percent of white residents in New Orleans think the state has mostly recovered…. But three in five black residents — 59 percent — say it hasn’t.”

The above image—the cover of the current New Yorker magazine features a piece of art by Kadir Nelson titled “Second Line.” I like the way if conflates the image of a black boy playing trumpet with another image (by now iconic) of a cement stoop in the Lower Ninth Ward. (You still find such stoops, last vestiges of former houses; here one I shot just yesterday, below.)
The questions raised by Nelson’s artwork—What will remain? How solid is the foundation?—seem apt for the panel discussion I moderated last night at Basin St. Station, “Ten Years After: The State Of New Orleans Music And Culture,” presented by the Crescent City Cultural Continuity Conservancy (C5, for short).
The panel was walking distance from the Sheraton Hotel on Canal Street, where the Atlantic magazine hosted a day-long conference yesterday, and where the city of New Orleans begins its bevy of discussions and events under the banner—there’s an official logo and a color scheme—“Katrina 10: Resilient New Orleans.” Yet it was far from that media glare.
Still, our room was packed, and I have no idea how many tuned in thanks to a live-stream on WWOZ-FM’s website.
The panel is archived and available for viewing here. Continue reading “New Orleans, Ten Years Past The Flood: Resilience Follies, Part 2 (Talking About Culture)”

New Orleans, Ten Years Past The Flood: Resilience Follies, Part 1 (Thank You, George W.)

photo: Larry Blumenfeld

On the plane to New Orleans yesterday, I spotted former New York Times reporter Gary Rivlin, whose book, “Katrina: After the Flood,” I’d just begun working my way through. I took a break from that to read a Sunday New York Times Magazine piece Rivlin adapted from his book, which focused on Alden J. McDonald Jr., president and chief executive of Liberty Bank and Trust Company, one of the Deep South’s first black-owned banks.
Rivlin’s story ends like this:

While much of New Orleans thrived, McDonald said he saw little hope of a better future for many of his customers. ‘‘The poor will stay poor and the middle class can never get ahead,’’ he said, revealing a rare flash of anger. He paused and added a phrase I don’t imagine he has used many times in his life: ‘‘And I don’t have the solution.’’

Continue reading “New Orleans, Ten Years Past The Flood: Resilience Follies, Part 1 (Thank You, George W.)”

New Orleans, Ten Years Past The Flood: Resilience Follies, Prelude: Back In NOLA

I arrived this morning in New Orleans, where I am going to resist the urge to use “deluge” or similar words to describe the press coverage surrounding August 29th, which marks a decade since, well, the deluge.
“Aug. 29 will mark a decade since the 2005 disaster that we’ve come to know by the name Katrina — for the hurricane, a natural disaster — but that is more accurately understood as unnameable and unnatural, a failure of engineering and due diligence followed by a long wake of indifference or worse.”
So the picture above, which you’ll see versions of all week, is a dodge: The real story is the failure of the federal levees, and all that followed.
In my Salon piece, I recalled that, when I returned to New Orleans to the mark the fifth anniversary of the flood, the word “resilience” popped up nearly everywhere—in city-sponsored press conferences, and on signs tacked to lampposts that read: “Stop calling me RESILIENT. Because every time you say, ‘Oh, they’re so resilient,’ that means you can do something else to me.”
That word is omnipresent now—on tote bags and on the lips of politicans. Ill get into that more in future posts. For now, I’m titling this series “Resilience Follies.”
In Salon, I say this, too:
“Within all the hoopla to come, expect trumpets and trombones and tubas and second-line parades in progress. The storied jazz culture of New Orleans will again provide prominent B-roll for TV. That culture belongs in the foreground.” That’s where I attempt to place New Orleans jazz culture, which helped carry the city back and yet now finds itself too often embattled or displaced.”
So I’ve returned to Salon, where I filed an October 2005 essay that sent me on a decade-long journey, to take stock and tell truths.
And I’ve returned to New Orleans, where I will moderate a panel discussion tomorrow (Monday, Aug. 24), gathering musicians and others at the heart of this culture. The conversation will be webcast live on WWOZ 90.7FM (go here).
Below are details about the panel:
The Crescent City Cultural Continuity Conservancy (C5) presents
Monday, August 24 | 6:30-8:30pm | Basin St. Station
501 Basin St, New Orleans, LA 70112
Panelists: Evan Christopher — Clarinetist, composer and advocate for New Orleans culture and the city’s indigenous music traditions; Lolis Eric Elie — Author; formerTimes-Picayune columnist; co-producer, Faubourg Treme: the Untold Story of Black New Orleans; story editor, HBO’s Treme; Jordan Hirsch— Writer and advocate for New Orleans’ cultural tradition bearers; founding Director of Sweet Home New Orleans; staff writer for HBO’s Treme; Tamara Jackson— President of the Social Aid & Pleasure Club Task Force; President of the VIP Ladies & Kids; Executive Director of Silence is Violence, a nonprofit campaign for peace in New Orleans; Fred Johnson— Director, the Neighborhood Development Foundation; founding member of the Black Men of Labor; former spy boy with the Yellow Pocahontas Mardi Gras Indian gang;Howard Miller— Chief, Creole Wild West; President of the Mardi Gras Indian Council; veteran carpenter ; Bennie Pete — Founding member, leader & sousaphone player, Hot 8 Brass Band.

Now Playing (New & Forthcoming CDs)

photo: Joshua Blumenfeld

Fred Hersch Solo (Palmetto, out Sept. 4): In some ways, it’s remarkable that pianist Fred Hersch is with us to celebrate his 60th birthday, which this new solo CD marks. Hersch’s brilliant multimedia piece, “My Coma Dreams,” recalled and recast the two months he spent in a coma in 2008, the result of pneumonia run rampant, which followed a terrifying bout of dementia caused by the AIDS virus he has battled for 25 years. Five years ago, I sat the kitchen of Hersch’s SoHo loft. “People tell me that my playing is somehow deeper now since my recovery,” he told me. “I can’t judge whether that’s true or not. But I’ve always been determined to be my own man at the piano. And now, I feel even more of a desire to just be Fred.” It is true. And being Fred means being one of the most distinctive and complete pianists in jazz. All that comes clear—perhaps more so than on even Hersch’s previous solo CDs—with “Fred Hersch Solo.” Continue reading “Now Playing (New & Forthcoming CDs)”