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January 29th, 2006

Sunday Odds & Ends

In recent weeks, I've tried hard to find compassion for the people who haven't come back to New Orleans yet. It's easy to sympathize with people who, for logistical or financial reasons, simply can't come back: no money, no place to live, health problems beyond the scope of what our severely compromised medical infrastructure can handle. My patience is tried, though, by a couple of the people in this article, who seem to be saying, "I'll stay in this other, easier place until you guys have done all the work of rebuilding New Orleans; then maybe I'll consider coming back." You know what? I think we can probably scrape by without you (though my heart does go out to the guy waffling around with his Saints jersey). The same goes for the white people who have allegedly decided not to return because of Nagin's "chocolate city" speech; if that's enough to keep you away, you don't have the intestinal fortitude to live here right now anyway.

But never mind. The viewing stands are going up on St. Charles Avenue, there are pirates in the streets, and debutantes are dressing up as bridges. It's Carnival time! I don't give a good goddamn if some people think the money would be better spent elsewhere or if it sends "the wrong message" to the rest of the country; we as a city need this Carnival more than we need anything in the world except levees, and it is going to be a great one, maybe the best ever.

The literate bloggers' topic of the day seems to be American Book Review's Best 100 First Lines from Novels. I agree with some of these (A Tale of Two Cities has probably my favorite opening sentence ever) and suspect that some of the others owe a great deal to the power of the subsequent second through nth lines -- for instance, though Catch-22 is one of my all-time favorite novels, I could not have told you right off that its first line was, "It was love at first sight," and I don't find anything inherently powerful about the line; its humor and depth come from its context. Then again, I think Harold Bloom's an idiot and don't believe anyone who wrote a first novel as dreadful as Dale Peck's Martin and John is remotely qualified to write silly self-proclaimed "hatchet job" reviews of other novels*, so what the hell do I know about literature?

*No, Peck hasn't hatcheted one of mine that I know of -- I doubt I'm important enough to make a blip on his radar screen -- but if he did, I'd be in good company, and there's precious little sting in being called a bad writer by a bad writer.

Five Months Later

Maybe I should try to explain just why we need Carnival so badly. I can only speak for myself; as much as I might like to think otherwise, I am not tapped into some magical New Orleans collective consciousness. Here's what I can tell you.

On a message board discussion of whether humans are "just animals" or something higher, I could not help suggesting:

Given some of what we've done as stewards of the world, perhaps we should try to rise above being human and aspire to the animal?

(Lest this sound too Ingrid Newkirk-y, please know that I am a dedicated carnivore and PETA-hater. However, in terms of kindness and decency, most dogs I've known would make better role models than many humans. Unfortunately, however much I aspire to the level of Dog, I find that I have far more in common with the filthy-minded, vindictive, selfish cats I've dedicated much of my life to.)

When you traumatize dogs, they grieve. When you traumatize cats, they may well be grieving in their hearts, but on the surface they just get mad. For the better part of four decades I've struggled to overcome the fact that I wake up pissed off every damn day of my life. Add the events of August 29, 2005-now (the five-month anniversary today) and it's a monumental task just to maintain anything resembling control, let alone get stuff done. Of course I am mad as hell: at the Army Corps of Engineers who lied to us, at the White House and Congress who want our resources but don't want to pay for them, at our local and state politicians and FEMA who left us to die, at other Americans who make cracks about the stupidity of living in a flood zone as they burn oil processed here and suck up the bounty of our waters and ports. At the political and media yahoos who turned global warming into a punchline. At myself for not being able to save some of my cats. The list goes on. I'm mad as hell, but unlike the guy in Network, I am going to take it. There's not much else I can do. I'm not an activist or a genius. Like hundreds of thousands of other people in south Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas, I'm just a regular person who had a pretty nice life here until the storm and the floods washed most of it away.

Things that take our minds off our sorrow and anger are good. Things that allow us to channel those emotions are maybe even better. Mardi Gras does both, as well as celebrating our survival and showing off our creative insanity. We're not trying to pretend things are normal. We're spitting in the face of the fact that they're not. It's people elsewhere in America for whom February 28, 2006 will be just another normal Tuesday. For us, it's a part of rebuilding every bit as important as the Superdome, or Commander's Palace, or the house I may never live in again.

An Iron Chef in New Orleans

$175 for eight courses with communal seating? I don't theenk so, señor. Sakai-san is mighty, but Chen Kenichi is the only Iron Chef for whose food I'd consider paying that kind of money to sit with strangers.

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