Kathryn here. I’m having a fabulous time here in the Big Easy. As Herman referenced earlier, it is bittersweet, since the dichotomy between the good times rolling in the French Quarter and the devastation in the Upper Ninth Ward is rather striking.
My last trip down to Louisiana occurred a few months shy of Katrina, and I wasn’t prepared for what I would encounter this time around. Whole neighborhoods are dilapidated. Doors and windows are boarded up; it’s only occupants were likely disaster crews making assessments. A sign cautioning once busy traffic to slow for children in a school zone now stands alone amongst a deserted street. The school is being demolished. Most of the abandoned houses are spray painted with a large X. Inside it lie four quadrants for assessment crews to mark their crew name, date of entry, number of dead or deceased found in the home, and any other notes- such as found pets or an unsafe entryway about to cave in. I’ve never seen anything like this in my life. I’m reading Jared Diamond’s “Collapse”, which recounts fallen societies fated by environmental ruin. It certainly draws uncomfortable similarities to what our “worst case scenario” could have been here.
But there’s a reason I’m having such a good time. Our Habitat affiliates are phenomenal. Neighbors are returning, one house at a time. There is hope. For the south has a way of bonding. Maybe it’s the beignets, or the hurricanes at Pat O’Brien’s, but it’s probably the people. People make a place and the music and the anticipation of a neighborhood revival make this. On the worksite each day, locals pass by and wave. I’m swinging from the rafters on our incomplete roof, nailing and sweating in the 90-degree morning heat. And I love every minute of it. Our work here accomplishes that sense of revival; that neighborhood that is creating itself all over again. Like a song they forgot the words to, but we’re all here singing it back to them, so they can discover it as if for the first time.
This is New Orleans. Discovery. The southern charm of flowers draping over wrought iron balconies in the French Quarter, where music- all kinds of music- seep out through open windows and courtyards to each passerbyer. I can’t help but experience pure bliss.
I’m sitting on my balcony in the French Quarter, reminiscing about the day. It’s really special to be living this experience with such an amazing team of Berklee faculty and staff. I’ve learned such important things from them, too. Eat bananas so your muscles don’t cramp. Flushing several inches of rainwater out of a house with OSB and a broom is called Louisiana Hockey. (That’s an official term.) Crawfish, jambalaya, and oyster po-boys are really, really good. (And should be eaten every day.) The Red Sox can be enjoyed in Louisiana, too. Just because there’s a hail storm outside, doesn’t mean there will be a tornado. (But it does require cramming a large family in their rental car and driving them through nearly-flooded streets to Subway to wait out the storm.) Always check with management at your local restaurant prior to using their bathroom plunger. (It’s possible it could break in time of crisis.) And finally, having a balcony in the French Quarter can be a charming experience, but only until being serenading by a local southern gentlemen with outstretched arms and a belt headed for Broadway.
Yeah, this is New Orleans.