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Just got back from the Mardi Gras celebration, and as usual had an amazingly drunken time. I'm in the process of writing a comical round-up of the entire affair (might post it here if there's an interest), but this is mostly just going to be my thoughts.

Also, I make mention of New York and New Yorkers to make some points of mine. I meant and mean no offense to anyone from or living in New York, and I apologize in advance if that's how you take it, but I'm not changing my words.

As we entered New Orleans, we got excited. Mostly because we'd just spent the last 13 hours crammed into a van, but also because we had been following the Katrina disaster and were eager to see what the city looked like. One of my friends was very excited to take some pictures of the houses and such.

As we entered the first area that had noticable damage, we were looking and pointing, talking excitedly. We kept driving... and driving... and driving. Soon we weren't pointing or laughing or making jokes, we were just looking. My friend put his camera away, unsused.

I saw houses without windows, fences fallen down, torn and shredded tarps covering broken roofs. Houses were spray-painted with what we assumed were messages from workers and rescuers. I saw messages like "2 dogs, 1 dead" and "5 cats, no alive" across houses. I saw people lugging garbage bags out to the street curbs. I saw people sitting on their porches, looking around at all the destruction. I saw two kids playing in a yard with only destroyed jungle gyms and roof tiles for company.

We drove more, eventually got to the hotel. As we walked around, I told my friends that I had wanted to order a shirt I saw that said "Show your boobs! (FEMA will send your beads in 6-8 weeks)" for the trip, but decided not to since it didn't seem sensitive. As we walked, we saw dozens upon dozens of similar shirts. Some said "Katrina gave me a hell of a blowjob," some had satellite photos of Katrina and the other hurricane, and at the bottom it said "Girls Gone Wild," one I nearly bought said "Katrina destroyed my home and all I got was this lousy t-shirt, a radio, and a plasma tv."

We saw signs on stores that gave new locations while their old ones were getting cleaned out. People came to us, giving us "tickets" for "having too much fun" and "being too good looking" (that last one gave us a good laugh), and then asking us to buy hats for Katrina victim charity. We all bought some.

While there we talked to many Orleans' residents. Some commented that this Mardi Gras was much smaller than normal, far fewer people, fewer cops, etc etc. Some told us stories of what they'd lost, where they went, who they blamed, all sorts of things.

The one thing they all had in common was that they ALL thanked us for coming. Repeatedly. Some of them bought us drinks to show thanks, or pointed out tourist sites they thought we'd like, or their favorite restaurants and what to order there. All of them said they appreciated the visit and the money we'd bring, all were very polite and friendly, all were great people. One man (admittedly pretty drunk) seemed to be almost in tears when he thanked us.

I don't know about my friends, but I felt pretty damn humbled. It was a quick shift from "Let's take pictures of everyone's broken houses and look at the destruction!" to what we experienced. We did see a small cross-section of residents, of course, but all were positive, humble, and upbeat about the future of their houses and lives.

To make a comparison, after 9-11, there was a great deal of "New Yorkers are so strong" mentality. I remember most the line from the first Spiderman movie when all the New Yorkers were together, helping Spiderman ("You mess with one of us, you mess with all of us!"). Even though I think that line is stupid and it bothers me, New Yorkers still got a great deal of recognition from that line and from other things like it.

I haven't seen anything like that in the media or in the entertainment industry for New Orleans. I haven't seen anyone calling them true Americans, great survivors, strong-willed people. All we get are jokes about how all the government-issued RVs lie unused, or how the debit cards given away were spent in casinos and on booze.

Well, I don't know any New Yorkers, so i can't comment on their mentality after 9-11, or how they banded together or how strong they were.

But I did see New Orleans people, and I did speak with them, and I and my friends were humbled.

I don't believe in God, but if he exists, then I hope he blesses everyone from New Orleans and helps them begin their lives anew.

And I hope someone besides me realizes that they are at least as deserving of praise as New Yorkers.

Originally posted to TheBlaz on Fri Mar 03, 2006 at 05:02 PM PST.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Thank you so much for your (4.00)
    lovely post.  In many ways, you've told the story better than I could.  I wish more people would come here.  I want them to, not only absorb the extent of the devastation, but to feel the warmth of New Orleanians.  I believe you've captured it well.

    Anderson Cooper rode in Endymian this year.  On his blog he wrote that he had visited New Orleans several times before Katrina both for business and pleasure and then he came here to cover Katrina.  He reports that, even after all that, he didn't really get what New Orleans was about until he rode in a parade.  He describes looking out at the crowd and throwing beads, the eye contact between the rider and the attendee.  He noted that he noticed that beads that were not caught, went unclaimed in the street.  Then he got it.  What makes riding in the parade a methaphor New Orleans?  The contact between the float rider and the parade goer; making eye contact with that person and throwing those beads to those knowing eyes looking back at you.

    Anderson finally got it.  New Orleans is all about the contact between people.

    I hope you'll come and visit us again.  We built some of the "feel" of New Orleans through our contact with tourists like you.

    •  Oh, I'll be back next year (4.00)
      It's a wonderful town and a great time always. Everyone should go at least once in their life for Mardi Gras, and I'd love to go there in the "off season" to see the sites and just walk around the French Quarter without worrying about getting beads in my eyes.

      "If more parents home disciplined [their kids] there would be fewer people I have to smack in public." --Wilzerd Balefire.

      by TheBlaz on Fri Mar 03, 2006 at 05:37:33 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  contact between float rider and parage goer (none)
      I was an 11 year member of a krewe (Thoth), and yes, I must say that the best feeling from riding in a parade was that connection.  (BTW, I had "retired" in 2004.)  The other good feeling was just knowing that I was directly supporting a unique cultural tradition.
    •  Also just got back yesterday from NOLA. (none)
      TheBlaz has done an excellent job of capturing my own feelings on the subject, both the heartbreak of seeing the disaster, and the sheer joy of being able to give dollars back to a city I'd been waiting to see my whole life.

      She may be broken, but she is still beautiful and strong, and meeting her and her people is an experience I will not forget in this lifetime. Can't wait to come back..

  •  Thanks for the commentary (4.00)
    Cities, they come back form hardship. That's what they do every day, that's what they do in the face of a disaster. They come back. That's what a real city is, it has a life of its own, and it can;t be extinguished.

    I've been thinking of making a trip down to N.O.
    I love that place, it's at the very core of the soul of this country. New Orleaneans have often made the best of hardship, and turned poverty into beauty, what choice was there? I was in New York in the December after 9/11 and I was the one who kept feeling weepy. I was just so damned glad that everyone was still there, and that they were still trying to be the biggest and best, ambition still intact. I got a lot of "yeah, that sucked, and sucked bad, but you gotta pay the bills, you can't just cry all day".

    That is what the spirit of a city is all about. That  "Let the good times roll" spirit of New Orleans, even in the middle of deep deep pain and hardship, is their spirit showing through, too. I get the impression that they would open their doors, give you a smile, and welcome you to a bowl of Gumbo, even if it was the last they had. That's the generous spirit I've always felt there, pure and real, unstudied and radiantly gorgeous. New Orleans will come back, even through 10 hurricanes. Culture wins over greed.

    You can't get away with the crunch, 'cuz the crunch always gives you away

    by dnamj on Fri Mar 03, 2006 at 05:21:22 PM PST

    •  That's what many people said to me (none)
      And they fully expect the Mardi Gras celebration to be back to full action next year.

      I can't wait already.

      "If more parents home disciplined [their kids] there would be fewer people I have to smack in public." --Wilzerd Balefire.

      by TheBlaz on Fri Mar 03, 2006 at 05:38:28 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  do it (none)
      there's nothing like it anywhere, period. you will not be sorry.

      Be ye ever so high, the law is above you

      by nota bene on Fri Mar 03, 2006 at 10:26:35 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  NOLA isn't coming back (none)
      I've been down there too, doing rebuilding, and around 65% of the city's population is still gone. After 6 months, well, that means to me they won't be back. Also, the levees are still tattered and Bush Co. is talking about a 3 year time frame to improve them. Hurricanes aren't waiting

      Also, the musician's union, i.e. full-time professional musicians, has lost around 90% of their members.

      The city will probably end up being a Disneyland, gambling place. The culture, social history, and music have taken a mortal blow, I feel.

  •  such a great post (4.00)
    you make me wish i was there (and not just for the mardi gras fun).

    Highly recommended. It's important to get an outsider's perspective, and I'm glad you wrote this.  It made me think of the delegation of Dems that are down there now. They've been blogging their own experiences, similar to yours.

    "Life is what happens to you while you're waiting for government to respond." A person I met in New Orleans today told me this, and it's something I will not soon forget.

    Powerful stuff all around.

    tracking the domestic spying scandal here.

    by Georgia Logothetis on Fri Mar 03, 2006 at 05:23:10 PM PST

  •  Other Mardi Gras tales (none)
    beautifully written by Polydactyl (at NIT and ePMedia Community) ...

    But on to the off the beaten path parades...the ones you really need to seek out if you are fortunate enough to make the trip in Mardi Gras's to come.  The big, big point of Mardi Gras this year (outside of the obvious cash infusion) was to vent a whole lot of steam and to maintain some semblance of normalcy.  There ain't shit normal about New Orleans right now.  You can't go to the grocery store and have the checkout clerk ask 'how yo' mom an dem?' for fear that they are dead or lost or in some other state.  It has changed the whole dynamic.  Polite conversation has been boiled down to the essence of living day to day.

    The whole post is lovely, and sad: Au revoir Mardi Gras, bonjour Cendre Mercredi

    •  I gotta different take... (4.00)
      ...on the polite conversation thing...

      Folks down here, least everyone I encounter, we all do the same polite conversation things we've done all our lives. For the last six months, we've been doing that polite conversation thing, and we're still hearing tales of woe from each other.

      And we still do that same polite conversation thing that we've done all our lives.

      Maybe that's because it's kinda more than polite conversation - it's a real question. It's always been asked with a fore-knowledge that maybe your mama and dem ain't doing so good. Maybe good, maybe not-so-good. It's a real question.

      Everybody's got things to do, everybody down here has a tale of woe...and we still got time and the heart for polite conversation.

      And that's the way folks are in all kindsa places.

      •  Luckydog (4.00)
        You are a true New Orleanian.  I've had the same experience.  I've found people amazingly open but not sympathy seeking about the tragedy they've encountered in their own lives.  I know more than a handful of people who lost relatives and have shared their stories with me.  

        Always, always there is simple grief while loving me (it's amazing) at the same time.

  •  Cheers, TB... (none)
    ...I'm glad thatcha passed a good time down here. And thanks for saying those nice things about NOLAians.

    Y'all come back now, y'hear?

  •  Glad you had a good time (none)
    and got to see some of the spirit of New Orleans and the people.They are strong and they will be there next year and in the future like they have been for 200+ years.
    Thanks for writing this diary.
  •  cities (4.00)
    Unfortunately, cities don't always come back -- even on its most tourist-filled day, Pompeii (to mention only one) has nowhere near the vibrancy it had early in August CE 79. I'm back in NO, hopeful for the future but fully aware of thousands of years of history; NO has been through hard times before, and never recovered its pre-Civil War pre-eminence. We'll do our best, whether or not it's good enough, time will tell.
  •  As a New Yorker, you are 100% correct (4.00)
    and shouldn't feel the need to apologize. If New Yorkers seemed "brave" after 9/11, well, they got an outpouring of love, sentiment --&  money--from the rest of the country.

    The folks in New Orleans are getting shafted by the government and are treated as if they were responsible for their own destruction. No one is giving them the respect they deserve. And what they have to overcome is far greater than anything people in NYC have had to deal with. At the end of the day on 9/11,  NYC was still standing. At the end of the day on 8/29, New Orleans was not.

  •  So sad to hear this (none)
    It's disheartening to see that so little progress has been made for the people of the area.  

    I visited New Orleans for the Democratic Party's house parties in November.  There was one house party in New Orleans, without furniture, without electricity hookups, but with hope for the future.

    If you'd like to keep up with what is happening there from the people who live there without the media spin, check out  They have a good weekly newsletter that you can subscribe to.

  •  Y'all Come Back (none)
    My favorite part of the 'Bourbon Street' Mardi Gras experience every year is meeting tourists from around the world.

    It's always a pleasure to meet so many kind, interesting and fun people.  This year certainly had less people than in the past, but those who did come down were even kinder and more supportive than I ever expected.  

    You certainly seem like one those, TheBlaz.  Come back soon.  Y'all are always welcome.

    Without music, life would be a mistake.

    by Cory on Fri Mar 03, 2006 at 09:24:52 PM PST

  •  I just got back yesterday (none)
    I was in NOLA from Saturday to Thursday. It was an eventful trip. I wanted to post a diary before I left to hookup with Kossacks making the trip, but I had enough on my plate as it was.

    A friend of mine moved there in September, to help clean up. I badly wanted to go but couldn't (and won't ever forgive myself for it). He's a guitarist living in the Fontainebleau neighboorhood, and we'd talked for a while about me going down there with my recording gear and getting some takes. So I couple friends and I hopped in the car. We managed to get out of a speeding ticket outside Texarkana (that was pretty cool).

    We started noticing fields of dead trees, shorn of all branches. A big hotel off I-10 that was half-repaired. We got off 10 at Carrollton. Admittedly, it was after midnight, but it was the Saturday before Mardi Gras. Most streets were deserted. Most of the stoplights weren't working. The roads suck; repaving streets hasn't been high on the list of priorities. We arrived at the Baker St. Bar which was very cool. It was weird driving through this eerieness and then arriving among lights and loud music and drinks.

    After we left the bar and went to my friend's place, he wanted me to go a few extra blocks and see this VW bug parked in the driveway of a house that was trying to collapse but had not yet done so. After not being able to find it for a while, he realized that the house we were looking for had in fact collapsed--blocking half the street--we'd just driven past it. From what we could tell, the car didn't actually seem to be in the driveway, so apparently the thing was towed, causing the house to fall. Bizarre.

    Over the next few days, I put over 100 miles on my car driving from friend's place to friend's place, from bar to bar, and so on. We drove along the levee in Algiers, and even got out on one of the small docks there to look at the goddamn enormous Mississippi river. Now I am from St. Louis, so I know about this river, but it was something to behold that close to the sea. Out there, with the isolation and distance from the hustle of the city, the view felt much different from the way it looks at Jackson Square (which is fucking beautiful too).

    The number of houses with tarps still on their roofs is astonishing. There is essentially no police presence in several New Orleans neighborhoods (and no, not at all like your local wrong-side-of-the-tracks elsewhere). Rescue teams in the immediate aftermath of the drowning of the city adopted a particular method for marking a house: they would spray-paint a large X on the front of the house. In the top quadrant, they would write the date. 9-12 was one I saw frequently. I think 9-08 was the earliest I saw, and 9-30 the latest. The left quadrant would have the name of the search team. The bottom quadrant listed simply a number: bodies found. The right quadrant listed the number and type of pets found,  dead and alive. The markings were very eerie and it was difficult to feel like I was even in the same country sometimes, especially when we would walk from a damaged neighborhood into the Quarter, or downtown or the Garden District.

    I've been down to MG before, but I stayed in a hotel downtown, only for a couple days, and didn't get to see a great deal of the rest of the city. Most of what we did was either on Bourbon St. or it was in Jackson Square.

    I got pickpocketed on Monday night. Shit. That's what I get for being drunk off my ass in a crowd of people looking upwards at breasts.

    I still don't understand the people who said there shouldn't be a Mardi Gras this year. Why? It's a city holiday. Even the courts shut down. (Don't get arrested cause you can't get out until Ash Wednesday.) Was Christmas cancelled? New Years?

    It got a whole bunch of people down there to see it in person. And believe me, even if all you did was stay in the Quarter the whole time, you couldn't have missed the fact that something was wrong. So many businesses and bars and galleries and restaurants had closed--even in the Quarter--that there's no way you couldn't have been aware. There sure seemed to be an awful lot of locals participating, so it meant something to somebody. And from what I understand, life in that city has been so miserable for so many for so long that the whole thing is a defiant, rebellious gesture in the first place. Everything from nature to the politicians.

    Speaking of which, the angry mockeries of Nagin, Blanco, Bush, Brown, Chertoff, and the rest were everywhere, unmistakable, and cheered when they appeared in the parades. Blanco and Nagin must have been gritting their teeth from the reviewing stand with some of the floats.

    I agree with your comments about New York. I have no idea why there hasn't been some kind of national hero-making out of Katrina survivors, and lots of blame-the-victim kind of stuff. San Francisco was rebuilt pretty rapidly after that earthquake in 89, wasn't it? It seems odd that life in mighty America hasn't returned to normal, six months later.

    Be ye ever so high, the law is above you

    by nota bene on Fri Mar 03, 2006 at 10:36:16 PM PST

    •  '06 more apt (none)
      The 1906 San Fran earthquake is more on the scale of Katrina. '89 was small, historically speaking, and also a good distance from the city.

      But the city was rebuilt after 1906.

      I hate to keep harping on the negative, but I just don't see NOLA coming back. A good chunk of the city was on its last legs before the storm, and that half plus some more basically seems to have packed up and left. A lot of musicians are gone, because there's simply not enough work.

      And looming over everything is the upcoming hurricane season.

  •  Thank You (none)
    I too went back home to NOLA for Mardi Gras, and am glad I did.  I won't add to your description except to say that I agree completely with your sentiments, and I only hope that everyone's conventions schedule NOLA in their near future to help jumpstart the city's economy.  This especially applies to the Dem '08 convention.  

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