The streets were still empty, the houses still decimated, the weeds were high and many trees were dying. But more on that below the fold.
I hate the filth, the trash and the heat. I hate the disparity between social classes and races. I hate the crime and ignorance. And I'm not fond of tropical plants growing out of control.
For ten years my dislike of the city was constantly challenged by those things that I loved, but dislike won out. Then something happened to change that. I moved to the northshore and found that Louisiana is a beautiful place full of strange native plants and a few cold, clear streams. I journaled the seasons by what plants were blooming on my way home and I developed strong ties with the people I previously thought were just ignorant rednecks. I passed that magical ten year mark that takes you from being an acquaintance in the south to being a friend.
We have so many people and places we want to say goodbye to - to visit, drink up, and imprint into our psyches. As if the city hasn't already done that for us. This place grows on you, like moss on the trees or like mold in a home.
So we said goodbye the the Quarter a few weeks ago when we went to see "An Inconvenient Truth" and eat at Irene's (you MUST eat there if you visit). The Quarter is dirty in a different way than it used to be. My husband, a native, taught me to appreciate and even find comforting the mixed odors of urine, alcohol and garbage in the quarter many years ago. We would walk early in the morning while the shopkeepers were cleaning the sidewalks in front of their stores. The AC units would drip condensate on us and I always wondered in the back of my mind if it was truly just water. But now there are not enough shops open to get all of the sidewalks cleaned. So the smell, which used to get diluted every day, is now just sour and strong. The litter does not get picked up the way it used to. The crowds are strangely sparse and subdued.
The nice part of it is that you get to meet more of the locals as they are less diluted by the tourists. And it's the same conversation on every elevator and doorway - "How'd you make out?" Still.
I haven't said goodbye to Uptown yet, and may not get to it with my schedule. But I did go to my old neighborhood - Lakeview.
My precious house and garden are untouched, the door wide open, mold up the walls, the weeds up to the roof. Miss Kinney's house on the corner has lost the massive magnolia that covered the entire front of the house. On our block, one house had been restored and one was in progress. There are ten houses per side, so twenty on each block. Many houses sport the "round-up" look - the owner or someone has tried to keep the weeds down by spraying herbicide.
This is a neighborhood where each little house had a cottage feel and a lovely garden. I used to spend hours walking up and down the neighborhood with my dogs looking at the houses and gardens. There was always a new project, a new landscape, some new art. I would walk the service alleys to see the back yards, some of them fabulously done. But on this trip the pepto pink house on the corner was overgrown with those flowering vines that had survived the storm and many other plants were just withering.
I stopped by an old friend's house in Lake Vista. I wanted to tell them we were moving away. L's mother, Miss Betty was there. She and her husband lost everything. They are living in Houma now, and are unsure about rebuilding because of the 17th street canal. They don't trust it. These are quintessential Orleanians. Both were teachers and know half the people in the city.
I remember when Andrew was approaching I called them to ask if we should evacuate. Miss Betty told me that Lakeview didn't flood during Betsy and that they didn't expect any problems. On my first trip into the city post-K I went by their house. I was so relieved to see that the spray paint indicated that no one had died there! I reminded Miss Betty about this and told her how glad I was that they had evacuated this time.
Then I drove by a house where I had designed and planted the front garden. The house is empty and the yard is dead, except for the Basham's Party Pink Crepe Myrtle that I had planted. It was huge, lush, and full of light, soft, pink blooms.
This was closer to the canal, and the area was still eerily quiet. The only difference I see from the early post-k days is that the sludge that covered the streets has been partly FEMA'd (removed) and partly washed down the storm drains by the rains. Else, there was really no difference. One in twenty houses was occupied. The activity of gutting is either over or ignored and the wait for insurance to pay up and the government to build levees is the only measure of time.
I left via Bucktown. Not my favorite place due to it's support of David Duke, but still an important part of the city. Entire blocks of FEMA trailers were parked in front of homes. People are trying to live normal lives in a space many of them wouldn't want to camp in.
Someone visiting the city recently said to me that it seemed as if people were waiting for the government to fix things, that they were content to just stay in their trailers. I could have screamed. They obviously didn't understand that getting a contractor is an act of god and that insurance companies are quibbling about who will pay for damages.
I wonder what kinds of questions they will ask in Wisconsin.
I've said goodbye to most parts of the city now, and don't know when I'll be back. I assume I will visit friends at some date and see what progress has been made. Tomorrow I will give my notice at work. More friends to say goodbye to.
It is bittersweet.