Dan Baum has been living in New Orleans and blogging at The New Yorker on his experiences. He has just left the city and here is part of his last New Orleans experience post…
“Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans?” an old song asks;
another reminds us, “You don’t know what you got ’til it’s gone.” Since
Katrina, I’ve often been asked (though never by someone in New Orleans)
why the country should bother rebuilding it. Is it really worth the
billions it would take to protect this small, poor, economically
inessential city, which is sinking into the delta muck as global
warming raises the sea around it? But the question of “whether” has
been settled—New Orleans is rebuilding itself, albeit slowly, fitfully,
and imperfectly. Now it’s only a matter of how and how long. That is
better news than perhaps the rest of America fully understands.
The city’s unique appreciation for the present makes life there rich
indeed; it’s why people call New Orleans “the Big Easy.” It is not a
world view conducive to getting things done, however, which goes a long
way toward explaining why New Orleans is having so much trouble
recovering from Hurricane Katrina. There are exceptions, but, as a
rule, New Orleanians—no matter what color or how wealthy—aren’t great
at planning meetings, showing up on time for them, running them in
orderly fashion, deciding on a course of action, and then following
through. This isn’t simply laziness or fecklessness; it’s a reflection
of a commitment to enjoying life instead of merely achieving. You want
efficiency and hard work? Go to Minneapolis. Just don’t expect to let
the good times roll there.
New Orleans endures as the
national repository of the loose-jointed Huck Finn spirit we Americans
claim to cherish. While the rest of us pare down our humanity in
service to the dollar, New Orleans is a corner of America where
efficiency and maximized profit are not the civic religion. As I drive
past endless repetitions of Wendy’s, Golden Corral, Ethan Allen
furniture, Jiffy Lube, Red Lobster, and the like on my way back to
Colorado, I realize that I haven’t spent a dollar anyplace but locally
owned business in four months. A long time ago, David Freedman, the
general manager of the listener-supported radio station WWOZ,
described New Orleans to me as a kind of resistance-army headquarters.
“Everyplace else in America, Clear Channel has commodified our music,
McDonald’s has commodified our food, and Disney has commodified our
fantasies,” he said. “None of that has taken hold in New Orleans.” In
the speedy, future-oriented, hyper-productive, and globalized
twenty-first century, New Orleans’s refusal to sacrifice the pleasures
of the moment amounts to a life style of civil disobedience.
Everybody in New Orleans tells Margaret and me that we’ll be back, that
we now have the city in our blood and won’t be able to live anywhere
else. We don’t yet know if that’s true. I can tell you that, wherever
we live, I’m comforted knowing that New Orleans is there. It’s no
exaggeration to say that, without New Orleans, the United States would
I love New Orleans and some days I miss it so much. Today is one of those days. I would move there in a heartbeat if my finances were different or if there really were a great patron of lefty bloggers (cough Mr. Soros) and he knew I existed and really really liked me.
Simply put I am well suited to New Orleans and New Orleans to me. I can’t explain it any better than that or than what Dan has written. I hope you’ll read his whole post. It is worth it. I will miss his posts from New Orleans, not as much as I miss New Orleans, but one could live vicariously through his wonderful writing. Thanks Dan for all the great posts.