Katrinaversary Blues: Of Resilience Tours, Carpetbloggers & Disaster Tourists

Root Beer Blues, 2005.
Root Beer Blues, 2005. Photo by Dr. A

The hype behind the 10th anniversary of Katrina and the subsequent flood reminds me of a flock of turkey buzzards circling the city in search of carrion. I, for one, have no desire to be roadkill and plan to hide under the bed on Saturday 8/29. There are too many people with too many agendas who have seized that day, transforming it into a metaphor. All most of us have ever wanted is to get back to what passes for normality in New Orleans. I’d even take Gamaliel-style “normalcy” once I stop cringing…

After the water receded, there was a second inundation of people flooding into the city. Some were do-gooders, some were hipsters seeking the next trend, still others were here to make a buck. Very few of them understood the essence of New Orleans and what makes the city and its inhabitants tick. Many of them, especially on social media, have come up with an orthodoxy of what it means to be a New Orleanian. That has come to be known as copping a NOLAier than thou attitude, a swell phrase that was coined by Karen Dalton Beninato.  Some of the NOLAier than thou set seem to have spent way too much time watching Treme. Instead of a Cabaret, life is apparently a second line, old chum.

I mention the NOLAier than thou crowd because they, the local media, the boosterazzi, and the Landrieu administration seem to be the only New Orleanians who are intent on commemorating the Katrinaversary. The Mayor and other boosters are plugging the new, improved New Orleans, as opposed to the old and lousy version, I guess. Others think the City has gone to hell in a designer handbag since the storm. I’m somewhere in the middle BUT the fact that the Katrinaversary has its own logo and slogan is either deeply silly or obscene. I’m not quite sure which.

Katrina 10 logo

That’s what happens when your city is turned over to Yuppie gentrifiers, flacks, developers, and urban planners. Style long ago overtook substance in our recovery. City Hall is planning “resilience” tours by land, sea, and air. Hand to God, I am not making this up. I’m not sure who will take them except for the odd disaster tourist or carpetblogger. Welcome to Dizneylandrieu.

Here’s what some internet smart ass had to say about it on Twitter:

Now that I’ve robustly mocked the resilience tours, I must admit that we’ve come a long way from the flooded neighborhoods and rotting refrigerators of 2005.

Cajun Tomb, 2005.
Cajun Tomb, 2005. Photo by Dr. A.

I have a recurring dream about walking the streets when they were lined with dead fridges full of rotting food, surrounded by swarms of maggots. The stench was overwhelming. The mere thought of it still churns my stomach and I do not have a delicate digestive system. What I have is another Richard Thompson earworm:

I am dreading the influx of disaster tourists who will surely be showing up in town this week. Some of them will be sincerely motivated and others will be of the “I volunteered once with Habitat for Humanity after Katrina so I know what it was like” variety. No, you don’t. You don’t know what it’s like to be barred from your home for 6 weeks and have to sneak in like Dr. A and I did. You don’t know what it’s like to have a bad case of survivor’s guilt because you didn’t fare as badly as other people in town. You don’t know what it’s like to have to re-tell your “Katrina story” over and over again. You don’t know what it’s like to be having dinner and have do-gooders burst in to save your pets because you didn’t, or couldn’t, wash the marks off your front door. Actually, neither do I but it happened to some friends of mine. It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase putting on the dog…

The aftermath of the storm was a very painful period in the lives of New Orleanians. We’ve lived it day-in and day-out for 10 years at varying levels of intensity. That’s why I’m not enthusiastic about rehashing those days regardless of whether it’s done by resilience tour types or the krewe of “we’ve gone to hell in a designer handbag.” I wish they’d all piss off and leave me alone. I’m not the only one who feels this way.

People have been in a very tetchy mood here all month. It’s made worse by all the disaster tourist journalists and carpetbloggers popping into town, taking our temperature, and putting their own spin on our story. That makes it their story, not ours. Once again, we live it every day, they’re just drive-by Katrina experts. Go bug somebody else and leave us alone.

The vile mood has spread to social media, especially NOLA Twitter. There have been a series of ugly flame wars where people question other people’s right to say anything about the storm. A woman of my online acquaintance was called an opportunist, ho, and, even worse, a newbie arriviste by some misogynist creep. Wrong. Her family came here with Bienville, as we like to say about the fine old families of New Orleans, and she rode out the storm at Tulane Hospital with a sick relative. I don’t understand the impulse to put people down when you don’t know jack shit about them. Unless, that is, they’re running for office because that’s what I do. Of course, that’s kicking up. There’s a lot of kicking down going on right now. Those folks should be kicked in the balls and serenaded by the late Harry Nilsson:

Shorter Adrastos. I will do my damnedest to stop thinking about the impending visit of the Texas Napoleon to his Waterloo and all the activities that will draw disaster tourists, carpetbloggers,  looky-loos, and NOLAier than thou wannabes to town. I may have to stop mainlining Social Media so I won’t spend the week in a state of constant aggravation. This will, hopefully, be my last word on Katrina 10. I plan to skip the resilience tours as well even though the flyover sounds kind of cool.

I originally planned to use this Winwood-Capaldi classic in the post title, but I didn’t want anyone to think I’m opposed to the NOLA smoking ban. It’s only smoke-free air but I like it. Put that in your pipe and smoke it:


55 thoughts on “Katrinaversary Blues: Of Resilience Tours, Carpetbloggers & Disaster Tourists

  1. Exactly how I feel. Makes me dread August every year. And this year will be exponentially worse.

  2. “You don’t know what it’s like to have a bad case of survivor’s guilt because you didn’t fare as badly as other people in town. You don’t know what it’s like to have to re-tell your “Katrina story” over and over again. You don’t know what it’s like to be having dinner and have do-gooders burst in to save your pets because you didn’t, or couldn’t, wash the marks off your front door. Actually, neither do I but it happened to some friends of mine. It gives a whole new meaning to the phrase putting on the dog…”

    This really hit home. Thanks for writing this.

  3. @Christy: Thanks. This one was aimed at my fellow New Orleanians so your praise means a lot.

    @Bonnie: Oops. Changed.

  4. Very well stated, my friend, and greetings from New York. A certain day in September up here I forswear all media, not because I don’t want to think about things that happened that day, but because I don’t want to be inundated with the pieties of dolts who speak for hours on end of that which they do not understand. I usually bring out some Lou Reed tunes for the day.

  5. I devised a pretty solid “shields up” approach to this whole affair. Particularly since I no longer live in NOLA (but did TRY to return last year…til crime freaked me out and sent me packing again…). But glad to read this and get such a terrific take on it all. Thanks. But now? SHIELDS [BACK] UP!

  6. Great post. I never liked these anniversaries. I thought this one would get weird but “Resilience” Tours? Damn. It’s worse than I thought. Thinking of all you guys and wishing you well….everyday

  7. Excellent post my friend and I agree 100% percent. So many good zingers too. I particularly like “Some of the NOLAier than thou set seem to have spent way too much time watching Treme. Instead of a Cabaret, life is apparently a second line, old chum.” My rage over all the nonsense surrounding the anniversary has inspired me to blog again. A place to rant. Rant blogging? Rogging?

  8. The logo and resilience tours kill me. Maybe they ought to consider a “Katrina Experience” theme park? Gah. The only thing they should be using this as an anniversary for is to reflect how deeply, deeply fucked up the response was and how they can make sure it never happens again.

    1. Agreed. There’s more K10 malakatude to come. The good news is that President Obama appointed the most qualified person in the country, Craig Fugate, as a FEMA. A disaster professional. Imagine that.

  9. I’m actually thinking of getting up early and going to the St. Bernard memorial. I worked ona weekly newspaper there for two years, and the moment that broke in up in Fargo was an MSNBC flyover tape loop from a helicopter they kept playing over and over. I remember whoever was on saying, “we don’t know what we’re looking at.” On the second loop, I remember thinking, that looks like the locks on the Violet Canal. and then there was the refinery. And I lost it. And wrote the first real blog post on Wet Bank Guide that wasn’t me scrapping and interpreting bad news reports, The Tragedy of St. Bernard. I’d go read it again right now but it’s hard to prep for a meeting in 30 minutes when you are crying.

    I didn’t set foot in da Parish for eight years. It used to be a sunrise memorial, way too early for me, but they’ve moved it to 9 a.m. I think that will be a good place to be.

    1. I don’t have many ties to Da Parish but for one who does, that’s a good, low key place to go. No lectures about resiliency or the 5 ring circus of an event we helped to found. No Rising Twitter for me.

      1. I hardly talk to Sam anymore. It shows on FB she’s going. I thought about it, but to walk away from the founding purpose amidst all the hoopla just seems wrong. Then again, maybe its exactly the right thing to do. I don’t know. I’m not a blogger. I’m a writer with a blog, and it smacks of the whole reinventing the world and saving New Orleans trough Twitter. We tried that.And I’m not getting enough sleep this week so I’m not going to go look the quote up buy yeah what Hunter said about being able to see where that wave broke and rolled back. The last Katrina post save one (maybe two) goes up this morning, and it ends where it should:

        “The reconstruction of the city around me will last at least as long as WWII. There will be long periods of boredom and routine punctuated by times of great excitement, much of that of the unpleasant kind. Yes, we will have shore leave for Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest but most of our time will be spent scrapping rust and paint knowing all the while that just over the ocean’s horizon there is something threatening.

        In this peculiar armada the officers are as useless as the French nobility. They look fine high up there in their crosswise hats and give marvelous speeches, but we know from hard experience that they are worthless. People mutter all around the city about mutiny of one form or another, but mutiny is a lot of damn work and it is awfully hot. I like to think we could yet rise up and have our storming of the Bastille moment but every passing day it seems more unlikely. No Fletcher Christian or Maximilien Robespierre has stepped forward to lead us, and every angry mob needs a leader.

        Perhaps I ask for too much. If history and the city consumes us all one-by-one but the city lives on, that perhaps what was always intended, why were were all lured home. In the end, perhaps Pynchon has given us the model to surviving It’s After the End of the World. If history has gone too wrong for any one of us to stop what is happening around us, maybe it is better to amble down a shady street in New Orleans without a particular thought in my head except the distant sound of what might be Slothrop’s harmonica, to disappear into the random noise in the signal.”

      2. I feel the same way, Mark. I’m also a writer with a blog and Twitter is simply too limiting. I like to be able to vary tones and moods and that’s impossible on Twitter.

    1. They are indeed involved. New Orleans now has a chief resilience officer. Oh joy.

      1. The Aahley Morris brigade of the resistance continues to lay plans to blow the bridges, and hold the Carrollton-Palmetto line like it’s Stalingrad.

  10. Great read. You know–your post actually made me think of 9/11–which I’ll get to later on in my reply. I’ve not been down to New Orleans since the hurricane. But in the dozen times I’ve been there, I’ve always loved it–especially “after hours”. I once had a blast with a bartender from Napoleon House many years ago–it was just a fun night into morning of slumming around various bars and hangouts! I learned that I could handle hard liquor quite well. Let me stop rambling. My favorite hangout was “Port O’ Call” and I don’t know if it is still there–but that place had the friendliest patrons of all time!!! One of the things I loved about NOLA is the fact that it was perfect. I love the oldness and the somewhat shantiness of some of the places…and as an ex-Manhattanite who was forced out due to real estate prices and greed, I still miss my “seedy” NYC–I miss the bums and working gals-because they were true characters and they weren’t violent–not like the craziness we have today! I really hope that on my next trip to NOLA, it isn’t completely slick and brand-spanking-Disneyesque the way Times Square has been ruined! Oh back to 9/11. While I realize we should never forget, we must move on and forward! I worked in the Trade Center many years ago and have fond memories of Phillipe Petit walking the tightrope across the towers, which is the visual I WANT to have–not the one of the burning towers. It’s done–and I won’t forget but I’m tired of too many awkward pauses from people whenever we speak of that day. I dunno..this post brought it to mind! I’m listening to Michael Doucet now–so I may just have to leave my computer and start dancing! Sorry to ramble………………….

    1. Hi Catherine… I realize you’re attempting to relate to New Orleans and this post…

      But EXCUSE ME???? you were “slumming”???? and in NYC it was “Seedy”?????

      Well hello WHITE girl???? Or Rich Girl??? S’up with your socio-economic-classist vocab, sister sue?

      This isn’t September. It’s not about the friggin’ world trade towers.

      This is about the people of New Orleans as defined by a hurricane which highlighted the white supremacist government… “heck of a job Brownie”.

      The whole “we will never Forget” is political… because who are WE?

      Black lives matter… Barbara Bush doesn’t want to clutter her “lovely” mind and thinks the dome provided good shelter, despite the people being locked in to what has been described as worse than the third world.

      I’m sorry for taking you to task so harshly… but wake up woman. And you ain’t slumming. You are entitled and privileged and out of touch.

  11. I had no intention of going to New Orleans this weekend. I’ve noticed the attention in the media with passing regard. I was in Atlanta. As far as days I will never forget, I wouldn’t be able to answer any more than August if asked what day Katrina hit New Orleans.

    Not to present an appearance of disregard, it’s just it’s not my katrinaversary to observe. It was a bad day for so so many, but it was not my bad day. I have enough of those. There’s no reason to bandwagon someone else’s. Will I give a moment of silence to honor the occasion and remember the devastation of the whole thing? Yes. Absolutely.

    But until I read this, I figured I’d do it over morning coffee while I scrolled through the guide to find something not-news to watch. Now I kind of want to put together a quick road trip, find a nice lamp post for leaning, and observe this mixing of NOLAers trying to have a Saturday and the NOLAier-than-thous having A Saturday.

    I won’t. But I kind of want to. If you get some risers for the bed legs, you’ll have a bit more space for your hiding out.

  12. Wish I could sit in on the conversations. Damn, that would almost as good as hoisting a few, since I can’t handle my liquor. I hope a few good stories (at the expense of those parachuting in) get started.

  13. Our city, Calgary had a major river flood in summer of 2013 that evacuated 100,000 people. We are located in southern Alberta, Canada. Flood happened 2013. We were luckier than other buildings since only our highrise basement flooded our storage lockers. I totally understand the monotonous rehashing of resilency slogans and going over past details. Some people are still coping… and some people just left if they could from the flooded area.

  14. Thanks for all the kind words. Welcome to First Draft to all the new readers who commented on this post. Pay us another visit or 30.

  15. I liked reading your post. It seems very ridiculous to celebrate the anniversary of a disaster with such pomp and circumstance. No moments of silence for the victims or lost lives?

  16. I feel this. I lived in NOLA for only 3 years, recently, and I always felt a sense of detachment from the “real” New Orleanians because I did not experience the storm. I didn’t even get to say I came to help after to storm. I showed up 5 years later. We know the media loves sensationalizing all disasters past, but thanks for pointing out that the normal everyday citizens of the city just want to move forward.

    1. Hello , My name is Angela i was asking if you could check out my post . I just really wanted some feedback. So if you could back to me as soon as you can that would be great. Tell me what you think.
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  17. Embrace the disaster tourist. Take their disaster tourist dollars, as many as you can. Use this to enrich your lives.
    If you can rip them off whilst they are with you, rip them off. This is one way to rebuild.

  18. I slightly agree with balaam up there, take advantage of the tourism because it’ll help rebuild the New Orleans everyone loved before Katrina. Then slowly veer them away from the tours, leading them into bbq, seafood places, bars clubs and the amazing atmosphere New Orleans until today, offers. I do understand all the traumas Katrina unfortunately caused. And it’ll take time to heal. Hopefully the government down there can produce a disaster memorial like they did with 9/11 so its all contained in one area. For your though, next time i take a shot, it’ll be for NOLA and moving on.

  19. Katrina 10? Is that some sort of perverse marketing campaign? Strange. The UK now labels disasters in a similar way and “celebrates” them, if that’s the right word. I very much doubt, however, that you can buy “Rawanda 10” logos in Africa…

  20. We are hoping to do a tour of the deep south from the UK. We were interested in coming to New Orleans and to see as M CH of it as possible. We were also going to try and see the remnants of the devastation to fully comprehend what happened during Hurricane Katrina, but having read your piece perhaps we should just keep to the centre.

  21. Sometimes through disaster we find inspiration. We connect with strangers on the common ground of perseverance past unthinkable times. It’s nice to see the world come together to help those affected by this tragedy. I really liked your article. I hope this never happens again. Sadly, we can’t predict these things but it is reassuring to know that there are people in the world willing to help when the time comes.

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