New Orleans is hurting and so am I

My sister called me at work today. “I’ve got to talk to you right now. This is an emergency.”
I froze. “Oh my god, what?”
“We need the recipe for fudge that we always use.”
Later, I had a talk with my mom where I asked that no one use terms like “emergency” right now unless they really meant them. Our family does have some serious chocolate love, but needing fudge still does not qualify as an emergency.
“I’ve got Na Na’s fudge recipe at home. When I get home I’ll call you with it.”
“No, we need the recipe for the one with the chocolate chips and the little bitty marshmallows. We bought the ingredients already.”

In case you haven’t figured it out, my parents, my sister and my niece are all doing fine in Alabama. They are staying with my dad’s little brother and his family, who are thrilled to have a little girl in the house even if she is kind of cranky right now (I’d be cranky too, if I spent 10 hours one day and three the next in the car, not understanding what was going on).
In fact, just to bring some film references into it, they are staying in the same town where notorious drive-in movie impresario Dave Friedman (Blood Feast) now lives. It’s probably a good thing I’m not with them, because I would want to track down Dave Friedman and ask him if he has a copy of Mom and Dad. Or maybe just say hi.
My grandparents eventually made it from Meridian to my aunt (my mom’s sister) and uncle’s house in a different part of Alabama, where my parents’ cats are staying. I was a little irritated with Meridian and maybe all of Central Mississippi after I found out that my grandparents, who are in their mid-80s, had to sleep in their car on Sunday night. No one would give them room anywhere. But I am relieved that my grandparents are hardier than they seem and they got to Alabama in fairly good spirits.
My grandmother has already gotten into a fight with my uncle, however, and my grandparents are now staying at a hotel. This was predictable if you know the parties involved. I am a little sorry because we have no idea how long my grandparents will have to stay in Alabama, or at least away from their home in Lakeview. Lakeview is near one of the levee breaches so I am not optimistic about the state of their house. You have no idea how happy I am that they agreed to leave town.
My brother and his family are in Lafayette with his wife’s aunt. I found out that not only is their new house in peril, but they hadn’t sold the old one yet. So my brother and sister-in-law are worried about not one but two houses.
My youngest brother is in Baton Rouge and I’m told he’s safe but very anxious about the state of my parents’ house. His apartment is crowded with his roommate’s family and a bunch of dogs.
And we just found out that my great-aunt, my grandmother’s older sister, is doing fine with her family in Ocean Springs (near Biloxi). They didn’t leave their home because they didn’t think the hurricane would go near them … and it hit them full-square. But they are okay.
See how cheerful and optimistic I am being about the whole thing? Everyone is safe. Everyone is fine. They’re making fudge and complaining that they didn’t pack enough underwear. My dad is actually looking forward to helping people rebuild things when they get back home. He’s been making furniture for the past few years, so maybe he’ll make more for people who lost things, or help them with other practical woodwork.
But … I can’t look at photos of New Orleans or the surrounding area without crying. The twin span, in pieces. The I-10 underpass near my grandparents’ house, with a small lake building under it. Houses covered to the rooftops. Hotels with windows gone and hundreds of curtains hanging out. The Superdome, with half its roof covering peeled off completely.
I am not exaggerating when I say that the photos of New Orleans look like war-torn Berlin in A Foreign Affair. I expected Marlene Dietrich to slink out from behind a half-destroyed wall and sing about the ruins. See, I’m being funny again. Ha ha, it’s all like the backdrop of a Billy Wilder movie. Except it’s not.
The text-only news is equally grim. I never thought I’d say that the place where I grew up would be under martial law, but it is. The parish president says that everyone can come back next week when the roads are clearer, and pick up essential belongings … then they need to leave for a month.
A month. Where are these people going to stay? My parents will be fine—my mom says they planned a trip to see friends in Kansas anyway so it’s a good opportunity to go. Maybe they’ll stop by Austin for a little while. (We’ve offered space to a number of relatives, but we’re a little too far away for anyone to take us up on it. Also, I think the news has spread that we have only one bathroom.) But what about people with jobs? People who can’t just take a month-long vacation elsewhere?
It is estimated that the parish public schools will not be able to open until at least two months after Labor Day. Will the teachers be paid in the meantime? My brother and sister are both employed by schools, although they are private schools. Will they continue to see paychecks? Will they have to work until July? Impossible to say right now.
No one has been able to get into my parents’ neighborhood to assess the damage. It’s not an exciting part of New Orleans like the French Quarter, so I assume most politicians don’t care. (Although I heard Sen. Vitter flew past his house, which is in Metairie, and his roof was still intact. I don’t think he’s in my parents’ area though.)
Aside: I want to say one thing to people who aren’t from New Orleans who are writing about the devastation: there’s a lot more to New Orleans than the French Quarter. It is a very small part of a much larger city and surrounding suburban area. Please do not equate the French Quarter with the city. Thank you.
My sister lives on the North Shore and it’s unlikely her house is flooded, but a tree might have fallen, or the wind might have messed something up. She couldn’t take the neighborhood outdoor cat with her. No cell phones work. She has two email accounts that don’t work because the servers were in the New Orleans area. I’m trying to fix her up with a Gmail account.
I am reading now (on WWL’s site) that the pumps are about to fail on the East Bank, and the levee can’t be repaired, and that nine feet of water is expected in the entire East Bank. That would include my parents’ house and my brother’s houses. The neighborhood where I grew up. Nine feet. There goes the armoires.
I also am reading, which had a great blog going from reporters in the old Times-Pic office on Howard until they had to evacuate today. The news is coming from Baton Rouge, and it is a pleasant surprise to recognize one reporter’s name who worked there when I was an intern reporter for Gannett in the State Capitol. Earlier today, I saw an article on the Web about the hurricane from my old boss at the Capitol Bureau. Lots of photos of looters, sadly. Bucktown entirely underwater. I wonder if Deanie’s is gone or if it will be miraculously saved by a protective layer of fried seafood grease. Rocky and Carlo’s in Chalmette is submerged.
They don’t give you bereavement leave at work when a city dies. But then New Orleans isn’t dead yet. It’s just hurting really bad. When the place where you were born is underwater and bodies are floating around like some kind of bad horror movie and the streets that aren’t flooded are full of bricks from collapsed buildings and trunks from felled ancient oak trees and glass and roof tiles … how can I possibly deal with deadlines and meetings and even movies?
Terry Gilliam’s film flopped and he can’t find anyone to finance Good Omens even if he has Johnny Depp and Robin Williams attached (to play Crowley and Aziraphale, apparently) and that’s a shame but I can’t bring myself to care right now. Maybe next week I’ll be ranting about Cheaper by the Dozen 2 but right now I’m wondering if the Prytania survived, and when there will be any movie theaters able to show anything in the greater New Orleans area. That plan for a big studio complex in Algiers to encourage people to shoot films in Louisiana? I suspect we won’t hear anything about that anytime soon.
I have work to do but I am probably going to check Toni’s site for updates on stuff that she gets from local newscasts but we’re not really hearing in Austin. And then WWL and And I will probably look at the photos again even though I keep telling myself I shouldn’t.
I wish I could do something useful. Right now all I can do is give money. I put a Red Cross donation button in the sidebar. Ms. Pineapple made the graphic and has more if you want to put one on your site. I hope no one in my family needs help from the Red Cross, and I am grateful that they are doing comparatively well. Grateful enough to want to help everyone else who hasn’t been so “lucky”.
I did help one person today. I found the fudge recipe. At least my family has chocolate.

11 thoughts on “New Orleans is hurting and so am I”

  1. My mother has been telling me about her cousin in Slidell (whom I never met and she rarely talks about, but suddenly she’s remembering their childhood together) and wondering how he is. If he is. The rest of the family was okay last we heard.
    This is just heartrending.
    I’m so glad your family is safe, Jette.

  2. So much love and thoughts to you and your family, Jette. I am sure that you all will get through this with admirable grace and determination — and fudge.

  3. I can’t echo what Coleen said enough: your grace is truly admirable. In a time when everyone on the planet with the most tenuous of connections to the city are mawkishly claiming it with misty eyes as their entire bloodline’s birthright, homestead, and legacy… I am continually awed by the quiet dignity of actual New Orleans natives.

  4. Well, I was conceived in New Orleans, so I think I get to claim *something*. Everyone except for Cousin Dougie is well and accounted for, and everyone, as a result, is worried about him. (I have a mental picture of him sitting in a bar on the high ground in the French Quarter hanging with the partiers.) Jette, I’m very glad everyone of your people is ok. They will get through it.

  5. “They don’t give you bereavement leave at work when a city dies.”
    I feel the same way. I’m stuck here in Austin, trying to pretend to give a fuck about software releases, when all I can think about are my brother’s families and my dying city.

  6. I am here. Jette let me know that you’d asked, Heather. Thanks–I appreciate it. We are here, we are safe, we are sad. We do not know what awaits when our loved ones return home or when they will be able to return home. Thank you for your thoughts.

  7. My heart is with you, and your family. I have friends who live(d) in Metairie who are also struggling. It is tragic, and I mourn. Sending a hug along to you…

  8. Eliza (and Jette), thank you for that. You are probably thinking, “Is that the Heather I went to college with, or lived across the street from, or hated in kindergarten because she was so smart and beautiful?,” and the answer, sadly in all three cases, is No. I’m just a longtime reader from suburban Atlanta. Our area is starting to get some refugees (!) and today I will go with members of my church to round up clothes and be added to a schedule of meals provided these 5 families, who will probably be here for a while. Be well.

  9. Great news about your family. Most of mine live in St. Bernard. Not good. Yesterday, my daughter got a birthday card that my mom mailed her from Chalmette on Friday.

Comments are closed.