Life goes on in typical New Orleans fashion, carrying on under the deserved appellation, "The City That Care Forgot".
The crowds were small and the costumes wickedly satirical as Mardi Gras built toward its boozy climax Tuesday in this hurricane-buckled city that could use a few laughs.I grew up in New Orleans and spent most of my adult life there. As a kid I remember the expectancy of going to the parades with friends and relatives. Collecting parade doubloons became an enjoyable obsession. Downtown New Orleans parades have historically attracted more out-of-towners, while most of the locals are drawn to the krewes, as they're called, parading in the suburbs. Later in my life the debaucherous side of Mardi Gras became apparent as the Spirit of God opened my understanding to sin and its deleterious effects. Most of what is written and televised about Mardi Gras concerns itself with this aspect, although the surburban parades take on more of a family atmosphere if one can excuse the token lost drunks in search of their car keys. I recall how my wife and I, after having given our lives to Christ in 1979, found ourselves at the Cabildo, shivering in a cold February rain and suddenly wondering why we were there at all, as Jesus held our affections and the attractions of Mardi Gras became pale by comparison.
The culmination of the eight-day pre-Lenten bash fell nearly six months to the day after the Aug. 29 storm that smashed thousands of homes and killed more than 1,300 people, the vast majority of them in New Orleans.
"I lost everything," Andrew Hunter, 42, said as he sat on the steps of his ruined home on Jackson Avenue. "But what the heck. This helps us keep our spirits up, and we need all the help we can get with that."
Even amid the typical debauchery including early morning drinking, flashes of bare breasts and skimpy costumes in the French Quarter there was no escaping reminders of the storm.
I've been curious to see some of the physical effects of Katrina since it happened and got my chance over the last couple of days to travel down to New Orleans to assist a family moving to Atlanta. I don't hold it as any coincidence that today marks 6 months almost to the day that Katrina took its toll. From Kenner to Metairie to lower Gentilly to the much talked about Ninth Ward to St. Bernard parish, every area bore the marks of an unimaginable devastation. As I travelled the streets and walked in neighborhoods I remembered in happier times, I found myself unable to grasp the magnitude of what has happened. It may be trite to say but pictures and video alone can do it no justice. As one who has been there, the scope is so vast and the tragedy in some places so deep that restoration is quixotic. The park next to where I lived as a child, where I played ball and remember Christmas gift giveaways and visits by Santa Claus, is now a FEMA trailer city, complete with a guarded security entrance. The building in the background is the Catholic church where I attended and served as an altar boy (yeah, I was a decent kid at one time, before questioning myself right out of Catholicism, but that's a story for another day.)The frustrations of residents are advertised in various ways throughout the city. I found an "Evacuate Broussard" bumpersticker (Aaron Broussard is the president of Jefferson Parish who is most noted for his tearful performance during a Meet The Press interview in the aftermath of Katrina in which some of his statements were later discovered to have contained some "inaccuracies") on the back of a truck while driving in Metairie and painted signs such as this one on homes and placards. This one reads "Thanks State Farm for our new roof. We will need it. Ha Ha". New Orleans WWL radio runs a regular evening show in which callers can speak their minds to local government officials brave enough to weather (pun intended) the onslaught of outraged residents. And the outrage is palpable.
Part 2 later...