Monday, February 26, 2007


I am still shaking off some Mardi Gras exhaustion, and I didn't even hit the city as hard as some of the folks I know from work. They take this Mardi Gras thing very, very seriously in these parts, more than whatever the PR machine tells you back in other parts of the USA. I trained for stuff like this at SEC tailgates, dammit. I should have lasted longer. Even with my pitiful Division III-like showing, I still decided to give up beer and liquor for Lent, owing mainly to the fact that I can't, in good consience, shoot or chug red wine.

And yet, somehow I ended up with scars on top of my feet from walkin' around so much and not feeling it. Three of my best friends rolled through town to see this spectacle with me, and there will be an upcoming post about 'the blitz' or 'what happens when three friends get together to eat nothing but fine New Orleans dining for a week.'

So the Crescent City seamlessly shifted gears back down to non-Carnival levels of volume, and my commute from the Broadmoor sublet to my lower Magazine Street kitchen has returned to normal. On Saturday the 17th, said commute took two hours, roughly half of it on foot, and its only a distance of about three miles.

So, in order to follow the cultural climax of the Crescent City, the NOLA bloggers have taken to discussing culture's role in the recovery.

Wet Bank Guide
Da Po'Blog
Ashley Morris

The two recurrent themes are thus: "New Orleans vs the United States of America" and "Is it a Fight Over Culture?"

I'll tackle the first quote first.

As an outsider living, working and playing in New Orleans, no matter how deeply related through family ties or new bonds, I am at a disadvantage in these discussions. I am a post-Deluge transplant, and can never have the kind of deep understanding of the cultural fabric that existed in New Orleans before the flood.

The NOLA v USA thing is an intriguing dynamic, but it is one I can empathize with if only nominally. As a member of a kitchen crew for most of my adult life, I know what it is like to have a paranoid, bunker mentality: I may work for the same restaruant as the servers, but they are on a different side than I am. As a Southerner, I can extend that to a worldview: I come from a region that is culturally different and looked down upon by the mainstream.

Though it may seem like overreaction or hypersensitivity on the part of some New Orleanians to draw lines in the sand with themselves on one side and 'Americans' on another, it makes far more sense when you read the words of American leaders in response to the flood from within Orleans Parish. To New Orleans, many American leaders and pundits have said, over and over, on the internet on the radio and on television: 'we will not take a single step back from Iraq where all of them hate Americans, but we will give up New Orleans - a place Americans actually live - to standing water. We question the wisdom of rebuilding New Orleans because of that sea level thing while we reimburse developers in South Florida for creating million dollar homes on landfill. We're going to let insurers take your money for years and not pay you because they contribute mightily to our campaigns and stock portfolios.'

South Carolina shot cannonballs at Ft Sumter for less offense than that.

Every other state on the Atlantic seaboard that may get hit someday by a hurricane or four should be standing in absolute solidarity. That they are not speaks to abandonment on a national level. Every other state that may have home and hearth threatened by Federal inadequacies should be standing in absolute solidarity. That they are not speaks to abandonment on the national level. At least, abandonment on the part of officials. That is what the world looks like from the view in New Orleans, and it can overshadow the next thing...which is far more subtle and recieves far less fanfare:

One report I heard said 1.5 million American citizens have volunteerd time in New Orleans in the past 18 months. More than that on the Gulf Coast as a whole. That they did speaks volumes towards the true character of this nation and the true nature of this debate.

This nation's soul is being tested everywhere, but the vanguard is in New Orleans. Everywhere we are having debates about what government should and should not take responsibility for: defense, education, infrastructure, business regulation, crime, disaster prevention, charity vs economic opportunity. Right now, how that debate ends for every one of those topics will affect, profoundly, the recovery of New Orleans. How New Orleans recovers will affect, profoundly, the way the rest of the United States is eventually governed.

I've already touched on how the battle for public education everywhere is being lost in New Orleans, and the rest of them just line up next to it.

American domestic policy for the next 50 years is being written right now in New Orleans. The social compact we have lived under is being re-engineered. I'm not one to run from honest debate about such things; but this is being done dishonestly: the powers that be know that if they can beat down New Orleans, not many other places stand a chance.

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