Post Katrina City Tour & A Banksy - Thurs Feb 26, 4:15pm

by tosca on Friday, February 27, 2009

Today is my last full day here in New Orleans. Tomorrow I catch the train to Memphis, where I will be for 3-4 days, and then am back here again at the Banana Courtyard. I had initially planned to take a post-Katrina tour and then backed off of the idea, if only because some part of me felt it bad about making a tourist opportunity out of someone else's pain. The last 10 days have been an internal push-me-pull-you about the whole issue, then, yesterday I thought I would do it and ask how I can help. I'm not a hammer and nails kinda gal (my family are VERY aware of this and love me anyways) and was kinda fearful about what the suggestions might be as to how I can be of assistance. I'm glad to say the answer is well within my capability!

We visited various parts of New Orleans - the affluent to the not-so-affluent, the least hit (if there is such a term for a city recovering post-hurricane) and the worst hit. The images - which I've loaded into a different Flickr set, are startling, humbling, painful and heartbreaking. You have people like Brad Pitt/Steve Bing and Harry Connick Jr./Dave Matthews and Branford Marsalis and various other faith groups have given more than their money - they've given their time and their expertise in networking to help people recover. We visited Pitt (who, the operator assured us, sends his children to the local french immersion public school and lives at 451 Governor Nicholls Street and can eat in restaurants without getting hassled by people and is treated normally by locals) and Bing's 'Make It Right' suburb (is that the term for it?) with the very unusual looking homes. We also visited the Musician's Village - and the colours are amazing. If also unusual looking. I also got to see Fats Domino's home and his recording studio (situated side by side) and wow. Check out the pics to see what I mean - some of them don't have titles but that's because I probably couldn't remember exactly why I snapped it, and some of them don't have titles simply because a picture is worth a thousand words and my blabbering away would be redundant.

My head is crowded with facts, figures, statistics, images, thoughts: things like how the 17th Street Canal levee breach measured 750ft. Can you imagine that? And how people on one side of the levee had up to 14ft of water - their homes and possessions wiped out, and how people just on the other side of the levee - separated literally by a bridge and water - were untouched by flooding. How do you explain it? You can't. Really, you just can't, except to say that New Orleans is an unusual place - it's not flat at all. Some parts of it are quite low and I swear, you can literally cross the road and be higher again and keep moving and be even higher again. I suck at explaining it so maybe I should quit while I'm ahead.

We passed through St. Bernard Parish which has to be the worst hit part of all - not ONE part of this parish was untouched by water. Some parts hit as high as 28ft. I passed through, in the relative safety of a vehicle, separate from the devastation/restoration - desperately moved by the plight of the people rebuilding lives and homes but, at the end of the day, removed from it all. I can go home - this IS home. The tour guide says the best way anybody NOT from here can help is to be a tourist. Shop here - buy from here. Everytime you open your wallet your sales tax goes some way towards rebuilding the city - and that, I can definitely do!

There are a lot of photo opportunities that I let slip by for two glaringly obvious reasons (obvious at least to me): 1) I hate the thought of capitalising on anybody's misfortune and 2) the van was moving too fast. Would I have capitalised otherwise? I'd like to think not, but I can't be wholly sure. To end on an upbeat note, I saw a Banksy piece today! Just not far from where I'm staying. The tour van pulled up and I looked out the window - and about had a heartattack! So there I am gasping and gaping and stumble out of the van (yelling goodbye to the operator and to the other passengers) whilst desperately fumbling for the camera. My first Banksy =)

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