Louisiana, Louisiana/They’re tryin’ to wash us away/They’re tryin’ to wash us away. -Randy Newman
Ten years have passed since Louisiana got “washed away” by Hurricane Katrina. Thirteen years have passed since my departure from Louisiana, and I still mourn for New Orleans, the city I fell in love with. I commuted from New Orleans to Louisiana State University (LSU) in Baton Rouge, where I taught, for fourteen years. The one hundred seventy-mile round trip commute was worth every wheel rotation. No matter the stress of the day, or the reading on my mood barometer, the minute I entered the city limits of New Orleans any woes melted. When people tell you New Orleans is a magical city, believe them. Living in that city elevated my senses—the city, the charm, the people, the food, the smells, and the flora seeped into my soul.
While there I lived through many hurricanes, Andrew the most significant. When severe hurricane warnings were issued, residents were cautioned to leave for higher ground. Few ever did because our experience was that they all blew over. Many of us would migrate to our favorite bar or restaurant for hurricane parties, trusting the storm would pass.
My infatuation for New Orleans, however, didn’t dim my love-hate relationship with the South. Upon my arrival, I felt like an intruder as I wandered through a strange, steamy environment inhabited by giant palmetto bushes, fragrant olive trees, and roaches large enough to look a cat in the eye. My persistent struggle with the heat/humidity, and the overt racism were disconcerting. The good part is that I “came of age” as an anti-racist, becoming an active social and racial justice advocate, joining other anti-racists making the tiniest chip in the iceberg of injustice. I carried my passion for racial justice work back to Oregon.
Many of my friends lost their homes during Katrina, some rebuilt, others left. In the early years after the hurricane, I admit to being fearful about going back to witness all the changes. But now, thirteen years later, I want to experience the magic again, have breakfast at the Bluebird Café, dinner at Commander’s Palace, a coffee at CC’s Coffee & Tea House, and see if some of my favorite book stores are still standing – Beaucoup Books on Magazine Street, Uptown Square on Broadway.
Yes, I’m ready to see for myself.
Rained real hard and it rained for a/Real long time/Six feet of water in the/Streets of Evangeline. –Randy Newman