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Archive for Tuesday, August 29, 2006

New Orleans writer says city, residents are ‘sinking’

Speaker at first event of Hall Center lecture series packs Lied Center

August 29, 2006

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We are all working in this pit of sorrow to unfreeze time.

The line, buried in the post-Hurricane Katrina writings of author and New Orleans transplant Andrei Codrescu, painted a frame around the way the writer saw the days, weeks and months following last year's disaster.

"To the media, we're recovering," Codrescu told a packed house at the Lied Center on the Kansas University campus Monday. "To ourselves, we are sinking."

The sinking and suffering of New Orleans residents - and, of course, the disaster itself - changed Codrescu's perspective of time, he said.

He used to view the world in intervals of five minutes, of decades. Now, he said, he marks off time in years.

"It's the new time increment I think in," he said.

For the first event in the 2006-2007 KU Hall Center for the Humanities Lecture Series, the Romanian-born poet and author explained how the past year, the year since the levees broke and water inundated his city, has left life there stagnant.

More stagnant than many may know.

New Orleans, he said, is a city with the genius of place - a place that has shaped its history through similar kinds of floods, wars, plagues and so on.

But when Katrina struck, most people assumed that the U.S. was capable of swiftly handling any disaster anywhere, he said.

"That view led to all kinds of mistakes," Codrescu said.

Problems with the evacuation of the city, of the failure of civic rebuilding plans, of the government's depiction of race problems - all made matters worse, not better.

Sure, the French Quarter remained, he said. He called it the "isle of denial."

"But the city is still 70 percent destroyed," he said.

From his collection of New Orleans poetry and essays, he explained that evacuees would improve nearly every other city in the country. He wove the disaster into amusing stories about the military conducting training in the flooded city, swooping over in helicopters, announcing things such as: "Stay in your houses! We are friends of the Iraqi people!"

But through waves of humor, Codrescu told stories of sorrow, of desperation. New Orleans, he said, has lost its photogenic qualities. Six months ago, a shrimp boat lodged in a house became a symbol for the disaster. Last week, someone burned the boat down.

Now, he said, the media tries to capture narrow images of rebuilding here and there. But that is happening only in spots.

"But if you look at what's around these spots," Codrescu said, "you feel despair instead."

He ended the talk Monday with a series of songs he wrote for a buddy in a former New Orleans band.

One of his favorites, he said, was a song about conversations in a packed, dry French Quarter while homes rotted in the water after the hurricane.

"Mostly," the song went, "I seem to be alive."

Alive, trying to unfreeze time.

Comments

OldEnuf2BYurDad 7 years, 7 months ago

Lincoln - "Forty acres and a mule"

Bush - "We will rebuild New Orleans"

Both men were passionate and well-meaning, but niether seemed to understand the costs involved in following through with their promises.

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