I have been in New York since Wednesday, August 31. Monday and Tuesday were days filled with bad news about Katrina, but the true nature of the catastrophe didn't really become clear to me until Wednesday. My older brother lived in New Orleans for several years in the 1970's; I came to know the town then when I visited him. I have returned often since that time, but not recently. As a jazz and blues fan, I worship the musicians that have emerged from New Orleans and Mississippi. The Meters, Louis Armstrong, the Marsalis family, Slim Harpo, Professor Longhair, The Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Dr. John (Mac Rebennack), Harry Connick Jr., Terrence Blanchard, Allen Toussaint, Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews, Anthony "Tuba Fats" Lacen.....the list could go on forever for me. I have been trolling the web, looking for news on the living people on this list. Most of the current "bigger name" musicians got out with the evacuees (Dr. John is playing in Detroit this weekend), but some were trapped. Fats Domino was pulled off a roof top. I am sure some NOLA musicians perished. Many things have been lost - one blues musician acquaintance of mine escaped, but has lost all of his equipment, recordings and his home. New Orleans music is part of the spiritual world and cannot be destroyed by a hurricane - it will continue. And NOLA will rise again - I read in the New York Times this morning that the French Quarter has not flooded. But what carnage and sadness!! I have sent money, and want to do more.
After a few days of pursuing my investment banker career, my family joined me here in NYC. Connie loves this town - she would like to live here once the girls are grown and gone. It is heaven for a visual artist - so much art is here, and so much inspiration for art is here. Sarah and Amanda are another story - the busy-ness and urban landscape are not to their liking. We attended a bat mitzvah on Saturday - Amanda's best friend was the bat mitzvah.
I did a lot of walking on the streets of Manhattan this week - walking and thinking. New York seems to be cleaner and calmer than it was during my last visit. The infrastructure seems stronger - I saw three street cleaning vehicles this week, and everyone seems to be washing down sidewalks and picking up trash. The social connections appear solid. In NOLA, much of the infrastructure and social connections were washed away by Katrina. I feel ashamed of what has happened, what is still happening. The money for beefing up the levees was cut from the Federal budget even though this catastrophe was clearly forseen by many people (I read the Times Picayune series in 2002 on the aftermath of a Category 5 hurricane on NOLA, and they had everything right). I think this is worse than not protecting against the 9/11/01 attacks - flying jets into buildings hadn't happened before; hurricanes on the Gulf Coast are regular occurances that can be anticipated.
Here in NYC, there are certainly race and class divisions, but the city is humming along, mostly too busy to worry much about that stuff. I have had pleasant conversations with lots of people, ranging from wealthy private equity investors in the Chrysler Building to raggedy homeless fellows on 3rd Avenue. But when a major calamity strikes and all those with money flee, the ones that stay left behind are usually poor - black and/or elderly. The ignored sub-structure of society becomes visible when the super-structure gets stripped away. NOLA is huge example of this.
They say that good things can come from tragic events and it is often true. So maybe New Orleans and the Gulf Coast will get better protection from hurricanes. And maybe the poor folks will get more attention from U.S. society. Right now, I am hopeful but not optimistic.