8.30.2005

What has happened down here, is the winds have changed
Clouds roll in from the north and it started to rain
It rained real hard, and it rained for a real long time
Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline
The river rose all day, the river rose all night
Some people got lost in the flood, some people got away alright
The river had busted through clear down to Plackermine
Six feet of water in the streets of Evangeline
Louisiana, Louisiana
They're trying to wash us away, they're trying to wash us away

-“Louisiana, 1927,” lyrics by Randy Newman


Well, I have to tell you, my lil heart is just breaking wide open for the people affected by Katrina. My main thought yesterday was “whew, looks like it’s not going to be a bad as we thought” but the more I look online today (which I can’t seem to stop obsessively doing) the worse it seems to be.

Shit! What a terrible thing to happen to any people, anywhere, but—I’ll admit it—I get this weird lump in my throat when I think of this kind of devastation happening in New Orleans and southeast Louisiana.

For those of you who don’t know, these places—Louisiana, the Gulf Coast—hold a special place in my heart. My paternal relatives hail from Alabama, and as a child I would spend the summer fishing, playing endless games of Casino, sweating, and getting stung by jellyfish on the "air-conditioned" white sand of Gulf Shores, Alabama, at a little cottage built by my great granddad. And then (after cottage upkeep became too dear) at our condo in Perdido Key, Fla. The condo—and the Flora-Bama, a much beloved landmark bar/roadhouse a half mile from it—was trashed last year by Hurricane Ivan, and renovations are still ongoing.

Later in life—after I had gone off to college in the south—I became very close with several Louisianans, from various parts of the state. My first trip to New Orleans was at 18, for Mardi Gras. We heeded the black-magic siren call of the Crescent City as millions before us had, and trekked 12 hours from Charleston, SC to New Orleans in the open back of a pick-up truck, such was the sheer force of our desire to drink (and vomit) on Bourbon Street.

New Orleans.
What can I say?
It was love at first sight (and smell)

In the years since, not a year has passed that I have failed to visit Louisiana. I’ve been to New Orleans, to Shreveport, to Baton Rouge, to St. Francisville, Natchitoches, Houma, Cut Off, Grand Isle, Cocodrie, Lockport, and a hundred small places in between. There wasn’t one place I didn’t love.

We stopped at a no-name, bullet-proof po-boy shack in NO’s Faubourg Marigny and bought a roast beef po-boy that still counts as one of the best meals I’ve ever eaten, marked in my memory by gravy running down my forearms. I could hardly finish it, but snuck into the fridge to nibble at the remnants until all that was left was a greasy paper bag. I still salivate at the thought.

In Shreveport, we drove over the tacky shiny gold neon bridge, grazed on Natchitoches meat pies at the Red River Revel, and swigged a potent “Coon-Ass Curse” daiquiri from one of the ubiquitous drive-thru Daquiri Huts on our way down to Mardi Gras.

I fished for speckled trout in the early morning haze as fog lifted off the swamp in Grand Isle, and watched flocks of brown pelicans swoop in against a pink sunset to the small island they call home.

I ate tomato-y Cubiyon stew, and fat pink gulf shrimp, heads still on, boiled in spices that scorch your tongue. Sipped thin savory gumbo, and carved pieces off a loin of lightly smoked whitetail back strap, all produced by Cajuns, for Cajuns, and (thankfully) for me as well.

Near Houma, we laughed right out loud at the sign for the “Ruby Slippers” trailer park—wondering why in the world any reasonable trailer park proprietor would wish to conjure images of tornados, flying houses, and people (ok, witches) squished to death by debris.

In Point Clear I sat in a worn rocking chair on a wide front porch eating homemade pralines and inhaling the soft scent of a nearby sweet olive tree.

Years ago, my gentlemanly deep-voiced grandfather tried to sweet-talk the bouncers at the (in)famous Flora Bama into letting me in to “check the place out.” Once inside, my gentile and VERY proper grandmother threatening to contribute her brassier to the collection of undergarments hanging from the ceiling. I was all for it—at the Flora Bama, it just seemed like the right thing to do. (she didn’t, for the record)

So much of this country is interchangeable these days, and so many places are homogenized, but New Orleans, Acadiana, the Gulf Coast’s “Redneck Riviera”---are places that are so unique to this country. Places that have a character unlike anywhere else I can think of. I wish they had been spared this trial. My thoughts and prayers are with those affected by Katrina.

Sadly,
Viola

4 Comments:

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