Friday, November 4, 2005

Mari and Isaac's house - Willie Nelson/Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground

I had Breakfast in Bucktown today early this morning, then drove back through Lakeview again to take some more pictures. I'll put some of them up when I get them developed.

I was driving along and snapped a shot of a particularly badly flooded car next to a particularly badly flooded house. As I drove off I noticed a lady drinking coffee on her front porch in the next house. I rolled down the window and asked how she had made out.

Myrtle (not her real name) had been employed by Tulane as an administrator. She lived in a middle class house in a middle class neighborhood up until Hurricane Katrina. Not that you could tell by the look of it now. She and her husband and dog were living now in the rotted shell of that house without electricity. All light was provided by a coleman lantern. She had made her coffee on a butane stove. When I first walked up, I was worried about the dog: it looked like it had once been a pit bull. But this pit bull was hungry and tired and dirty and was not ready to harm anything at all, much like Myrtle. Myrtle was dirty from head to toe and talked with an expressionless monotone about the endless bureaucracy that seemed to change what was required to get her out of this mess every day. She talked about a sister who had come from Tennessee to help and who left after two days because she couldn't handle living in the third world with her sister and who could not understand why her sister just sat there when there was so much to be done. She talked like her world had collapsed and she was resigned to living in that collapsed world for the rest of her life. I looked around at her destroyed house and the view from her porch of uncollected garbage and abandoned cars and houses and I also wondered how she would ever get out of there.

My friends Isaac and Mari called and wanted to get together. I said goodbye to Myrtle and tried to think of something helpful to say. I ended up just saying goodbye.

I drove out towards Isaac and Mari's house. I got a bit lost as most of the old landmarks I used to find it by were now gone. I drove past a little side street and saw a huge tree toppled over by a crushed car. It looked so bad that I pulled over to take some pictures. A car honked its horn at me and I saw that it was Isaac and Mari driving up the street. I pointed at the scene of devastation as they parked. Then I realized that the house I was photyographing was theirs. I could not recognize it. It was completely destroyed, a rotting shell of the place I had gone to with Sonia and Daniel for dinner and parties.

We entered the house and Mari handed me a dust mask. The floor was still mushy with water. The walls were covered with mold. It smelled like an old feed store. Their beautiful garden wsas lifeless, yellow, dead. Incongruously, their lemon tree was heavy with brilliant yellow lemons.

We looked at the destruction a while longer and talked about the labyrinth of insurance inspectors, FEMA inspectors, contractors, and corps of engineers inspectors they were having to negotiate to decide whether their home was completely destroyed or not. I could save them the trouble: their home is completely destroyed. But their spirits were good. After a few weeks of being in shock, they had realized that this was what their house was like and they would have to push ahead in spite of it.

We drove out to see the part of the levee that had been breached. It was an insane jumble of cars hanging from impossible angles (including three Volkswagens that looked like beetles on their backs that could not right themslves), houses that had simply exploded from the force of tons of water rushing out directly behind them, and mountains of trash.

I left them and went back to pack more boxes.

The whole time I was driving through the city of New Orleans, I was thinking of Willie Nelson's "Angel Flying Too Close to the Ground". It's a song about a man who falls in love with an angel who is somehow addicted to this world, and how his love heals her to the point that she can fly away and leave him forever. I kept thinking about the beautiful lady that this city had been, and how her wings now seem hopelessly broken.

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