It has been a terrible two weeks, as I am sure that everyone knows. It has taken me a few days to put this post together, as the events in Louisiana and Mississippi have left me saddened, angry, depressed and disgusted. While I will return in future posts to deal with the embarassment of the Bush administration's response, the attacks on the victims of this disaster, and the notion of race and class, I want this first post to be an elegy. I want to express my sorrow at the events that have transpired in the U.S. Gulf Coast, as one can only cry at the destruction and misery that Katrina brought. I can only express my heartache and send prayers and thoughts to all of those effected by this tragedy. See the end of the post for a list of charities and organization providing aid to that area.
First, read this piece by Penn professor and one of the leading thinkers on cities, Witold Rybczynski, on the tragedy that is New Orleans today. I have never been to this city, but have always wanted to visit and see one of the unique urban centers in the world. As a jazz fan, this is a mecca, the birthplace for the first great, indigenous American music. A cosmopolitan site, a port city that has served home to all people, races and religions. Hell, it gave me and the world the Cash Money Millionaires and No Limit Records, some of my favorite hip hop and seminal figures in the rise of the South in hip hop music.
Rybcinski verbalizes the tragedy that has happened, as NO sits under water today. So much has been lost in terms of architecture, business, cultural institutions and people. Like the good folks at Media Bistro, this article really put the immense scope of the tragedy in perspective, getting through the anger at the federal response to the disaster and the images on television. While I have never stepped foot in this city, I feel a sadness that overwhelms me. At the heart of this blog is the city, the urban space, and each and every city has a special place in my heart. I feel tremendous sadness when I think that New Orleans sits under water, that it might never be rebuilt. I don't really know what else to add, which brings me to the next essay.
Read this piece by Richard Ford, one of America's great writers, which offers his thoughts from the perspective of a native of New Orleans. His love for his city and the resulting sense of loss is overwhelming, making this essay for the Guardian a rare piece that offers no answers. Instead, Ford acknowledges the near-impossibility of words in the face of tragedy. But, yet, he writes, and struggles to understand and begins to look ahead. Magnificent.
Finally, take a look at this article in the New York Times by Samuel Freedman, which looks at the musical heritage of New Orleans and a radio show trying to help heal those left behind with songs from this past. Nick Spitzer's "American Routes" has traced the musical history of the city, and his most recent show evoked both the indestructible spirit of cities and the scope of the tragedy. It is hard to think of this city without thinking of music, from its role in the birth of jazz, its Jazzfest, its clubs, and its homegrown musicians like the Neville Brothers, the Marsalis brothers, Harry Connick Jr., et al.
When I get back to my computer, I will add some songs to this post from Louis Armstrong and the Hot Fives and Sevens, some Cash Money ish, some No Limit stuff, Dr. John, Randy Newman and whatever else comes to mind. [Ed. note: I am still away from my laptop and won't be for a few more days, so the mp3s will have to wait until after this weekend. Check back on this and subsequent posts next week for a tribute to the music of New Orleans. Again, sorry for the lack of music lately, but I know that y'all have been hoping to hear me ramble on about cities and death. And by "hoping", I mean dreading.]