19 February, 2007

I'm Having A Problem With New Orleans

I have to admit right up front that I have never been to New Orleans. I've been invited several times but life got in the way and I never made it down there. We have good friends who love it there and go every chance they get. I know that for a lot of people New Orleans holds vast amounts of nostalgia and romance. My only associations with the city are movies, mystery novels and a half dozen tales of "I partied so hard I vomited" relayed by various friends and coworkers. My pre-deluvian mental image of New Orleans was of a booze-soaked wreck of a place covered in barf and blood.

A few days--two or three-- before Katrina hit, The Husband and I saw a CNN story on New Orleans' reaction to the prediction of a hurricane. It was one of those CNN filler pieces designed to sit in the three minutes between updates on missing pretty blondes. There were a lot of happy drunk people holding plastic cups of (I assume) beer and liquor while dancing. Occasionally a happy drunk person would lean into the CNN microphone and say something like "ain't nuthin' gonna ruin the party here, man!" or "I ain't leavin' no party this rockin'". Of course I gathered that the prediction of the hurricane was not so dire and that it was unlikely to really hit there, etc. We all know now how that really turned out.

And I guess Katrina did ruin the party there, man.

New Orleans is still in a shambles. Many of the people previously from there are in the process of trying to make new lives elsewhere, and I can't say that I necessarily blame them. Why return home when home is still a pile of humid wreckage that stinks of mildew and smolders in relentless heat?

New Orleans, however, is on top of things. They are trying to get more donations. For Mardi Gras.

Yes, that's right. They want money to throw a party. I get that it's part of New Orleans culture and a big draw for tourists, etc. But something doesn't sit right with me about a city asking for funds to throw a party while every church I know of is still sending people down on a regular basis to rebuild. I believe that charity starts with the individual and is best handled through the private sector. But it still bugs massively to see the City of New Orleans compete with its citizens for charitable dollars. Hmmm. Let's see. Should I give $25 to help someone rebuild their house or to help the city underwrite the cost of Mardi Gras?

This underscores the continuing problem with the public perception of that city. I'm sure I'm not the only one who thinks that perhaps it would have benefitted (even prior to Katrina) from a bit more maturity and responsible leadership. I still vaguely remember the Levee Board monies that got spent on a Mardi Gras Fountain.

I still read news stories and blog entries about the suffering of Katrina victims and the sadness of the lingering destruction in the city. But pardon me if I am having trouble being moved when I hear stories about the city wanting us all to donate to a party. Blame my mama, but I always thought parties came after your real work got done. New Orleans still has some real work to do.

14 Comments:

At 9:41 AM, February 19, 2007, Anonymous sista smiff said...

Louisiana is a screwed up state. It just is. Partying aside (which is just what they do down there)corruption reigns now as it has since forever.
I'm not a smart political person and can't chime in on conversations about the federal government and this and that, but, I do know what I've heard my mother say my entire life about the state of her birth...it's messed up.

 
At 10:31 AM, February 19, 2007, Blogger Lynnster said...

I'm with you, that all just sounds wrong. But much like Sista said, from all I've heard it just seems like that's their way down there.

Like you, I have never been to New Orleans, and I always felt weird about it because EVERYONE has been there and most everyone LOVES it. I'm glad to know someone else who's never been. I kinda have wished I had seen it before Katrina. Honestly, I'm not entirely sure I really want to see it now.

 
At 10:49 AM, February 19, 2007, Blogger Glen Dean said...

New Orleans was a toilet before Katrina and it still is today.

 
At 10:56 AM, February 19, 2007, Anonymous Mister Nashville said...

New Orleans has a beautiful, storied history. When I've visited, I've tried to match some of the landmarks I've seen with the tales that accompany them. It that light, it really is an incredible place.

For the couple of decades New Orleans has been a drug infested, poverty stricken, hotbed for drugs. Actually... it's always been like that. The only difference is that past governing leadership actually attempted to do something about it. The current meatheads running the city are doing nothing to improve the quality of life there except to complain in public about how they "aren't getting any help".

I will be impressed if Nagin and his bunch ever actually make any progress toward a better city while in office.

 
At 3:35 PM, February 19, 2007, Blogger dolphin said...

I don't disagree with you, but if you'll allow me to play the devil's advocate for just a minute here.

I suspect most of the people who would donate to such a thing are people are planning on partying it up, so in a sense, they're just paying for the services they'll be using. It's hard to say how many, if any, of those donated dollars would be going to rebuilding the city were they not going to the party.

Secondly, I suspect the city doesn't necessarily see Mardi Gras as a party, but rather as an economy booster. I can see how a big successful Mardi Gras in one night (and let's face it, a New Orleans Mardi Gras isn't just one night) could easily put more money in the pockets of the residents than all the church groups could in a year.

I'm not sure it's the best way to go about doing things, but I'm not sure it's fair to say that New Orleans is shunning real work for a party. In New Orleans, partying is big business.

 
At 4:15 PM, February 19, 2007, Blogger Kat Coble said...

Dolph,
I went through a lot of those thoughts in my own mind and don't necessarily disagree. But in trying to keep this post kinda shortish I omitted some of them.

My understanding from the article and what I've read about NOLA politics is that

--the funds solicited would go to pay city workers like police, fire and sanitation crews. NOLA needs Mardi Gras, but cannot presently afford the civic costs of hosting Mardi Gras.

--the profits from Mardi Gras seldom trickle down to the Ninth Ward areas that were the hardest-hit. That was at least true in the past, and I can't imagine it wouldn't hold doubly true now. Frow what I gather, although I'm FAR from a NOLA expert, Mardi Gras is fantastic business for the French Quarter, the bars and the restaurants. It's great for the tourism business. But as far as getting actual homes rebuilt it's not going to make any difference at all.

If they were thinking about it, the NOLA city government could enact a 1-2% Mardi Gras tax at the various bars, restaurants and hotels in order to pay for the increased municiple costs. Cities like Orlando have done very well with added percentage tax on their tourism business.

This would let the revellers pay for their own upkeep. But from what I understand the government of NOLA is so corrupt that those taxes would probably end up being some city councilperson's new indoor swimming pool.

 
At 5:22 PM, February 19, 2007, Anonymous nm said...

I suppose that as well as an income generator, Mardi Gras is a morale booster -- a bit of "see, things are getting back to normal." That's really the only sense in which I can understand the request for donations. And I don't discount the positive impact that such a thing (a great big party that everyone helps put on and everyone attends) can have. After all, I grew up in St. Louis, where there were no race riots in 1967 or even 1968, mostly because the Cardinals were winning. So, yeah, I can see that helping Mardi Gras be Mardi Gras is helping the city. But still....

 
At 6:06 PM, February 19, 2007, Blogger doctorj2u said...

Katherine,
I am a native New Orleanian. I wrote a long scathing post this AM but luckily Blooger had an error. Now that I have cooled down some, let me try to explain. You don't understand New Orleans at all. At least you admit it. Carnival for us is like Christmas is to you. Not to have it would be a defeat to us. Mardi Gras is a family affair. Latters for the children line the parade route. People picnic all day long seeing the same families year after year. The parades are all privately funded by the citizens themselves. Mardi Gras is a party we throw for ourselves. We invite all others who want to come and enjoy it with us. We love showing our beautiful city off. The money asked for is VOLUNTARY to pay the polcemen. The city is living off of loans. All of those billions "allocated" by our wonderful federal government have to have local matching funds (up to 25%). This is due to something called Stafford Act, an act that has been waived for the last 30 disasters. Not for Katrina though. So the city hasn't gotten those billions. It is making it off of loans. The business of New Orleans is conventions and tourism. Mardi Gras generates millions for the city. America has deserted us. We are left to pick up the pieces on our own. Would you deny us major source of income? You in what we call the Great Elsewhere, don't know the suffering the citizens of the gulf south have endured in the last 18 months and it is clear that many of you don't care. We look at destruction every day. We see people breaking down every day. We also see people valiently fighting to save a way of life that is part of our soul. So save the criticizm for a functioning whole city. Don't kick us when we are in pain. You have problems with New Orleans. Well I have problems with an America that would turn its back on its own citizens. Shame, SHAME on America.

 
At 6:19 PM, February 19, 2007, Blogger Kat Coble said...

America has deserted us.

I don't know if I have the energy to go into the peevishness I feel at this statement.

"America" includes the many people I know who have gone down there repeatedly for rebuilding efforts, some as briefly as a month ago.

"America" includes all the people who are still making donations to the city.

"America" did not install and put up with the widely-acknowledged corrupt parish government that continues to mismanage funds.

NOLA is living off loans. So is a lot of "America", when you think about it. Yet much of "America", while living off loans (mortgages, credit card debt, car payments, student loans, etc.) still sees fit to donate to the NOLA cause.

Yes, I don't fully understand the concept of New Orleans OR the concept of Mardi Gras. I admit that.

But I wonder if those of you isolated in that Party All The Time world truly understand this place you call "America".

 
At 7:37 PM, February 19, 2007, Anonymous sbk said...

"America that would turn its back on its own citizens."

The residents of New Orleans turned their back on their own city long before Katrina. You tolerated corruption and incompetence in government like no where else and now when all that comes home to roost it's somebody else's fault.

My church has been sending workers on a regular basis to Biloxi.

 
At 10:46 PM, February 19, 2007, Blogger Tim said...

The economy of New Orleans is based on two things: the port and tourism. Mardi Gras typically brings more than a million visitors to town. We're hoping to get 2/3 or more of that this year.

Before you go and get your panties in a wad again, let me warn you ahead of time that we'll be hosting Jazz Fest here at the end of April. Another party that is vital to our economy, thank you very much.

And if you think everybody here is stupid, lazy and content with our reputation for bad politics, you're wrong. There are a lot of people working to clean things up. We recently created qualifications-based levee boards to replace the political patronage levee boards.

There is real progress here, but unfortunately, some people are content with their preconceived ideas of New Orleans.

Peace,

Tim

 
At 11:13 PM, February 19, 2007, Blogger Ned Williams said...

I agree, Kat. And at the risk of having my less-gracious response imputed to Kat . . .

"Shame, shame" on you doctorj2u. And Tim, I think most Americans are hoping you folks in NOLA might get your own panties in a wad about something other than whether your city gets referenced in a SOTU.

Now that I think about it, this whole scenario reminds me of the solicitous, obviously-drunk panhandler who accosts you on the street then goes off on you when you decline to give him some dough.

 
At 7:39 AM, February 20, 2007, Blogger doctorj2u said...

Haters deserve each other Tim. Let them enjoy their own company. See you at he parades!

 
At 9:58 PM, May 15, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

not just new orleans, but Louisiana is run on a good ole boy system. it's not what you know, but who you know. now that somebody needs to do something with their knowledge, well, it just ain't there! Charity hospital was in a horrific state as was the school board as was the levee system. and they find 90,000 in Jefferson's freezer and what do new orleaneans do, re-elect him! by a landslide. Nagin with his racist 'chocolate' city statement. sheesh, and Imus gets it for saying nappy headed ho.

i don't know what the answer is for new orleans, but i know i'm trying to get my ass out of here. i'm sick of the corruption. good people don't have a chance in hell, or should i say, new orleans.

 

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