Currently, we have two dear friends staying with us. They arrived unexpectedly. They live in New Orleans.
When news of Hurricane Katrina and the devastation she would reek on the gulf coast flooded the airwaves, we became hugely concerned, our concern compounded after we tried to contact them on a number of occasions and they didn't call back. It turned out they were on vacation in Russia and arrived at JFK on Sunday morning. They didn't contact us because they were traveling with friends and one of them became very ill and they had to get him to a doctor and look after his upset wife. They've since flown off to stay with a daughter in Atlanta and our friends then called and asked if they could stay because they had no way of getting back to their beautiful home in the French Quarter.
They were once our neighbors in Bucks County and have been together for fifty-one years. About ten years ago the maintenance of the lawns and farmhouse they owned became too much, so they decided they to pack up and move to New Orleans where Bob's best friend and his wife (the chap who got sick) live. Of course, over the years, Larry and I have visited them and our trips have always been happiness-laden experiences.
I fell in love with the French Quarter from the moment I set foot on its uneven, cobbled streets. The gorgeous shabbiness of the rambling homes, the live oaks sprawling chaotically toward the heavens, the competing aromas wafting from the myriad of restaurants (many of which I've tried because I love my food), the lazy Mississippi river, the shops laden with exotic wares, all of these sights conspired to make me feel I was in an old European city. Of course, there are more prestigious areas of the city, the Garden District for example, but their palatial houses and the fancy European cars parked under their porticos can be found in any city. Nothing state-side can compare with the Quarter and its carefree inhabitants.
So like our friends and other countless Americans, it's with profound shock that we watch the disintegration of that great city. Exacerbating the shock of the city's newfound circumstances and threatening to push it toward grief is my recently learning just how important New Orleans is to the United States in general, with its nearby refineries that I knew about, but also with its business of shipping grain and other commodities throughout our land. In my ignorance and, undoubtedly because I was always there on vacation, I'd always thought of New Orleans as solely a 'party town'.
As I watch the breakdown of law and order in that city, I am reminded of just how fragile our democracy and way of life is today. We assume we are the mighty United States, that we are the natural provider of democracy and aid throughout the world, that foreigners look to us to shine justice's lantern in the world's dark corners. There can be no excuse for looting or unlawful activity in our society. What we are witnessing on CNN and other broadcasting outlets is stultifying. It is difficult to believe this widespread illegality is occurring in the United States.
And yet, our New Orleans friends are not surprised. Of course, they are deeply shocked. The flooding has not reached the part of the French Quarter where their home is situated, yet they cannot relax because the house may be looted and/or destroyed by these people. Already, their tenant had to leave his apartment out of fear: on the only night he chose to remain, the streets were in pitch darkness and awash with bands of roaming strangers. People are being approached aggressively for money, etc.
For years, our friends have told us that outside of the affluent areas, New Orleans is within a hair's breath of being a 'third-world city'. Just outside the French Quarter, hordes and hordes of the city's population live in housing that is best truly described as 'shotgun shacks.' I have seen these houses and the abject poverty with my own eyes, would not have believed it could exist in the United States otherwise. The education system in these parts of the South is in shambles and churning out thousands and thousands of kids who can't read or write. What hope do these people have? Should we really be shocked when they seize the opportunity and turn predator?
I ask you whether these conditions should be allowed to exist in the United States. Why are we not using our tax dollars to improve the lives of all our citizens, the impoverished blacks and whites as well as the well-off? A country can only be truly great when ALL of its citizens are energetically pursuing happiness. Why can our lawmakers not realize this? Why can they not focus and apply themselves truly toward the betterment of our America. Why can they not stop squandering our resources? May true enlightenment come out of the floods and misery in New Orleans and the gulf. This, I fervently hope and pray.
[technorati: New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina, French Quarter, looters]