...So that was good fun. I'm glad I brought my dancing shoes.
This morning the heavy-older-brother alarm clock woke me from a dream about exploring Mars. After breakfast Ivan took us on the "Magical Misery Tour" of New Orleans, starting with watching a flash vid on the newspaper's website animating a map of the city with a chronological play-by-play of the Katrina flooding, showing which levies failed when and where and flooded which parishes. Then we got in his truck and drove all over the city to see the damage in person. We did Upper Ninth Ward first and poked at the Mississippi River, then went to Lower Ninth Ward where some of the worst damage was. Half the lots had the houses washed right off of them, leaving only a concrete slab or three steps leading up to a non-existent door. A bunch of the neighborhood is being rebuilt by Make It Right, a project headed by Brad Pitt and some other celebs. A bunch of architects are putting up modern, sustainable, energy-efficient housing. It's weird to see them mixed in with the weeds and empty lots and older-style Nawlins houses with the black spray-painted X's on the front. We drove north from the river up through Gentilly to Lake Pontchartrain and all the canals that broke under the strain of the storm surges from the lake. It was crazy to see the huge sections of new concrete where the levies had breached; the walls just literally snapped in half, and the houses by the walls at the breach points just vanished, boom, vaporized. Nothing there but empty grass lots now. And everything still standing full of white sand, which, btw, the pilings should not have been anchored in, WHOSE IDEA WAS THAT?! And the levy that didn't break, you can stand next to it and sight along it... and sho' nuff, you can see it bulging outwards where it almost snapped.
...I have to say, it's really astounding driving around the city and seeing how much is still wrecked after four years. All over the place, empty lots and houses standing empty with their roofs fallen in and windows gaping like sores. So weird to read the morbid story of every building that hasn't been painted over in the spray-painted X's: the regiment that checked the house, the date it was checked, whether anyone was inside, how many bodies found, "GAS OFF", "2 CATS INSIDE", "FOUND CAT, 4 DOA".... It's mind-boggling to consider the extent of the damage, to try to picture what it was like in 2005... and so depressing to see how broken it all still is. And at the same time, it's heartening and encouraging to see how much of the city is alive, shops and businesses still open, restaurants and dance clubs crowded to overflowing... the locals still know how to party, bless 'em. Can't keep 'em down.
For lunch we went to a popular local eatery in Metairie on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain. Nova and I couldn't decide which Po' Boy we wanted, so she got oyster and I got softshell crab, and we swapped halves. Mmmmmmm good~! Afters we headed back in the direction of home, stopping at Fort St. John, one of the oldest structures in New Orleans. It's not well maintained, but there's enough of the brick walls that you can see the outline of the fort and ruminate on the geography of the area at the time it was built. Where it is now it's half a mile from the lake and all grass and trees and neighborhoods. Everything to the north of it is landfill dredged out of Pontchartrain, though; when it was built it was right on the shore, and everything to the south and west was cypress swamp. With a few cannon you could guard the mouth of Bayou St. John and that whole section of the south shore of the lake, and they did so, quite successfully.
When we got back we dithered around a bit deciding on a restaurant for dinner, then hauled Ivan's canoe and windsurfing board-cum-kayak down the street to Bayou St. John for a brief evening paddle. Then we went to Uptown for a fancy dinner. I had this truly amazing duck with kale and cubes of fried butternut squash, and for dessert a Nutella custard with fleur de sel, caramel crème frêche, and chocolate-hazelnut brittle. SO DELICIOUS OMG. We did a bit of a scenic drive down Magazine, then got hopelessly embroiled in traffic in the business district when Ivan tried to take us through the French Quarter and ran into the stadium outflow from the big Louisiana university rivalry football game. ...Oops. Eventually we escaped and came home.
...And now I'm the only one awake, and I'd better go to bed, because I can feel myself coming down with a cold, ARGH, and we are too busy having fun to sleep in. I look forward to finding out what dream my brother will interrupt this time.