Christmas in New Orleans



St. Bernard Parish/New Orleans

Neighborhood: Letter From Abroad

Sprouting out of the ground, just south and east of New Orleans, is Christmas. It is a bizarre sort of nativity scene which bears the fruited colors of the season: green and red. Absent are the Magi bringing frankincense, myrrh or oil. Rather, what is present, green on the outside and red upon being split open, is the fruit of Christmas in New Orleans this year. Normally a summer fruit, watermelons are mysteriously popping up all over St. Bernard Parish. It demonstrates two seemingly unstoppable things in the New Orleans Metro area this year — life (which goes on) and the spirit of Christmas (which has come despite the devastation).

Throughout Orleans Parish, where FEMA trailers are sprouting up, lighted decorations abound, wreaths are placed upon aluminum doors, and the Street Cars, donned with garland and bows, pace up and down Canal Street, on a stretch of viable rail which is a pittance of what once was. Yes, it is a fraction of what once was, but it is a start, and I can attest to the fact that even though there is no snow, Santa is on his way, and Peace and Goodwill abounds in the wake of rioting and looting.

Those who are spending Christmas in New Orleans are the die-hards. They are those who are willing to rebuild, they are the few who have dreams amidst the rubble.

Over the course of the past months, as I have commuted back and forth between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, I have observed the painful and slow rebirth of a water-ravaged City. This is not 16 acres of rubble but hundreds of square miles of rubbish piled upon the curbsides. Personal belongings have been carted out to the road and made ready for the landfill. In these piles you see the strangest things that people possess. You find the old phonographs and LP records which were once covered in dust, rotary telephones long replaced by cellular, old electric fans which would slice off a finger in a fraction of a second. At one time I believed that I was the only pack rat around, but a quick observation of the trash on the side of the road, where old software, tax returns, and manual typewriters have been revealed has proven me wrong. As people throw out the old and begin anew, they shed their skins, they re-examine what is all-important, and move onward with their new Christmas decorations. 16 acres of twisted metal and pummeled concrete taught this Nation little. For the World Trade Center in Manhattan was an office building for the powerful and the rich. The terrorist in New Orleans did not discriminate. Both terrorists took lives, but the terrorist in New Orleans took the possessions and the homes of rich and poor alike. The remark is always the same in New Orleans: “I have lost everything, but at least I am still alive.”

And this is what is all-important in this world: life. The people in New Orleans have learned this. While we as a Nation moved at breakneck speed to cut out the last I-beam from the WTC so that we could demonstrate to an unknown terrorist that we had resolve, we, as a Nation, sit on our hands and observe despicable Washington practices without protest, allowing an Alaskan zealot to mire down disaster funding in order to line the pockets of the rich oil industry. How is it we can watch people living without electricity, living in tents under Interstate overpasses, living in mold filled houses, in Louisiana, while at the same time, we watch a Congressman tack unaffected Alaskan oil, so far removed from Louisiana, to a bill which affects hurricane recovery?

We, as a Nation, would not have stood for such an antic if this was regarding the WTC. Why, then, are we allowing this to occur in the Gulf Coast without outrage today? Is it because Mother Nature is a terrorist who we can identify with a rhythm that we can predict? That would seem strange. Or would it?

But it is life in New Orleans. Mankind forges onward regardless. We, the people, of New Orleans, have learned the difference between worldly possessions and life. The watermelon grows out of the fertile soil without the grace of the almighty dollar. And it reminds us through its colors that our spirit cannot be deterred.

And that, Charlie Brown, is what Christmas is about — Life.

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