First off, I’m over at the fabulous Wicked Little Pixie blog today, with a pop quiz about New Orleans. Nah, doesn’t matter how many you get right or wrong…you’re still eligible to win a swag pack and signed book or poster from moi! Head over HERE to check it out and leave a comment.
Welcome to the weekly annotations for Royal Street. On Wednesdays, until we get the Preternatura Book Club started back up, I’m annotating one chapter a week from Royal Street. If you’ve read it, you can cross-check the annotations with the book. If you haven’t, well, I hope it will at least be an interesting behind-the-scenes look at post-Katrina New Orleans and what personal things got pulled into the novel.
Unlike chapters 1-3, chapter four isn’t available online. (Funny, the publisher seems to want people to buy it!) So I’ll be referring to page numbers and paragraphs and lines from the print version of the book. After today, these notes will be archived under the “Easter Eggs” tab, above.
The quote from the Times-Picayune from Monday, August 29, published the night before Katrina came ashore, refers to the Superdome as the “shelter of last resort.” There was a lot of debate about whether or not to offer up the Dome as a last-chance shelter: the city was afraid of being held liable to lawsuits if the worst happened, and city leaders feared if there was a last-chance shelter, people would go there instead of trying to get out of the city. Eventually, though, the Dome was opened up and buses began bringing people there because: New Orleans has a large poor population; many New Orleanians don’t drive since there is a comprehensive mass-transit system that covers the city; a lot of people flat-out would refuse to go until it was too late to get out.
About 9,500 citizens and 550 soldiers and journalists, including NBC’s Brian Williams, rode out the storm in the Superdome. The roof was peeled back like a layer of onion, allowing water to stream onto the Saints’ playing field and force people into the stands.
Once the flooding began, not only were people not allowed to leave the Dome, but first-responders started dropping rescued citizens off, swelling the Dome “population” to about 20,000. There was no electricity, no food, no medicines for the sick, no air circulation, the restrooms stopped working early on. People filled the Dome for up to a week before help arrived. You can read more about it HERE. Later, at least this many people took refuge at the Morial Convention Center.
Page 36, paragraphs 2-3. DJ has trouble verbalizing a prayer, and this is something I remember well from my own experience. Trying to go to bed that Sunday in the hotel in Shreveport, surrounded by other rooms full of evacuees and National Guardsmen with detector dogs waiting for the storm to come in so they could go to New Orleans and search for bodies. I couldn’t in good conscience pray for it to go somewhere else, so ‘please’ was about all I could come up with. There was no sleep that night.
Page 37, full paragraphs 2-3. These were the images I remember, among the first to be shown on Monday morning as we waited for news. I remember feeling relieved, so relieved, that the storm hadn’t hit NOLA directly, and thinking, it’s just a little wind damage and we can handle that. I thought we’d go home Tuesday morning 8/30.
Page 38, paragraph 1. Peter Jaco was a great-great-etcetera-uncle. Dig the beard! This is Civil-War era Tennessee.
Page 38-39. Last/first paragraph. This is my first memory of knowing something was going wrong. A CNN reporter was broadcasting from Baronne Street downtown and showing this water around his shoes. Shortly afterward, they reported that 9-1-1 calls were coming in from all over the metro area, from people trapped by rising water. But at the time, no one knew where the water downtown was coming from. Below is how deep the water on Baronne eventually got. Two miles from downtown, Baronne ran behind my house. Not nearly as deep as what a lot of people got, but deep enough.
Page 39, first full paragraph. The Lower Ninth Ward, a predominantly African American neighborhood east of the city, was utterly devastated by the flooding. It got a lot of media attention, at least in part because it made good TV and it was not that far from the Quarter. It led to a lot of misconceptions about the flooding of the city–that the Lower Nine took the bulk of the hit. Not true. Eighty percent of the city was underwater, as well as most of St. Bernard and Plaquemines parishes. Below are shots of the Lower Nine and of Chalmette, a predominantly Caucasian area just east of there. The post-K flooding was no respecter of race, class, or income.
Page 40, fifth full graph. There were a number of politicians and so-called “religious leaders” who 1) said New Orleans deserved what it got because it was a stupid place to build a city in the first place, or 2) New Orleans shouldn’t be rebuilt because it’s sinful and a waste of money. When you’re watching the place you love and call home die in front of you, when a week has passed with no assistance having shown up from your government, this kind of crap is hard to hear. I stand with author Tom Piazza, who in his book Why New Orleans Matters, says: “At one point, early on, some public figures asked whether it ‘made sense’ to rebuild New Orleans. Would you let your own mother die because it didn’t make financial sense to spend the money to treat her, or because you were too busy to spend the time to heal her sick spirit?” Yeah, what he said.
That’s it for this week! Really and truly, once we get past the next chapter or two, these posts won’t be so depressing!