Revised & Updated 9/6/05.
By Jack Random
Hurricane Katrina streaked across the southern Florida peninsula, turned north and marked a path to the heart of New Orleans. At the last possible moment, with catastrophic predictions filling the airwaves, it veered east, striking Gulfport and Biloxi, Mississippi.
At first report, it seemed New Orleans, jewel of the south, was spared the full force of nature’s unnatural wrath. St. Bernard’s parish and the ninth ward were subsumed under ten feet of water, power was out, and the damage to homes, businesses and structures was substantial but on the night of August 29 we were confident that the very survival of the city of jazz was not in question.
We were concerned for all the victims in the path of the hurricane. The forces that spared New Orleans had brought death and destruction elsewhere but we were confident that our government would provide sufficient aid and assistance, knowing that they could not fail in the hour of greatest need. Our politicians are good at confronting a crisis. It is one of the blessings of democracy that they cannot ignore the people in a televised disaster.
By the time we awakened on the morning of August 30, we were stricken, paralyzed, horrified by what we saw. Our government had utterly failed to answer the call and New Orleans was under siege. The levees had broken. Eighty percent of the city was submerged. We were told that martial law had been declared. There was no order and no relief. The nation and much of the world began to cry and our tears would not end for seven days and nights.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the city of New Orleans for she has won the undying devotion of every man and woman who has known her embrace, however briefly, and she is dying before our unbelieving eyes.
If you are a praying person, pray for the homeless, the destitute and the stubborn defenders of New Orleans. Pray for the birthplace of jazz, for a culture of tolerance that predates the American nation by a hundred years. Pray for Bourbon Street, Jackson Square, the St. Louis Cemetery and the tomb of Marie Laveaux. Pray for a city of a million unfathomable contradictions and mysteries, city of light and darkness, city of hope and despair, city of faith and godlessness, city of passion and unholy calm, city of blues and ragtime, city of jazz. City of jazz.
Of all the cities in America, New Orleans is the most ancient and the most international. It is a blend of French, Caribbean and southern cultures. It is where slavery was practiced ruthlessly and where former slaves were allowed to flourish. It is where every artist and musician must go to reveal the soul. It is where Robert Johnson, Sidney Bechet, Jelly Roll Morton and Louie Armstrong learned their trade.
If you have never been to New Orleans, you may never know what you have missed. We can only pray that she will rise again and that the world’s generosity will not end when the cameras are turned away. We have always known that the sea would someday swallow her whole, that the French Quarter would become a pictorial memory, that the shores of Lake Pontchartrain would no longer be distinguishable, that the triumph, the glory, the profound gloom and sorrow of this mystical American treasure would be swept away. We just did not know that it would come so soon.
New Orleans may be a doomed city. Like Venice, Italy, doomed by its geography and the indifference of world governments to global warming, to melting glaciers, to altered ocean currents: We should have seen it coming. We should have recognized the signs years, decades ago, while there was still time to act. Some of us, in fact, did.
Tragically, it seems it may be America’s turn to pay the price of global climate change. We have listened to the mainstream experts. They avoid the phrase “global warming” but they cannot but acknowledge that it is the rising temperature of the Gulf that has precipitated this season of severe storms. It will not end with Katrina and Katrina does not begin to compare with the devastation of the Indian Ocean tsunami. What more will we require to transform sympathy into action?
When there was still time, we should have done so much more. America was late in acknowledging the problem, late in accepting the human contribution, and even now, we stand virtually alone in refusing to sign on to the first modest effort to confront inevitable catastrophe (the Kyoto Accord). It is not too late to accept the challenge but I fear it is too late to avert a chain of tragedy.
For now, we can only pray that the damage can be alleviated and that we can recover the living, breathing miracle of creation that is New Orleans for another generation. We can pray that we have not lost forever the sacred womb of a nation and the sweetest, most enchanting of lovers the world will ever know.
JACK RANDOM IS THE AUTHOR OF THE JAZZMAN CRONICLES (CROW DOG PRESS) AND GHOST DANCE INSURRECTION (DRY BONES PRESS).