Sharon Patterson get her first look at her neighborhood in the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans. Parts of the Lower Ninth have been closed to residents since Hurricane Katrina made landfall August 29th. Residents were allowed to view their homes and take photographs from the bus, but they could not get off to retrieve personal items.
October 20: The words have not been flowing. Just when I think I know what I want to say, it slips away and I am left speechless. How can one describe what we are living now? To say it is surreal is a copout. It exists much deeper levels.
And what a peculiar gumbo it is. Somewhere between the piles of duct-taped refrigerators that line the streets, the wafting smell of rotting garbage, and the passing hummers of National Guard on patrol there has to be some rational explanation for this situation. But I haven't figured it out yet.
I am back in the Bywater, staying in the house. We have power and water, and gas, too, if you want to turn it on. The phones, however, are still dead. And the cellphone coverage is spotty, at best. Even though we are not in a neighborhood that has been "officially" opened by the city, the people are trickling back. Sugar Park Tavern is open down the street on the corner of France and Dauphine. They make the best pizza in town. All of the bars in the "Bar-muda triangle: (Vaughan's, Markey's and B.J.) have opened back up as well. Although the curfew is midnight, it appears to be rarely enforced, and people are hanging out on the streets. You see old friends, wave to the passing guard patrols, and sit down on the curb to catch up. There are hugs, reunions, and everyone has a hurricane story to tell. And always there is laughter mixed with the tears and the grief.
"Hey baby, I'm so glad you're safe."
"Good to see you, too. When'd you get out?"
"Got out Sunday morning, drove to my sister's house in LaFayette. You?
"Went to Jackson Saturday afternoon."
Specific dates and times are not necessary, but for the uninformed, the storm made landfall on Monday morning. We had little warning. On the noon news on Friday, Katrina was a Category Two going to Apalachicola. On the ten o'clock news, she was a Category Four heading right at New Orleans. Overnight she had grown to a Category Five. You skirt around the subject for a minute, but inevitably someone asks:
"How'd you make out?"
Variation One: "Had some wind damage. Lost some tiles on the roof. The trees in the backyard came down, but didn't hit the house. Just got power, have water. What about you?
Variation Two: "Water came within two inches of coming in the front door and stopped. You have flood [insurance]?"
Variation Three: "I live in Lakeview. Lost everything."
Variation Four: "I live across the canal in the Lower Ninth. Had water up to the roof. Had to chop our way out of the attic with an ax. Somebody came by in a boat and took up to the bridge.
Variation Five: "I live down in the Parish. Me and my Mama and to be taken out in a helicopter."
With all of this swirling emotion, I've hit something of a brick wall. I don't have the emotion stamina to photograph any more destruction, or devastation, or people returning to their flooded homes for the first time. I'm a little lost. I could not bring myself to get up at five o'clock in morning to photograph the re-opening of Cafe du Monde. It didn't feel right. And I've found when I force myself to do something when it doesn't feel right, it's usually a waste of time. In the meantime, I have been experimenting with slideshows and new sequences. I've mounted a fifth gallery gallery, "Politicians, Toxic Artists, Dessert, Tattoos and Coco Robicheaux." I have several more ready to go and will mount them in the coming weeks. These galleries have become to represent my vein attempts to make sense of something that simply makes no sense at all. Keep in touch. Continued peace in the struggle.
c/o 801 Arlington Street
Jackson, MS 39202
ps. We finally did figure out who sent the bagels from H&H in New York: It was my former roommate Dr. Berliner.....
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