Somehow, I missed the posts about joining the New Orleans Writing Marathon virtually, as I have done the past couple years. NOWM starts this week, and I am, coincendentally in New Orleans. It’s my 25th wedding anniversary; we honeymooned here and thought it would be romantic to return.
We have successfully eaten our way though to traditional creole/Cajun fare and tried to do so at local places having learned years ago that neighborhood “holes-in-the-wall” are usually tastier than the typical tourist joint.
I was here with a group of teachers from my high school eight or nine years ago, just a few years after Katrina. We took a bus tour of the Ninth Ward, learned what those Xs and numbers meant on every house (sobering information), and saw destruction that looked as thought it had occurred a few months prior not two or three years earlier. And we were warned to not walk around alone, but I did and I felt safe. I was about 40 and a mother, so I don’t think I was full of youthful hubris and acting recklessly.
But this time, I look around, and I am saddened by what I see. The paint is peeling; the iron railings are rusting; the city looks how I picture Miss Havisham or Miss Emily Grierson–an old woman past her prime trying uncomfortably to look young and fresh.
And, for the first time, I don’t feel safe. Graffiti is everywhere even landmark historic sites. Who exactly doesn’t care that it’s there? The taggers? Are they gang members? The city? Is it too difficult to remove? Does the graffiti reappear as soon as it is cleaned off?
And the homeless. Oh my. The panhandlers on Bourbon Street asking for $1 to give you an insult seem to be part of the local flavor. I mean the homeless sleeping outside across the street from Harrah’s on every available bench and step. I mean the homeless obviously living under the overpasses so that I didn’t feel safe walking from my hotel in the arts district to the garden district. I will walk in any city; I think as a nation we have become used to having the freedom to feel secure to walk places. But New Orleans does not tout itself as a walking city, and now I see why.
I want to be clear–in the three days that we have been here, we have not been accosted or approached. But it makes me sad to feel this way. I cannot understand being homeless, but I also cannot understand a city/state/government ignoring the situation. I don’t want these people shuffled out of downtown to a different location so that tourists like me feel safer. I want these people helped. In a city flooded with tourist dollars, certainly some of those could be set aside to help the citizens who so obviously need it.