Posts tagged Katrina-Anniversary

A Gumbo of Gumbos

September 6th, 2006

While checking for news on the Hungarian Bridge Naming Contest, I discovered that New Orleans and Budapest have even more in common than being subjected to ridiculous online polls.

It seems we’re both afflicted with tourists who butcher our cities’ names worst when they try to pronounce them most “accurately” (Boo-da-pesht is apparently the equivalent of N’Awlins), and journalists seem to find it exceptionally hard to write about either city without falling back on an arsenal of cliches, most of which revolve around foods beginning with the letter G.

Vandorlo of the Central Budapest Blog has dubbed such “semantic and cultural fudges” regarding Hungary goulash, so it only seems appropriate to call New Orleans and Louisiana chestnuts gumbo.

  • The number one gumbo is gumbo, of course. I don’t know whether Hungarian arts/music/culture etc. are ever referred to as “a goulash of xyz”, but I’ve grown a bit tired of hearing every mixture, aggregation, collection, or any other sort of group referred to as “a gumbo.” I realize there are plenty of local offenders, and it probably wouldn’t bother me as much if its use could be limited to people who know how to make a roux, or at the very least know what one is. And above all, no self-respecting Louisianan makes their gumbo toxic. Whatever foul soup it was that the Corps cooked up last year, gumbo it was not.
  • The hand-wringing “Should New Orleans be rebuilt?”: Forget about should. It was’t all gone to begin with, and it is being rebuilt. It isn’t going very quickly, but the reason for that is not that we’re waiting for the editorial staff at The Smallmindville Times to weigh in.
  • The Haves and the Have-Nots: The huge social and economic disparities in New Orleans are a very important topic, and I sincerely appreciate anyone who gives this topic a thoughtful, researched treatment. It’s not OK, however, to toss off a line or an allusion as if the whole story were The Looters versus Uptown Carnival Royalty — that does a disservice to the real issues of poverty and loss here.
  • New Orleans Music tributes that don’t include Hip Hop and/or Bounce: Full disclosure, I’m not a hip hop listener, and yes, plenty of the lyrics give me the creeps. But not liking it doesn’t make it OK to ignore the fact that it’s currently New Orleans’ most vital contribution to pop music. And besides, jazz was the vanguard of depravity once too. (Just picture: in a generation or two, pedantic aficionados hiding out in their basements with the entire ouevre of Cash Money Records on authentic period mp3 players, only pausing in their debates about the rise and fall of Master P to moan about the dangerous crap kids are listening to today.) Kelefa Sanneh at New York Times gets kudos for calling attention to the neglect of New Orleans hip hop, despite using the term “Gangsta Gumbo” in the title.
  • Stock photos/footage of Bourbon Street: I get all Uptown and pretend that it isn’t or shouldn’t be a part of the city, but it’s really not very representative unless it’s a tourism-specific topic. And do you really want your editor to know that’s all you did while you were here?
  • So there’s a few that have tended to particularly irk me. I’m still trying to catch up on my Katrina Anniversary media, but so far most of what I’ve seen hasn’t been too outrageous with cliches, although sometimes I’m bemused by the perspectives.

    After escaping the clutches of the Illinois tollways and arriving in Madison, I got to my dad’s house, and while we were catching up I glanced over at the muted TV and saw the 10:00 local news flash “The Storm: One Year Later.” Strange to cover Katrina recovery on the local news, I thought, and then the scene cut to Stoughton, WI, where a major tornado strike (F-3 level) occurred last year on August 18. I happened to be visiting at the time; one of the touchdown points was about a half a mile from my mother’s house, and the tornado went on to tear up several homes not much farther down the road. For a week and a half, it reigned as the biggest natural disaster I had any truly personal connection to. I hadn’t forgotten it really, but it didn’t occur to me until the news came on that this is its anniversary.

    It’s interesting to see now what short- and long-term responses the tornado has prompted around here. Even though it seems so small next to a hurricane, around 80 homes destroyed altogether and dozens more severely damaged makes a big impression in the few small towns hit. FEMA turned them down for disaster assistance, but there’s a Stoughton Area Long-Term Recovery Board helping coordinate SBA and other sorts of assistance, and a Stoughton Area Tornado Relief Fund, as well as at least one resident’s more personal resource site. Even though there’s a world of difference between the storms and their impact, there do seem to be a few points of comparison between “macro” and “micro” disasters and their aftermath. Hopefully Stoughton’s recovery-related intrigue and entanglements are correspondingly smaller too.

    Parallel Universes

    August 8th, 2006

    Let the anniversary media blitz begin: front and center of today’s NY Times home page: When masters of rebuilding are residents. I don’t have time to fully digest this now, but my first impression is one of looking in a funhouse mirror — there’s a reflection there, but you could get city dysmorphic disorder from taking it face value (a little more dry fact checking seems in order as well: e.g. the public meetings did not begin on August 1). I expect we’ll be seeing plenty of alternate New Orleanses over the next month. Maybe at the end we’ll get to vote on which one we’d like to live in.