Monday, August 31, 2009

My City...My Soul

My City...My Soul - by DMoe

It was once said that time heals all wounds. Well, time has elapsed as a span of four years (or 1,460 days) and many of Hurricane Katrina's wounds are still visible in the lives of so many New Orleanians. I am one of them.

These wounds make me a steward of retrospect. I live life with vivid glimpses of past experiences, and relive many of the traverses of my world in real-time, long afterwards. I am just that way. Color me a glutton for the punishment of my life's earth-shattering moments being replayed in my mind in HD, with an almost habitual consumption for any and all discovered details of the "thing" as it unfolded. While I don't consider this an always "great thing", I believe this concept affords me the opportunity to never lose sight of the sheer fragility and importance of each day I live beyond the earth-shattering event.

I've come to understand that concept more and more in each of the 1,460 days since the levees broke.

Each day, I remember the days. As I spoke earlier of reliving things in real-time, the day Katrina "officially" threatened my hometown and the stark reality of the dire situation, was one day. The day she made landfall, and the hopes and prayers as we watched, was yet another. As I recall, there was actually relief (though short-lived) as she strayed away from the direct hit.

In comparison, the fateful day the levees began to fail, and pour destruction into the "Big Easy's" landscape, was indeed THE day. As we New Orleans' people are so intricately woven with French culture, it was Katrina's "Coup de grace," or so some thought.

I asked to guest blog on this particular day because exorcising these ideas and sharing them in this forum is as therapeutic as it is emancipating. While I will never be completely free, it makes this particular day an easier one by giving you a glimpse of the things that live on within me. Essentially, for many years I have resided in other cities physically, but I have always lived in New Orleans spiritually. That matters now more than ever.

The thoughts I have on the subject are simply too immense for this format. There is just too much data downloaded on my mental hard drive to pour forth on this blog. However, there are things you should know based on my experience as Katrina and her wake changed me and New Orleans forever.

Here are but a few of the things I will never forget:

-I remember the dozens of phone calls from friends who knew I worked in the media. My work/cell phones rang incessantly with "my grandmother/mother/cousin/son/daughter/aunt is at the convention center. Can you send word there?" The challenge then became the balancing act of witnessing New Orleans be destroyed piece-by-piece on the news all day while trying to work, hosting my childhood friends and family at home while continuing to witness the devastation all night, and trying to assist in the searches of friends who had lost their loved ones. Maintenance of my sanity was paramount, but a strange sense of focus seemed to hold me. Thank God.

-I remember knowing exactly where every levee breach, every incident of unrest, every horrible image of human suffering, and every house with water up to its roof was precisely located. I knew to the street corner where everything you saw on the news was happening. I also remembered the proximity to all of my life's personal landmarks and what that would mean later.

-I remember the despondent look on my boyhood friend's mother's face as my good friend evacuated his family and came to stay with me. This same loving woman who took pictures of us before our high school prom, who made us sandwiches in record time before we left the house growing up, had suddenly undergone a startling metamorphosis. She would stare out the window for hours on end. The devastation was shaking her, and her world was being flooded literally and figuratively. She rarely spoke for the 17 days she spent in my home.

-I remember the red tape involved with merely getting back into New Orleans. This was not Canada, and not Guatemala. This was neither the Ukraine nor Iraq. This was New Orleans, Louisiana - in this country.

-As we made our way back home, I remember the camera simply not having enough memory for the hundreds of pictures I snapped. I made the trip with my grandfather and aunt to see what blow Katrina had dealt to our family's home and the city. By the time we were through Mississippi crossing into Louisiana, I had to start deleting photos I'd taken only moments before. There was just too much to see, and I couldn't believe what I was seeing.

-I remember the 'sepia tone' of the landscape. For those unfamiliar, this is the trick photographers use to tint photos, giving them a stylized look that makes everything a varied shade of brown. Katrina's winds swept so many things away, and the waters killed anything natural that was still in place. For every tree, every patch of land, and every open space, New Orleans just looked brown. Not like the fall, when leaves turn and branches become bare, but it was as if the city had actually "died" in wide swaths.

-I remember as we drove around, taking inventory of personal landmarks. The results were maddening. Every school I attended, every relative's home I spent family dinners at, every friend's home I kicked it at growing up, every park I played in, and every weekend hang-out - were all decimated.

-I remember the smell. A distinct permeation of the air cut through our normal, tropically-humid conditions. It was as if the entire city had mildewed and the feeling everywhere was like living things (people, animals and plants) were rotting. There were so many smells. Another example was the stench from refrigerators. As people cleaned up their homes, the fridges became a running "laugh to keep from crying" joke in New Orleans. The smell from those alone was a unique, ungodly thing.

-I remember the eerie feeling of nightfall in the ghost town New Orleans became with little electricity and life period. While parts of downtown and portions of uptown had returned to a normal way of life, there were other parts largely dormant, and they were frightening. It felt like evil roamed freely at night, and had a perfect dark, desolate environment in which to thrive.

-I remember admiring my grandfather's ability to stomach the things we witnessed upon our return. Nothing really shook him as we drove around. With houses he built with his own hands destroyed, he was the best at keeping OUR spirits up. The one of us who had undoubtedly lost the most was the one who cracked the most jokes.

With these ideals in mind, there's one more thing: There is the memory of the spirit of New Orleans in relation to mine. If you know my city, you know the souls of its people are what fuels that spirit and provides its unique magnificence. As I have struggled with the memories, I am graced by New Orleans' majesty, and its determination to never let that spirit die. That spirit may have been blighted, but it endures. It simply refuses to die, "coup de grace" not withstanding.

In particular, I remember "my city" and its unique kinship to "my soul..."

Here are the things I've seen, heard, felt, hoped for, known, loved and still believe about New Orleans in the 1,460 days since Hurricane Katrina.

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to share.



Brooke said...

Allow me to be first :-)

D, this video was amazing. Truly amazing.

I think it captures your sentiments beautifully, pulls at our heartstrings, and reminds us of all that was lost 4 years ago.

Just like on 9/11, we remember where we were and what we were doing when news of Katrina's devastation broke. I remember watching my tv in disbelief - like this isn't Asia, this isn't some foreign land - this is RIGHT HERE. In the United States.

And we can't even help them? Really?

We can send millions of dollars overseas when disasters like this happen elsewhere, but we couldn't, or WOULDN'T, get it together for our very own. THAT was the real tragedy, not the storm.

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and giving us a glimpse of what you saw and felt. We felt it, and still feel it with you.

The Cable Guy said...

Yo D, you made that video?

That was very touching, thank you for sharing that.

DMoe said...

Thanks Brookey.

There are so many layers to Katrina's aftermath and how it has impacted me, my family, ALL of my friends and their families, and on and on.

While some are finding solace in returning home and rebuilding, some plots continue to thicken on a few levels.

Cable Guy -

Yes, I created this over the weekend. It was a vision I've had in my head since I heard that song a little over 2 years ago. I'm glad I could lift it up and place it somewhere to share.


Anonymous said...

I can't believe its been 4 years, wow.

The Cable Guy said...

Wow, I felt like that was something I'd see on the news or something. You did that over a weekend??? You can tell you work in media, that was a great video. Great ending to a well written piece. Kudos bruh.

Jay said...

Who sings that song? Song was GREAT!

Rameer said...

That's Adele "Howmetown Glory". If y'all don't know about her, y'all better FIND OUT - quick. I been raving about her before her album dropped end of last year, I think...

Rameer said...

DMoe - from one media photog/editor to another - good stuff, bruh. And an excellent blog.

Can you perhaps youtube that or upload it on Facebook? I'd love to share it with my friends. I wish I had seen it/ you had created it before the anniversary. I sh*t you not - I would've made sure we ran it during one of our newscasts.

Magnificent blog. The only thing I would say to Meryl is - I HATE when people say "we" when things like this happen. There IS no "we". George W. Bush and his no-caring administration were the ones who couldn't - and WOULDN'T - respond. Let a house in Israel get blown to bits back then - a military force and clean-up crew would've been there in hours. But a place perceived to be populated by many people of color and whites who aren't of a certain class?

They'll get to it when they get to it.

I NEVER say "we". Cuz I know what I would do if placed in a position of power. And I know what I contributed monetarily and what many of my friends and family did - and still do - to help that region and it's people.

"George Bush doesn't care about Black people." - Kanye West

DMoe said...


Thanks very much for the comments. They are much appreciated. As I said a bit ago, the layers to Katrina and how things continue to evolve in her aftermath are startling. Up to this minute, the situation remains "fluid" if you will.

The video's available via my profile on FB. Feel free to share and thanks so very much for the sentiments.


momo925 said...

Even though I love to hate you...I can't hate today Ike :-)

Today's blog and video were both outstanding! Words can not express how I felt and continue to feel about the devestation of Katrina and I think you captured it perfectly. I love Adele's music and the emotion her voice evokes..well done.

Kat said...

Thank you for sharing, DMoe. I was truly moved by your piece.

Brooke said...

I shared the video on FB for anyone interested in re-posting :)

And Rameer, I say "we" meaning the United States, even tho I don't personally agree with Bush, that administration, or anything that happened...or didn't happen... during Hurricane Katrina.

I contributed, but it's not nearly enough. There's still so much more we can do, even 4 years later.

Rameer said...

Meryl - I get that you meant the U.S. when you said "we". I guess I grew up differently - most people say "we". But as a child being exposed to what the U.S. has done to it's own citizens and the f'd up things they do all the time...

I've never used the term "we". It isn't accurate in my opinion. But that's another topic...and another blog.

Re-posting the video on my FB as we type.

Serena W. said...

This was beautifully and eloquently written. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, childhood memories and emotions. The stories I hear are never ending and the images that I saw on tv that day still replay in my head.

I echo Cable Guy, the photos capture so much in one shot.

I always find writing therapy as you have in this blog. Blown away that people are still living in FEMA trailers, homes are still not built and although the cities spirit is being restored it's still a place of mourning.

I use to do after school training for 2 years and New Orleans was one of my cities. I traveled there 10 times in those years and to this day I pray that all the people I came in contact with are alive and well as we lost touch over the years :( I do think one of the sites was under water during the Katrina.

DMoe thanks for letting us pause today knowing that life brings on trials and tribulations and we have to keep fighting and pushing forward.

DMoe said...

Thanks to everyone for the encouragement and feedback.

A few people here asked me earlier about the images, so I thought i'd share some answers on that with ya'll as well.

Over the course of a few months, I gathered hundreds of photos from the web for the purpose of using them in this piece. Many fit the tone and just didn't fit into the 4 minutes and change. There were also a great number that tell a different story than the themes I attempted to present.

However, there are 3 personal photos (in succession) at the 2:10 mark that sparked much of this idea:

- At 2:10, that is a photo of the exact moment my grandfather opened the door to a home he built with his bare hands. That was something I'll never forget. Once he opened that door, the house seemed to "exhale" and the horrors we witnessed inside were unspeakable. All my grandfather kept saying for the things he saw was "well, she held up good..."

- The photo immediately after that one, was of a Mardi Gras mask on the ground. My deceased grandmother hung that mask on that very door 12 years before Katrina. Through the years, our family never moved it.
As the flood waters rose to 6-7 feet in that area, the mask held fast to that door. As the waters receded, the mask finally gave way, but came to rest exactly where you see it. We found it inspiring that day, that it wasn't washed away.

- The "Hope in Jesus" photo that follows these two demands another explanation. Around the corner from the house I just spoke of, was the first house my grandfather built. My mother and aunt were raised in that house, and it had been long since sold to another family right around the time I was born.

As we drove up to it, we could see it had been severely damaged and my aunt began to cry. As we got out of the car to look at the house closer, we noticed that a car had floated up to the house, and came to rest in its front yard.
The words "Hope in Jesus" were scratched in its flood-stained windows.

My grandfather's response was "you damn right..."


Serena W. said...

I went back and looked at the pictures. That's amazing that the mask didn't go far or get swept away. A symbol of foundation. I also looked further into the pictures at a woman who carried a sign that said, "America's Baghdad."

So friend that was sent to Indonesia after the Tsunami said they sent him there within a couple of days...but they never sent him to New Orleans and that was a drive away. He was a Marine and has sense retired. He was so saddend and enraged by them not sending him down south to report.

Rameer said...

Serena - that's kind of what I was touching on, referring to your friend's feelings.

THEY didn't send him there. Not WE. Which is why I *always* go out of my way to differentiate myself when most people refer to what the people running the show decide to do as "we".

I wasn't being argumentative. I just know that me and my circle wouldn't have sat on the situation like the Bush administration did if we had that much power to mobilize troops, manpower, aid and money. But like I said - that's soooo another topic for another blog.

Anthony Otero said...

Wow. I cannot believe it has been four years. It gives me the same eerie feeling that 911 give me when i see images of it. The video is amazing. Thanks for sharing this.

We complain so much about ho much lives may suck but, we really do not know what adversity is.

JUSTBNME said...

"The words "Hope in Jesus" were scratched in its flood-stained windows. My grandfather's response was "you damn right..."

This statement brought tears to my eyes. For some reason I want to have your entire family over for dinner for my special Jalepeno Collard Greens.....I want to give you and your entire family a big ole' hug! Strong black family...I LOVE it.

cevans said...

This video and your words puts life in perspective. I cannot fathom the turmoil you and your family have been.....and still are....going through. I, too, have housed 12 people as a result of hurricane Katrina and I know how the effects of this storm has completely changed the lives of people forever.

cevans said...

By the way, who's Shaggy??? you mean Mr. Bombostic Himself??

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