| Great Op Ed Piece On NOLA In The Washington
Taken from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/09/01/AR2005090101813.html
This Isn't the Last Dance
Friday, September 2, 2005; Page A29
It has always had my heart in a box.
clip-joint souvenir shops in the gaudiest blocks of the
Quarter, with canned Cajun music drilling rock-concert-loud
into my ears, I could never resist opening the toy wooden
coffins to see what was inside. I knew it would be just a
cut-rate voodoo doll -- a wad of rags, cheap plastic beads
and blind, button eyes. But every time, it made me smile.
What a place, what a city, that can make you laugh at
coffins and believe in magic -- all the way to the cash
What a place, where old women sit beside
you on outbound planes complaining about their diabetes
while eating caramel-covered popcorn a fistful at a time.
"It's hard, so hard, sweet baby," they will say of their
disease, then go home and slick an iron skillet with bacon
grease, because what good is there in a life without hot
What a place, where in the poorest
cemeteries the poorest men and women build tin-foil
monuments to lost children in a potter's field, while just a
few blocks over, the better-off lay out oyster po' boys and
cold root beer and dine in the shade of the family crypt,
doing lunch with their ancestors and the cement angels in
cities of the dead.
What a place, so at ease here at
the elbow of death, where I once marched and was almost
compelled to dance in a jazz funeral for a street-corner
conjurer named Chicken Man, who was carried to his resting
place by a hot-stepping brass band and a procession of
mourners who drank long-neck beers and laughed out loud as
his hearse rolled past doorways filled with men and women
who clapped in time.
Now, for those of us who
borrowed that spirit and used that love and then moved away,
these past few awful days have seemed like a hospital death
watch -- and, in fact, for so many people it has been. And
we stare deep into the television screen, at the water that
had always seemed like just one more witch, one more story
to scare ourselves into a warmer, deeper sleep, and we
wonder if there is just too much water and too much death
Ever since I was barely in my twenties, I
have loved the way some men love women, if that means
unreasonably. I fell in love with the city and a Louisiana
State University sophomore on the same night, eating shrimp
cooked seven ways in the Quarter, riding the ferry across
the black, black river where fireworks burned the air at
Algiers Point. I drank so much rum I could sleep standing up
against a wall. The sophomore left me, smiling, but the city
There is no way to explain to someone who
has never lived here why every day seemed like parole. Every
time I would swing my legs from under the quilt and ease my
toes onto the pine floors of my shotgun double, I would
think, I am getting away with something here.
long now before the streetcar rattles down St. Charles
Avenue and beads swing into the 200-year-old trees? How long
before Dunbar's puts the chicken and stewed cabbage on the
stove, or the overworked ladies at Domilisie's dress a po'
boy on Annunciation Street, or the midday drinkers find
their way back to Frankie and Johnny's on Arabella Street?
Does my old house still stand on Joseph? It was high, high
ground, on the lip of the bowl, and you could hit the
Mississippi River with a silver dollar if you threw it
I cannot stand the idea that it is broken,
unfixable. I look at the men using axes to hack their way
into 100-year-old houses to save people trapped there by the
suffocating water. I know there is life and death to be
fought out for a long, long time. But I can't help but
wonder what will come, later.
My wife, as wives do,
voiced what most of us are afraid to say.
you took me there," she said. "Before."
there on our honeymoon.
Just a few weeks ago, I
spent a week there, walking along Magazine, walking the
Quarter, not minding the heat because that is what the devil
sends, heat and water, to make you appreciate the smell of
crushed cherries and whiskey on the balcony at the Columns
Hotel, to make you savor the barbecued shrimp, to make you
hear, really hear, the sound of a 12-year-old boy blowing
his own heart out into a battered trumpet by a ragged
cardboard box full of pocket change.
before that city reforms. Some people say it never will.
But I have seen these people dance, laughing, to the
edge of a grave.
I believe that, now, they will
dance back from it.
Rick Bragg is an author and