I know what you’re thinking. If it’s raining, why isn’t the highway wet?
Good question. Simple answer. What falls down, must go up. We’d have rain. Heat. Humidity. The streets would dry out. Causing more humidity. At a certain point, rain falls again. Then… well, you know. Wash, rinse and repeat. All day long. Really, for two days. That’s Southeast Louisiana. We live in a hot-house for at least seven months a year. Even when the temperature drops, we still have humidity. It just feels chilly. And, stuff still grows. We are about to enter our second growing season of the year. How about that? Fresh, garden grown vegetables in January?
The picture. I made this picture on the way to the new hospital corridor. Remember that? The place where the new rolling hills are hiding debris? I make a version of this every picture time that I circle around I-10. I’ve got a great collection of “Entering New Orleans” pictures. Most of them aren’t worth showing you. Or, anybody. But, every now and then…
You know my “drive by shooting” routine by now. Use a wide angle lens. Set everything possible on the camera to auto. Put it on the dashboard and push the button. Pay attention to the work at hand. That’s driving. Let the camera do whatever it does. Just before I get to the place where those tail lights are showing, I just drive. That’s a merge lane. Things get a little weird around there. Especially if there a couple of big trucks and a bus are trying to merge into the same line that I’m in.
You know what the main rule is… take pictures, but come home safely.
Oh, this great. Spell check helped me out today. It changed the word, “button” to — wait for it — “button.”
With all of the Hurricane Katrina memorial events taking place all over New Orleans on Saturday, I decided to photograph one. Just one. And, to do the very best job that I could. After talking to a few of my friends and seeing others’ posts on various social media, I’m convinced that I did the right thing. Many of them had horrible days. Between the emotions of finally reaching the tenth anniversary and trying to chase all over the city, many of their days were long and messed up. My thoughts are with them. Yesterday was a very hard day.
I photographed the Tenth Hurricane Katrina Anniversary healing and second line. It is the world’s longest second line. That’s what the parade organizers said. I believe them. Where I worked, it was very long. As they roll along they tend to gather new second liners and turn into something that is massive at the end. This one was beyond huge, at the start. I tried to jump. But traffic was all tied up because this one stretched out all over the place. Instead. I came to the front of the parade from some side street. I did what I came to do and headed home. Some of the second liners were still going on into the night at Hunter’s Field, the parade’s end point.
I did the right thing for another reason. As I was driving to the Lower Ninth, I looked around. People were working at their every day jobs. Stores of all kinds were open. People were shopping. Mowing their lawns. Tinkering on their cars. They were doing whatever it is they do. I realized right then and there that the whole city isn’t caught up in all things Katrina. In fact, it’s likely that most people aren’t. And, that’s a good thing. They’ve moved on. The storm changed their lives — my life — but we’ve moved on. As we should. Hopefully, the people who had a bad day will use the memorial events to shake everything out of their systems. If there is an 11th Anniversary parade I won’t be there.
And, the media? OMG! I’m pretty sure there were more people taking pictures with good gear than there were people actually walking. What can I say? Hopefully, there will be one last group of anniversary stories and they’ll all move on to the next big thing. I know their staffers liked being here. How could they not? We are one of the best tourist destinations in the world.
A couple of things.
I’m going to take a little shooting break. But, not a posting break. Aside from whatever emotions were dredged up, this was draining work. It’s still very hot down here. I worked in heat. I worked in rain. I worked in heavy humidity. I drove a lot. In questionable places. I worked on this project every day. That doesn’t count my paid work, my second job, my home life.
As I mentioned, while I was photographing this project, I also took pictures of whatever I saw. While I was taking a little break on Friday, I did some work on those pictures. There’s a lot of them. I think you’ll like them.
I also decided somewhere out there yesterday to book end this project. The title — Ten Years Gone — is how I started 15 days ago.
Well, this event is a little different from a normal second line. The first hour is given to a healing time. It gets a little religious towards the end. The folks with their hands up in a power salute are really raising their fists in a “New Orleans Strong” salute. Everything else is pretty self-explanatory. I’m sure that guy taking a picture of the young ladies in purple will be wondering who I am. The same goes for me. You know, who was that guy? The kids on the porch were not all that happy that I took their picture. When I said thank you, as I always do, they had no expression… until the young lady — maybe their big sister — behind them whacked them on their heads and said, “Y’all have better manners than that. Say you’re welcome.” Big sister, indeed.
There you have it. Thank you for sticking around and reading. It means more than I can tell you.
Yesterday was August 28th. It was exactly ten years ago that we evacuated the city.
Today, I will photograph the last of my ten-year anniversary pictures. There will be a massive Hurricane Katrina memorial second line parade that will start at Jourdan and North Galvez Streets at the levee. It will wind through the 9th Ward and arrive at Hunter’s Field some time later. It seems like everybody is coming out for it. The main brass band is Rebirth. They retired from the street a year or so ago. Kermit Ruffins is coming out. Even though he works here, he lives in Houston. Texas. There will be all sorts of healing events along the way. It’s either photograph this, or go listen to former president Bill Clinton speak about something. What would you pick? Heh, heh, heh.
As you know, this and today’s second line pictures close my Hurricane Karina work. I hope never to photograph another storm anniversary again. That doesn’t mean I’ll stop photographing New Orleans. There too many stories to tell. And, not enough days to tell them. But, as I’ve written in the past, ten years is long enough. You can only reflect and mourn for so long. It is, in the words of Leah Chase, “Time to pull up your pants and get to work.”
The Pictures. I thought that I would close my Katrina coverage with something peaceful. This is St. Maurice Church, located in the Holy Cross neighborhood of the Lower 9th Ward. It was built in 1857 and consecrated in 1862. During the Civil War. Even though the Archdiocese of New Orleans deconsecrated and may have even sold it (It was for sale in 2013), it seems to have risen from the flood waters as a sort of community center. The doors were open for the first time since I’ve been exploring the neighborhood. So, I went inside. I’m not going to caption each picture. You can see for yourself. The pictures don’t take much explaining.
Look at the first thumbnail on the left. That’s in a back room of what may have been the rectory. Yes. Lots of water logged computers. That’s not the most important piece of the picture. That horizontal line is. That’s the water line. Everything below it, including the church itself, was flooded to that level.
The President came yesterday. Yes. Barack Obama. The President of The United States.
He visited the Lower 9th Ward, Treme, The Lafitte Housing Projects and Willie Mae’s Scotch House. The last stop was for lunch.
I didn’t photograph him. Been there. Done that. I’d rather continue documenting what I see. And, trying to explain what I feel. I’m not exactly sure I’m accomplishing what I intend to do. Remember the food court, called St. Roch Market, that I showed you a few days ago? Well, a bunch of travel blogs and online newspapers like that set of pictures. As a travel destination. Cool. That’s not the reason that I intended. To add a punctuation point to that, a woman was stabbed in that neighborhood yesterday. In fact, there were twelve shootings around town two days ago between about 5 and 7pm. Hmmm…
Back to The President. I guess he spoke about climate change. That’s a pretty important topic. Especially to us in Southeast Louisiana. The governor, Bobby Jindal, said that he shouldn’t talk about that topic. Fortunately, The President doesn’t listen to him. Neither does our mayor. I very rarely talk about politics on Storyteller. But, to my way of thinking, Bobby Jindal shouldn’t talk about anything. After all, this is the man who said that the Confederate flag is part of his heritage, forgetting that his mother was three months pregnant with him when his family immigrated from India. Sheesh. It wasn’t even southern India.
I suppose The President’s itinerary was designed to show him what was still left to be done. That’s good. If he read Storyteller, he’d know. Heh, heh, heh. After all, I’ve shown you plenty of work from the Lower 9th Ward and Treme. I showed you the Lafitte Housing Projects when I showed you the new green belt. What more does he need?
Wille Mae’s Scotch House? Well, that’s legendary. Willie Mae Sutton is 98 years old. She’ll be 99 in a little less than a month. She’s won a James Beard award. Her great-grand daughter, Kerry Seaton-Stewart runs it now. It flooded in the aftermath of the storm. A group of volunteers restored the building led by The Southern Foodways Alliance and New Orleans chef John Currence. It was Seaton-Stewart who rebuilt the business. It is popular with long time residents and tourists who come for the fried chicken which has been called America’s best. I don’t know about that. I’m partial to the fried chicken at Dookie Chase, cooked by Leah Chase. But, what does she know? She’s only 93.
It’s people like Ms. Willie Mae, Ms. Leah, the Mardi Gras Indians and the people who organize the second lines who keep me in this city. The major media finally got around to discussing the real issues of recovery. The city is changed. For good. And, for not so good. The people who come here from — oh, let’s say — Kansas City or Cleveland or St. Louis or, or, or… fell in love with New Orleans on a vacation. Or, maybe volunteering to help us rebuild. They move here because they like our culture. Or food. Our quirkiness. Then, they set out to change stuff to the way it is in Kansas City, Cleveland or St. Louis. Or, somewhere else.
Of course, there are huge unintended consequences of their love of New Orleans. Real Estate prices have risen through the roof. To give you an example, we’ve owned our house for a little over two years. We can sell it for about three times what we paid for it. I’m not bragging. That’s just a fact. Of course, rental property has risen as well. Either it’s been gentrified or it’s been renovated with post-storm Federal money and with a shrunken housing stock… well, you get it. Those second liners? They can’t afford to live in the neighborhoods that were once theirs. They commute to parade in neighborhoods where they grew up. That may not be relevant soon. All those people who are newly arrived? They want peace and quiet. A parade assembling for a noon start time makes a lot of noise. See what I’m saying?
Sometimes, I wonder why they are here. The climate is tough. The city can be very rough. The crime rate? Wellllllll…
Besides, a good number of them are digital entrepreneurs. Start ups. Funded by some kind of venture capital. They can live and work anywhere. If it where me, and I wanted to live near New Orleans, I’d live along the Gulf Coast. In Mississippi. I’d come into town for meals, music. Like that.
Or, I’d really embrace the culture. And, really live in the community. But, what do I know? I’m a kid compared Ms. Willie Mae and Ms. Leah.
The pictures. Yeah, I’m getting to them. Finally. I made them in the Lower 9th Ward. Even though I’m about done documenting the 10th Anniversary of the arrival of Hurricane Katrina, I can’t be done documenting the city for as long as I’m around. From what I’ve seen in the past few days of more general wandering, there is a huge amount of construction going on. That’s a good thing. A lot of what I’ve photographed in the past is already gone. For all sorts of reasons. I hope that there will be something remaining for the people who were born there. Who grew up there. Besides, if I don’t do it, who will?
Holy Cross neighborhood. The house is painted. It looks secure. The roof looks fairly new. That’s a really good sign.
This picture is kind of misleading. The building is located on a corner. It’s a mess. But, there is another building attached to it. It looks restored. Sometimes, the owner can’t afford to restore an entire building. So, he or she does what they can in order to have a place to live. This building is pretty old. Maybe pre-Civil War. See those thick vertical boards that are under the blue boards? Those are barge boards. Prior to the advent of some kind of motor power — steam, paddle wheel — there was no way to propel barges back up the Mississippi River so they were broken up and used for construction.
The house that was located here was right across the street from the levee. The owner has also made do. Nice living room. On a great day with the heat and humidity down a bit, this would be a wonderful place to watch the world pass by. Unless, of course, there is gun play.
This house was located on a block full of other houses. The buildings in the background are a block away. Country living in an urban setting.
They were built in 1940 as part of the Wagner Act, a Federal plan to subsidize housing for low-income families. They were low-rise, built of brick in the super block configurations that were considered attractive and modern in their time. By the 1970s most of them had deteriorated to the point where they were uninhabitable. But, families still lived there. I call the area Treme, but it is really located in the 4th Ward and is a sub-district of Mid-City. Treme is located in the 6th Ward.
They were closed after Hurricane Katrina, but were the first to re-open because they did not flood. They remained in terrible shape and spawned a large amount of crime. The 2000 Census said that there were about 2,450 people living there. In 2010, there was roughly half that number. The mayor at the time was Ray Nagin. He wanted to redevelop them as early as 2003. Hurricane Katrina pushed the process along. In May of 2009, he announced a plan to demolish all of the housing projects throughout city and redevelop them into mixed use housing. Demolition began in 2013. The former mayor is a guest of the Federal prison system. For ten years.
Another statistic. Prior to Hurricane Katrina there were 3,000 occupied housing project units throughout the city. As of the early 2015, there are 706 new replacement units.
In January 2015, the remaining housing units of the Iberville projects were added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Many of the residents who lived there never came back. I’ve been reading quite a bit about where they went. Well, housing project residents in general. They are scattered all over the country. Even when they returned, rental property was scarce. And, expensive. It’s only gotten more expensive. Many relocated somewhat locally. To Jefferson Parish, on both sides of the river. Some live in St. Bernard Parish. Some live further upriver. They might come back for second lines and Mardi Gras. There is a good, but very long piece at www.slate.com. about just this issue. I can’t seem to copy the direct link. If you are interested go to their history section and look at the story for August 25, 2015. It’s yet more Katrina coverage. But, this is worthy of your time. You’ll come to understand why my photographs of the ruined places and second line parades are very intertwined.
The pictures. I liked the gallery approach well enough that I repeated it. It should work a little better for you. Storyteller should upload faster. Anyway, the pictures:
You know what those are. Mardi Gras beads. They are hanging on a piece of fence that surrounds what used to be a small strip mall. There was food store, a drugstore and a doctor’s office there. The doctor made a big deal of accepting all kinds of payment vouchers. I don’t know what the plans for the little mall are, but it’s pretty well covered in graffiti.
Rising. Construction goes on. The brick building is one of the original remaining structures. One of the historic ones. It’s been cleaned up considerably.
Most of the entire project remains behind fences. Please open the picture. When you do, you’ll be able to see the old buildings on the left. The newly built structures are on the right. Wasn’t I clever? I composed the picture so the fence post would divide the old and new. Pat. Pat. Pat. Right on my back.
Of all the places I’ve visited and revisited on this journey through the past, this place is the most poignant. 163 people are memorialized here. This place is truly sacred ground.
Do I really need to say more?
St. Bernard Parish was nearly wiped off the map. The storm surge was 25 feet. The water rose in fifteen minutes. It left standing water throughout the parish of five to seven feet. It took two months for any real services — electricity, water and so on — to be restored. I remember the first time I saw it after the storm. I thought it would never come back. It has, and is slowly working its way back to full recovery.
The cross is 13 feet tall and made of stainless steel. It won’t rust. It will likely survive another hurricane. Or, be swallowed whole.
Me? My story?
I have maybe one more. Then, it’s going to be mostly pictures for the rest of the week. But first, a short semi-rant. I didn’t know this until yesterday. The city — my city — is offering a resilience tour this weekend. They even designed a logo for it. You can take a disaster tour by ground, water or air. I don’t know what it costs. I don’t want to know. Funny thing. I’ve never thought of myself as a tourist attraction.
Here goes. I went back to school before the storm. I’m not sure what I was thinking. In graduate school you often travel in cohorts. Students with the same interests typically take the same classes, work and study together. You become friends with some. And, some are just work mates. I became friends with a woman who was very honest — too much so — and kind of grumpy. She had good reason. She was recently widowed. Her husband was the love of her life. If I remember correctly, they were high school sweethearts. I don’t know why, but I understood her. And, she was no threat at home. In fact, she was accepted. See what I’m saying?
In the early days after the storm, we all emailed each other to make sure that we survived and were all right. Not just classmates. Friends. Family. Strangers. Everybody. Well, maybe not strangers.
Eventually my friend replied. Her house was not seriously damaged, but she couldn’t reach it because there was deep water between her house and any entry point to the neighborhood. Because she had a lot of money from her late husband’s insurance, she just bought a house in Baton Rouge. She knew it would take a long time for anything to get back to normal. Or, anything close to normal. She offered us a room when we needed one. Of course, it was a brand new house. Baton Rouge was growing before the storm. And, grew exponentially after it. She had no furniture. Hard to buy furniture right after the storm. You know? We sat on the floor. We ate on the floor. We slept on the floor. The dogs thought all of this was a great idea.
That’s not the story. That’s after the story.
Bear with me. I’m having a tough time getting there.
In our exchange of emails, we started talking about what we lost. What we were able to save. And what it would take to return and rebuild. And, then she wrote something else. After everything else.
She wrote, “I lost one more thing.” “I lost my mom.”
She couldn’t say it. Just like I am having the hardest time writing it to you. Ten years. And, I still feel the same way that I did when she told me. My first reaction was “whaaaaaa?” Then, overwhelming sadness.
Her mom lived in St. Bernard Parish. Maybe five or six miles downriver from New Orleans. She was sick. She used a wheelchair. The gulf just rose up and swallowed the land. Remember what I wrote. Twenty-five feet in maybe 15 or 20 minutes. That’s almost no time to evacuate. An elderly woman living alone and spending her time in a wheelchair never stood a chance.
What was she still doing there? Why wasn’t she evacuated earlier? Good questions, easily answered. We’ve heard rumors of huge storms and been told it’s time to go for many years. Usually nothing comes of it. We got lazy. We didn’t respond. In my case, we should have left town on Friday night or Saturday morning. We left on Sunday morning. We took our time leaving, We had no plan. Now we do. Look what it took.
I’m out of personal stories. I suppose there are a few more. But, I don’t want to plumb those depths. Writing this to you has provided me with a number of unintended consequences. It’s out of me now. I’m peaceful.
No worries. I’m still going to photograph these things. I have a number of places to visit. Besides, it’s not August 29th yet. I’ll tell you what you are seeing. And, how I made the pictures. But…
When I photographed it, it was not my intent to use it as a symbol of how far New Orleans has come in recovery. Or, how far we have to go. After thinking about it, it really is the perfect jumping off point for that discussion.
First, a bit of history.
St. Roch is a neighborhood in The Bywater. It is named after a church and cemetery of the same name. You pronounce it, “St. Rock.” The market first opened in 1875, as one of the first open air markets in the city that wasn’t located in the French Quarter. It is, however, in walking distance. By the time of the Great Depression, it was falling apart. The city was ready to condemn and demolish it. The neighborhood protested. It was renovated in 1932 by Sam Stone and Company. It was renovated again in 1937 by the WPA as what became part of the city markets. There are two others remaining today. One in Central City. And, the other is the famous French Market located in the Quarter. Eventually, the city turned the St. Roch Market over to private management. Although it looked like it was falling apart, it was doing okay financially. Mostly seafood was sold there.
Then, came that fateful year, 2005. Hurricane Katrina blew in, flooded the neighborhood and the market lay abandoned until it was finally restored by a group of business people who call themselves the St. Roch Community Partners Inc. They opened the market to vendors who sell what I call the usual hipster foods with a very small area that features locally grown vegetables.
It cost $3.7 million dollars to renovate. Mostly out of the city’s pocket. It opened on April 10, 2015, after almost ten years of being closed. It was vandalized on May 1, 2015.
I don’t know what it cost to repair after having had some of its windows broken, and to scrub off the pink spray paint. But, the newly opened St. Roch Market kept going. It was open even during the repair and cleaning work. From video captured by the security cameras, the vandals look young and probably didn’t live anywhere nearby. Even though they wrote negative things about “yuppies,” they probably had no dog in any hunt. They were just mean.
That said, this is the perfect place to discuss recovery reality.
Let me say that I had a very enjoyable experience when I visited. The people who own each booth are friendly. They aim to please. The food — I had a Croque Madam — was okay. A little too much bread and not enough seasoning. It’ll get better. Look at the owner of Shank — the cafe — in the top picture. She is all smiles. Her two employees were friendly. They worked fast and efficiently. I waited less than ten minutes for my meal. The price was fine. More importantly for me, in this day of general photographer distrust, as I wandered around taking pictures nobody cared. In fact, everybody seemed to welcome it. Visually, what more could I want? A bright and airy place to make pictures of happy people. And, food.
But. You knew this was coming.
See that woman looking into the paper bag? She’s counting my red potatoes. The little vegetable stand had the best prices in the city. The key word is “little.” Even though the owners promised fresh, locally grown produce, this counter is tiny. There is a very small selection. Yes. It is located right in front when you walk in the door. That’s just about positioning. Making a point… by stretching the truth.
The rest of the place is filled with small plate trendy foods. There is a wine store in the back and a lot of dessert vendors. Nothing wrong with that.
But, the neighborhood needs a grocery store. A real one. A modern one. There is a regional grocery store — new and modern, but tiny — in the French Quarter. That’s it, until you get to the CBD a mile or so away upriver. Downriver? Good try. There is nothing but corner “food stores” from the Quarter until you reach pretty deeply into St. Bernard Parish about five miles away. This area includes the Upper and Lower 9th Wards. It is a food desert. The good folks at Make-It-Right, who built so many houses in the Lower 9th Ward, are aware of it and are trying to figure out what to do.
When the vandals first struck, many people though it was an act of protest. But, as I wrote, it wasn’t neighborhood people who did it. But, neighborhood people want, need and were hoping for a modern grocery story. They aren’t rich. Many ride bicycles because they don’t own cars. Yes, it is true that St. Roch Market employs local people. That helps. Some. They’d hoped for more raw food and not so much trendy cooked food. One costs more than the other. A lot more. Unfortunately, the owners still haven’t really addressed the issue. I doubt that they will. Not as long as the current iteration of the market is successful.
And, there you have it.
Two sides to every coin. I think this example is far more powerful than my ranting about the city not really having recovered from the storm. You’ve had enough of that. Besides, after reading today’s news, I think the New York Times and The Washington Post got it. They are doing less celebratory public relations semi-reporting and are now talking about both sides of an incomplete and unfinished recovery.
The pictures. Check it out. I figured how to do a proper gallery. It didn’t a take long. What takes normal people a few hours can take me a few weeks. If you like the thumbnails, click on one. It’ll open to a 12 x 8 inch photograph. This is step one in a major upgrade. I’ll talk about that as I work toward it. It’ll be lighter in feel, have a white background and a lot of the clutter will be moved into the background. It will also be the home of Laskowitzpictures.com as well as dot org. That’s my more commercial site. You’ll also be able to buy art prints or license them for more commercial uses. Books and e-books, too. Some of you have asked about that.
The first one. The first second line of the 2015 – 2016 season.
It happens to fall in the middle of my two weeks of Hurricane Karina stories. That’s fine. It’s about a neighborhood that was flooded by the storm. It’s about the people who live there. It’s about their celebration. It’s also about a social aid and pleasure club that is celebrating their 30th anniversary. The Valley of Silent Men Social Aid and Pleasure Club.
I’m going to leave the storm out of this post. Or, at least my memories of it. For today.
Today is about the second line.
Forgive me. I want to say one thing about the storm and how it relates to second lines. Pre-storm, I’m not exactly sure that those who weren’t directly involved with them even knew they existed. They were certainly hard enough to find for those not in the know. Immediately post storm, there was danger of having them come to an end forever. The social clubs and musicians were scattered around the country. Their neighborhoods were devastated. They didn’t have homes to come back to. But, they did return very early on in the recovery. They had to. They are like me and photography. I can’t not take pictures. They can’t not walk. I wrote about that in an earlier post. Today, ten years later, they are big powerful events. They get plenty of pre-second line publicity.
I don’t normally do this, but I’ll give you a little preview of Tuesday’s post. It’ll be about recovery. It’ll be about what’s been done. And, just how long we have to go. I’ve been discussing this a little bit in my past few posts, but with all of the Sunday “special” stories about New Orleans recovery, a huge amount of controversy has been generated. It doesn’t help that the mayor has been blowing his horn about our “big” recovery story. Well, it ain’t so. We have a long, long way to go. The same people who normally get left behind are still being left behind.
I could go on and on and on and on. That’s enough for today.
Coming out of the front door. This is how a parade starts. I’ve been intentionally framing a little looser. I want to show you how the main subject relates to the scene.
This is luck. I focused where I thought the trumpet player was going and he sort of pulled back. I like pictures in which a tiny detail becomes the main subject. When people talk about “fine art photography,” this is an example of it within the broader scope of my work.
This is Tyrone. He is honoring the latest ancestors of The Valley of Silent Men Social Aid and Pleasure Club. They passed in the last year. May they rest in peace.
This little princess was about the fourth person out go the door.
The second line passes through the neighborhood. That guy pulling that giant cooler is selling cold drinks. We all needed them. The parade started as planned, but late in the day. 3pm. My car’s thermometer said it was 97 F. Still we came out. We had to.
Some buildings are still in a state of limbo. I don’t know everybody’s story. I can’t possibly know. But, when I stumble across a house that I can actually enter without breaking into it, I like to explore. Even though it’s pretty obvious what I’m looking at, often I don’t know why I’m looking at it. I don’t know why work on a building stopped. I don’t know what became of the people who used to live in the house. I always hope that they found a better life wherever they landed when they evacuated. I know what it feels like to walk into your home after the water finally dried out. You hope for the best. You usually find the worst. Maybe, they couldn’t find enough money to keep going. Some of the houses in the 9th Ward were either woefully underinsured or had been paid for so long ago that the current owner didn’t even bother to insure it.
I can’t tell you much about the houses in these pictures. The first three pictures are of one house. Most of the immediate neighborhood in which I found has been rebuilt. The bottom picture is of a second house a few streets away. A very special house. I’ll tell you about that in a shorter story directly under the picture.
The house in the first three pictures was cleaned out and remediated. A lot of personal belongings were swept into one room. If you need a dirty and muddy set of dinner plates, this is the place. The walls were stripped down to the two by fours. And, that’s about where the worked stopped. The front room, which was converted from an outdoor porch, had not been swept out. It remains as it looked after the flood waters receded and the house dried out. That’s where I found that straw hat in the second picture. I don’t think it’s been moved in ten years. I’ve brightened image up a little bit, but the hat is embedded into the floor. Who knows?
The interior speaks to something I say a lot. Nature doesn’t care. It doesn’t care about good. Or bad. It always seeks stasis. The weeds and plants are growing through the floor. Through the walls. Through glass that was long ago broken.
If this house isn’t repaired and doesn’t get demolished, eventually it will just revert back to nature. The roots of all of this plant growth will eventually weaken every point in the house. It will just collapse. It may take years. Or, decades. It will happen.
And now. The bottom picture.
Normally when I do this kind of urban exploration I go out by myself. Not yesterday. I was accompanied by the lady of the house. We have very different careers. We can’t always do stuff together. Besides, some of the places I go are sporty. That’s an old term for dangerous. You can figure out the rest of what I’m thinking. She hasn’t been to many of the places that I’ve been photographing this week so she really wanted to see for herself.
When I saw this place I had to check it out. It is the last remaining house on a city block that is just grass and a few bits of foundation. We stopped. I took a few pictures. I saw the Katrina Cross — the spray painted sign that tells you who the first responders were, when they came, where they came from and what they found – and wanted to get closer. I started to break a little trail. As I got closer I could see the numbers, but I still couldn’t read the bottom. I worked my way a little closer and stopped in my tracks. I told her to back out. She said later that she thought I ran into a snake or even a little alligator. Some kind of wild critter.
That wasn’t it.
This place is sacred ground. The bottom spray painted line said, “Two Bodies.”
I can’t, or won’t photograph a cross like that. Two people lost their lives here. I cannot imagine what the last moments of their lives must have been like. I don’t want to know. May they rest in peace.
I have no idea why this house is still standing. The city has been pretty efficient in tearing down abandoned houses even though there are a lot of them. Usually, those look like they are ready to collapse on their own. Despite what happened here, the building doesn’t look so bad.