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When I was a kid, one of my father's favorite activities was "ghost… - The Fucking Bluebird of Goddamn Happiness [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]

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[Jun. 3rd, 2008|11:14 am]
[Current Mood |thoughtfulthoughtful]

When I was a kid, one of my father's favorite activities was "ghost hunting." This consisted of piling all of us into a car and heading out into the mostly-desolate farm country of eastern Oregon, where he would keep making turns onto narrower and bumpier country roads and we kids would keep our eyes peeled for abandoned properties. The trips weren't always successful, but every once in a while we would find ourselves wandering through an old house, climbing up stairs that my mother fretted would splinter beneath us, ripping open a vein and leaving her managing a tourniquet while dad desperately tried to get us unlost and to a hospital. Nothing like that ever happened. I remember us finding an old school house in the middle of a cow pasture. The windows were still intact, and there were desks and slates and even a small bell sitting on the teacher's desk inside. It was locked, so we could only peer through the windows, but it was a thrilling find. We were undoubtedly trespassing like hell every time we did it, but for us it was an exciting hunt with rewards infrequent enough to make each of them special.

Driving through the Lower Ninth Ward or New Orleans was a grotesque parody of that game.

We were fortunate enough to share part of our New Orleans visit with docbrite, who is local to the area. She took us to a favorite seafood spot on the West End, a place that was clearly a haunt of the locals, and we enjoyed much crawfish and good conversation. She drove us past the lovely riverside parks draining into Lake Ponchatrain, and we were happy to see a part of New Orleans that carless tourists funneled into the French Quarter rarely see.

And then she took us to see the still beating, still bleeding heart of NOLA. We drove past the point where the levee broke. You can't tell where the break was; it's been repaired, and grass has grown back up over the spot, camouflaging and blending it back in to the rest of the hillock that holds back the water.

Things grow fast in the warm, humid climate here. And so it was that we drove past several hundred feet of open field with four foot weeds before it became apparent that those weeds were hiding the foundations of houses that simply don't exist anymore.

Then we came to the houses that were still there. Holes knocked in walls, caved-in roofs, boarded-up and fenced properties. Some looking utterly abandoned, some tragically showing signs of work underfunded and Sisyphean in nature: grass cut back and away from a building that's clearly not keeping the rain out; shattered drywall removed and piled on the driveway but showing smoothed edges that bespeak the erosion of water over time.

Finding the ghosts of buildings wasn't the challenge; finding rebuilt properties was. It didn't even occur to me to ask to get out of the car. These are not the skeletons of lives long past; the people who lived here are still out there in limbo, many of them, living in a small trailer or crammed into motel rooms, struggling to find a way to rebuild their lives. It would not be respectful to peer into their windows. The ghosts here are not at peace.

And gods bless those people who are rebuilding: the houses are painted bright, happy colors as if they are saying, "I'm here, dammit. There is happy to be had."

I hope that those bright yellow, firetruck red houses serve as catalyst. I hope they are the speck in the center of the snowflake, the grit that's the basis of the pearl. I hope the neighbors come back, and build the neighborhood again. They are pioneers, these rebuilders. They are how a way of life restarts.

I will write later about the fun of the trip, and it was fun. New Orleans is not dead by any stretch of the imagination. It is struggling back from a crippling blow, but the city will survive. But I stand in respect and awe of those who are fighting to make it home again.

[User Picture]From: kathrynrose
2008-06-03 04:31 pm (UTC)
Hey, it's great to see this from you. I don't know how I missed that you and theferrett were going to be in NOLA. I'd have driven down to say hi on the weekend. So close.

Next time.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2008-06-04 12:34 am (UTC)
Definitely. We want to come back.
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[User Picture]From: beckyzoole
2008-06-03 05:09 pm (UTC)
I am damn ambivalent about rebuilding the Lower Ninth Ward. It's a flood plain, and there's nothing happy in the long term about building on a flood plain. Those repaired levees are already leaking.

On the other hand, New Orleans needs all the hope and help it can get.
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From: docbrite
2008-06-03 06:52 pm (UTC)
Just FYI, the levee referenced in your link is in Lakeview, not the Lower Ninth Ward. And, while you raise a valid point, neither neighborhood would have flooded if the federal levees had been built properly in the first place.
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From: (Anonymous)
2008-06-03 09:44 pm (UTC)
As the article I linked to points out:

Outside engineering experts who have studied the project told The Associated Press that the type of seepage spotted at the 17th Street Canal in the Lakeview neighborhood afflicts other New Orleans levees, too, and could cause some of them to collapse during a storm.....

Timothy Kusky, a geologist with Saint Louis University and an expert on the Mississippi River, said engineering a safe levee system in New Orleans will be very difficult because of the soil.....

a levee sinks at different rates, and the sinking creates "little cracks in them that promote seepage, and also the old river channels and floodplain deposits have different potentials for underseepage," he said.

It is an extremely complex, perhaps impossible, task to actually build those levees "properly". (Unless the Lower Ninth Ward's levee is built on some rocky outcropping, not river sediment.)

In 1993 the Missouri River flooded the Chesterfield valley to the west of St Louis. There was only a little construction there at the time; the 15+ feet of water damaged mostly farms. Today the Chesterfield valley is full of giant suburban malls and expensive McMansions. The new levee is supposed to hold against a 500-year flood. But it is built on thick river mud, and has the same potential for settling and seepage as the New Orleans levees have. I have no joy in the build-up of the Chesterfield valley. I think if anything is tempting fate and the gods, it's that sort of massive construction on a flood plain.

And I feel the same about the rebuilding of New Orleans.
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[User Picture]From: beckyzoole
2008-06-03 09:46 pm (UTC)
Sorry, that "anonymous" comment was from me, taking a brief break at work and forgetting that I'm not logged in here.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2008-06-04 12:42 am (UTC)
I think that the people of The Netherlands would disagree with your assessment. Though as the polar ice caps melt and water levels rise, they are having more problems themselves.
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[User Picture]From: beckyzoole
2008-06-04 03:34 pm (UTC)
But the famous sea dikes of the Netherlands are not built on mud. The deep, mucky, alluvial soil of the Mississippi valley is very different from the rocky beaches of northern Europe.

Would you put your own money into building a house below sea level on a flood plain, protected by levees sitting on mud? Would you think it a good idea any place else in the world except New Orleans?
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[User Picture]From: uplinktruck
2008-06-04 03:38 am (UTC)
The federal levees were built to exceed the standards of the time they were built. But that was then and this is now.

As much as I feel for those who want to rebuild, the fact is those levees cannot be reasonably built to take a storm surge like Katrina delivered. If they rebuild there, they will be at risk of another catastrophic flood.

I did an interview with some neighborhood activist that said words to the effect of, "I will not rest until the federal government comes in here and builds levees that will with stand a category five hurricane."

While sitting in the truck listening to this guy, the question crossed my mind, "Even if this is practical, who is going to pay for this?"

You see while I will defend to the death his right to live in a flood plain, I have a serious problem with my tax money going to flood proof an area that cannot be reasonably flood proofed. Nor do I want government funds to replace his house every ten years.

If you build in an area with an elevation of -12 feet below sea level next to a huge sea level lake, Saint Murphy is going will eventually notice, point his finger down from on high and say, "Let my law come into effect."

Edited at 2008-06-04 03:40 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2008-06-04 09:04 pm (UTC)
Ref.: The Netherlands.
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[User Picture]From: uplinktruck
2008-06-05 01:17 am (UTC)
Yes my lady. The Netherlands have a marvelous system of levees. They also have the added bonus of not having to deal with hurricanes bringing storm surges ranging from 1 to 28 feet.

Lets split the difference, a 14 foot storm surge means your levees are going to have to be at least 15 feet tall in the center of the surge.

However, one can never predict where the center of the surge may come ashore, so the top of your entire levee system has to be at least 15 feet above sea level. And it has to be thick enough, even at the top, to hold back that much weight. Then you add hurricane wind loading on a structure of that length and height, with that much water pushing against it.

When you start adding all these things together, the figures start to get north of astronomical. Even if there was enough money to build cat-5 hurricane proof wall, it may not be practical to build it.
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2008-06-04 12:35 am (UTC)
The problem is that we can't just manufacture other land to give people.
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[User Picture]From: beckyzoole
2008-06-04 03:28 pm (UTC)
Isn't there a federal program to buy flood plain land? After the 1993 floods in the Midwest, many people who had been flooded out were able to get fair value for their property, so they could move out of the flood plain.
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[User Picture]From: katzinoire
2008-06-03 06:11 pm (UTC)

Ghost Hunting Sante Fe Desert

When I was 5 (6 by the end of the trip), my dad decided that since we were in Colorado for my then-newborn cousin's Baptism, to take the opportunity to drive across the Sante Fe desert for the remainder of the vacation. Here I am, 6 years old, squeezed between my sisters in an un-air-conditioned car-but I never noticed the heat. One of my strongest memories of that trip was driving past some dunes and an actual NA Indian ON HORSEBACK, checking out the road. If I ever get around to it-I will scan the pictures we took-abandoned homesteads, a one room schoolhouse frame (think that church from "The Outsiders where Pony and Johnny laid low),abandoned churches (complete with barely marked graves-we could tell they were graves because a great deal of the local NAI's would place things on them to "honor the ghosts of the past" according to one of them who stopped on over, freely answering questions (in 1980, a random Indian walking by on a barely populated road wasn't considered scary). Your post flashed that entire trip back into my head-and weirdly enough it would be almost 29 years ago in another week. Now I have to post about it LOL.

As for the 'Nawlin's locals-I admire their spirit and moxie, I smiled at the way you wrote how they were still there. Phoenixes In 'Nawlins. I hated it when I lived there, but probably should go back to see what it is like now.

Hope all is well in Zoetheferret world! :) I know that since P & B have moved your visits are scarce in this area, but we hope to see you sometime!
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[User Picture]From: zoethe
2008-06-04 12:38 am (UTC)

Re: Ghost Hunting Sante Fe Desert

I love the desert southwest. It's another place I could visit again and again.

We are busy busy. Hope we do get out that way, but it probably won't be for a while, what with Clarion and all.
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[User Picture]From: firebirdgrrl
2008-06-03 09:02 pm (UTC)
Thank you for going to New Orleans and thank you for writing about it. *hugs*
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[User Picture]From: alumiere
2008-06-03 09:12 pm (UTC)
thanks for writing about this - new orleans is someplace that should be cherished and yet our government is continuing to treat the city and its residents so badly it's appalling
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[User Picture]From: shannabannanna
2008-06-05 02:23 pm (UTC)
I just returned from New Orleans a couple of weeks ago. While we did rent a car and got out of the French Quarter, I didn't have the nerve somehow to visit the Ninth Ward. I do second that the city is not dead though! We had a fantastic trip and I'm glad to have spent so much of my money there. It's a long way from western Canada but it was well worth it. I am telling everyone I know to go.
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