We went and saw a play today. It is called Rising Water. I read about it in the paper yesterday and we went and checked it out today. On Sundays the playwright comes to the play and has a Q&A session with the audience after the show is over. This is heaven for me. The creator of art, sitting right there, telling you how and why they created.
It’s a play about the floods, about two people who are waken in the night by rising water in their home. They don’t know where the water is coming from and why it is coming so fast. Katrina has passed, it had missed the city really. Why are they having to sit in their attic to avoid the amount of water that is rising in their house? It’s a great play, only two actors on stage for 2 hours. The dialogue flows and the story is told and you get a teeny tiny glimpse into what it must have been like. To have the levees break. To have your city under water, and to have no idea why.
The Q&A session was more like a dialogue itself. Many of the people in the audience were New Orleans residents. They had their own stories to tell. Mostly they said, “No one in the rest of the country knows what happened here. They just don’t get it.”
And we don’t.
It’s impossible to describe to people what happened here. That is wasn’t Katrina that flooded New Orleans, it was the failed levee system. A system similar to ones in cities throughout the country. And then after the levees failed, everything else failed as well. The stories you hear from people here, they make you wonder why there aren’t riots in the streets. And they make you understand why the suicide rate is 3 times the national average here.
My group of volunteers is going on a tour of the devastated areas on Thursday. It’s a two and a half hour tour. During that time we will not repeat anything. And we will probably still not see all the damage that was done.
That is what we in the rest of the country don’t understand. An entire city wiped off the map. That doesn’t seem possible, so we can’t quite grasp it. But it is possible.
The French Quarter is still open for business, tourists still wander the streets, beer and food is still flowing from the bars and restaurants. So everything must be okay, right? Go 5 miles away from the French Quarter and you will see that no, it is not okay. And you will feel very strongly that it is so not okay how not okay this place is a year and a fucking half after the levees broke.
The playwright, John Biguenet, told a story today at the Q&A session. He said that Americans can’t wrap their heads around what has happened here but that the Europeans he’s met seem to understand. Because they’ve had whole cities destroyed before. There was a man from Germany who said that he understood what New Orleans was going through because Germany had been wiped out as well. He then said that New Orleans should take solace in how Germany rebuilt and rose out of its destruction. To this Mr. Biguenet replied, “Yes, but you had the United States helping you rebuild.”
I saw a bumper sticker recently that said, “If you’re not completely appalled, then you haven’t been paying attention.”