Che Cose Successo a New Orleans?
From Il Giornale Published 8.30.2005
It’s not like this in the movies. There are never scenes of 70,000 people, trapped, hungry, thirsty and
frightened, including tiny babies and the elderly. Maybe something on a smaller scale, but there’s always
a hero somewhere in sight, ready to ride to the rescue. There are no heroes in this drama; at least not yet.
And that is part of the problem, part of the paralysis that seems to have affected those who should come
to the rescue.
Because this is no Hollywood blockbuster. It is not a TV show we can turn off at the end of an hour. It
is not a comic book we can close and put on a shelf. This is a horrific catastrophe, the second to hit this
country in four years. Now the two most iconic, most storied cities in America have come under attack.
Like September 11, the tragedy unfolding in New Orleans is of an unthinkable proportion. Still, it’s
different, and in some ways, worse. In New York, there was a villain, an enemy upon who to foist our
anger and revenge. One adversary, personified in Osama bin Laden, to pull us together. Not this time.
This time it was nature herself, attacking not with a personal vengeance, but in a primitive rhythm and
with a primitive fury that left too many people at the top and the bottom of the equation astounded,
watching in a daze as it approached. By the time they reacted, it was too late.
Now I sit witnessing the aftermath and see familiar landmarks of a city I love. But they’re not the same
anymore. The pictures are all wrong.
Canal Street has been the border to downtown New Orleans for a hundred years ago and still the city’s
main thoroughfare, broad and busy. Except now it looks like a photograph from World War II or, even
more ominously, a frame from “Fail Safe,” “On the Beach,” or some other tale of nuclear obliteration. I
see Rampart Street, the boulevard of saloons where jazz was born (they called it jass then) and the water
that has risen over buildings that are as old as buildings get in this country, going back to our earliest
civilized days. The French Quarter is what people around the world see in their minds when they hear the
name “New Orleans.” This is the same place that Tennessee Williams used for “A Streetcar Named
Desire.” The same place that was the backdrop for “Angel Heart” and a dozen other movies.
But hardly any one of those fabled balconies with their wrought iron railings escaped the fury of this
storm. The Napoleon House, that most famous saloon, is deeply damaged, and there are more historic
buildings, including some that housed New Orleans most precious treasures, maps and photographs and
priceless books that can never be replaced.
As sad as this all has been, it is nothing compared with the human factor. How could this country, this
leader of technology, this policeman of the world, allow one of its crown jewels to fall into such chaos?
This is a kind of nightmare we have never seen before – not on this scale. Not even in the movies. This is
not “Escape from New York.” We don’t have the luxury of such melodrama any more. People are dying.
Before our eyes, we see the evidence of the death and despair. Along with every other place, gun stores
have been looted, and now New Orleans has become a jungle of anarchy. Predators prowl through the
night, armed to the teeth. Some are clearly criminals, but others are simply reverting to a primal state by
There is little food and water. And there is no law. It is such a fearful place right now that only our
military feels be safe on the ground. Snipers are firing from windows. One soldier was shot point blank. In
that way, it’s as much a war zone as it is a jungle. And as always, the helpless are caught in the crossfire.
There won’t be a tough guy, no John Wayne, no Humphrey Bogart no Clint Eastwood to stepped in,
bring order to this lawless land, and set things right.
For some reason, those who should be taking charge cannot seem to connect the dots. It boggles the
mind. This country has moved soldiers halfway around the world faster than it has moved them a few
hundred miles to this devastated locale. Our President, almost catatonically slow to respond, has not yet
gotten his mind to fix on the gravity of the situation. An entire American city is falling into anarchy and
chaos and the innocent are still waiting for rescue. This is not some Third World country in Africa, either.
This is the United States, a superpower of superlative wealth and military might. Yet we can’t seem to
grapple with this homegrown disaster.
This city I love has been deeply wounded and is breaking into fragments. As time passes, I wonder can
it be saved. And I realized how important it is that we do save it.
Because New Orleans belongs not just to the USA, but to the entire world. Over three hundred years of
bloody history, then French, British, Africans, Caribbeans, Italians and Hispanics have all left their
footprints and put a face on those who call this city home. The stories from those centuries still resonate.
There is not another place like this on earth. So we all wait and hope and pray for salvation.
Knowing all the while that there will be no happy Hollywood ending. This drama won’t be over today or
next week or next month. It will take years to make it right. The work that needs to be done on the
ground won’t be romantic or heroic, either, but bloody, depressing, exhausting and terribly grim. We
may fix it, but it will never be the same.