MELISSA BLOCK, host:
When Eve Troeh went back to her home in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, she felt secure. Her apartment and social network were intact. As a freelance journalist, she had more opportunities than ever to report on the city she loved.
Well, now, two years later, her infatuation with New Orleans has faded along with her sense of security.
Ms. EVE TROEH (Katrina Media Fellow, Open Society Institute): Last summer, I was the poster girl for New Orleans. My picture ran in the Sunday paper with the headline, "Generation K." I smiled, flanked by hot pink Oleander and golden Hibiscus.
In the interview, I praised the city for its social warmth and tropical elegance. I declared my goal to tell stories about its stumbling, slow recovery. I'd quit bussing tables in an uptown bistro so I could report full time.
I've reported for this network and others. But unlike most reporters who fly in for a few weeks, I live here. So when I go to the drug store and chat with the clerk, she recognizes me. Last year on Labor Day, she was crying. In the past, she'd have thrown a family picnic. But two years ago, her house flooded to the roof. Some of her family died; the rest, left. No more family, no more picnics.
I've taken fierce pride in being a local. When I travel, I'm a junkie for talk about New Orleans. Someone will politely ask, so how is it down there? And I launch into a litany. There are busted traffic lights, leaky sewer lines, mountains of debris, a skyrocketing murder rate, miles of desolation, and the levees still aren't fixed. But you should come, I say. It's like a battered beauty queen. Hard to look at and messed up even more on the inside, but still regal and charming.
This is where the listener I've taken hostage turns away slowly to engage someone less insane. They don't understand that I'm in love. I talk to friends about New Orleans like a dysfunctional romance. I'd gush over it one day then call up bawling and heartbroken the next. Why can't it change? Stop being self-destructive and violent. It has so much potential.
Lately, my blinders started to come off. It was building for a while. My friend Helen Hill was murdered in her home; other friends have been mugged. We don't go out as much. But then there was this hot Friday night last month. I went on the perfect date with New Orleans, saw live, local music, danced with friends on the stage, then headed home through my neighborhood of craftsman cottages and angel-trumpet trees.
A block from my door, I was attacked from behind by a stranger. I escaped with the help of my roommate. The case is moving forward, so I can't say much more than that. But now, I'm a jilted lover of the city. I'm angry and confused. Which is the real New Orleans? The one that's violent and desperate? Or the one that coos softly and caresses me? The answer, of course, is both.
I just hauled my things out of New Orleans in a big truck. I am still in love with the city, but it's hard to trust it. I don't know how long it will take for both of us to heal.
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BLOCK: Eve Troeh is currently Katrina media fellow at the Open Society Institute.
NPR's Greg Allen has reported from New Orleans periodically since Katrina. And despite the many problems, he sees signs of hope that the city will come back. You can read his essay at npr.org.
SIEGEL: And tomorrow on MORNING EDITION, what's happened to the $114 billion the federal government allocated for Gulf Coast relief. Many people on the region say there isn't much to show for it.