Let's Not Drop New Orleans for News Du Jour
LIANE HANSEN, host:
The traditional Christian season of fasting and penance known as Lent began Wednesday. This year, essayist Diane Roberts decided to try a different kind of sacrifice, giving up what she doesn't care about.
DIANE ROBERTS: This year, I don't want to give up meat or chocolate or alcohol or any of the other usual Lenten sacrifices. I want to give up seeing Anna Nicole. I want to give up reading about the love-crazed astronaut. I want to give up hearing about the Scooter Libby trial. I want to give up wondering if all Major League baseball players take steroids, and whether Kyra will wear Prada to the Oscars and how Hillary Clinton will finesse her Iraq war vote.
This year, I want to give up the inessential in order to contemplate the essential, abjure the culture of inconsequentiality and focus on something that really matters, say the continuing pain of New Orleans.
Unless it's Carnival, or somebody gets shot to death, New Orleans is rarely on the TV news, rarely in the paper. I mean, haven't they fixed that place yet? Haven't they gotten over it by now? They had Mardi Gras just like normal, didn't that? The parades passed, the beads were thrown, the streets ran with bourbon and beer. The good times rolled.
And they did, at least in the parts of the city the tourists see, but away from the French Quarter, in the less famous neighborhoods where the waters rose to the rooftops, and now, a year and a half since Katrina hit, foundations still rot, moldy boards still lie on brown lawns, and citizens still share trailers with piles of paperwork from FEMA, paperwork from the bank, paperwork from the insurance company, from the state, from the city.
These are the lucky ones. Hundreds of thousands still live in exile, away from the place that defines them, and while brand-name restaurants are open and jazz sounds from late-night clubs, the city is not itself, and if New Orleans is not itself, we are not ourselves.
New Orleans is America's joyful heart, what America is when we forget our buttoned-up puritan raising and give in to pure desire. New Orleans is loud, highly spiced, mismatched, miscegenous, a dancing mess of horns and drums and feathers and (unintelligible), Europe and Africa, Jesus and (unintelligible), dancing shoes worn out by Tuesday midnight and an ashen cross on the forehead in church come Ash Wednesday morning.
So in this Lenten season of penance, let's contemplate our collective forgetfulness. Let's remember the essential city. Let's give up the noise of the news de jour and attend to the damaged treasure down South.
HANSEN: Diane Roberts teaches English at Florida State University in Tallahassee.
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