Restlessness of the Soul

“Dreams and restless thoughts came flowing to him from the river, from the twinkling stars at night, from the sun’s melting rays. Dreams and a restlessness of the soul came to him.”
― Hermann Hesse, Siddhartha

The city has made incredible strides since Katrina. However, New Orleans is still full of abandoned, vacant, and decaying properties. One of these is the old River of Life Hospital, on Jackson, across the street from the condominiums with the New Orleans Gargoyle Sculpture.

I didn’t venture inside – though it looks like there is some art there.

This place isn’t a hurricane victim, however. It’s been vacant since 1979. Hopefully, someone will find a use for it soon.

River of Life Hospital New Orleans, Louisiana

River of Life Hospital
New Orleans, Louisiana

The Control of Nature

“The industries were there because of the river. They had come for its navigational convenience and its fresh water. They would not, and could not, linger beside a tidal creek. For nature to take its course was simply unthinkable. The Sixth World War would do less damage to southern Louisiana. Nature, in this place, had become an enemy of the state.”
—-The Control of Nature, Atchafalaya, John McPhee

Levee strengthening, New Orleans, Louisiana

Levee strengthening, New Orleans, Louisiana

“The Unites States Congress, in its deliberations, decided that ‘the distribution of flow and sediment in the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers is now in desirable proportions and should be so maintained.’ The Corps was thereby ordered to preserve 1950. In perpetuity, at Old River, thirty per cent of the latitude flow was to pass to the Atchafalaya.”
—-The Control of Nature, Atchafalaya, John McPhee

New Orelans, Louisiana

New Orelans, Louisiana

FEMA Trailers

Thank You Uncle Sam

Thank You Uncle Sam, FEMA trailers, Opelousas, Louisiana

Thank You Uncle Sam, FEMA trailers, Opelousas, Louisiana

I was driving to New Orleans, moving down Interstate 49, south of Alexandria. My plan was to get on Interstate 10 in Lafayette and then go east over the Atchafalaya to Baton Rouge and on into New Orleans.

But I decided to take a look at my GPS and saw the I10 highway marked in a solid bright red line all the way from Lafayette to Baton Rouge.

If you have never driven that stretch – and you will remember it if you did – that’s an almost twenty mile long bridge high up in the air over the most desolate scary swamp, the Atchafalaya River Basin, that you will ever see. It is not the place you want to spend a few hours stuck in bumper to bumper traffic as the sun sets.

My GPS showed an alternate, older route – US190 splitting off east at Opelousas and going through a more northern section of swamp to Baton Rouge. The GPS showed that route as yellow and green. As I approached the turnoff a sign promised “Alternate Route.” That was all the encouragement I needed and I drove that way.

It was a good choice. Under normal conditions it would have been slower than the uninterrupted expanse of fast concrete belonging to the I10 bridge – but today it wasn’t jammed with stopped vehicles. I only had to wait through the shorter delays caused by stoplights, fish camps, sugarcane factories, bait shops, fireworks stands, fried fish restaurants, local casinos… and the other flotsam and jetsam of the Louisiana backlands.

One thing that did catch my eye was a huge field, just east of Opalousas filled with thousands of mouldering empty portable housing units. FEMA trailers.

There were once hundreds of thousands of these left over after Katrina. Cheaply made, even by government standards, spewing formaldehyde vapors, leaking and harboring black mold – they were a controversial response to the disaster – sometimes welcomed, often maligned.

But here they still are, eight years later. Come on down and buy one, they are for sale, pennies on the dollar. What a bargain.

FEMA Trailers (click to enlarge)

FEMA Trailers
(click to enlarge)

Mercedes Benz Superdome

Tulane was playing Memphis in its homecoming game at the newly-named Mercedes Benz Superdome (complete with the world’s largest hood ornament hanging from the roof) in downtown New Orleans. The university provided a shuttle bus but we decided to drive downtown, find a parking spot and then walk over to the pre-game tailgate party. I used my phone to carefully plot a route from campus to the most promising lots but New Orleans traffic is unforgiving and a mistake in lane placement forced me onto a ramp that wound around until it set us on Interstate 10 going towards Baton Rouge. Before I could get to an exit we were farther away than when we started and in a completely unknown neighborhood.

I have no idea where we went but we eventually ended up downtown winding around one-way streets with no turns allowed, still confused and lost. Finally, we spotted a lot and after a couple near-misses managed to park.

I would have bet we were a mile from the stadium, but it was only a couple of blocks.

Candy, Lee, and Drew walking to the Superdome for Tulane's homecoming game.

Lee at the game.

The Superdome is an amazing building – it is so unlike anything else it appears surreal when you first set eyes on it. There is no reference point so you can’t really understand its massive size… or even figure out how far away it is. It is such a familiar sight you instantly recognize the shape and color, but somehow it always looks like it is something on television and could not really exist in the real world.

They have spruced up the exterior and redone the inside and it is very nice. It almost looks modern. One thing that I did notice, however, is that a lot of the interior ceiling panels that were blown off when Katrina struck are still missing. I don’t know it they were too hard to fix, too expensive, or if they were left as a sort of memorial harmless hard-to-see damage.

You can’t sit inside the Superdome without thinking about Katrina. You look at the football field and imagine it crowded with terrified refugees. You look up and imagine the wind whipping and tearing holes in the roof; imagine not knowing if it is going to hold or not.

A fun innocent college homecoming football game is haunted by the ghosts of Katrina. It will probably always be that way.

Completed pass

Don't drop the cheerleader.

Eventually, the game was out of hand.

The sun was setting when we left the game. The skin of the building glows gorgeous in the crepuscular light.