Friday, September 02, 2005

Delayed Reaction

I don't flatter myself that this blog is any sort of media hub, and so I didn't rush to link to the Red Cross or anything right after Katrina hit. You who read this are all very intelligent people, all six of you, and you can find your way to the donations links without my help.

I didn't even want to post anything about the hurricane. I usually stick to three topics in here: knitting, photography, and weird shit that happens to me. I suppose you can file what follows in that third category.

Last night around midnight I went to bed as usual, having worked more of the Rhinebeck sweater. I was drifting off mostly with mental images of what I'm going to do with the chest band of the sweater floating about in my head and out of the blue I started crying.

My first partner had a theory about how useful denial (a process he was deeply in touch with) can be, saying it was a protective mechanism in the brain. Denial, he believed, kept things from overwhelming a person, keeping them functional until such time as the brain would be able to deal with whatever it was denying.

I guess last night my brain was finally able to confront the fact that New Orleans as we knew it is gone.

Mind you, I don't have roots there, or relations, or friends. I was there exactly once in my life, for five days. One hesitates to make a tragedy happening to others many, many miles away into a three-act drama starring oneself, and that's not at all what I mean to do.

This is just a personal tribute, that's all.

From childhood, there were only three American cities I really ever cared to visit. The first was New York, the second San Francisco, the third New Orleans. Of the three, New Orleans was the most alluring. I knew it mostly from pictures, both modern ones of the sort that show up in the newspaper travel section, and very old ones like Bellocq's photos of prostitutes. It all built up to an image that was very much the stereotype of the place, with all the attendant cliché words–magical, mysterious, and so forth.

Of my personal Big Three, New Orleans was the last I visited. Not so many years ago - two, I believe - my employer sent me down there for a conference. Out of my own pocket, I paid for a few extra days in the hotel so I could do some sightseeing. Of course, at that point I'd grown up enough to realize that few places ever live up to their publicized images. I was expecting to have fun, but not to find the city I'd dreamed about.

Imagine my surprise. It was wonderful. It really was as it was supposed to be, from the easy hospitality of the citizenry to the graceful, fragile architecture and the sultry atmosphere. (It can't really be gone, can it? Not all gone? Not really? Please?)

I love cities that Are Very Much What They Are, that have managed in the face of conformity and standarization to hang on to their own points of view and ways of doing things. New Orleans was exactly that. Outside the French Quarter, of course, it was no series of postcard views. The effects of long-term economic depression had done dreadful things to the Central Business District. It was hardly a dreamy Neverland. Storefronts were preserved along Canal Street, but the ones that were occupied usually had dingy chain outlets and dodgy electronics shops in them.

But...the people. Oh, the people.

Friendly to a fault. Mellow. Welcoming.

I was down there accompanied. I was in the first stages of what proved to be a very short-lived long distance thing with a guy who, for a couple months, put stars in my eyes. He was extremely shy and even semi-closeted (note: bad idea). But down there, in New Orleans, for the first and only time, he loosened up.

We were walking over to the French Market for beignets and feeling terribly lovey-dovey but of course not holding hands in public, when suddenly this fellow who was sitting on a bench near the river walk shouted good-naturedly, "Go ahead and hold hands, boys! Down here we don't give a shit!"

I thought my whateveryouwannacallhim was going to drop dead from a mixture of fright and embarrassment, but no. Instead, he reached over and grabbed my hand. I nearly dropped dead of surprise.

After three days in New Orleans, he'd gotten to a point where he spontaneously kissed me in front of the cathedral and the bells went off. I'm sure it was pure coincidence, but it didn't feel like it at the time.

It was the only time I ever saw my poor ex-whateveryouwannacallhim happy with himself and the world. After the trip, he went back north to a Very Cold City where he resumed being semi-closeted and utterly guilt-ridden, living a very buttoned-down life in a more typical American setting.

Alas, wouldn't you know that by not shooting us dead for loving each other, the people of the city of New Orleans sealed their doom? Yes, it's true. I read all about it online. You can read it for yourself here.

According to a group of fundamentalist Christians, Katrina wasn't a natural phenomenon. It is direct evidence of God's wrath against a city that welcomed wickedness. They see the demolition of New Orleans–a unique and beautiful city, home to millions and cradle of so much American culture–as not all bad. It is, in their opinion, more of the silver lining in the cloud.

An exact quote:
"Although the loss of lives is deeply saddening, this act of God destroyed a wicked city," said Repent America director Michael Marcavage on the organization's Web site.
You know, that's true, when you think about it. Lots and lots of dead people, destroyed lives and businesses, lost history and art, illness, financial disaster, and displacement is not so bad when you consider that it wiped out a place where men were known to kiss in the street. When you look at it that way, it's a sort of mini-Rapture. Pretty cool.

I'm sure Michael Marcavage will sleep more soundly tonight, knowing New Orleans has been punished and that he himself is utterly pure in the sight of God. (One presumes he must think the same of his city or town, or he'd have moved out to avoid the inevitable.)

Isn't that right, Michael Marcavage? That you're perfect in the sight of God?

Is it right that God, who can see to the bottom of your soul and the depths of your heart, will find there only perfection, purity, not even a single thought or action that you wouldn't be happy to display to the entire world?

This had better be so, because as you've pointed out, God hates people with loose morals and kills them off. I'm sure you can support this with lots of Biblical evidence, too, like that story about the time your Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ beat that fallen woman to death with a brick, and the time He and the Pharisees burned down the house of that tax collector.

No? Oh, I were thinking of Sodom and Gomorrah. Check your text again, Mr. Marcavage. Better still, consult a reputable scholar or historian who has read the source texts and seen beyond several centuries of accrued mistranslation. The sin of Sodom? It wasn't ass fucking. It was a lack of hospitality. A lack of compassion for displaced persons.

Sleep well tonight, Mr. Marcavage. I'm sure you're perfectly safe.


Calvin said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this tragedy, Franklin. I regret having never gone to New Orleans and now, I will never get to see the city the way it was. Very, very sad. I was wondering when we gays would be blamed for the disaster in New Orleans and low and behold, we were. May God have mercy on Michael Marcavage and all the likes of him.

Sahara said...

OMG. I am so upset by reading that link that I can't think...Thank you for sharing it...I am appalled...I am....speechless. And that is saying something.

Anonymous said...

Another brilliant one, Franklin. Instead of blandly reciting "the people of New Orleans are in our thoughts and prayers", like everyone else, you actually revealed a little piece of your heart. And nearly broke mine.
-- Carol S.

Alyssa said...

Your thoughts on New Orleans were very touching. Unfortunately, I never got to go (actually almost booked tickets last week for this coming weekend!) and I regret it, but not as much as I regret that we live in a world where in the face of such tragedy some people are using religion to applaud such destruction. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I love your blog!

Anonymous said...

Brava, Franklin. Brava. ~ Ted

Anonymous said...

I thought for a minute there you'd found the website of one of MY favorite inhabitants of the city where I grew up.

But, nope - only his clone.

Nice work, Franklin.

Anonymous said...

Imagine my dismay when, last Saturday before Katrina, my father says "Well, you know how those Cajuns are. They're all sinners." My family is fun.

Anonymous said...

Some people are not worth the trouble. Holding hands in public is probably one of NO's saving graces. If 'god' got New Orleans for anything is was for holding that river back from going where it wanted to go. And the people most affected can't be blamed for that.

froggiemeanie said...

I'm usually a lurker but I just had to speak up about Mr. Marcavage's attitude. Reading that bigoted garbage makes me feel ill. I hate it when people twist religion to fit their own agendas. Call me naive but I'll never, ever understand why we all can't just accept one another and get along. Makes me want to go be a hermit.

Anonymous said...

Okay, this is nitpicky but isn't "Brava" for a female, and "Bravo" for a male? Any Italian majors care to comment?

Just don't want anyone insulting Franklin's manhood.
-- Carol S.

Unknown said...

How Christianlike of Macavage. Disgusting man. Certainly a FOG, no doubt.

Franklin, you've written a very wonderful essay, and I admire you for your restraint. I, on the other hand, am so angry with Bush, with his toadies, with people like Macavage who love to offload on "sinners" that I would enjoy doing unto them as they would do to others. How about no food, water, shelter for four days AND a loss of home and employment? Sounds like a good way to punish blythe ignorance of others' suffering. Now that's the sin.

Anonymous said...

The hatred of some people just takes my breath away. I can't imagine living like that. On the positive side I did see a pickup rear window with large silver letters saying, 'Quit Hatin' today.
I can understand your tears for New Orleans. It is a beautiful city with such atmosphere and people...
I remember the pizza place my family went to, all white brick with double french doors along the front and side. I knew it was a good place when I saw all the cops eating there. They had their horses tied off to the iron fence at the old US Mint building across the side street. There were all sorts of people everywhere and everyone was getting along and having fun, just 'being'.
I just can't comprehend that it may all be gone now. The worst is the people. They have suffered and continue to suffer. It's inhuman that help has taken so long.

dragon knitter said...

i've never been to new orleans, like calvin, and like you, harbored fantasies in my heart. i've read a lot of anne rice, so had a picture in my mind, and now it's gone. all the old antebellum mansions are gone. the old jazz clubs. the places that made kick ass po'boys. the big easy ain't so easy anymore, and i share in your tears.

as for what's-his-butt, he is less than significant. however, becareful visiting his site. i visited another site once, and got religiously skewed spam for weeks. sigh.

Ann said...

Wow...I think many of us are struggling to deal with what is flashing in front of us on the television screen. I have been shocked at the images, but reading the article that you linked to made me just sick to my stomach.

It is a very scary country that we find ourselves living in. As long as people put their thoughts, their emotions out there to share maybe there is still hope. Thank you for sharing what is in your heart with us...we are all struggling a bit it seems to come to grips with this reality.

Rabbitch said...

Well, I guess all of Canada's going next.


M-H said...

Good one Franklin. Thanks for that.

Leslie said...

jon forgot blowing away Washington DC, Crawford & Kennebuncport (actually, limited seismic events would do well in all three places).

Isn't it a shame that the teachings of one of the world's greatest prophets has been turned into such bigoted drivel? Someone should remind these people of The Two Great Commandments. You will find them at Matthew 22: 34-40 "When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a scholar of the law, tested him by asking, "Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" …The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments."

Catholic school was good for something at least :)

Rebekah Ravenscroft-Scott said...

makes you wonder what those poor victims of the tsunami did, doesn't it?

seriously, thanks Franklin for being appropriately outraged.

Anonymous said...

I didn't even click the link b/c I knew how much it would upset me. I cannot believe that everytime there is a terrible tragedy like this, there is always a delusional fanatic anxiously waiting in the wings to declare the senseless destruction of lives as an act of G-d. It is so very christian of them!

Anonymous said...

My first visit here, Franklin...but WOW! All I have to say that is God sent a Cat 5 hurricane to take out the whole gulf coast just to stop Southern Decadence this weekend, then I don't want to hear anymore from the Fundies about 'intelligent design'

birdfarm said...

I am vastly amused that al'Qaida Iraq has announced that they, too, believe that the hurricane came from God to punish the wicked.

It's nice to see Mr. Marcavage with an appropriate bedfellow, don't you think?

What's not so funny is that, historically speaking, in the wake of major disasters like this one, people get scared and confused, and a retreat to fascism and vicious religious extremism is not uncommon. On CNN, I saw a hurricane victim at an impromptu church service in the Superdome saying much the same thing.

This could get ugly.

Anonymous said...

The almighty should fire the general staff: not only was the collateral damage high, as Mississippi can attest, but the principal target seems to have escaped a lot of the worst damage. I just saw piece showing the French Quarter in much better shape than the rest of New Orleans.

Franklin, I know you care about words. All weekend I've heard people being referred to as "folk"—as though that makes the speaker more compassionate and caring. It hurts my teeth in the same way as the insistence on calling people "individuals." The other term that absolutely floors me is "de-watering." I read it a couple of weeks ago in a quote by a Coast Guard official (they had "de-watered a sinking vessel by pump"), but I thought is was an isolated incident. However, it appears that they plan to de-water New Orleans. With the media being so eager to embrace military-speak, I'm sure we'll be hearing worse in the days to come.

Fran / Blue Gal said...

But Franklin darling, you are a media hub. Get over it.

goblinbox said...

I love you, Franklin. Seriously. You go.

moiraeknittoo said...

"The sin of Sodom? It wasn't ass fucking. It was a lack of hospitality. A lack of compassion for displaced persons."

That is the absolute best comment I've read re: Katrina and the "cleansing". *snorts* I think that if those who were so worried about cleansing American society of 'unacceptable' elements would just douche once in a while, we'd all be better off.

Anonymous said...

Talk about a delayed reaction... I wonder whether new comments on an oooooooold post will ever reach you?

I just discovered your blog today (Ravelers are giving a shout-out on their favorite knitting blogs and this blog was mentioned fairly early).

I lived in New Orleans until and during and for a week after Katrina.

Those of us who have done a LOT of soul-searching on the "why" of our disaster (OUR disaster was an engineering failure, not a weather event) didn't much care to hear the vile static about "God's judgement" that polluted the airwaves while we were waiting to be rescued, or wondering where the rest of our families were, and so on.

And so, here, five years later, I am thanking YOU for speaking out and for calling out the absurdity of these vile, offensive pontifications. said...

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