It will also set your toes to tapping, make you grit your teeth in anger and frustration, make you shake your head in wonderment, make you smile, make you cry.
“We’re back!” New Orleans shouts. “Tell your neighbors!”
“We’re still hurting,” New Orleans whispers. “Don’t forget us.”
What the wind and the water did almost three years ago has been only partly undone. A gathering of columnists offers a welcome excuse for a return visit; we fill our notepads with stories, with facts and figures. With impressions. It would be convenient if these impressions were consistent, if they pointed our emotional needle in one clear direction.
It would be convenient. But it wouldn’t be New Orleans.
* * *
The blue tarps are gone.
Six months after the storm, we saw them everywhere, protecting countless Crescent City roofs. Now we see just a handful. The roofs are intact again.
The lives underneath are another matter.
* * *
The St. Charles Avenue streetcar line is finally back to its full length. Until just this week, buses completed the last stretch of the route, along Carrollton Avenue. Now the streetcar -- a tourist favorite for generations -- makes the bend once again where the Mississippi does.
* * *
In the Lower Ninth Ward, scene of so much destruction, the debris piles are gone. Six months after the storm, we’d ridden through these devastated neighborhoods and seen sidewalks filled with overturned cars, abandoned furniture, bicycles and baby toys.
And now? They’re gone. The optimist sees the flower beds planted, the houses repaired and reoccupied, the new ones built and brightly painted.
The pessimist sees the vacant lots, now overgrown with vegetation, where other houses once stood. The broken shells of still other houses with the still-broken windows and the still-missing doors. What happened to the people who lived in these places? Where did they go? Are they ever coming back?
And why is everything taking so long? Would this be happening if the victims were better connected? Better complected?
* * *
It’s a constant balancing act for the city’s leaders. Paint too bleak a picture and no one will come; the tourist dollars that drive the economy will dry up.
Paint too rosy a picture and no one will care. They’ll save their sympathy for the latest disaster -- an Iowa, a Missouri -- though there’s still so much work to do right here.
* * *
Off in the distance, along Royal Street in the French Quarter, we hear the syncopated sounds of a New Orleans percussion section. We walk toward the rhythm, with the rhythm, looking for the band. Then we discover that there is no band, that the drums aren’t drums; they’re the pumps and pulleys of an old cement machine.
In New Orleans, even rebuilding has a groove.
* * *
There are scandals, illegal and otherwise, in the morning paper. The sister of a congressman indicted for corruption has turned state’s evidence; she’ll be testifying about a fistful of alleged family scams.
A new report recommends that a local federal judge be impeached and removed from office for multiple examples of alleged wrongdoing, including soliciting cash and other gifts from lawyers with cases coming before him.
And the state legislature has voted to double its own salary. The people seethe. The legislature is unmoved.
And a visitor wonders whether Louisiana will always be Louisiana, and whether the part of the country that isn’t Louisiana will think twice before it writes the next check.
* * *
We’re invited to “second-line” to the Audubon Aquarium at the foot of Canal Street -- kazoos in hand, parading behind a small brass band. It feels momentarily unseemly, having so much fun in the face of such lingering traumas. But we quickly put our apprehensions aside.
“We want you to celebrate,” our host will later reassure us. “That’s how we deal with things here, even the sad things.”
We set off behind the brass band, waving and tooting, tooting and waving. The air is hot and thick, but the rain has passed, and there are people everywhere. We’re walking through New Orleans, and as we near our destination, the band breaks into song.
“When you’re smiling,
When you’re smiling,
The whole world smiles with you…”
# # #
Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.