New Orleans recognizes on Memorial Day its own war dead, but not just from wars but from weather battles and levee storms that seem unending. An independent board of engineering experts looked at the status of the levees recently and declared they are not ready for prime time. Prime time in New Orleans is the summer when hurricanes can happen. The Army Corps of Engineers declares the levees will be completed in 2011 while an independent board found they aren’t being built
to a high-enough flood protection standard. But over the Memorial Day holiday, no one seemed worried about the weather, while the celebration was taking place. Tomorrow is, as Scarlett O’Hara in Gone with the Wind
once said, another day in this vibrant city of the South.
Long lines queued for coffee at Café Du Monde, in both the front and back entrances of this most famous New Orleans coffee house on Sunday from early in the morning until dusk came, with the crowds of people so thick it was difficult to cross the street from either side. Horse and buggies lined the streets waiting for passersby to take them on a journey of history and culture through the French quarter. The smell of flowers mingled with the odors from every kind of taste sensation Creoles and Cajuns can conjure up.
Over this holiday perhaps visitors had come to New Orleans in hopes it would still be there or remain long enough to enjoy it at least one more time. There were no apparent signs of the Hurricane Katrina tragedy, except miles away from the French quarter where houses still sit empty waiting for decisions, some of which may never come. The locals in the quarter were out celebrating as well, hoping that the crowds might be a sign the Big Easy can rest a bit easy this year.
Is the city ready for the next big one? Not if we are to believe the experts. According to them it will take at least two more years of building and inspecting and maybe more before the city will have some reasonable protection. As it is everyone must be vigilant, for the engineers declare these things take time. Waiting isn't easy, however, for people who have lost everything. In the meantime what they do is hope.
I took the 250 miles from my home in Natchitoches to New Orleans on the weekend holiday to enjoy the city in sunshine and celebrate with the throngs of people who came to enjoy the Memorial Day weekend. This is the city that truly never sleeps, unlike its western sister city San Francisco that makes the declaration but doesn’t live up to the description of the forever party in quite the same way as New Orleans. It also can’t sleep while it still isn’t safe, as the summer season signaling the start of the hurricanes begins. This Memorial Day weekend I made that journey into the French Quarter to spend a Sunday, celebrating with others who love New Orleans, who pray the weather will have mercy and keep the bad clouds from descending again before the levees are finished and security assured.
Those who left New Orleans likely sing to themselves, “Do you know what it means, to miss New Orleans” because the culture of this city is unique and colorful in ways pretenders cannot be. This little bit of French, little bit of Spain and a whole lot of fun makes New Orleans the only European-style city in America.
While people enjoyed the holiday on the weekend, many Louisianans express hope the summer storms might never come and this joy of living remain instead to continue to ease the pain of this great city's tragedy and bring visitors to enjoy the gaiety and lifestyle that belongs to New Orleans alone.