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As Long as We Remember...

August 31, 2010

Lazy Fair Didnít Do Nothing

Roy Meachum

In a version of my native Louisiana patois, the above phrase translated into standard English says: Letting people do anything they please accomplished little.


Readers understand in recent days my mind has dwelt on New Orleans where I grew up. Hurricane Katrina and its floodwaters devastated my beloved city and forced moving the school where I spent mostly happy days from the Mississippi River levee where it lasted for nearly two hundred years. In an earlier age, the Catholic order that taught and took care of me – the Congregation of Holy Cross – would have helped by importing priests, brothers and nuns, as it did during several 19th century yellow fever epidemics.


Discarding the tourist logon, life in the Big Easy has never been easy, big or little; my predecessors lived through raging fires that consumed much of the town; what Yankees called the Great Insurrection; the aftermath’s terrible Reconstruction and its dark phase when Union Gen. Benjamin Butler earned the nickname “Beast.” The Great Depression and World War II German U-Boats climbing up the Mississippi were shrugged off. Illnesses were not limited to fevers, there were other health threats especially World War I’s Flu Epidemic that took my mother’s mother’s life.


When the impact from Katrina was not yet four years old, God – with the help of greedy, ambitious and stupid men – spoiled New Orleans’ great passion for eating. He – with ample human assistance – decreed British Petroleum’s luck ran out; the result poisoned the nearby Gulf of Mexico’s fish industry, particularly shrimp and crabs. Can you imagine a summer in Maryland with no Blue Point claws to break, then sucking up every morsel and drop inside?


The Heavens have been very generous in smiting my hometown with modern plagues and pestilences. St. Claude Avenue’s St. Jude Church’s candles almost certainly polluted its neighborhood with their countless tons of melting wax. If streetcar lines still crisscrossed the city, the cars rock off their tracks, from the waves of passengers crossing themselves when passing a church, principally Roman Catholic but not excluding other faiths’.


As you have heard, New Orleans has always been extremely tolerant, barely nodding to acknowledge major sins, even when they didn’t involve corrupt politicians; Louisiana’s had several others who emerged from their careers spic and span clean. Trust me, they existed.


Don’t for one second believe the media lies about Katrina: the Mississippi levees never let a drop into the city built on the river’s “high” ground. The dastardly engineering contraptions that collapsed were entirely from the current Corps of Engineers; they were at best flood walls and at their worst flimsy creations sabotaged by grossly dirty politicians; I didn’t say there weren’t any.


Washington played its role, up to the hilt – in both disasters. The causes for history’s most ruinous oil spill have been dissected and regurgitated recently; there were no parcels of politicians to finger. The sins against nature to accommodate the world’s ferocious appetite for fossil fuel extend back for years and years. Local and national, Democratic and Republican officials adopted what might be called a policy of the world-wide “laissez faire,” Louisiana’s “lazy fair.” They’re both the same: equivalents of every dialect’s version of “It’s not my job. Let somebody else do it.”


Identical adoptions of hands-off policies are behind both the damage wrought by Katrina and the enormous mess generated by this year’s Deepwater Horizon’s gigantic pollution of the Gulf of Mexico. Don’t throw all your rocks at British Petroleum; they deserve some. There are more targets – both official and unofficial – that should be pummeled; beat to death, as Southerners used to say. They still may.


As a long-ago fugitive from South Louisiana, I’m not entitled to towering indignation, nor are those folks who hung around. We are all guilty of turning our eyes away, concentrating on our own lives, ignoring New Orleans when it cried for our attention.


I’m left to seek solace in the song first introduced by Baltimore’s Billie Holiday and my city’s most famous musician: “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?”


The words make our hometown’s name rhyme with blue jeans, and Louis Armstrong knew better. When speaking, he never went as far as the absolutely correct Americanization of France’s Orleans. But he was comfortable, as most natives are, with saying “Noo Orlenns.”


However it’s called, Satchmo missed the city to his dying day, and so shall I.


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