Friday, December 24, 2010

Water

To understand New Orleans, its people and, well, me, you have to understand water.


Locals might not realize or admit this, but New Orleans and the immediate suburbs are completely surrounded by water. The entire northern boundary is Lake Pontchartrain, which I believe is the largest lake in the U.S. other than the Great Lakes. Most of the southern boundary of the city is the Mississippi River. There are some smaller lakes to the east and the Bonnet Carre Spillway, which connects the River to the Lake for flood control purposes, is to the west. There is no way to drive into New Orleans without crossing some body of water.

Water has both literal and metaphorical affects on people who grow up here.

Some literal examples …

Even before the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, New Orleaneans dealt with flooding. Smaller hurricanes, days-long rain storms and spring flooding on the Mississippi all could lead to some amount of water in the streets. Usually it drained off within hours or a couple of days, but locals learned to work around it.

Many people love fishing and do it regularly on lakes, rivers and bayous. Many have boats. Various friends and family members of mine had fishing camps on local waterways. Many 40- and 50-somethings experienced the fondling side of early romance while parked on Lakeshore Drive; the locals called that ‘watching the submarine races at the Lake.’

Locals also frequently make their living on the water, from fishing to working the docks to crew work on ferry boats and tour boats.



Some metaphorical examples …

Water influences both time and tenacity in New Orleans. The Mighty Mississippi slowly drifts through the crescent curves the city is built around. It flows in a lazy way but it is relentless, never stops, never slows down, always reaches its destination. People here behave the same way. Outsiders seem to think locals are slow and lazy until the outsiders realize how much the locals have done on any given project. People like me who grew up here only appear to be drifting along.

That same tenacious steady drive seen on the Mississippi is also a metaphor for the spirit and determination of those who returned after Katrina to rebuild this place. That brand of tenacity is literal too. Like the poster in the photo above says, “Soul is Waterproof.”

Water gives this region life but it cannot drown the spirit.

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