Wednesday, April 16, 2008

A spring afternoon

Holy Cross Neighborhood
Lower 9th Ward
April 16, 2008
New Orleans, La.

Dear Family and Friends,

I am not a New Orleans expert. I’ve only been here 24 days. Houses have no windows. Houses have no doors. Houses have no roofs. Concrete foundations sit isolated and open, almost waiting for a DJ so they too can serve a purpose again. Only this time, these foundations can only become makeshift dance floors. But there isn’t much celebrating going on in this neighborhood. Really, there isn’t much of anything going on.

It's been a year now, since I said the above, a description about a place I knew little about then and still know little about now. I went back to the Lower 9th Ward on Tuesday. Crossing over the Industrial Canal and into the face of New Orleans' despair, I hope the signs of progress will have appeared.

Grocery stores and gas stations.

The gas stations are beginning to come back, grocery stores are lagging. It still is, in many ways, a photo opportunity for what it hasn't become.

But, when you go out to the Lower 9th Ward, get away from ground zero and cross a street called Claiborne, a different more vibrant section of the area appears. Holy Cross, a junior and senior high school for boys, was the foundation of the community for over 100 years. The school moved sites after the storm. The neighborhood towards the river off of Claiborne has kept its namesake.

Neighborhood leaders have big plans for the Holy Cross campus. A community center with a focus on green, eco-friendly and sustainable living.

Until then, it's a time capsule.

The Holy Cross neighborhood isn't what you'd think it to be if you listened to the New Orleans' naysayers. Homes are nice. Yards are kept. People are active in the recovery. And by the river there are two steamboat homes that were built at the turn of the century. They provide the backdrop for Twain-like spring afternoons.

The Holy Cross neighborhood association as well as a cooperative by Tulane and Xavier Universities called the Center for Bioenvironmental Research invited scientists and academics from around the country and the world to talk environmental triggers in hormones. Stuff I can't and won't try to explain.

Know that the people were smart, very smart. I tagged along.

So when I said a year ago that there wasn't much celebrating going on, it's because at ground zero, there isn't much there. I had no idea what was nearer the river about 10 blocks away. On our afternoon, the Hot 8 brass band played, the Mississippi river behind them. The Hot 8 have become one of New Orleans most popular local live acts. Lil' Dizzies, a noteworthy restaurant and caterer, served red beans, crawfish etouffee and baked chicken.

Scientists danced.

The afternoon was the first time that I'd experienced happiness in this part of the City. I'm usually showing it to people while their jaws drop or stomaches ache when seeing it for the first time.

It's such a joyful place, New Orleans, but the celebrations are usually held on the other side of the canal. The sun set over New Orleans' skyline. The Holy Cross neighborhood has the best view of the City, its residents say.

There's nothing sad about that.



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