In Idaho, our mainstream-media-dependent perspective on Hurricane Katrina can often seem disjointed. We see the human toll in coarse half-sentences and weepy, fragmented utterances about death, missing family members and destruction, all presented only after extensive editing and the addition of a string section. In such times, it's easy to forget that Katrina is a catastrophe not being experienced by news departments, but by individuals--and, as anyone familiar with New Orleans is aware, the city has always been best portrayed by its legions of talented storytellers. So why leave what could be the city's most imposing tale, that of its destruction, to the networks?
We're glad to be able to present our readers some of the most painfully eloquent and timely words about Katrina, by way of Michael Tisserand. Tisserand is the editor of our fellow Association of Alternative Newsweeklies paper Gambit Weekly, and has undertaken a column, titled "Submerged," portraying his experience of the storm's aftermath. He left New Orleans in a station wagon the day before the levee broke, with his two kids in the backseat and the soundtrack to Shrek on the CD player. His home, his newspaper and the life he spent 20 years building in New Orleans, are all buried under what he terms "a bowl of toxic stew." As of the last installment, he only knew the whereabouts of half of his editorial staff, but knew far too much about the demise of some of his beloved city's most unique neighborhoods and personalities. In the coming weeks, all of Tisserand's columns, about everything from life in his friend's spare rooms to life in shelters, from looking for a new city to looking for his lost friends, will be available on www.boiseweekly.com. We will also feature weekly updates of his experiences, such as the following scene from his September 12 entry:
"For evacuees, nothing stops conversation like a first-hand account about home. One evening, we were meeting in a New Iberia living room with other parents, making plans for our kids' school year. Another parent came in. He'd just returned from New Orleans, he'd gone in armed, he had the cell-phone photos of his office. All talk stopped while we stared at some miniature image of a building with a gaping hole.
Friends call me daily to say they're going in, or they've just been in. One tried to duct tape his refrigerator shut and move it out of the house. It wouldn't fit through the doorway. So he tried to clean it out. He threw up five times before he was done.
I could go in myself. I can get a press pass. But I understand what I'll see: soldiers armed with M16s, military bases on our old playgrounds. Trees eviscerated, wintry. Quiet neighborhoods punctuated by burned houses, felled oak trees, tableaus of destruction. They say it's an abandoned movie set, it's apocalyptic. One friend calls it an acquired taste. He just left for Austin, Texas.
I don't want to see my house yet. I don't want to see our block, silent as a graveyard, which in New Orleans is called a city of the dead because they're built above the ground."