Tuesday January 2, 2007
Dr Courtney Cowart, who runs the Diocese of Louisiana's disaster relief team, escaped from the shadow of the World Trade Centre on 9/11. She cannot help but compare the government's response to both tragedies, noting that nothing like the financial commitment made to New York is being offered to New Orleans. The Big Easy, disliked by conservatives because of its reputation for debauchery, is in danger of being ignored.
Debauched and religious. In this most Christian of cities, the churches are forming powerful alliances with local community groups to spearhead the fight against mammon. For this is a place where the language of the Bible seems to have daily application. Those who experienced the scale of this disaster wouldn't think the Bible's apocalyptic literature fanciful. They have lived it. Outside the shell of an old Baptist church in the lower ninth, a scruffy piece of board is scrawled with the prophecy from Ezekiel in which dead bones are reformed into living human form. "Can these dry bones live?" is the question.
In the increasingly lawless central district, the resurrection is given a hedonistic inflection through the tradition of the second line. The first line is the sombre procession to a funeral. The second line is the exuberant, jazzy, band-led, umbrella-popping return. Most Sunday afternoons, thousands gather to dance their way through the wreckage, reclaiming the streets for music and laughter.
Last month I watched as the second line jigged down Washington Street and came to rest outside one of the city's social housing projects, declared out of bounds by the civic authorities. The music intensified. A huge number of the projects are fenced off, even though many received only superficial damage. It's surely no coincidence that some are in areas of prime real estate. Residents were evicted at gunpoint during the storm and have not been allowed back.
Mark Twain said there were only three cities in the US with any real culture: Boston, San Francisco and New Orleans. What a tragedy if this once-great city is to be saved from the waters only to be destroyed by developers set to rebuild another generic US metropolis, designed for profit and not for people.
· Dr Giles Fraser is the vicar of Putney and a lecturer in philosophy at Wadham College, Oxford firstname.lastname@example.org