People Get Ready

[ make levees, not war ]

New Orleans is still a ghost town

Posted by schroeder915 on December 13, 2005

New Orleans is still a ghost town, and we who so impudently try to reclaim her, are ghosts. We think we’re still among the living, but in reality, we are mere spirits traveling through a land of the once-living.

That’s the life-draining feeling you get when you move out beyond the island of dry land snaking along the curve of the Mississippi River that is now inhabited by living souls. That’s the empty feeling you get when you move into that vast silent landscape of abandoned homes.

I was thinking about this yesterday as I continued to recall the haunting impression I had of taking photographs a couple of weeks ago out in the St. Roch neighborhood. There were other souls to be found out there — a handful of houses where owners were salvaging their possessions, discarding the soggy remainders on a pile in the street. But they too were like ghosts. I passed them unnoticed — they cursed to relive the tragedy over and over again with each personal possession gathered up from the mud, the owner mentally registering and inventorying the item, assessing its sentimental value, and deciding if it was worth keeping despite its mold-infested condition — and I cursed to be a witness to their suffering, and in that witnessing, to absorb some of their suffering.

I did on a couple of occasions stop to talk to those former residents of New Orleans, now ghosts haunting uninhabited houses, and they shared their stories with me. Or sometimes we exchanged a simple hand wave as a gesture of camaraderie, an acknowledgement of mutual suffering. But always, as I moved past them, I was haunted by their presence, haunted by the recurring scenes of slow-moving spirits passing through doorways carrying the mementos of their lives to a garbage pile in the street, haunted by their long expressionless faces. Even now, those images return to haunt my memory.

I move through this ghost town and take pictures, record stories, commit to memory what I see — a camera my window into the spirit world and my protecting shield from its horrors, a recorder my guilty sentence, and recollections my penance.

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One Response to “New Orleans is still a ghost town”

  1. Rob said

    I take pictures in New Orleans daily, too. I can’t bring myself to point my camera at residents or residences. I feel like I’m intruding on personal tragedy. It is so sad to drive around New Orleans. The outer parishes are teeming with activity but it will mostly be for naught if New Orleans stays down.

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