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Poet Contemplates Future of New Orleans


Commentator Andrei Codrescu was with us in New Orleans this week. He lives here and in Baton Rouge. He sat in the Community Coffee House on Royal Street in the French Quarter not far from his home as he contemplated the state of his beleaguered adopted city.

ANDREI CODRESCU (poet, commentator): Mardi Gras this year is significant for the locals because it's the beginning of a process of healing. Everybody's is freaked out. They span the range of emotions. And every 20 minutes, people will go from despair to exaltation and back. And so it's a way to bring everybody together to make costumes to express somehow their feelings about what's going on around them. To paint their faces and their floats, and it's for us to figure out if we're still a city or not.

We are in a very small part of the city, the Sliver by the River. Also known as the Isle of Denial because as soon as you leave the French Quarter and uptown, you're in this vast ruin. Most of the city is ruins. And even if you don't cross Canal Street and go to neighborhoods that nobody lives in, where there's no electricity or gas. Even if you don't do that, you feel the absence. It's psychic. It's a heaviness that's in the air. I mean we're, we're partying in the middle of a cemetery.

Before the storm not many people uptown and in the French Quarter went to those places that are now devastated, but they were there. And they were full and you could, you interacted with them whether you knew it or not. Now it's gone and suddenly you realize how many of those people actually made our lives easier over here in the French Quarter, in uptown. Sure they were poor but they were the staff. They were the staff of the hotels, they were the people who worked in the restaurants, they were people who picked up the garbage. These are the people who made our illusion of civilization essential. We couldn't live without them. And now that it isn't just the empty neighborhoods but the fact that our own carefully maintained lifestyle with the invisible, behind the curtains is, is in danger.

If you talk to people for long enough, you'll feel that they are putting the best face on it. And there is a kind of need to be optimistic at all cost. But it's hard to do with so much of the city dead around you. And so many of the people who literally not going to return. So what goes on through people's minds when they party for Mardi Gras is cynic, complex and contradictory. I think people have to keep in mind several things at the same time. One, that they may be doomed, and another that life is too short, and then you need to get this enjoyment out of it, and, and say something to yourself and to whoever is watching you.

NORRIS: Andrei Codrescu is author of New Orleans Mon Amour. He'll be with us all week to comment on his adopted hometown. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.