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Late Night FDL: Our Lady of New Orleans

Virgin Mary photo by Allison Hantschel

Virgin Mary (photo: Allison Hantschel)

Fixed, says a better writer than I am, is not unbroken.

I went to New Orleans this year for Rising Tide with the memory of the city four years ago fresh in my mind. With the memory of the bravery of its people, with the shell-shock and desperate stretched smiles wide, fresh in my mind. I was prepared for that, for the rage that swept over me at the abandonment of this place to hit me like a wrecking ball again.

And there she was, standing on the lawn, in front of the garden hose and the neatly kept yard, around the corner from Adrastos and Dr. A, on a street where neighbors have arguments about trash and parking. She’s worn, a little, her blue finery faded, her altar chipped, but she stands. There are dozens like her, all over the city. There are similar small monuments in neighborhoods near where I live, keeping watch over a small patch of grass, or a garden.

All weekend long, while another hurricane battered and killed, I kept asking people, at parties that felt like reunions, if it sounded terrible to talk about how wonderful things looked to me. If by mentioning that it seemed so joyous here now, so crowded, so noisy, so alive, that meant I was somehow saying it was all okay, and we could just forget what happened.

It was quiet, when I came here before, in 2007, with a bunch of you to see what we’d done as a country and try in some small way to help. It was quiet. The streets were quiet. There was very little traffic to dodge, very few people to approach or avoid, even 18 months after the storm. And it was a question, a question that enraged people but nonetheless a question: Would New Orleans be rebuilt?

It’s not quiet anymore. The scars of abandonment are still there, the chips, the wear. The markings on a house used to signify if it had been searched, the landmarks people used in conversation: This is right around the corner from where they found a body. But there are other landmarks now, too, gloriously ordinary: There was a tree here, and they cut that down.

And it’s not a question anymore. Out here, in the vast country of Not New Orleans, people do still occasionally ask it, as if it’s still up for debate. That’s what I’m saying. It’s not up for debate. People did it. They’re doing it. They’ve done it. Slowly, painfully, harder than they should have had to do it, but it’s over, that debate. It’s not whether and if but how and when, and the how and when doesn’t ever really stop, but that’s okay because it’s not supposed to.

Not unbroken.



previously: Our Lady of the Driveway

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Allison Hantschel

Allison Hantschel

Allison Hantschel is a 10-year veteran of the newspaper business. She publishes First Draft, a writing and politics blog, with her partners Holden, Jude and Scout. She is the author of the books Chicago's Historic Irish Pubs (2011, Arcadia Publishing, with Mike Danahey) and It Doesn’t End With Us: The Story of the Daily Cardinal, about a great liberal journalism institution (2007, Heritage Books). She also edited the anthology “Special Plans: The Blogs on Douglas Feith and the Faulty Intelligence That Led to War” (2005, William, James & Co.) Her work has appeared in the Chicago Sun-Times, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the Daily Southtown, Sirens Magazine, and Alternet. She lives in Chicago with her husband, two ferrets, and approximately 60 tons of books.