Friday, January 05, 2007


When we needed housing December 16-21, we were welcomed by a camp run by Lutheran Disaster Response. Some of the volunteers sounded like they would have liked to map, if they had heard about it. We spoke with Daryl and Chuck, who ran the camp, about asking for volunteers when we returned for this most recent trip.
This morning several volunteers from the camp mapped with me. Contrary to earlier weather reports predicting lots of rain, today has been a bright, sunny, and warm day in New Orleans. I picked the volunteers up up, and we were off to Virgil Park and got about a third of the neighborhood done. They also raised some ideas that could help the project, and I fielded some questions about New Orleans and my research. Meaghan suggested that maybe Dartmouth could do something like a study abroad, but in New Orleans, that would focus on the community development issues that we were all talking about.
The photos are from the Lower Ninth Ward, where I dropped the group off after lunch. I'm back at the office now, focusing on tomorrow. We have about 68 assignments, about 75 minutes each, to finish Gentilly. Only 1/3 of the area left to go.


Blogger Zsuzsa said...

Friday, January 5, 2007
A Gentle Revolution

I have always liked the story of Jeanne D'Arc

She was a very young woman when she encountered the
enigma of her own faith in something as unlikely
as winning a series of battles for her beloved country and people.

Youth is irrational, passionate and enthusiastic. Sometimes
it can make you blind. It can
cause trouble yet the old wisdom of "don't trouble trouble
until trouble troubles you," no matter how true it may be, has
never stopped exceptional figures of history, men and women alike,
to fear for their
own lives and abandon a greater cause for the benefit of many.
Thus, Joan of Arc, too could not help following her faith and belief
in the power of action. She went first line. She was fearless.
And an entire army followed.

Her individual triumph as a leader that she did not want but achieved was
easily crushed by the more powerful as well as the skeptical.
But that was not the point. The point was to let her faith unfold and
allow her to follow her
heart. In medieval times that could easily lead to heresy and the pyre.
The legend of Jeanne d'Arc, the Virgin of Orleans,
however, did not die and inspired many great artists
over centuries. Shakespeare, Voltaire, Schiller, Verdi, Tchaikovsky,
Twain, Shaw, Brecht and Honegger all paid tribute to her figure
and made it immortal within their art.

As I think of this couragous patron Saint of the city of New Orleans,
I do not envision the need for another revolution to come and win over hearts
and minds here to combat ignorance, stubborness and a legal system
some locals described as "crooked as a hickory tree." Rather, I
can see something unfold gradually yet steadily that is going to
make this city stronger than ever.

The figure of this heroine mounted on a
horse at the French Market exudes confidence and quiet dignity.
Just the sight of it may be enough to strike the right cords in those
who recognize the power of charisma and will readily follow on to
the battlefields. It has to start with individuals, however, that by inspiration
and through the power of dreams and imagination, we may recognize
that we are our own best leaders. We just need to talk and share.

Walks are the perfect opportunity. Neighbors the best action figures.
And neighborhoods the simplest places to start with. Or from.

Revolutions may happen gently, quitely and with a velvety touch. In fact,
they are more successful as such because people - and not force - make them happen.
That's what I wish for the locals as well as anyone who had participated
in the Gentilly Project. To feel the "awesomeness" of getting something done
and be content in it. To experience that with participation and insistence
on justice and truth mindsets can and do change and evolve
if there are enough people who believe that it can happen and be done
in a gentle yet educated way.
That shift unfolding in front of one's eyes does have a number of heady
emotions attached to it.
Similarly, it takes time. But most of all, it takes courage to get it started.
It also won't remain alive as an organic, self-generating process if it is

In a collection of essays I brought back with me from the bookstore named
after one of the greatest American writers, William Faulkner, many writers talk
about New Orleans as a woman. Ironically, another two ladies, Katrina and
Rita happeneed to beat her up. Yet she has survived and needs to be nourished,
taken care of as well as loved and protected. Healing needs to take place. That's why
I'm glad Joan of Arc is watching quietly over the comeback holding
up the banner for those who are willing to come home here - as well as for
those who understand the spirit and history of this place an are willing to follow.

"At the streetcar stop
an old woman is mourning black
watches her younger self run
alongside a mostly naked runner
following the streetcar line
to a perfect body.
They are Jasmine and Sweet Olive,
they have just met
in 1924 in The City
That Lives for Its Belles,
a bar.
Stranger, sit quietly here
this evening
at the Columns Hotel
on th eterrace at dusk
where light goes out with flair
on froufrou and history.
Outside the body, happily,
begins the lie."
(A. Codrescu)

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