A Travellerspoint blog

USA

New Orleans

the big easy - so they tell me.

all seasons in one day 28 °C

Spent some time in San Diego and Baja California but as I am going back to both I will add an entry from there at a later date. While I was in New York I spoke with Artis and he told me about a volunteer program that Deutsche runs in New Orleans each year. Houses that were destroyed by Katrina and not covered by insurance have teams of volunteers from all over the states and beyond come down and start the reconstruction process. After 9 years at DB I figured I could tag along. Not like I was looking for a free lunch or anything - although they did provide sandwiches.

Oh, and Jazz fest was on over the following weekend so it combines some basic philanthropy with food and a couple of drinks. Judge for yourself my motives. In any case the first New Orleans blog will deal with the construction and what I picked up while I was there and the second part will be more reminiscent of previous excursions. Hope that works for you. Seemed inappropriate to have them both on the same page.

So I arrived on the Wednesday. We stayed in the French quarter - which was only moistened by the rain and not the floods. The main area of devastation is not far as the crow flies but is 50 or so feet closer to the level of the Mississippi and also right next to the levy. This was not a good thing as it turned out. The area is called the lower 9th. It contained the poorest of the New Orleans residents and as such was (the closer you got to the levy) predominantly (and then completely) a black neighbourhood. New Orleans was originally not the richest city in the US so the poor here were already among the countries worse off.

When the levy broke flood waters reached a peak of 25 feet. Houses that were built on concrete foundations but not flood proof were physically swept away on the tide. Some are still close to their original location and others were lost forever. The floods did not immediately recede and as such the entire place was awash with no hope of the displaced returning.

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The area used to be home to 17,000 people. Now, 3 years on, there are only 6,000 people living there and they are still living amidst what looks to be a warzone.

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Houses across New Orleans had been sold hurricane damage as part of their insurance policies but no-one ever thought that the government and state constructed levy would disintegrate and as such none had flood damage cover. This of course meant that houses were destroyed with no money to rebuild or repair. The local economy shut down for months so locals had no place to live and no money to start again. When close to the poverty trap to start with it doesn't take much to push you over the line. Government reaction appears to have been slow and ineffective. People were given trailers to live in but have to sort out their houses themselves. Many of them have been abandoned and are unlikely to be lived in again. It makes for a pretty depressing landscape.

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There are much better informed individuals who have described the mistakes and the ongoing indifference to the plight of the lower 9th far more eloquently than I but I am still compelled to have an opinion. It seems a travesty that billions can be spent on a questionable war abroad when basic human rights are ignored at home. That there is no help at hand, or desire to support, those that need it most. People however are trying to help. Many volunteer schemes have been put in place and they have thousands of volunteers trying to get the community back on its feet. I hope they succeed. I feel some shame at sounding so high and mighty when all I did was some basic construction work on a house for 1 day. Well at least I did until someone turned up who should have been more shame-faced than I.

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Republican government mis-manages the disaster to an almost stupefying degree. Then rock up for a photo op. Surely the last place to campaign for election for McCain should be New Orleans. He "appreciated" all our efforts. The locals are very clear about his party's efforts and stayed indoors until he had left. Its a crazy world sometimes, but seriously..... The only real lesson I can glean from Katrina and the aftermath? Try not to be poor and outside a key election demographic when the waters come. Bonne chance.

So the house we were working on (the rest of the team had been there all week) had not been touched since the floods. In itself a depressing thing but to find books, cd's, clothes and the other remnants of a life and a home were sad to see. The bank team get to do the dirty work of stripping the house back to its bare bones when a more skilled team will come in and make it habitable again.

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The sheer amount of stuff in a house when you strip out everything is pretty amazing.

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But I was most glad to have made a very small contribution. Hopefully the volunteers will keep on coming and at some point in the future the lower 9th will get back to some degree of normality. Fingers crossed. Well done to all of those who did the hard work before I arrived, and thanks to Artis for getting me to come along.

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So end of part 1. Will show the happier face of New Orleans when I write next. See you in a day or so. Be well.

Lid

Posted by lidster 13:47 Archived in USA Comments (0)

Miami, FLA

sunny 31 °C

NY was fun but a little bit chilly for my liking so Southward bound was I. Miami is certainly warmer with Winter being much nicer than the Summer which by all accounts is very hot, very sticky and mosquito central. Must be all that swamp I suppose. Anyway, March is nice, windy, warm and the bars don't appear to close ever. Dangerous stuff.

Hit the beach on day 1 for a few hours. Sand, water, standard fare. Miami beach itself seems ok. Pretty relaxed, lots of places to eat and drink blah, blah.

I am actually struggling to write as I really didn't like it too much. Had fun but more based upon Tommy's presence than the place itself. Seemed a bit fake. Plastic surgery aside it wasn't really the art deco melting pot of cuban and american life that I was expecting. People seem overly flashy. Overly trendy and if you have a nice car then it would appear that to get your moneys worth you need to drive it up and down checking people out and being checked out yourself. It felt like people were going out to rubber neck better looking and wealthier people than themselves rather than to have a good time with a few mates. Which seems to be a pretty vacuous way of dispensing with your free time - especially when you have to work on Monday and time is in short supply. Maybe I just didn't get it. I rarely do.

Went to see the Florida Marlins. I actually understand most of what is going on these days at baseball games.

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Mostly thanks to Tommy.

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Due to the franchise nature of American sport Florida could afford a team but apparently not that many fans. Game was fun enough although I did get scared when looking for some sauce for my hotdog.

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I suppose it does remove the need for wasteful packaging but it made me feel quite queasy.

Anyway. West coast next. Gracias to Tommy for being a fine host. Well, most of the time anyway.

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He had been working hard in all fairness.

So the adventure continues. Whatever you do stay free. The communists are lurking round every corner.

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In fact I am off to meet one in San Diego. He is Bulgarian actually. As such he in indirectly responsible for this.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=_RgL2MKfWTo

Who said American cultural expansionism was ruining the world. Hogwash.
Later
Lid.

Posted by lidster 15:24 Archived in USA Comments (0)

New York

grande manzana etc.

semi-overcast 15 °C

Well aside from the usual NY type stuff, i.e. cab drivers I cannot understand, 42 types of gatorade, 300 options in starbucks and the requirement to have a degree in advanced sandwich making to be able to enter and exit a sandwich shop in under 25 minutes, I remain a huge fan of this town. NY has an energy about it that I have rarely found anywhere else. There is something about living on the rock that just, well, rocks. For a country which most people dislike (or at least mock) these days I always feel more than welcome to spend a few days within the first of the five boroughs which make up New York and its immediate surrounds.

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People actually talk to you. People are actually nice. It is not everyone and not at all times but its more than available and for a big city it is just about enough. And its not just the crazy ones either. Normal people doing vaguely normal things in and around New York feel free enough, and occasionally easy enough, to have a chat as and when 2 parties are available and sufficiently geographically fortunate. Big, scary, dangerous cities the world over are often unrefreshingly similar but here things are at least a bit different. Better is a relative judgement and opinions are indeed like arseholes but I like it. Energy is a commodity most of us glean from food or the regular hugging of trees but here it comes from the ground and works its way up through your feet. Its a vibe thing. And I haven't even hit the west coast yet so you can only imagine...

Tommy G put me up for the week I was there. Fine reception as well.

Did some of the more tourist type activities as now that I am no longer rich enough to be snooty nor "I is being too busy cos I is working on very important stuff" I figured I may as well. Good stuff too. MoMA below.

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As I stood there pondering a piece called blue dot on linoleum the question that came to my mind was whether or not it is really art.

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Only for a flash though as in all honesty, who gives a monkeys? Was going to work in some "load of old pollocks" type reference but it seemed a bit obvious when I tried it. And the world seemed to have enough of that already.

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Then to improve my understanding of life beyond the murky moat that is the Hudson river I took part in the 5 borough bar crawl. Time limit 3 hours. Pint in a bar in each of the boroughs. Public transport only. Some said it could not be done. I had no real idea as I would not have correctly named the 5 boroughs prior to said event but attempt it we did. Malcolm had a bet and as he said himself bets between friends are for pride first and financial inconvenience second. Started with Staten Island. Team below:

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On to Manhattan. Brooklyn, Queens then finished in the Bronx. Quite straightforward I hear you say. Try it I say. Lots of time on the subway and the moments in between we were drinking beers quite fast or taking a pee without always washing our hands. Sacrifices must be made from time to time. So how did we do? 2hrs 58 all in. Not quite the olympic sprint to the finish line it may sound but there were some tense moments. Not quite high drama but drama of an average height and sufficiently girthsome to boot. Hooray! I think that may be the first exclamation mark of the blog. Only added for effect though. Although I suppose they only ever are... !

Fantastic stuff! Better than all the tossers in the open top bus in close to freezing weather methinks. Talking of which Europe appears to be taking advantage of the recent currency fluctuations as most of them seem to be shopping over here. It may be cool to be disparaging politically but at parity with the swiss franc who can knock an anti-war, free tibet, che t-shirt wearing european twenty something getting an i-phone for the same cost as a barrel of oil? Not I clearly. Spending is good. Credit cards good. Re-mortgage your house, consolidate your debts, have a bud light and a breakfast wrap from BK for 99 cents. Erectile dysfunction? Take Levantex. Side effects may include dizziness, nausea, headaches, vomiting, hair loss, cancer, loss of personal wealth and also, potentially, erectile dysfunction. But the advert seemed to indicate we should all be on it. Fox news also worth 5 minutes of your time. Should you agree with anything they say during that 5 minutes I think you need to take a good look in the mirror tomorrow morning and work out where it all went wrong.

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Which sort of brings us back to the general frowning upon of all things American in recent times. Not sure about the rest of the States but for me, New York is a place to love, not to hate. It may be the home of the images most associated with the US but it seems a law unto itself.

To attempt to gain, and provide, some clarity on the rest of the US and its populace I am doing a bit of a tour. Bush kind of won an election in Florida and there I go next and using my awful Spanish attempt to pick some meat from the bones of the corpse of democracy. Then San Diego and reports have it that I may get to New Orleans to check out some more political moistness. Floods, Jazz, Construction work, Booze. No sacrifice is too great.

Hitting the road, well, the airport at least. Wing and a prayer etc.

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Ciao fair reader. Fear not. The world is not well but it might not be terminal. And if it is, its probably too late anyway.
Lid.

Posted by lidster 19:33 Archived in USA Comments (0)

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