The official theme of the 10th anniversary ceremonies was “resiliency.” When walking several times through the city, I saw a poster on the street that said “Stop calling me resilient. Because every time you say, ‘Oh, they're resilient,’ that means you can do something else to me. I am not resilient.”
Sitting in the gymnasium of Warren Easton High School with the rest of the yawning, red-eyed press corps awaiting the appearance of George W. Bush, a police officer caught my attention. “Who is that?” she asked, gesturing towards a White man with blond hair in a suit. “He's famous, isn't he?” I didn't recognize him, but another cop walked over and told us that he was Mike Hoss from WWL Channel 4 News. I told them that they should go ask for an autograph, hoping that I could snap a photo of a grinning cop and celebrity news anchor arm in arm. But they were too embarrassed to approach him. Soon after, Mike Hoss stuck his notebook in his mouth to free his hands and adjust his belt.
On the day of the anniversary, there was a healing ceremony and march at the levee in the Lower Ninth Ward. The perimeter of cameras surrounding the ceremony was four people deep, so any solemn quality the ceremony might have once had was buried under the chattering of camera shutters. Usually, the alchemy of the media is secondary to the real world in front of its lens, but in front of the levee, the media event became the only event. The disturbance was palpably uncomfortable for everybody participating in the ceremony. At one point, one photographer yelled at another for stepping in front of him. “Oh no you don't! Ma'am, that was my spot. That was MY spot!” One of the women participating in the ceremony, visibly frustrated, stopped what she was doing and scolded him as if he were a child. Afterwards, I went up to her and told her that the ceremony was powerful and that she had done a great job. She looked at me with narrowed eyes, her contempt palpable, then turned away without saying anything and continued talking to somebody else, as if I weren’t even there.
Charity Hospital was founded in 1736, and took pride in caring for the poor, indigent and uninsured for almost 300 years. During the storm, only the basement of its iconic building was flooded. Three weeks after Hurricane Katrina, it was cleaned, restocked and ready for patients when then-Governor Kathleen Blanco ordered it permanently closed. She told the U.S. Army 82nd Airborne, the legendary disaster relief unit, to leave the hospital. Representatives from Louisiana State University, which ran Charity, ordered the lights shut off. Hospital police locked out volunteers. An Army Staff Sergeant even reported seeing outright sabotage by LSU representatives. Much like New Orleans' schools, Charity Hospital was an easy target in the rush to 'cleanse' the city after the storm, and powerful forces, not limited to LSU, conspired to keep Charity closed. In its place, a $1.1 billion facility called the University Medical Center of New Orleans, or “the hospital no one asked for,” was built only a few blocks away.
One night, when I was out wandering the streets and trying to get a good photo of the building, I ran across a raucous crowd trying to get into position for a group photo. It was a group of former nurses and doctors from Charity. Many of them worked at the new facility, they said. They spoke in sentimental tones about the old hospital. One woman wore her faded and tattered plastic ID badges from her time as a Charity nurse. They dated back to 1982, and in each one her face aged.
Signs of the hurricane are everywhere, even 10 years later. This school fell not to the storm, but to the charter school privatization that rushed in after the flood waters left. The windows and doors were cleanly covered with corrugated tin, but nobody had bothered to change the sign.
St. Roch is the name of a New Orleans neighborhood, after the patron saint of dogs, who is also invoked as a protection against the plague and other diseases. In the St. Roch cemetery, this small chapel is filled with glass eyes, false limbs, crutches, and other offerings left to the saint. On the day I visited the chapel, my friend Tricia had walked me all over the city, telling me Katrina stories from people that she knew. One story was about a woman who had been stranded on the roof of her house during the flood, and when she swam down inside to find some canned food she had had in her pantry, she cut her thigh on a log that had been washed into the house. Although she survived the flood, the cut got infected and eventually forced her to have her leg amputated. It sent shivers down my spine, but not as much as when I later went to the chapel and saw the statue of St. Roch standing guard next to the limbs of the healed, lifting up his robe, exposing a small red cut on his thigh.