The Enchanted Self Visits New Orleans

Last week the American Psychological Association had its annual meetings in New Orleans. I went there with trepidation. Since Katrina happened the end of last summer, I have had a heaviness in my heart about New Orleans. What would I find? How would I feel being in a city that had suffered a disaster? What insights and/or reactions would I come away with?

We stayed downtown at the Double Tree Hotel. The hotel staff was very warm and friendly. The building looked ok-not dashing like the Double Tree I had stayed in a couple of weeks ago in Norwalk, Connecticut, but passable. It was only later when I looked out of my window and saw that the swimming pool was being repaired that I realized some real damage had taken place at the hotel. Also, I noticed that the coffee bar downstairs was poorly stocked-no delicious muffins for me. However, the staff offset the limitations of the hotel. For example, the Concierge amazed me, calling me by name after the first day-and I didn't always have my name tag on.

I looked eagerly across the street, seeing a Saks Fifth Avenue Department Store. Anticipation and excitement began to fill me. Yes, now I ad somewhere to wander and loose myself in the mystique of beautiful clothing. I'd save that for tomorrow. But tomorrow never came, as I discovered the store was sealed tight. It never re-opened after the hurricane. 

I dreaded going over to the Convention Center for the meetings. I had never been able to get out of my mind the images from television of people begging for food and water at that center. How could I go there and not think of them? Surprisingly I did go over and I was able to forget them for the time being. I'm not sure that I was proud of the fact that I could forget. But not for long!

I was insistent on taking a three hour Hurricane Katrina bus tour, sponsored by Gray Line buses. I couldn't wait. I knew for me, not the convention-even though it was my professional major meeting on the year-would be of importance this year. This year Katrina and her havoc were my main focus. I had to see what had really happened and try to learn how the people were doing.

Finally, we were on the bus and beginning the tour. I learned so much. I can only try to convey some of what Joe, our guide, shared with us. First of all, although the business district, aside from some shabbiness and holes in the pavements (Thank Heaven I didn't twist my ankles a number of times!) looks ok, it really isn't. For example, several of the large hotels have not reopened due to all sorts of havoc, such as having many of their windows blow out. Also, many of the office buildings that still look glamorous are actually empty, again due to structural damage. Of course, the Super dome is still not open. However, the roof is almost completely repaired. Driving by it brought back so many terrible memories of watching people line up to be housed there. The guide vividly described the roof ripping off and the chaos that then took place inside the dome. He had been in an office suite belonging to a friend. Eventually he and his family, with little food and water had to abandon that building and take to the streets. They suffered through five days of confusion and despair. Everyone really believed that the rest of the world had forgotten about them. As Joe said, we were watching them of TV but they were getting no information from the outside world. 

As soon as we got out of the Business District we began to see destroyed neighborhoods to the right and the left of the bus. Block after block, mile after mile of houses that appeared to be structurally damaged. Once in awhile we would pass by a house that looked ok. Sometimes we saw trailers in the driveways, but rarely. Most of the neighborhoods were empty or almost empty. Joe told us that 85% of the city had been severely damaged. Of the 465,000 people that had lived there, only one-third remained. Most of the city aside from the Business District and the French Quarter is without electrical power. Joe showed us why when we went by an Electrical Sub Station. He explained that most of the transmitters are simply too damaged to be repaired. That means that the work involved in getting electricity back to the rest of the city will be monumental. 

It's not even a safe city to get sick in now. Joe told us that the entire city has only 300 hospital beds. Most of the hospitals will have to be torn down, because of the toxic mold inside of them. Wow-I'm overwhelmed with the dimensions of the damage.

Let me stop here with some good news. Although all the fish died in the aquarium-because there was no electricity for the water pumps-the penguins all lived. They were taken to another zoo in Monterey for safe keeping. However, two months ago they came back and the city had a parade! Unfortunately the oldest penguin, actually one of the oldest in captivity Patience who was 23--died last week of natural causes- but not due to the hurricane.

Also, all the zoo animals were saved. Their keepers stayed with them and they all made it. I'll tell you more about the animals next week.

Where was the Enchanted Self going to fit into my journey? I didn't know as I took the bus trip. My heart and mind were filled with trying to take in and comprehend what Joe was showing us and telling us. But eventually I found some Enchantment and Hope. Stay with me next week to find out the rest of my journey!



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