Friday, January 28, 2011

Ms. Ella and her Husband, or Draining the Cultural Marsh

Last evening, I went with some friends to see Ms. Ella and her husband, a native New Orleanian who "masks Indian."  He masked with the Yellow Pocahontas, one of the downtown tribes, and now he does so individually on Mardi Gras day.

But Ms. Ella and her husband are being displaced, like hundreds of other New Orleans, from their neighborhood.  They live in the LSU Footprint.  They're being forced out - for a hospital project that does not even have its funding in place. 

As I walked into the front room of the couple's half-shotgun, the ostentatious scarlet suit, resplendant with its ornate hand-crafted beadwork, dominated the space, where Ms. Ella was taking down photos and certificates from the walls, packing them up in green tubs.

The couple, as cheerful and hospitable as they were, were clearly a bit saddened by the need to leave their home.  Ms. Ella noted that after so much uncertainty for so long, she's now resigned to the move.  She explained how houses all around her house had been demolished in recent weeks. The couple is now looking at a move to a place on Castiglione near the Fairgrounds, over a mile away.

As I took some iPhone photos under the lights and listened to the conversation, I couldn't help but feel the deep sense of loss that circled the impending move.  State actions forcing these good people out of their home are wrong in  large part because they're unnecessary.  And they're emblematic of the problem of saying an area is blighted and acting as if it has no value, National Register District or not.

Razing the area in the VA and LSU Footprints is, when you start to go house by house, very much a draining of the city's incomparably rich cultural marsh.  The architecture of homes like Ms. Ella's classic 1870s shotgun is enough of a loss.  But it cannot be denied that the culture bearers themselves are also being displaced to make way for surface level parking lots that may or may not materialize.

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