Saturday, August 30, 2008

Boarding up...

Our dear, dear neighbor Ariane Wiltse, and her friend Beau helped us board up the house this afternoon.

This is our house, waiting for what our clown of a mayor has called "The Mother of All Storms." Tomorrow we will leave her behind, and I am so, so sad about it. Also, I have realized that we will likely be gone for a long time. There's this, too: because we are separated from the city by the St. Claude and Claiborne Avenue Bridges, and because there is likely to be very bad damage in St. Bernard Parish to our east (and perhaps again to New Orleans East), we will probably not be allowed to come home for a long time.

Must not allow this all to sink in. Will keep moving and moving and then will sleep. Tomorrow we will leave as early as we can, but we also do not want to be driving zombies. We will be in our cars for a very, very long time. And I will have four very unhappy cats with me.

There is more to be said, but I am very, very tired, and now I have to pack in earnest. I've been sorting and getting ready in that sorting way, but not in a, "Let's do this" fashion, and now I need to. I will try to blog tomorrow. It will likely be from my parents' house in Atlanta.

P.S. Screw spellcheck.

If You Are Panicking...

We have been getting a lot of calls today. It seems many of you want to hear our plans. The problem is that our plans may not coincide with yours.

Yes, we are still waiting. Here's why:

  • We have already missed the window of opportunity for leaving without having to encounter massive traffic. (When I drove back from the Northshore, bumper-to-bumper evacuation traffic began at Franklin on the I-10/610 merge.)

  • We are not ready. Simon had to teach yesterday and we were unable to board up. We are boarding up now and clearing the yard. I have all of our papers together and I will pack this evening. We will then watch the latest coordinates at 7:00 and then make a decision about leaving. We will leave in the middle of the night--as in 3:00 a.m.-ish--if we decide that we do, indeed, need to leave.

We are not stupid. We are not irresponsible. We will leave if we think it best, and we will leave in time to avoid the possibility of being stopped by bad weather.

We understand there may have been a better way to deal with this Gustav-fucker. We understand that our plans may not comfort you. We are sorry that you are panicking. (Watching TV--the explosive graphics, well-chosen stories of heartache and fear, the use of extreme TV-lingo--it can inspire panic. It's why we are keeping it off until another storm update is to be aired.) Your panic, however, does not help us right now.

So please, please, please, know that we will take care of ourselves. We will call you with our plans--plans you may not approve of, but that will nonetheless be the result of a lot of thought and careful consideration.

In the meantime, please do not call to express your disapproval of our plans. Being here, knowing that we may lose our home, living through this again, and trying to do what we need to in order to be safe--and sane--is harder than I can express in words. Having to answer the phone--to stop boarding up, packing, assessing, and dealing with this--in order to provide you comfort does not help us. At. All.

Saturday Afternoon (Three Days Pre-Gustav)

I feel better when I am not watching television. I also feel better when I am not at the grocery store.

We just returned from Rouse's on the lakefront. The store looked closed. Crews were putting corrugated metal on the windows, but one door was open. Inside people looked as confused as I felt--like they didn't know whether to stay or go, whether to get more water or less, whether this is all some cruel joke, coming on the heels of the third anniversary of Katrina.

In the meat department they were knocking prices down by 50%, and everyone's hoarding instincts seemed to be kicking in. Because we still haven't decided if we will stay or go, we were preparing for both staying and going. We bought eight filet mignon steaks, two punds of ground buffalo, and two whole chickens.

Then Simon's brother called, and he seemed worried. Simon told him we were probably leaving, which confused me. I was loading more beer in the cart.

I had to leave. I cried in the parking lot. My mom called. I pulled it together and promised her we will be safe.

On the way home, driving through the Lower Ninth Ward on the back-of-town side, we passed the Katrina memorial and I felt just awful. When we pulled up, we saw that our across the street neighbors were leaving. I think they must have hated us--us bringing in the ice, the steaks, the beer. I hated us.

Now I am watching the mayor on TV and everything feels more serious than it did last night and yesterday. Gustav is a cat-4. My friends Amanda and Joseph called. Last night we planned to get together, to BBQ. But the 4 has Amanda worried, and she says they are leaving. Simon and I have agreed we will leave tomorrow morning if we have to, or even as late as Sunday night. We are hesitating, which I have never done before, because we have four cats who will suffer on the drive, and make us suffer, too. We are not stupid. We know how dangerous the storm is. We will be safe. We need time to batten down.

In the midst of all this, I can't believe that I am about to drive to the Northshore to pick up our dining table, but I am. It will not be insured in the furniture-maker's house, and we are--thank God--heavily insured. This feels like crazy-making. I have to get out before contra-flow begins and traffic gets bad. Simon is staying to board up and secure yard items. He has just come home after getting air in the truck's tires. I have to go... will try to write more and describe everything later.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Crazy Before the Storm: Or, Go, Go GO!"

Yesterday morning I got up early. I walked along the levee, where dragonflies divebombed crazily, aiming at nothing in particular, it seemed, as though drunk on the heat.

Even before we moved to Holy Cross, I'd planned to take these morning walks on the levee. Having access to greenspace in our clustered-up city is such a rare thing, and the path along the Mississippi is just one block from our new home--a fact that made me giddy. I looked forward to morning walks on the levee. Yesterday, after Simon woke me, I contemplated staying in bed until eight, but contemplating and then giving myself permission to simply stay there is a problem of mine. So I forced myself out of bed and into the company of the Mississippi River and the dragonflies.

I was trying to make my head quiet while I walked, trying to wring the storm out--both the last storm and now this Gustav-fucker. Coming from a hairy-armpitted mother and growing up in the company of many women who are interested in what my mother's guru-like friend would call "woo-woo" stuff, I've had a fair amount of exposure to the notion of meditating, but I've never had the discipline--or even the inclination, really--to commit to doing it at all, much less regularly. You're supposed to choose a word--a word that you can go to when the outside pushes in. A word that will re-center you and keep you focused on, well, nothing. Words like "peace" or "calm" would be good ones, I supposed.

I told myself I would try these words. I would attempt to focus on repeating them instead of on cursing the dog-walker who neglected to pick up after their dog. Peace... peace...

But then at 8:00 am, the Naval base across the river piped out its morning reveillion (?) , and next came the national anthem. With no breeze to lift these and carry them away from me, I heard them both as if I was there, myself. And then "peace" became "war." So I tried "calm." As in, "before the storm." That didn't work.

What if I picked my own focusing word? "Go" seemed like a good choice. Go: such a proactive, positive word, so tidy and round and uplifting, even. Go... go... go...
But the outside had, by then, already pushed its way in. And try as I might to focus on the present, on placing my feet one in front of another on the gravelled levee path, on breathing the air, on flowing with the river, I couldn't do it. I started thinking about having to "go" away--about having to evacuate. As in, "Go, go, GO!" As in run like hell.
And then I thought of MR-GO ("Mister Go"), also known as the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet.

"The Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet (MRGO) is a 36-foot deep, 500-foot bottom width, man-made waterway authorized by the River and Harbor Act of 1956 and the Water Resources Development Acts of 1976, 1986 and 1996. The MR-GO extends from the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal to the 38-foot depth contour in the Gulf of Mexico. Construction of the channel began in 1958 and the channel was completed in 1968. The channel was dredged through shallow bays, coastal marshes and cypress swamps. Its construction was authorized by Congress to provide an emergency outlet from the Mississippi River in the interest of National defense and general commerce and to provide a safer and shorter route between the Port of New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico."
Many outside of New Orleans are not aware that the now nearly-unused MR-GO was responsible for much of the widespread and devastating flooding in New Orleans East, the Lower Ninth Ward, and St. Bernard Parish. Not only has its creation resulted in saltwater intrusions that have devastated wetlands (our natural defense from storms), but it also acted as a pressurized funnel for storm surge from Katrina. The MR-GO has not only not served its intended purpose, then; it also contributed to the deaths of hundreds of residents in the areas impacted by Katrina's surge, including a man who lived in my now-home.

As I walked back to my house, I started to get a bit of that crazy-feeling I had three years ago--the one I got when I was in the Chicago airport and--bam--it hit me that this Katrina-thing was really happening. I showered, made breakfast, watched the latest weather update, felt crazy again, fed the cats--including Mister (or Missus) Stripey-Pants, whom we believe to be a pre-K kitty on his/her umpteenth life--and went to work, where I tried to actually work. Mostly, though, I clicked back and forth between and

In my fiction writing workshop, I made an assignment which would be due the Wednesday after Labor Day, "Assuming, of course, that we're here." My students laughed when I said that, but not in a ha-ha way. They--we--laughed nervously. We didn't look at each other. We looked at out notebooks and doodled. We looked at their hands. I told them that if we had to evacuate, I would be happy to teach online. I didn't tell them that I would be happy to do it largely because a) if Gustav makes a direct hit, my home will probably flood, but I will have to keep in paying my mortgage, which means that b) I will HAVE to keep teaching, whether I like it or not.

Later, I and two of my colleagues had a meeting with the director of distance learning at UNO. We were discussing ways to streamline the process of administering tests in our online classes, which inevitably led to references to "The Katrina Semester," when anyone with access to a computer (and a shred of mental stability) was forced to teach online. Inevitably Gustav came up, and the new director--a lovely woman from Florida who has somehow avoided ever evacuating for a hurricane--asked if she really needed to make evacuation plans. The pre-K three of us looked at each other, incredulously: uh, YEAH! We gave her a list of areas to call for hotel reservations. We told her to remember to bring more than three days worth of clothing. We talked about Last Time. Mike had been living in Chalmette. He lost everything. Laura and I both survived with little to no damage.

Then, Laura said, "Sarah, didn't you just move to the Lower Ninth Ward?" When I told her that I did, and that I was afraid of what could happen because the Corps has yet to close MR-GO, Mike emitted a sound that sounded to me like a cross between, "Good luck" (as in, "Good luck ever getting the Corps to do ANYTHING) and "Oh, fuck."

After my meeting, a student of mine from my workshop dropped by to tell me that there is a vacant apartment downstairs from them where Simon and I can stay if we don't want to evacuate, but don't want to stay in the Lower Ninth Ward. I thanked her but said it was more likely that we'd drive to Atlanta. I asked what her plans were. She said she and her husband would drive to Chicago--an 18-hour drive--to stay with friends. I told her they could come to Atlanta, instead, if she didn't want to drive 18-hours away. We exchanged numbers.

Afterwards I spent too long looking at storm graphics again. Then, I made the mistake of reading this:

"If Gustav heads into southeast Louisiana, scientists and engineers agree that large swaths of the region could be at great risk of flooding from even a moderate storm surge, especially neighborhoods near the Industrial Canal and on the West Bank of Jefferson Parish.

More than $2 billion in repairs and improvements made to the system since Katrina cracked it open three years ago have strengthened some weak spots. In particular, floodgates on three New Orleans outfall canals -- two of which broke through their floodwalls causing catastrophic flooding during Katrina -- should protect neighborhoods from surges flowing through Lake Pontchartrain. And new levees are giving protection to the Company Canal and Harvey Canal north of Lapalco Boulevard.
But almost $13 billion in work remains to be done before the region is protected from a 100-year storm -- about the size of Hurricane Rita -- and that means much of the hurricane protection system remains at risk.

In many cases, there's nothing that can be done to beef up inadequate flood defenses if Gustav strikes early next week. East of the Mississippi River, for example, the system's Achilles heel remains the Industrial Canal area, where $695 million worth of structures are planned at the confluence of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway and the Mississippi River-Gulf Outlet. But that work, still being designed, won't start to provide any storm surge protection until this time next year.

Despite some higher Intracoastal Canal levees and new armoring against erosion, communities all around the Industrial Canal remain exposed to the potential for major flooding" (italic mine).

I live one block from the Industrial Canal.

On my way home from work, I felt stupid for offering to take in my student in. While 18 hours is a long way to drive, at least she has a place to go. There will be people who don't--a lot of them in my neighborhood. What will the Taylors do? I know that last time they stayed with a family in Wyoming, but Mrs. Taylor said it was "too dry" for her, and she missed the south terribly. We could take them.

Or what about UNO's international students? This summer, a student of mine from Nicaragua wrote a paper on the inadequacy of the University of New Orleans' evacuation plan--about its failure to address international students' needs. She described the scene after Katrina, the "panic" felt by students who had only limited English speaking and comprehension skills and who were ultimately left to fend for themselves. Her paper pinpointed problems in the current plan. That plan offers to evacuate students who have nowhere to go by bus to a shelter outside the evacuation zone. There:

"Students can expect to share an open gym floor without cots in a nonairconditioned building with extremely limited resources. Working bathrooms will be available but could become disabled. At the offcampus evacuation site, water and prepackaged
military meals, Meals Ready to Eat (MREs), will be supplied in limited quantities." (See UNO's Student Housing Campus Evacuation Plan.)

When my student called to find out more about what international students should do to get on the bus, she learned that it would take just 50 students to safety. There are 750 international students attending UNO. I should take those students, I thought. Who else could I save?
As I was crossing the Claiborne Avenue bridge, getting a glimpse of some of the Make It Right (or "Brad Pitt") houses--several of which now boast solar panels and are nearly finished--my mother called. She told me she thought Gustav was just going to blow away--not blow us away, but just break up and stay away from us, altogether. She said she didn't know what it was--maybe her "mother's intuition"--but that she just didn't feel like this was going to be All That Bad. I said I wished I shared her feeling. Then, I launched into a rant against the Corps and against MR-GO. I was raging, which probably scared my mom more than it did me. I hadn't realized how angry I was--how angry I am.
When I got home, I did as the paper told me: I placed a dated newspaper on the floor and started taking pictures. The newspaper will allow us to prove to the insurance company that the pictures are post-K, as those bastards the insurance companies will evidently give us hell about paying for repairs if we can't prove the home has been repaired since Katrina.

Later, as I made dinner, I watched the neighborhood emerge for sunset. Mr Taylor was having a Heineken and a cigarette on the porch. Damone swerved down the block on his "Whipstick" scooter. No one seemed to be freaking out like I was--which may not necessarily be a good thing, but at least it made me feel better. The sky was a crazy-beautiful pink/purple/orange, and it made me feel better, too.

After we ate, Simon and I walked up to the levee to watch the sky turn colors and to imagine a lifetime of sunsets on the levee. I brought a cup of wine and worked on smiling. A group of young boys talked to the National Guardsmen who were parked on the levee--still here helping out after Katrina--and we overheard the Guardsmen ask the boys about what they were going to do for Gustav. They didn't seem to know.

This morning, I got up to walk along the levee again. Screw mind-clearing; I just walked. I walked past my neighbor's house, where a truck had arrived with a load of sheetrock. Adolf renovated one house already, and now he is close to finished with his second--the one that he and his wife will move in to when it's done. It's a huge a beautiful home, and I was happy to see the sheetrock, as that always signals that you're getting close to done. I hope he does not have to do it again. I hope we don't.

When I got to school, I took a picture of the sign I walk past every day. Someone in the department put it up, I am sure. Today it was both funnier and meaner than ever before:

Later, at the beginning-of-the-semester faculty meeting, everyone was talking about the uncanny echoes of three years ago. That meeting had been held the Friday before Katrina's landfall. Three days later it was the way it was--the way it now is. Tomorrow's department party is cancelled. One colleague, whose husband directs a suicide hotline, says they will leave tomorrow. I didn't hear from anyone else yet.
Just a moment ago, the man who has been making our dining room table sent an email. He said we will need to pick up the table by Saturday if we want to guarantee that our table will be safe. We don't have room for it, sadly. We will need to take people, instead.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

When to Open a $70 Bottle of Wine

We have plywood.

After he got out of school, Simon called from the Home Depot. I measured the windows and doors. An hour later he unloaded the wood while I made dinner and listened to WWOZ broadcasting from Denver, where the Democratic National Convention is in full-swing. On the radio one of the local DJs said, "So it's what, 20-to-eight in New Orleans? That means people are cookin'." I was cooking. I smiled. "Just so you know, people, we ARE aware of the weather reports, of Gustav. We hope the music can take you away from your worry."

When Simon and I sat down at the kitchen island, I asked him if he wanted to have a seventy-dollar bottle of wine for dinner. The wine was given to me by a friend upon the publication of her novel (it was that way around because I'd helped her find the agent who sold her book) several years ago. The wine is pre-K stuff, which means there's a good chance it's turned, but somehow I've just kept hanging on to it, not drinking it after we returned to New Orleans after the storm, not drinking it after we got married, not drinking it when we closed on our house, after we moved in. I don't know what we've been waiting for...

"I figured we should drink it now," I explained, "in case we can't toast our new house when the dining table arrives."

Simon considered it. "Let's wait."

I did not tell Simon what I'd thought earlier--that it's a good thing our dining table is not ready yet, since everything in our house might be gone if Gustav makes a direct hit. The dining table--a custom piece that my parents are giving us as a gift and that's being made by a Northshore furniture maker who made one for Rashida in her This Old House-house--is made from boards taken from walls we removed during the renovation.

Once upon a time, the boards floated down the Mississippi River on a barge. The barge was deconstructed and turned into our house some 100 years ago. In 1927, after the devastating Mississippi River floods of that year (our house flooded because the even-then buffoonish city officials decided to blow the levees downriver in order to spare the upper-crusties in the Garden District), the owner papered the barge board using issues of the New Orleans Tribune. (One story reported, "President Coolidge urged to visit New Orleans." It seems even then the government was relying on the "personal responsibility" of its own victims to heal the devastation wrought by poor leadership.) The man who is making our table reports that the wood is likely "first growth virgin pine" from Natchez (I think he said this was in Tennessee, not Mississippi).

One day we hope to have meals atop those boards. We hope to look out our window and see the big ships go by (the ones that make US commerce possible; the ones that rely on our New Orleans ports and our New Orleans workers).

I am therefore grateful to Simon for keeping me from opening the $70 wine, because it needs that table.

I am also grateful to Bob Breck of Fox 8 New Orleans for reminding me (with one of his trademark turkey gobbles and a girlish hoot) not to "hyperventilate" over this Gustav.

I think I'll go to bed.

And I'm supposed to TEACH through this worry?

Another Weather Underground blog entry (from a smart weather-guy type) reports this:

"For those of us in the central Gulf Coast region, the long range forecast for Gustav is looking eerily like Katrina's track in 2005. The GFDL (the currently favored model as far as it's reliability) has a long range position for Gustav on Sunday morning near 28.2N 88.6W or about 150 miles due south of Biloxi MS and SSE of New Orleans, LA as a category 4 hurricane.

For that reason, I would warn folks, as the Hurricane Centers forecasters are, that the long range models are prone to large errors. There is little doubt that those forecast tracks will change with each new run of the models. Especially given the current left hand turn expected and then the forecast right turn toward the northwest. There are simply too many variables to be focusing on a long range position. Having said that, if you live on the Gulf Coast, you should be prepared for storms this time of year. Don't wait til you have one on your door step."

I just watched the news, and the local guys were telling us to "review our plans." I plan to leave the very moment it looks like we need to. I and my husband and our our cats. We'll head to Atlanta, hopefully for three days of TV and drinking and a little catching up with the nephew and nothing more.

I want to stop worrying so I can work now.

Plywood and Other Preparations

I wasn't here when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005. I was in the bucolic mountains of Burlington, Vermont, at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference. I'd gone to sort out my troubled relationship with writing, and for ten days I managed to be convinced by the intensity of the event, the beauty of the setting, and the isolation from, well, everything outside of it, that sorting out my on-again, off-again affair with writing was The Most Important Thing in my life at the time.
Clearly things changed.

I can't remember now if it was Saturday or Sunday when I got a little pink slip in my Bread Loaf mailbox directing me to call Simon. I remember worrying that something had happened--maybe to my parents, maybe to his--and feeling actually relieved when he told me it was a hurricane evacuation, instead. I'd been through two of those (Georges in 1998 and Ivan in 2004). Both were a hassle, but in the end, actually kind of fun. A hurricane evacuation, I thought (relieved), I could handle.

But when I went to the basement of one of the Bread Loaf campus's buildings to check my email, I read the doomsday reports. I saw the projections. I eyed the storm's forecast cone, by then menacingly focused on New Orleans.

And then I got all quiet and stunned. While the rest of the Loafers celebrated the conference's end (the resident poet pressing himself to young admirers at the final night's dance, the basement boys having their frat-like farewell kegger), I wandered around in a daze, saying, "What the fuck" to anyone who would listen.

I spent the final afternoon--the one when some of my friends headed to a swimming hole for a dip--on the phone with a representative from Delta. My flight to New Orleans was cancelled. I would have to fly to Atlanta, where Simon would meet me with a truck full of cat carriers and file-boxes, with my dad's hand-me-down guitar and Simon's shell-shocked brother, who'd been in town for his vacation.

Because I was already in what I can only describe as an alternate universe--this pretty-fied place that seemed to me to be a postcard come to life--none of it really felt real, somehow. Maybe it was because I had no access to radio or TV that I couldn't quite believe what was happening (ordinarily, I'd be glued to every forecast from a storm's birth, eight days out). I don't know. I just remember that I didn't really feel like it WAS happening until I got to some airport (was it O'Hare?) and ordered an egg-and-cheese biscuit and sat down in front of CNN. When I saw the images of the evacuation--of the miles and miles of cars and cars, none of them really moving, of the people boarding up and spray painting their dares on the plywood (Go Home Katrina!), of the many Weather Channel correspondents who'd stationed themselves around the city--I started to cry. I remember everyone was watching the TV, and everyone looked worried. I was really afraid.

This weekend, when Fay's remnants mussed our hair as we stood with friends outside Lucy's Retired Surfer Bar, celebrating the publication of our dear friend Bill Loehfelm's novel, a few of us talked about that time. We're close to three years out, now, and of course those milestones bring the memories out, big time. Even though we all know it, know it, it still seems surreal, even now. We were zombies, all of us, in those days. Or robots. We were going through it because we had to, but none of us processed it in our hearts until it really punched us at some odd point, typically one that occurred in front of a TV.

It's the TV, now, that has me worried. That and a post from the Weather Underground blog of Jeff Masters:

"The track forecast for GustavThe models are in good agreement on the 1-3 day track of Gustav, and we can be confident that Gustav will turn west and pass south of Cuba after a close encounter with the southwest peninsula of Haiti. The trough of low pressure currently exiting the U.S. East Coast and pulling Gustav northwest is expected to move off to the east, allowing a ridge of high pressure to build in and force Gustav due west or slightly south of due west. After three days, there is more divergence in the models. The ECMWF and NOGAPS models foresee a landfall in the Cancun/Cozumel region on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula, followed by a second Mexican landfall south of Brownsville, Texas, early next week. This solution assumes the trough of low pressure moving across the Midwest U.S. late this week will not be strong enough to turn Gustav to the north. The other models predict that this trough will be strong enough to turn Gustav northward, and foresee a landfall on the Gulf Coast between the Florida Panhandle and Texas border 6-8 days from now. The GFDL is the fastest, bringing Gustav to New Orleans on Sunday afternoon. This is a plausible forecast, but at this point, virtually any point along the Gulf Coast has a roughly equal chance of a direct hit by Gustav.Which set of model should we trust? I plotted up the errors for some of the computer model forecasts made during Fay. While Fay was over Hispaniola and Cuba, the GFDL model made the best track forecasts, among the four main models used by NHC: GFS, GFDL, NOGAPS, and UKMET. This makes me more inclined to trust the GFDL model's forecasts for Gustav, since Fay and Gustav are similar storms."

Yesterday, when I first read about the storm--when it first got its name--I checked out some comments on They made me feel ill. (Mom, don't read them.)

I am going out to gas up the cars. This afternoon we will get plywood.

In terms of steeling myself for what may happen... for preparing myself mentally for the possibility that Gustav could be yet another "big one" for New Orleans? I just can't go there. We just moved in to our new home!

Nope. Not going there.
I will say that I could really go for being someplace pretty and isolated from everything. And I could go for not having to deal with an evacuation.

Mom, your prayers would be good right now...

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Why Did the Egret Cross the Road?

After two weeks of genuine vacationing, Simon and I returned home on Sunday evening. We had two cars instead of one this time, since we were transporting furniture we'd bought (or were given) in Atlanta. I drove my dad's old Subaru station wagon--with no A/C--and while the lack of air conditioning may have been all right in Asheville, NC (where we spent a week of our trip), it was SO not okay in Mississippi, Alabama, and Louisiana. We stopped several times so I could wring out my shirt, and the misery of it all was compounded by sporadic heavy rains and no radio, whatsoever. I sang a lot of songs I remembered from my nerdy choir days, and I ate gummy worms and pork cracklins in order to stave off sleep and boredom. Ah, road trips!

Our vacation, itself, was lovely. In Atlanta, we spent lots of time with family, and specifically with my nephew, Damien, who has grown like a weed. He now does cute little-person things. He laughs, for one, (and not just when he has gas), and he grabs things. Babies. Ain't they grand?

Parents Paul and Aalia appear to be doing well, although Paul seems to think that Damien is much more evolved than he really is. One night, he mentioned that Damien was going to get a "big ego" from all the love and attention he was getting. So of course we attributed any of his typical-baby behavior to his colossal "ego" from then on. I think Paul is more frustrated than anything by the fact that babies can't be controlled--and by the fact that they also can't communicate their needs. Babies. Uh, ain't they grand?

We visited Simon's brother, Tom, and sister-in-law, Brandi, at their new home just outside of Asheville, NC, too. They've bought a cute, albeit cookie-cutter, home on a ridge in the "town" of Candler. Their home overlooks Hominy Creek, and Tom has built a wonderful deck by the creek, where we enjoyed sunsets and summer ales. Both Tom and Brandi appear to be taking to "country life" fabulously. Tom has set up a woodworking shop in the basement, where he turns bowls, and where he constructed the kitchen butcher-block island we inaugurated on our trip. Brandi will be teaching hip-hop dance classes at the Asheville ballet; she's even been asked to choreograph a hip-hop version of the battle-scene in The Nutcracker. She and I had some really nice evenings on the deck, talking marriage and family and other 30-something matters. (Though I should mention that Brandi has yet to reach the 30-year milestone!) I was reminded of how wonderful it was to have them here in New Orleans, and I miss them terribly now that we are back.

I can't say much about their new hometown of Candler. It's got a single "strip" on which some pretty darn good fried chicken gets served, and down which many a mullet-wearing mountain-man cruises in his beat-up truck. It stands in stark contrast to Asheville, where Subarus are as common as hoopdies are in New Orleans, and where the Friday-night activity is a city-sanctioned "drum circle" where hippies, old and young, gather to do the chicken dance (a la Grateful Dead concerts) and beat bongos. My favorite joke from our time in Asheville: the HBO program, "The Wire" is planning a sequel, "The Wire: Asheville." At the end of the first season, a waitress at Tupelo Honey gets undertipped. At the end of season two, someone gets turned away from the drum circle.

The best thing about Asheville is the access to the outdoors. There are some really incredible hikes--along rivers, to waterfalls--all within an hour's drive, and the weather was cool enough that we didn't sweat, but warm enough that we could swim. I wanted to walk every day, and I now find my heart aching for access to that kind of outdoor-space here in NOLA. Our new home boasts access to the Mississippi River levee, which thrills me, but it's no hike alone in the woods. In fact, there are not many opportunities to enjoy the outdoors here in New Orleans, and having been a child of canoers and hikers, being in the mountains of NC reminded me of just how important that time outside really is to me.

Okay, I'll admit it: there was even a moment when I thought, "I could live here." Well, it was more like, "We should live here." My family is close to Asheville, and Simon's siblings are all now close to Asheville. And then here we are, far, far away. And, of course, not only are we far from family, but we are living where we live.

When we drove in on Sunday, in fact, I was sad. I never feel that way. I mean, sometimes I feel mad, as in, "c'mon, people, let's fix these damn roads," or, "folks, cut it out with the littering, already." But on Sunday I felt sad, heavy-style. As in, "How the hell are we ever going to raise a child here?" As in, "When will our city even be un-broken?" I wanted to cry.

Then, of course, we got home and I saw my cats and our backyard, and Mr. Washington and Mr. Taylor waved hello, and the sun was setting in a saturated-pink kind of way, and Simon and I unloaded furniture and did a bit of nesting and it all felt good again.

Still, I will admit to feeling more than a little tired right now. When we were away, I read about the latest city-wide scandal, and I found myself crying rather than being pissed off. At the liberal arts faculty meeting on Monday, the chancellor talked about post-Katrina numbers and recovery (or the lack, thereof,) and I didn't feel my usual surge of commitment--my typical sense of resolve to stay, to dig in, and to make it all better. When I drove home from work that afternoon, I saw a contractor peeing in someone's yard, and I had to stop my car to let an egret cross the road. I wanted to kill the contractor, and I wanted to save the bird. What were they doing here? What am I doing here?

Last night, as Simon and I were eating dinner and watching women's platform diving on television, I told him what I'd read online about Tropical Storm Fay: there's a path that has it heading back out into the Gulf and then perhaps right back in toward us. I realized as I talked about it that I was almost mad at Simon--and at myself--for being where we are. Now, on top of living and working in this mess, we have to go out and get plywood? We have to prepare for the possibility of its happening again?

Yes, I knew this when we returned. I knew when we bought the house here in New Orleans that we were putting down roots in a hurricane-prone city. But knowing and really experiencing that reality are two entirely different beasts. And I simply cannot fathom doing the past three years all over again. I have lost nearly ten pounds from stress (which, yes, probably puts me at a healthier weight, but I don't think stress is ever a good way to lose weight, and besides, my clothes don't fit.) Keeping on as things are already seems overwhelming... what if things got worse again? Do I have it in me to repeat this process? And, more importantly, will we even be able to recover now that we are not only emotionally committed, but financially invested in this city, as well? I don't know... I really don't know.

So, the important thing is that we pray (or whatever) like hell that Fay stays away. In the meantime, we need to deal with the drainage-problems we're having. We need to put another coat of poly on the cork tile in the shower (the contractor didn't do a thorough job, and now we're seeing signs of rot). We need to hire someone to mow our jungle, to put up a fence. And I need to quit this oh-woe-is-me blogging and do some "real" writing and some genuine school-prep.

In the meantime, I have promised to post pictures of the house, and my dad gave me a camera-cable so I can upload those pics. So, here, Mom and co., is the guest bathroom, where you will bathe in our wonderful clawfoot tub... Enjoy!