Angels Sustaining and Triumphant July 17, 2008Posted by Mark Folse in Toulouse Street.
Tags: 504, angels, cemeteries, cemetery, fluer de lis, Katrina, memorial, New Orleans, NOLA, Sinn Fein New Orleans, We Are Not OK
Like everything here in postdiluvian New Orleans the movement towards a Katrina Memorial drags slowly on. Everything down here moves by fits and start, like an old man pushing a scrap cart up the street.
We are not building the New Jerusalem here, for all of the bright and optimistic noise made back in the heady days of the recovery planning process. Thousands of citizens came together, night after night, to draft the plans for their shining city behind the small hills called levees. So many plans, drawings, maps and renderings, reduced in the end to pickings for that scrap man.
In spite of the monumental failure of the city’s leaders to produce any large projects people all over town are hammering their lives back together. Those who are here are busy and more than a bit worn down by it all, as might be expected. Rebuilding a city is hard work, especially as we are going by the well-established shanty town method of everyone for his or herself because the government and their consultants have only managed to erect promising looking signs (Coming Soon!) after three years. So it should come as no surprise to hear that the memorial will be delayed. I have to wonder if it will ever be built.
Few expect the monument to be built by the target date of Aug. 29, Katrina’s third anniversary. “Maybe by the fourth anniversary, maybe the fifth,” said Gwendolyn Davis Brown, 53, the niece of the Rev. Lonnie Garrison, a longtime pastor at Pilgrim Progress Missionary Baptist Church in New Orleans who died in the aftermath of the storm. “There’s so much stuff going on in the city, people still have to get back into their homes,” added Patsy Dupart, 58, Garrison’s daughter.
The memorial itself looks quite nice online, although the rendering of two angels rescuing a fleur de lis looks off in the promised bright bronze. Here in the back of town (as the cab maps still refer to our section), down by the cemeteries, we are used to the more ethereal look of angels in pale marble. The expression on the picture I found here seems a bit off as well. The top most angel looks a little too coquettish and pleased with herself. We prefer our funereal angels to find the matter a bit more dolorosa. Since we seem unable to locate any construction cranes to erect in the city, perhaps we could manage something more triumphant like Sadako proudly holding her paper crane in Hiroshima; an angel sustaining in the heraldic sense (think of the Columbia Pictures woman bearing a torch), holding a fleur de lis up to the sky.
The sense of rescue the current angels convey seems wrong as well. The lists of the dead and the adjoining ovens to hold the unclaimed will give us enough of a sense of what is past and done. What is needed at the center of the hurricane swirl shaped ground is something that will speak to us on the day it is unveiled, that will tell the story of the New Orleans rising out of the floodwaters.
The city itself is its own best memorial. No one can fault Frank Minyard’s insistence that we have some fitting place to bury the unclaimed dead, somewhere better than the current potter’s field he describes as “a swamp”. If we are to have a memorial to the flood (I haven’t even begun to address whether we need a Katrina or a Flood memorial; some other time), and if it must be on the open piece of ground at Cemeteries and be itself a cemetery, then I would hope there is something about it that rises above that frozen moment of 2005 and carries the visitor into our future.
If the statuary won’t give you the rest of the story, then let the city tell its own story. I would suggest to a visitor that as they leave the memorial site (should we in fact ever manage to build it), then stroll up Canal Street back towards the river, and consider that once ten feet of water stood there. As you reach Carrollton, turn and pick a busy restaurant, any restaurant. As you stand in that bustling neighborhood consider the pictures most shops have somewhere on the wall, showing their business ten feet under or after. Then look at the place and the people around you, the old made new and full of life.
Those people in line with you and the ones behind the counter are our angels sustaining and triumphant.