Louisiana is beautiful.
Oh, sure, we have problems. We have a budget deficit, an economy our wretched former governor did everything he could to destroy, and an almost bottomless supply of low-information voters who vote against their best interests almost every single time without fail; to the point that I truly despaired that David Vitter was going to finish the job Bobby Jindal started. Our public education system is in shambles and our infrastructure is crumbling. Racism is alive and well, as is sexism and homophobia and almost every other nineteenth century mentality you can think of. Oil companies have raped the state, destroyed the wetlands, and done their damnedest to make sure the legislature in Baton Rouge will keep shoveling tax breaks at them with both hands. Louisiana is a deeply religious and deeply conservative state. It always has been, and it most likely always will be.
And yet we didn’t elect David Vitter our governor, so there’s always hope.
But Louisiana is beautiful. My writing has always focused and centered on New Orleans, which I have sometimes described as a blue island in a vast sea of red; but over the twenty years I’ve lived here (twenty as of August 1, in fact) I’ve grown to appreciate Louisiana as well. It is, without question, one of the most beautiful places in North America, and varied. From the stark natural beauty of the swamps to the wide Mississippi River to the forests, from the bayous to the stately old homes to the gorgeous little towns, Louisiana is achingly beautiful. The sky is so blue here, the sunrises and sunsets such spectacular displays of impressionistic colors, that it almost takes your breath away.
The state’s nickname is Sportmen’s Paradise, and it is truly that; the hunting and fishing here are remarkable. This is also why so many people in Louisiana have boats—and why what we call the Cajun Navy exists.
The last week has been devastating to the southeastern section of the state. Heavy rains, after an already wet summer, caused rivers and bayous and creeks and streams to swell and flood parts of the state that have rarely, if ever, flooded before. There was a hint of what was to come earlier this year, after the heavy spring rains there was some flooding then. But nothing compared to what has happened over the last week or so. Baton Rouge, Hammond, and Lafayette, among many others, were inundated; Highway 12 was closed and I-10 itself has collapsed in places between Lafayette and Baton Rouge. It all happened so fast and almost, it seemed, without warning; people were trapped in their cars, their houses, and at work. Homes and businesses have been completely destroyed—and since these are places that usually don’t flood, many of the homeowners don’t have flood insurance.
They’ve most likely lost everything.
The images on the news were eerily reminiscent of the levee failure in New Orleans almost eleven years ago; water up to rooftops, cars beneath murky water, helicopters and boats rescuing people trapped by water. I don’t know if I will ever be able to see footage of flooding without some level of PTSD making me overwhelmed with emotion.
As I said, it happened so fast that the reaction from the state and federal governments couldn’t come soon enough…and this is when, once again, Louisiana showed how beautiful of a state it can be.
When New Orleans was submerged with thousands of people trapped, the Cajun Navy mobilized. These unsung heroes, people with fishing boats—some of which hadn’t been used n years—hitched their boat trailers to their trucks and cars and headed for New Orleans to rescue people. This last week, the Cajun Navy headed for the flooded parts of the state yet again. People have headed for shelters with food and clothes and blankets, to help those who have lost so much and provide some comfort and care. Every time a new place taking donations was announced on the news, within hours it was swamped with people bringing things, asking what they else they could do to help.
Louisiana is a beautiful state, with a rich and vibrant history and so many different amazing cultures that have come together to create one of the most remarkable places in North America. I always was disappointed that James Michener never wrote one of his epic novels about Louisiana; surely it deserved the same attention as Chesapeake, Texas, Alaska, Centennial, and Hawaii? Or maybe there was just so much material here, so much history, from the original natives to the French to the Cajuns to the slaves and the free people of color; to the refugees from Sainte-Domingue and the Jews and the Irish and the Italians. The War of 1812 and the Civil War, the plantations and the oil companies, the importers, the sugar industry…
New Orleans could have been the source of such a book as well, on its own, without involving the rest of the state for that matter.
Louisiana of course will survive and rebuild; we always do. But there’s something so incredibly beautiful, and life-affirming, in the way Louisianans can put aside their differences and become one to deal with an overwhelming disaster like this, how in the face of something like this the immediate reaction from everyone is how can I help?
Vive le Louisiane, mon cher.