Sunday, November 15, 2009

Me and Thomas in New Orleans

When Thomas Mann visited his home country of Germany shortly after WW II (he had been in exile in California), he visited a town that had been nearly completely destroyed (as almost all German towns had). He wrote that the mayor took him up on a hill and showed him what was left - there you can still see the medieval tower, that's the old church, and the historic city hall is over there. Thomas Mann noted in his dairy, "Nothing was there."

For my first visit to New Orleans since December 2005 (which started last Sunday), New Orleanians said, Craig, you're gonna love it. It's better than before Katrina.

So I took Thomas Mann along on this trip to see what he thinks. True, he said, the worst is behind us, and I do not have to think what I did not have the heart to say to my German host 64 years ago. But Craig, he asked, you wrote in Dec 2005 that New Orleans had retained all of its character even with only 70-80,000 people. What has changed since then?

Thomas, I answered, I'm not going to try to pass as someone who can judge that. But he and I agreed that not all parts of town are a happy sight. The site of the 17th St Canal levee breach has been cleaned up, so between inhabited homes are empty lots. For out-of-towners, it could be a new suburb under development.

The 9th Ward -- see my pic from 2005 of the devastation -- is now also cleaned up, but almost completely empty. Yet here, a solar housing project is underway that will dwarf the largest such neighborhood in Freiburg when completed.

Nonetheless, traffic seems less in Orleans Parish now, and pics like the one here could be taken almost all over town.

Near the end of the trip, Thomas noticed that a slight sadness overcame me as I thought about going back to Germany, especially with the New Orleans Saints undefeated. I know that feeling, he said, but listen: your kids in Germany go around the house singing "jock-amo fee na ne"; they eat spicy cheese grits (made from "chopped dried corn" bought at little Russian shops - it has to be cooked for ages like 100 years ago) and red beans & rice; they know it's time to go to bed when you say, "fais do-do"; and they know that boyds are small animals that fly (and that they live in Geoymany). And they've never even been to the States.

So, Thomas told me, when you go back to Germany, as you must, remember what I told the press in 1938 upon reaching US soil as a German exile:

Germany is wherever I am. I carry my German culture inside me.

(Wo ich bin, ist Deutschland. Ich trage meine deutsche Kultur in mir.)

And next time you come back, Thomas added, bring your kids.

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