They are alive and struggling to bring themselves back from the absolute worst thing that any one of us can face in our own lives. They got wiped out.
Each of these vlogs tries to focus on one aspect of life in the city or one issue associated with the recovery and rebuilding effort underway all along the Gulf Coast. This diary will bring in some of the history and culture of the city because Katie has a deep and abiding appreciation for her city and those that built it. In my off-camera conversations with Katie, she told me that Katrina made her think “long and hard about her history and her ancestors.” The prolonged darkness and the quiet after Katrina without the power and the infrastructure we all take for granted today made her feel like “a pioneer walking in their shoes.”
Katie also told me about the first French settler of New Orleans, Sieur de Bienville. He was sent by the crown, King Louis of France, to assess the swampy region and make a colony out of it. He wrote to the King shortly after he got there:
I have three men that are 5′ 2″ the rest are 4′ 11″ the same height as their moral character.
Please send me more men.
Based on the people I met down there (rebuilding on their own) the city they love so dearly and the lives they lost to the storm and the water it looks like King Louis sent some very tall men indeed. In fact – they might have been giants.
Katie can be found behind the bar most days at the Hotel St. Marie a great hotel in the quarter.
She’s part of the Moise crew that run a couple of restaurants in the Hotel: Hillery’s on Toulouse and Bistro Moise. Stop by and say hey, if you’re in town. I heard the soup can be so good that it might make you cry.
Previous vlogs in this series can be viewed here:
- NOLA Speaks – The Teaser
- NOLA Speaks – Meet Ed and Hillery Moise (like lou-ise)
- NOLA Speaks – Meet John Barquet and Tessa too.
- NOLA Speaks – Meet Kojak Davis
and now for our regularly scheduled vlog
Video: Katie Adams – Part 1 (6:00)
What’s your name and where’re you from.
Katie Adams and I’m from New Orleans. I evacuated after the levees breeched and I realized that power was not going to be coming back on …
… Anytime soon
Where did you go?
We went to Northern Louisiana and we were graciously given a cabin, the use of a cabin, and a boat even where we could fish and I found out that I am not a country girl.
Where are you living now?
I’m back in my original residence that is in the Marigny (mar-ah-knee) which is like the lower quarter.
That was never flooded?
No it wasn’t. None of the quarter or the Marigny flooded because it’s the high ground. The damage that the Quarter and the Marigny received were basically fallen trees and vegetation possibly roof damage and then leaks.
So your problem with coming back to your home was that you didn’t have basic services in the city.
No power, water absolutely. But we were back after a month. My son’s house had power and never lost it. He lives out in Kenner. So we resided there and then would drive in [to the city.]
Have many of your neighbors been able to return to their homes and jobs?
It depends. A lot of them on my street left. And then when they came back they made plans to go elsewhere either due to their jobs not being available anymore or landlords raised the rents. I was blessed because my landlord owns all of her concerns. So she’s not having to purchase and then pay a mortgage. So the first question that I asked her was, “tell me now don’t tell me later.”
So not only did I get to come back to my job, I got to come back to my residence and to 275 years of history here. So I was not like John, others here, Clayton in the back, with nothing but the shirt on my back, Jerry, … no possessions no memories. Because the memories were swept away from people.
This is the beauty of New Orleans: it’s eclectic. It’s also a composite culture. Which is divine especially in the Quarter area. And in Gentilly, in your older neighborhoods. To me that’s the heart and soul. So the irony with or how to describe neighborhoods in New Orleans. If you look out in the French Quarter and you see a house on the corner, this is a huge million dollar home and it’s a single family residence. Yet you’ve got a little tiny shotgun right next to it so in neighborhoods in New Orleans unlike other areas they build houses all in the same economic and social circle. New Orleans doesn’t do that.
Katie also told me about the architecture of the Quarter which is unusual. Not only is it a mix of Spanish, French and Caribbean styles but the way the taxes were assessed back in the day make it different as well. In those days, owners paid by the frontage on the street so many houses were built deep into the lots and had no backyard but instead an inner courtyard to cut down on cost and maximize living space. And too the owners paid by the door. That’s why a lot of the doors look like windows, you didn’t pay for those. If you used the window as a door then that was your own business, but if you built a door then the taxes went up. So many of the windows in the quarter were built that way for tax purposes and not for “the cool breeze” in a hot climate which is pretty much non-existence by the way.
Video: Katie Adams – Part 2 (7:07)
Just to give viewers out there, and thank you for this opportunity to do this, Katrina was so large that it would be like taking out Great Britain in one fell swoop. Secondly the debris would be equal to thirty-five to forty years of garbage pick-up. So the enormity of this situation is why after a year and a half it appears that much has not been done or needs to be done.
“Katrina should be a wake-up call to America. We found out three things during this storm”:
- Some people show their true colors as opportunists and scum because when this kind of thing happens the gangs roll in to take advantage. “They rolled in fully armed to take advantage.”
- The country is not ready for a major attack and we didn’t/don’t have interoperability or portable communications that can be brought in to supp
ly the community and first responders with the necessities of communications.
- Some people show their true colors as heroes and people like the police, rescue and those that stayed on a Charity should be applauded for their superhuman efforts to serve in a time of great stress, in deplorable conditions and without any outside help.
A first hand account from a doctor at Charity Hospital during Hurricane Katrina can be read here. It was published by the New England Journal of Medicine in October 2005. The doctor doesn’t complain to much about what the ordeal she and her family went through, it’s more a lessons learned kind of a piece but the piece is heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time. She writes:
Morale-boosting activities. The hospital organized daily prayer services with a chaplain and several gospel singers. I attended one service with the mother of my patient who desperately needed evacuation for dialysis. I saw blacks and whites, young and old, patients and providers, rich and poor holding hands and praying for deliverance. I will never be able to sing “We Shall Overcome” quite the same way again.
At the suggestion of our nursing codirector, we made a banner from sheets – “9 West has a big heart, Katrina can’t tear us apart” – and hung it out the fire escape. In 24 hours, 15 more banners followed on other units. One night, we hosted a flashlight-illuminated talent show, to which we invited everyone – including the patients with tuberculosis, who donned N95 masks.
A team. The most critical necessity is a team of professionals who care about their patients and one another. All 18 members of our team (black, white, rich, poor, gay, or straight) had chosen to care for the disenfranchised, the tuberculous, and the HIV-infected. We might not have been able to control what was happening to us, but we could control how we treated one another. I repeatedly declined the option of fleeing to the Tulane helipad across the street, where my son waited with another family. Our group received an offer of special rescue, which we did not accept until each and every one of our patients had been evacuated.
Like I said, giants.
It’s a good thing that Katie works right across the street from this Hotel. It’s got a storied past and was built by the grand dame of New Orleans Creole Society: Madame Marie Anne Bienvenu Olivier. It passed through many hands before coming into the ownership of its present charges, the Danner Family. It was lovingly restored and now this home takes it’s place as one of the most important pieces of architecture in the Quarter. It’s not a public building or museum, but the staff is very friendly and accommodate many of Katie’s “tours.” She’s always taking customers across the street for a glimpse of how people used to live in the upper crust of New Orleans Society.
The history of New Orleans and the French Quarter is that of the Creoles and the white Creoles in particular.
They were the landowners, the slave owners and the center of wealth and society in New Orleans for many, many years. The French Quarter was their home and regardless of their economic stature, as many Creoles were impoverished after the war between the states or never rich to begin with, their social stature as Creoles remained intact. Carpetbaggers and others that acquired their wealth in New Orleans after the war were not allowed to live and build in the Quarter. They had to go out to the Garden District to build their mansions and conduct their social affairs, the Quarter was only for the Creoles upper crust.
The exact terminology is les gens de colour libre or Creole. A Creole is different from what history refers to as a “free black,” in that free blacks had at one time been slaves. Creoles could be white or many times were born of mixed European (Spanish and French), African and Amerind (Native North Central South Americans and Native Caribbean) ancestry as free peoples. The laws of New Orleans also permitted African or Caribbean immigrants that arrived in the city free to remain so their whole lives, but it is debatable whether these immigrants were ever considered Creoles themselves. The city of New Orleans in the 18th Century was divided more along the English-French and Spanish lines than along any other ethnicity. And it was a notorious slave city as a major trade port in the region, but many free people of color and Creoles lived in the city throughout its history especially under the rule of the French and Spanish.
Neighborhoods in New Orleans were still desegregated as was society, but it was also the custom for a man of wealth or property to delay marriage until his thirties and take a Creole woman or free black woman as his mistress while he was still young. The children that resulted from these households were all Creole. Consequently, many households in New Orleans were headed by female Creoles or free blacks and home ownership by these women ran as much as 25% in some parts of the city. The Creole cottage is the type of architecture commonly lived in by these families and many examples are still found in the Quarter and Marigny today.
The Creole Renaissance in the city is considered the first half of the Nineteenth Century (1801-1850) and the Golden Age of New Orleans (1830-War) comes within this period leading up to the War between the states.
Olivier House was built in 1838 during this Golden Age and was home to Mme. Olivier until her death in 1843. She was 16 when she married her husband, Nicolas Godefroy Olivier, and had 12 children and 50 surviving grandchildren.
These children, in their turn, married well, and the family spread, until by 1836 Mme. Olivier was grandmere to fifty living grandchildren. In time her name was to run through Creole society like a glamorous thread; she was to become the ancestress of a good part of Creole New Orleans.
By the 1830’s New Orleans was riding the crest of commercial and cultural success. Cotton and cane flowed down the river like a tide of gold. Business was booming everywhere throughout the city. The theater and the opera had reached a peak of excellence scarcely equaled elsewhere in the country. The arts flourished. Nightly balls and banquets were glittering public affairs. Great new hotels were springing up to accommodate the surge into city. New mansions were being built to reflect this power and glory. Life in town was scintillating for the Creoles.
source: Olivier House Hotel Website
Katie has an intense appreciation for the history of her beautiful and storied city and is particularly enamored with the secret gardens and courtyards that lie beyond the street facades of many houses in the Quarter today and especially those built by the Creoles in their heyday. Living in a compact city like New Orleans required this kind of architecture much like Japan to afford those that could afford it a bit of privacy and respite from the bustle of the street traffic and the prying eyes of the public.
Katie might have missed her calling as a preservationist or tour guide, because she is full of stories and inside scuttlebutt about the peo
ple that built her city so many years ago.
And see like Marigny where I live. The wealth is the other thing that is truly mesmerizing. Marigny was not a millionaire. He was a billionaire. And he’s the one who developed the Marigny where I live. And his son, he [the father] was an avid gambler – so Burgundy St. used to be named Craps St. because craps was Marigny’s favorite gambling game. Then you have a lot of churches on Burgundy and they were tired of getting their mail at 101 Crap. So they had it changed. Isn’t that funny?
And his son also gambled but where Marigny was a judicious gambler, you know, his son was not and lost it all behind the Severent Fish Market. All of it. All the land all the things his dad had built.
So it goes.
Video: Kathryn Danner (6:20)
We end our tour with an interview with Kathryn Danner owner and operator of Olivier House Hotel on Toulouse St. in the French Quarter. Katie and Kathryn discuss the problems with getting and keeping good service staff. Then Kathryn turns her attention to me.
I came down here to do a project because I don’t think the media is covering the stories of ordinary people in the city.
I don’t think they are either and I think they’re not telling the story that we are recovering and if the tourists come then they hardly know that there was a hurricane unless they go out into the Ninth Ward or Chalmette or that area.
But I think it’s kind of business as usual in the French Quarter and the Garden District. Yet I have people call and especially people from Europe, we have a lot of European clientele, they still think there’s alligators and snakes in the streets.
The main problem that you see going forward is just staffing?
Yes and eventually I think that’s going to get a lot better because I think there is a lot of housing that is now coming online like low cost condos which we didn’t have before. New Orleans East has got about three of them that have just opened up so.
Oh that’s great because I have been hearing about the price gouging and …
Oh that was terrible at first. People had an advanced case of greed. It was just so unrealistic. We had a friend who was living in Algiers and he literally saved this woman’s house. The transformer got hit and he put out the fire. He held off all looters. And about two weeks after she came back, no a month after she came back, she raised the rent a thousand dollars a month. I asked, “what are you gonna do Donnie?” He said, “I’m gonna pay it because my job is here. What am I gonna do?” Boy, talk about ingratitude.
We discuss the lack of rent control and the severe problem of affordable housing in the city since the storm. There was no rent control measures put in place in the city after the storm. Why? It’s not an unusual occurrence in a big city and it’s especially helpful in a situation like New Orleans was faced with after the storm with a mass exodus that followed the breech of the levees and the Catch-22 that many workers and owners now find themselves in today. A person can’t return to a destroyed home or find a reasonable rental in order to work and rebuild unless they can make 15 dollars an hour, but the small business owners in the Quarter and surrounding areas that are ready for business can’t afford to pay that much and keep their doors open. Kathyrn is hopeful that the worst is over and she is hearing more and more stories about the crunch being alleviated.
The Danners split their time between Missouri and New Orleans. They lost their house out in New Orleans East.
But anyway, now that neighborhood is really starting to boom. You see lights on and cars are there. People are cutting their grass. They’re rebuilding churches. It’s just wonderful.
Mid-City is the same way.
Katie: Feels good doesn’t it?
It does. It’s like, “hey we are alive and well.”
Katie: Yes we are.
The New Orleans Jazz Festival is coming up at the end of this month and into May. If you want to get involved in being part of the solution for so many Nawlin-ians then check out Common Ground. They’re getting volunteer groups together to go down there and help gut houses for the rebuild. Overall, the people down there in NOLA and throughout the Gulf Coast region, recall a part of our country the size of Great Britain was basically wiped out, are on their own to “work it out” amongst themselves. That’s not right in America. By supporting Common Ground with a donation or figuring out how to get down there to see for yourself and join a volunteer team you can do a lot to help your fellow Americans rebuild, recover and reclaim their precious lives. They would do it for you and you’ll walk a little taller in your own shoes by doing something to help.
These vlogs are dedicated to the four thousand people that lost their lives to the storm and the water throughout Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama.