Friday, June 19, 2009

Dan Baum

Writer Dan Baum,
who fell in love with New Orleans Post Katrina when he was sent to cover the aftermath in 2007, has penned an editorial in the NYT about the city's laizzez faire lifestyle. Excerpts:

While the rest of us Americans scurry about with a Blackberry in one hand and a to-go cup of coffee in the other in a feverish attempt to pack more achievement into every minute, it’s the New Orleans way to build one’s days around friends, family, music, cooking, processions, and art. For more than two centuries New Orleanians have been guardians of tradition and masters of living in the moment — a lost art. Their preference for having more time than money was at the heart of what made that city so much fun to visit and so hard to leave.

Americans will probably continue to use economists’ numbers to measure recovery from the current recession. But as we debate what to do for the millions of homeowners who are “under water” — owing more on their homes than the homes are worth — we could learn from a city that knows a thing or two about being under water. New Orleans can teach us that the life we build with our neighbors deserves at least as much attention as our endless thrust towards newer and bigger.

Here's a link to the blog Dan kept while he was down here.

To those who look down your noses at message of the article, which does contain some untrue facts (such as the 9th Ward being reconstructed), here is an explanation from Mr. Baum
I have this disagreement with friends who live in New Orleans all the time. I come in for a weeklong visit, and all I see is the progress. I see places that I thought were dead, dead, dead forever — like big swaths of the Lower Ninth Ward — and I see a place that is, as I put it, “a lot more live than dead.” Perfect? Of course not? But Jesus wept, give yourselves some credit. What you’ve done in New Orleans in four years — with minimal help from the government or the insurance companies — is amazing. Compare it to the seventeen square blocks, in the middle of the richest city in the world, annihilated on 9/11, four years earlier than your entire city was flooded. Again, I don’t live there. I’m not putting up with the challenges on a daily basis. I’m not feeling the losses you’re all feeling. But my perspective is no less skewed than yours. You’re right and I’m right.
As for the cliches, they’re only cliches to you because you’re used to New Orleans. Spend some time out here, where nobody makes eye contact, where everybody’s on to the next thing at every second, where the dollar and the clock rule every goddamn minute of waking life, and be reminded of what a weird and wonderful place you inhabit. I was writing for the New York Times — for an audience outside of New Orleans — trying to explain, in a thousand words or less, what your city has to teach the rest of us. You don’t like what I wrote? That’s fine. But I’m really (really) tired of having my intentions, my character, my credentials as a New Orleans-lover questioned by everybody who thinks I wear a silly hat. I’m just some guy who came to town for a while and wrote a book; I’m not claiming to be anything else. As for my ill-considered comment many, many moons ago on Marketplace, for which I’ve amply apologized: How nice it must be for y’all never to have misspoken.

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