Home » Sections » Arts » Deep is the gulf

Deep is the gulf

By Michael Sitzman

Section: Arts

September 1, 2006

NAT WEATHER SVC TPC/NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER
MIAMI FL
TROPICAL DEPRESSION TWELVE ADVISORY
5PM EDT TUE 23AUG 2005
TWELFTH DEPRESSION OF THE SEASON FORMS OVER THE BAHAMAS;

TROPICAL STORM WARNINGS ISSUED

I. Crossing Over Water

At twenty-four miles long, the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway is the longest bridge on the planet. No glorious suspension bridge nor brawny cantilever span;

just two parallel roadways built on pilings over the lake, straight as an arrow and the epitome of nondescript. Not so for the drive, which is nothing short of surreal.

Its long. Eight miles from shore, the land disappears completely. The road ahead stretches to a perfect vanishing point. At intervals it rises to allow boats to pass underneath, and from these perches one can see vast distances. I looked back toward New Orleans, and it was gone. The whole world had turned to water.

Theres something about water. It cleanses and purifies;

makes all life possible. Yet it can swallow up worlds, obliterating every trace of the very life that once flourished in its fickle presence. Theres something spiritual about water, especially down in the delta where faiths current runs deep.

Eight miles out. What if something should break down? The answer came as a shudder: I was on my own.

TROPICAL STORM KATRINA ADVISORY
11AM EDT WED 24AUG 2005
DEPRESSION STRENGTHENS INTO TROPICAL STORM KATRINA OVER THE CENTRAL BAHAMAS;

HURRICANE WATCH AND TROPICAL STORM WARNING ISSUED FOR FLORIDA

II. Farewell To The Flesh

As Jews ritually cast out leavened bread during Passover, so too have Roman Catholics marked the beginning of Lent by ridding their homes of meat. Celebrations honoring this time, called Mardi Gras in New Orleans, were once known by the Latin words carnem (meat) and levare (to remove), now fused into the word we know as carnival. Some interpret a different spiritual meaning: The soul leaving the body.

HURRICANE KATRINA SPECIAL ADVISORY
1AM CDT SUN 28AUG 2005
KATRINA STRENGTHENS TO CATEGORY FOUR WITH 145MPH WINDS
HURRICANE WARNING IN EFFECT FOR NORTH-CENTRAL GULF COAST INCLUDING CITY OF NEW ORLEANS AND LAKE PONTCHARTRAIN;

HURRICANE CONDITIONS EXPECTED IN THE WARNING AREA WITHIN THE NEXT 24HRS

III. Nearer My God To Thee

Imagine, if you will, a city below sea-level. Every minute, every day, on the nearby Gulf of Mexico, waves roll and break above your head. Now picture a narrow portage of sunken land between Pontchartrain and the continents mightiest river, the Mississippi. Imagine this is your home.

A city whose very existence mocks death must have a unique outlook. Where else would a religious funeral feature a marching band playing jazz? What affair more fitting than an annual costumed street party to mark the souls departure from this world?

When surrounded by water, you had best look to God. And learn to laugh at death.

HURRICANE KATRINA INTERMEDIATE ADVISORY
MIDNIGHT CDT MON 29AUG 2005
POTENTIALLY CATASTROPHIC CATEGORY FIVE HURRICANE KATRINA CONTINUES TO APPROACH NORTHERN GULF COAST
HURRICANE WARNING IN EFFECT FOR NORTH-CENTRAL GULF COAST INCLUDING CITY OF NEW ORLEANS AND LAKE PONTCHARTRAIN;

PREPARATIONS TO PROTECT LIFE AND PROPERTY SHOULD BE RUSHED TO COMPLETION

IV. Qui sexcuse, saccuse

Katrina made landfall on the delta exactly a year ago this week. Now I could proceed to tell by numbers the story of what happened next in what was once an American city: Wind speeds, water levels, rescue costs, troop tallies, E. coli measurements and the requisite body count, all a deluge of facts and figures. Should I speak of budget cuts that kept levees from being fortified? Police who abandoned their posts and left behind a carnival of rape? Federal and local governments that let people die on rooftops and highways? He who excuses himself accuses himself.

V. When The Saints Went Marching In

I could also tell of the greatness that emerges from crises: Red Cross workers and the Coast Guard;

citizens who donated blood;

pilots who lifted refugees from buildings;

police who ran out of bullets and stayed at their posts;

anyone who headed in so that others could get out. Yes, this indeed could be a tale of giants.

And yet we become blas to tales of heroism as quickly as we learn to be numb to evil. In our time weve had ample stories of both. I guess, then, I have nothing new to tell.

At a hurricanes center lies an eye wherein a silent emptiness reigns. For now, thats all youll find here. No anecdote can render human pain understandable;

no statistic can document the high-water mark of tears. Only in the absence of words do we truly glimpse the story. As the silent, unflinching eye gazes: A random levee is breached. A certain trust is shattered. Behold the breaking of a nations heart.

VI. Forecasting Clear Visibility

I cannot imagine what these events will eventually teach our generation through hindsights clarity. Beyond politics and the gulf of inequities that divides us, what wisdom will emerge? My dad probably got it right: When the next catastrophe strikes, dont look to your government;

youre on your own.

Out on the Pontchartrain Causeway, eight miles from shore, the earth disappears completely. I looked back toward New Orleans, and it was gone. The whole world had turned to water.

horseradish

Menu Title