Sunday, August 28, 2005

DARK MEMORIES

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Storyville, New Orleans, 1900, Lady of the Night

By Elaine Meinel Supkis

GALVESTON
(Words and Music by Jimmy Webb)
Glen Campbell - peak Billboard position # 4 in 1969


Galveston, oh Galveston, I still hear your sea winds blowin'
I still see her dark eyes glowin'
She was 21 when I left Galveston

Galveston, oh Galveston, I still hear your sea waves crashing
While I watch the cannons flashing
I clean my gun and dream of Galveston

I still see her standing by the water
Standing there lookin' out to sea
And is she waiting there for me?
On the beach where we used to run

Galveston, oh Galveston, I am so afraid of dying
Before I dry the tears she's crying
Before I watch your sea birds flying in the sun
At Galveston, at Galveston

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The worst hurricane disaster to ever take down a city. The buildings that still stood saved no one for those inside often drowned in the tidal surge.

Up until tonight, no catagory 5 hurricane has made a direct hit on any major city. Florida was not heavily populated when the great hurricane of the late twenties destroyed much of lower Florida. Story of the hurricane:
For locals, any reference to "the storm" is obvious. If someone says a house survived the storm, there is no doubt it predates Sept. 8, 1900.

If people say they had family who died or survived the storm, there is no doubt that they are referring to a family history that goes back more than 100 years.

For in Galveston, "the storm" always refers to the hurricane that tore across Galveston on Sept. 8, 1900, and left the city in ruins.

Those who managed, either by sheer luck or the grace of God, to survive the storm faced the challenge of moving forward.

In his memoirs, meteorologist Isaac Cline referred to the morning after the storm as "a most beautiful day."

It was indeed a sunny, warm day, the kind of day people came to Galveston for at the turn of the century. But few visitors would walk the sandy shores for months after the infamous hurricane.

Instead, bodies of the dead that were improperly buried at sea washed ashore on those beaches, leaving even more treacherous work for the cleanup crews.

The storm left behind a legacy that extends across the country. As families moved from the island, they carried with them the story of that night.
I lived in Texas for a while, as a child. A hurricane in 1955 blew in from the Gulf and lashed the McDonald observatory complex. I remember how beautiful the skies were before it hit and how the low, billious grey/green clouds hung heavy as they crowded in and the howling winds when they hit.

People were still alive who lived through the Galveston blow. They were listened to respectfully for they went through the Gates of Death that terrible day. Like the survivors of nuclear bombs, they knew intimately what happens when things suddenly fall apart.
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A picture from 1900, Storyville, New Orleans.

Note the fragility of the houses. Much of New Orlean's charm is its extreme fragility. It is no surprise that "A Streetcar Named Desire" takes place in the old part of New Orleans. I fix old houses for a living. I know what they are like. Loose bricks, wood that looks sound but when I plunge a screwdriver into it, it gives way like butter. I have literally put my hands right through 8"x 8" beams in 200 year old houses! I get many calls after storms when the Old Ladies sigh and faint dead away. New Orleans is worse than New York City buildings. They were invaded the last 40 years by sturdy termites from Asian jungles that are eating the fabric of the city. Oak trees are desperately weak, walls that look solid due to plaster and other indigestibles are held up by the paint. Far from solid, the buildings are often extraordinarily weak due to the geography of the place, hot and humid and in a bowl. Perfect for cooking insect dinners.

Unlike many Gulf communities, New Orleans has dodged the bullet many times and so it has a great excess of very old buildings and it is by far and away, the oldest community on the entire Gulf for it was founded extremely early on by the French when they came down the Mississippi River thanks to La Salle.

So it is one of the very oldest cities in America and one of the most fragile, like Venice, only worse, for the entire contents of any rain up the continent runs through New Orleans so this hurricane is going to hit very hard for as it slogs up the Mississippi, all the tons of rain will fall, run downhill and end up in New Orleans.

The shameful foot dragging by the government will go down in our history as yet another crime. For there was time to clear out the city and they didn't exploit this at all at first. Only when the hurricane swelled up drinking the warm bathtub waters of the Gulf which has been killing all living things steadily all summer as the extreme heat killed off many creatures and red algae blooms sucked out all the oxygen in the water, it was inevitable that any tropical depression straying into these waters will be horrific.

This one is gigantic. Just three days ago, the papers were all screaming that the price of oil is plunging (one whole dollar a barrel...great, yeah) because no hurricanes were going to destroy the pumping/refining stations. Then it happened. Now we wonder if anything will be left!

Price of oil shoot up, of course.

Last hurricane, they hid the pictures of the collapsed oil rigs, the largest in the world. It was saved but there was virtually zero news about it, I saw pictures only after stumbling across some rig guys debating what was going to happen next! The media covers things while not covering them.

Tonight, I will extend my heart out to all those unfortunate people who were not evacuated because they can't go. But read this! From New Orleans TV
The bands were blaring on Bourbon Street, the bar tables were packed and the drinks were flowing.
"The only dangerous hurricanes so far are the ones we've been drinking," said Fred Wilson of San Francisco, as he sipped on the famous drink at Pat O'Brien's Bar. "We can't get out, so we might as well have fun."

As Hurricane Katrina whipped its way through the Gulf of Mexico toward New Orleans, some tourists were forced to stay put because flights and rental cars were booked up. Others were lucky enough to change reservations early and get out of town.
Mayor C. Ray Nagin called for a voluntary evacuation of the city at 5 p.m. Saturday. He said he would most likely be more forceful about making people leave Sunday. For the tourists stuck in town, he had some different advice.

"The only thing I can say to them is I hope they have a hotel room, and it's a hotel room that's at least on the third floor and up," Nagin said. "Unfortunately, unless they can rent a car to get out of town, which I doubt they can at this point, they're probably in the position of riding the storm out." In the French Quarter, the revelers, street musicians, tarot card readers and fortune tellers carried on like it was any other Saturday.

"I'll be here tomorrow, I'm not leaving," said trombonist Eddie "Doc" Lewis. "I've been through typhoons, monsoons, tornadoes, hurricanes and every other phoon, soon or storm. I'm not worried."

Down the street, psychic Jackie Wilson waited for customers at a card table, advertising "Free sample readings."
Sample readings? I can just imagine...

This is the Fin de Siecle aire. Remember, the end of the Victorian era wasn't 1900 but was a 15 year period ending with the beginning of WWI. The destruction of the similar vacation heaven, the sinking of the Titanic, the San Francisco Earthquake...all were like tremblors before the great blow out.

Speaking of great blow outs: From the Independent:
There are crackles on the tape but the message is clear. President John F Kennedy and his advisers considered using nuclear weapons against China if the Communist nation attacked India a second time.

The date was May 1963 and the year before China had attacked India along its 2,000-mile Himalayan border, overpowering and defeating the poorly trained and badly equipped Indian troops. At dispute were two areas under Indian control, Aksai Chin in Ladakh and another area on the north-east frontier.
Gads, that makes my hair stand on end! My mom and dad were in the Himalayan mountains when this border war broke out. The Chinese cornered her and asked her, "Are you a CIA spy?" and she said, "Why would the CIA send a six foot tall woman here to spy on you?" And they laughed and let her go.

I know their report influenced what happened concerning this, namely, they could plainly see the Chinese had no intention of pouring across into Nepal. They even went to Bhutan to insure that place was going to side with India and Nepal and the rest is history. No wonder Chou EnLai asked Nixon to send my parents to Beijing.

I feel for the people who lie in the path of the dragon. All of them, past and future. I will pray for them all.

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