Friday, August 28, 2015

A Visitor's Post-Katrina Story: RIP Vera

Ten years after Katrina, here's an odd little vignette from a frequent visitor to New Orleans. I'm a pretty down-to-earth guy, I think, in my view of how the world and universe works. I'm not superstitious or mystical at all, except concerning music. But I told this story recently, and it's still, well, interesting to me.

I have visited New Orleans once or twice a year since 1990; for years, when I was teaching public school music, my trip was during my school system's spring break - the first week of April. So I hit the city in April, 2006 - seven months after Katrina.  I didn't know quite what to expect, but what I found was a shell of the city I had visited a year earlier. There were no street lights, very little music to be found, and the space underneath the interstate overpass was a car graveyard. At one point I was checking out the Bywater neighborhood, and thought, "Okay, this isn't too bad." Then I realized that the Lower Ninth Ward was just across the bridge. I drove over, but didn't stay long - seeing the devastation there was like getting punched in the gut. 

I had heard of an interesting Katrina memorial that I wanted to see. As I had heard the story, a young man who lived near the corner of Jackson Avenue and Magazine Street had a neighbor named Vera - a middle-aged woman.  In the aftermath of Katrina, before the National Guard moved in, he found Vera's body. In the chaos of that time, there was no one to call. So he built a brick tomb to protect the body until it could be removed, and put a sign on it: "RIP Vera."

Vera's body had, of course, been taken away long before my visit. But the makeshift tomb and the sign were still there, seven months later. I found the story and the memorial to be very moving, and decided that I wanted to take a picture of Vera's temporary resting place. I parked nearby and made about ten attempts to take a picture, but something went wrong every time - my camera malfunctioned, or turned off before I could hit the shutter button, or a car blocked my view, etc. I was getting frustrated, when it hit me - oh, I'm not supposed to be taking a picture of this.

I'm still a down-to-earth, non-mystical guy. Objectively, I believe that my failure to take a picture of Vera's tomb was due to a series of coincidences. But whether or not the universe was giving me a message, I got it. This was a sacred spot, not a tourist attraction.

RIP, Vera. And long live New Orleans.

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