Anyone in New Orleans will offer stern correction should you refer to Katrina as a "natural disaster."
And anyone involved in the city's culture will point out the many unnatural barriers that have popped up in Katrina's wake.
You'd think that New Orleans would welcome back the communities and establishments that anchor its culture. But the message implicit in the post-Katrina skirmishes club owners, Mardi Gras Indians, and parade organizers have experienced with city officials is: "We don't want you back" -- or at the very least: "We're not going to make it easy."
Darryl Montana, son and successor of Big Chief Allison Montana of the Yellow Pocahontas "Hunters" Mardi Gras Indian Tribe, told me that he was pleased with the restraint shown by police at the recent St. Joseph's night gathering. He'd sent a letter to his councilman and to the police chief hoping to ease the tensions that have flared for the past few years. (And just in case, ACLU-sponsored "observers" were on hand, taking notes). But that positive note is drowned out by these sour ones:
• Social Aid & Pleasure Clubs such as the Original Pigeontown Steppers find their ability to parade threatened by police department security fees, which have more than tripled in the past year (supposedly in response to a rise in violent crime). As Katy Reckdahl reported in this Times-Picayune article, there is no evidence of a fair or even documented basis for these fees, nor are they consistently applied. As Reckdahl correctly states, this policy "in essence amounts to a tax for crimes [The Social Aid & Pleasure Clubs] don't commit and can't control."
The ACLU of Louisiana has filed suit on behalf of the Social Aid & Pleasure club task Force, arguing that the new fees amount an unconstitutional infringement of free speech: a hearing is set for Wednesday, April 4th.
• Meanwhile, a friend tipped me off to this report on the neworleanscitybusiness site, about how the North Rampart Street jazz club King Bolden's is fighting an uphill battle to renew its licenses, due to staunch opposition from neighborhood organizations. Consider this passage:
Carol Greve, president of the French Quarter Citizens for the Preservation of Residential Quality, said her group wants art galleries along Rampart as opposed to jazz clubs. She also said she is not convinced that Rampart Street ever played a historic role in the rise of New Orleans music and so there is no reason to restore it as a musical corridor.
Perhaps Greve has never walked across the street, to Louis Armstrong Park, which commemorates Congo Square, the point of origin for the rhythms underscoring all the city's jazz.
There are forces at work in New Orleans that wish to stop the forward flow of culture -- whether by taxing its future or erasing its history.
It's just not natural.
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