Words and pictures don't do justice to the horror that is New Orleans. News reports about elections and tardy federal responses and this year's brave mini-Mardi Gras miss the aching sadness.
Eight months -- eight months -- after Hurricane Katrina ripped the heart out of the place they call "Big Easy" -- then drowned her for good measure -- the already poor, already rickety place still lies sodden, eerily quiet and half empty. It is a city, still, of blue-tarp roofs and white relief trailers and "Katrina code" porches sprayed with X's demarking dead people and pets.
The sweltering Louisiana summer is about to cook the mounds of moldy, mud-caked mattresses and books and humble photographs, the tattered teddy bears, wads of insulation and other refuse of lives once so jauntily lived in this birthplace of jazz.
You can avert these scenes, like a horse with blinders on, and see only the French Quarter, bravely glittering; the reopened casino, pulsing and tinkling; and the few Uptown mansions that are gussied up again.
They're not the poor Lower Ninth Ward, just as disintegrated and forlorn as it was during those storm-tossed nights. Not the prim but empty houses of Lakeview and the West End, still stained by high-water marks. Not the blown-out office towers, abandoned schools and hotels, plywood-shuttered stores, or lightly traveled roads.
In the back-o'-town quarter called the Bywater, a schoolteacher who had come from far away on spring holiday to gut houses in hopes of saving them brushed a tear from her grimy cheek. "They call this 'The City That Care Forgot,'" she said. "No, no, no. It's the city the world must not forget."