On The Mississippi River Flooding, The South And Denial

By: 05.11.11  •  11 Comments

I really don’t want to talk about this.

Surely by now you’ve heard about the rising Mississippi River tides flooding towns along the river’s banks throughout the Midwest and the South. The story has sort of been everywhere for the past few days. And now, like a giant snowball lumbering downhill, the river’s increasingly high tides are heading down to southern Louisiana.

But what’s sort of funny is that hardly anyone down here (I live in New Orleans) seems to be talking about it. I mean, it’s all over the news, both local and national, but until today I have not had a single conversation, not one, with anyone about the potential flooding of the place I call home, even though I, we, probably should be talking to other people about it. Even the people who live around here I follow on Twitter and Tumblr haven’t really been chattering about it at all on Twitter and Tumblr.

But you know who is chattering about it? People I follow on Tumblr and Twitter who don’t live here, along with the people I follow who used to live here. I can only assume those people are already mildly overcome with anxiety about feeling powerless to do something to help a place they love so dearly due to lack of geographical proximity — a strain of anxiety I’m all too familiar with, having lived in New York through hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

When I walk outside my house and turn towards the Mississippi, I can see the Morial Convention Center — the site of so much human suffering post-Katrina — about a 1/4 to 1/2 mile down sitting on the bank of the river. If it weren’t for this massive structure, I’d be able to see the ships coming and going on the river quite easily. My point in telling you this is to give you an idea of how close I am to Mississippi River.

You see that little red icon thingie in the satellite photo below? That’s where my house is. (By the way, I live, between two streets named after Greek muses — in Greek mythology, one, Thalia, is the muse of comedy, and the other, Melpomene, is the muse of tragedy. People who know me well can’t get over the irony in that. Neither can I, frankly.) Now you see that body of water to the right of the little red icon thingie? That’s the Mississippi River.

Early today, as I was walking back home from getting my morning cup of coffee, I stopped to talk to a friend who just bought an old house around the corner from me, a block closer to the river than I am, that he’s in the process of completely renovating. We spoke for about 30 minutes. He showed me his plans for his backyard. We talked about whether he should plant an oak tree or a magnolia tree back there. We discussed whether he has enough room in his kitchen area to set up an island. He talked about the antique windows he hopes to find at a local housing scrap yard and install on his house. We talked about the possibility of him putting a swing on his front porch. We discussed the feasibility of installing a flat-screen TV outside on the back deck to watch football games on.

You know what we didn’t talk about? The possibility that, in a matter of days, the Mississippi might flood New Orleans. Not one word was mentioned.

Why is that?

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