Go to contents

[Opinion] Alas, New Orleans!

Posted September. 05, 2005 07:06,   


New Orleans, where I visited twice in the spring of this year, was quite a distinctive city from others in the United States. Passing the sea-like lake of Pontchartrain, the airplane arrives at the hometown of jazz. The downtown area, the “French Quarter,” has a perfect area to walk around. Buildings a la Française are more than 200 years old. You wander about straw figure shops and galleries, and get fascinated with Latin American-style Cajun dishes or Creole cuisines combining French and Spanish flavors. While feeling bored sitting on an excursion ship sailing in the muddy Mississippi River, you get to hear an announcement: “This is the way we live. What about listening to a jazz quartet playing?”

The night adds vividness to the city. In jazz bars, many Europeans, and recently, a number of Japanese and the Chinese ranging in age from their teens to their sixties, enjoy the swing rhythm with drinks, beers or wines priced at four or five dollars a glass in their hands. Some even make a tour of as many as 10 places, spending 30 minutes in one place. People greet each other by saying, “Enjoy.” Enjoy jazz, enjoy food, and enjoy even the slightly steamy weather. The night falls in the city with the river breeze.

More than 80% of New Orleans is submerged under water. With Hurricane Katrina lashing out, waters from lakes and rivers swallowed the bowl-shaped city. The deadliest disaster in American history turned the city of festivity into a battleground. Panicky rumors of looting, raping and the like led the state National Guard to present arms. With helping hands failing to reach the flooded areas, dead bodies are floating on the water or abandoned on street corners. Survivors screaming for help sound like beasts. Fortunately, water is reportedly flowing off the areas where thousands of Korean-Americans are living.

In the past, residents of French origin there are said to have asked bands to play vivacious songs when they returned home after a funeral. This means that they would relieve their sorrows and come back to the real life. African-Americans added unique rhythms while learning those songs, and this became the origin of jazz.

It might take a couple of months at the least, or even some years at the most for New Orleans to recover from the damage inflicted by Katrina. Alas, New Orleans! When might the impromptu jazz of hope echo again?

Hong Kwon-hee, Editorial writer, konihong@donga.com