N.O. Return

Hey you. Yeah, it has been a while…
What? Oh…thanks. You look good too.
So um…sorry I haven’t called… things have been kind of crazy lately…


A lot’s happened in the past few weeks, making it difficult to know where to begin. There’s the trip the San Francisco for the opening weekend at the new de Young Museum, the brief time spent in Cincinnati, Chicago, South Bend, and then there’s the return trip to New Orleans.

Business first, I suppose…

So I returned to New Orleans last week to collect my belongings and tie up some loose ends. That’s right, I’m leaving. Moving to San Francisco in two days. It really was a tough decision, but it’s one that’s been in the back of my mind for some time, and I felt like I had to see where this adventure would take me. It’s time for a new beginning. I’ll never forget last week’s return. The current state of the city is one that fosters strange and surreal experiences. My first night there I was riding bikes with my friend Jac – swerving around military humvees, driving past brick rubble and abandoned buildings – and as we made our way through town, it was impossible to ignore the silence of it all. Simon and Garfunkel never seemed more profound. Even with people milling about, there’s an underlying stillness that wasn’t there before. Walking and riding through the city, we quickly became aware of a change in the spatial experience of the city, even in the relatively undamaged uptown area. Previously abstract portions of the city fabric have gained a new power in their absence – phantom pains in a dismembered city. A fallen tree and its resulting absent canopy, an empty lot, missing street lights… Although at times it was difficult to specify what had changed, things were different. That first day, the overall effect was incredibly disorienting – almost to the point of making me dizzy. It felt like I was living in some sort of vast James Turrel work.

The military presence was another constant cause for astonishment. Most notable were THEIR MACHINE GUNS. Is that really necessary at this point? I can understand that with a reduced police force, the military may be necessary for some time, but seeing these soldiers – kids sometimes!- walking around, eating Halloween candy with real Machine guns slung over their back! Being questioned by a uniformed, armed, soldier about being out past curfew (curfew!) is an unsettling experience to say the least. An ugly business, the whole thing. Juxtapositions abound between these iconic authoritarian figures and the more bizarre denizens of the Big Easy. During Halloween weekend, the military and police responded en masse when the electricity went out in the Bywater. I remember sitting in this dark, powerless bar, looking out an open window at a street lit by the sirens of police cars. (Very much like an Arcade Fire lyric, come to think of it) A dominatrix was talking to two soldiers. A couple wearing wetsuits with water wings were casually leaning against a humvee talking to another soldier, while a drum circle started playing and everyone began to sing “Tainted Love.”

I’m not trying to make light of the situation by recounting these events. I saw things down there that were profoundly disturbing and things that broke my heart, but I think we got our fill of that from the news. Things have changed Life is back in New Orleans. People are once again living, working, and partying in the city. Strangers are sitting together at coffee shops and restaurants – people who once lived on opposite sides of the city now find themselves in the same house or apt building. Social and economic demographics are changing. The city is changing and will continue to change. Hopefully for the better…

For any friends and acquaintances who may be curious about my personal status, I knew weeks ago that my car was gone, but the status of my apartment was a mystery. Although my second story one bedroom is in an area that didn’t flood, the wind-torn roof resulted in some water damage that unfortunately seemed to be localized over my architecture and art history books. I also lost some journals and sketchbooks that, when handled, broke apart like ancient texts from the Library of Alexandria. In the grand scheme of things none of these things are really important. I know that I am one of the very very lucky people and I’m extremely grateful for that.

Later this week I’ll try and post more about my time and N.O. and my last trip to San Francisco, so stay tuned. In a week or so I hope to be have a somewhat stable living situation, and be regularly posting once again on the topic of all things architectural.

2 Replies to “N.O. Return”

  1. i’ve been looking forward to a new post–how simultaneously post-apocalyptic and strangely un-america/america new orleans must feel. i imagine so especially because so those previously unnoticed things that contributed to spatial and environmental sense that are now gone must feel like a tear in your memory, something superimposed like a transparency, or an unfamiliar reconfiguration of the familiar. and, in the absence of a more (pleasantly) diffuse “american feeling,” the american symbol is consolidated into an uncomfortable military presence. at least, that’s how i imagine it from what you’ve written.

    i hope san francisco feels right.

  2. hey jimmy,
    im glad to hear you’ve made it out to san-fran, hows it doin’ for you?
    really wonderful recount of your trip back to new orleans, would love to hear more. hope things are going well

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