The big heat

Jim Gabour
9 July 2006

Yes, the heat in New Orleans is life-stifling, and we've still over two months of it to weather, along with the possibility of other meteorological intrusion.

Walking into the central business district to do errands, I find myself sprinting between shadows to avoid prolonged exposure to the sun. Before I park my car, I plot routes to my destination through the hallways of interconnected, air-conditioned buildings.

After 2005's surfeit of water, we find ourselves in a drought of historic proportions: the deepest since records have been kept. Though we actually do not need the rain for irrigation, we look for something, anything to make a dent in the heat. Precipitation finally came and went yesterday, providing some small amount of relief. Even though drain systems showed by their performance – many low intersections were flooded – that the city's pumps are not yet quite ready for another Big One.

Meanwhile, underground, the literal rivers escaping the city's water mains continues unabated. Plants are literally exploding into growth, as the poisonous filth from flooding is purged along with native soil. And while residences and businesses complain of chronic low water-pressure, the cracks in the public system guarantee that flora will be constantly watered.

The plants are grateful. Bursts of colour from flowers, lush ferns and palms frame piles of debris and the few remaining abandoned cars.

I spent the past weekend drilling new holes in the door jambs. There's a fun task, and more than a bit frightening when you consider that the house is settling so rapidly with the city's water line leaks that the deadbolts and doors wouldn't lock. And an unsecured home is not something you care to have in this town. Not these days. Maybe not ever.

In measuring and re-boring the jambs, I discover that my house has dropped a full 0.375 of an inch (9.5 millimetres) in the last ten months.

So, there's life: the water is higher and New Orleans lower. And hotter.

Jim Gabour is an award-winning film producer, writer and director living in New Orleans. His website is here

Also by Jim Gabour in openDemocracy:

"A New Orleans diary" (February 2006)

"New Orleans ode to carnival"
(February 2006)

"Out of order"
(March 2006)

"The deliveryman's story" (March 2006)

"An electoral storm in New Orleans"
(April 2006)

"The choice is not choice" (May 2006)

"Frozen assets: letter from New Orleans" (June 2006)

"Urban renewal"
(June 2006)

The gnostic jambs

Yesterday I sent the above paragraphs to my long-time best-friend Al, a gent whom I have mentioned in these columns before. He responded, first discussing the wily transgressions of a vagrant raccoon on his house in Austin, Texas – it has learned how to operate his electrical breaker-switches, and had turned off his air-conditioning.

Then he appraised the current siege of New Orleans. Like the 'coon, Al is a joker, and again, a learned one. He set the next three paragraphs on the e-table:

"If you look into Gnosticism, you'll find that the Gnostics believe there is an inverted version of the Sephiroth (the "tree of life"). This universe of unreality that reflects the real universe is, they believe, the so-called "astral plane".

The two meet – or at least, touch – at the boundary between the two versions of Malkuth, at "the veil", the sort of borderland between waking and sleeping consciousness, between the conscious and the Jungian unconscious. And unreality can leak into material manifestation at this interface. The lower the level of spirituality in a person or group of people, the more likely this leakage is. Of course, such leakage is most likely in large cities, NY, LA, NO...

And so there you go. A simple and post-scientific explanation for this mess warming: "Hell itself is leaking into this here world."

Yeah, Al, along with everything else, I think we must indeed have got ourselves some serious Hell leakage in this very neighbourhood.

From my own very-real sense of unreality, I would speculate there must even be a "veil" of sorts nearby. I would also think it easily used by creatures with a passport to unreality more valid than that which I possess. Like my own pre-Katrina raccoon – yes, I had one, too – who hasn't come back to the house, though I think he's living in the abandoned fire station that adjoins the back of our property. In the days before the storm, he didn't do much that affected my everyday existence, except for leaving very artful arrangements of tracks on the outside table, eating my favourite fish out of the water garden, and crapping on the roof outside the second-floor bedroom's windows.

But he's not returned. Maybe it's because I've lowered all the upstairs blinds to keep the heat out and AC in – the short and furry voyeur got bored with nothing to watch, and no kitties to taunt.

So no 'coon, but just yesterday one pair of mating green parrots finally returned to the solitary remaining tree here at 725 Marigny, squawking and making a helluva racket. There were a dozen or more living here late last summer, a colourful and lively colony that gave me huge amounts of pleasure, but now just the two have come back to nest. I am quite glad to see any of them at all, and am taking an inordinate amount of comfort at the raucous sounds and small limbs that come crashing down from the crown of the ragged hackberry tree.

I think these unregulatable and self-confident birds may prove you correct, and that maybe they did indeed take refuge on the "other side" for the storm. They are, after all, themselves rather unreal in colour, shape and sound – and they have now decided that New Orleans is slightly better than Hell, and have returned.

After your letter, I think that I, too, am possibly slipping back and forth and just don't notice the difference.

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