Why doesn't Donald Trump drain the swamp?
New Orleans Ayumi Rahn, 2018
your shoes are on your feet and your feet are on the street and this street is Bourbon Street.
The past is never dead. It's not even past.
We have opened the blinds a crack and look outside. About shoulder height street. A car is parked outside. A man is staggering around the bonnet, his back to us in front of the driver's door. Fluctuates. He laboriously pulls out his tail and pisses on the closed driver's door with his left arm on the roof of the car. He puts his tail back in his pocket, takes out his car key, unlocks the car door and drops into the driver's seat. The door is open, his feet are in the street, he has long slept away and in another place, his mouth wide open, completely drunk.
The air conditioning runs in the room and there is also a large fan on the ceiling, certainly a meter in diameter. One suspects intuitively that here every room, no matter how small, is equipped with at least one such thing. Here, this is the south, this South, hot and humid, and different, so that one has doubts that this also belongs to the USA, to the United States to which New York belongs, Los Angeles, Chicago, Albuquerque. To which Donald Trump belongs, but also Barack and Michelle Obama. And the Mississippi River. His name always seemed like something out of a fairy tale. Does the Mississippi River really exist? Or does it really not exist? If I were told that the Mississippi River was really invented like Sleeping Beauty, and only for the purpose of telling a story, an instructive story, and in this case a story of extraordinary dimensions, I would not doubt it. The Mississippi River doesn't really exist. Just one word, just made up. A confirmation that you know nothing and understand nothing, because you certainly did not get close enough and you will never be able to grasp everything. Somehow.
So here the oversized fans rotate.
They're also hanging in the dark and loud taverns on Bourbon Street, full of music. And parallel to Bourbon Street, just a few blocks away, is the Moon Walk, the promenade on the Mississippi.
New Orleans. New Aaaw-lenz is a port city, and Bourbon Street is perhaps a kind of Great Freedom, it seemed to me that way. The dimension is another.
Drunk people, party moods and tourists. Out of nowhere tourists chat to us, in German: In the so and so bar, by the way, there is the best Irish coffee, they are going there again And, of course, they did a plantation tour too. Everything belongs to it. After all, they have been there for a few days now, and we are slowly getting to know our way around. Bourbon Street. Mississippi River. Moon walk.
Moon walk. Here, on Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, the ashes of the deceased are poured into the water, mixed with glitter. While the ash is immediately lost in the river, the glitter can be seen floating on the surface of the water for a while. A new birth of sorts.
In mid-June we sit on the stairs and look at the water of the Mississippi River at our feet. A few hundred meters further on, a steamship whistles from a full steam boiler to a sizzling hoarse melody, while tourists queue for the evening tour.
Wide stairs lead down to the river, which sloshes towards you with heavy waves. So clumsy, more like a sea, such a big river. But over there, you can see that a body sloshes with it, back and forth, against the rubble at the edge of the river. So sluggish, almost enjoyable and completely without any refusal, back and forth, with the waves, as only a lifeless body can. A relatively large dead body, sloshing, sloshing. Is that a dead seal? But how does a dead seal get here?
One of the attractions is to go into the swamp. It was clear from the start that New Orleans had to be built. There was nothing to avoid it. At the mouth of such a large river, at the entrance of such a large country, there belongs a large city, an important city, let's say a metropolis. Fact, no doubt. In the case of New Orleans, there was no doubt. At first only swamp had to be made on land, which is not all done. The marshland will be drained, then the city will be built on it.
Huge pumps are still pumping tirelessly from the swamps on which the city now stands. Otherwise everything would become boggy in no time and in the truest sense of the word, soaking itself up with water like a sponge. What an achievement.
Wetlands act as a natural brake on hurricanes. When they sweep over marshland, they lose momentum. The swamp is missing, no brakes.
2005. That lower from Lower Ninth Ward, a borough of New Orleans, is the same lower like Lower Manhattan, as opposed to Upper Manhattan. It is often misinterpreted that the Lower Ninth Ward is about even lower below sea-level than the rest of the city, but it only refers to the area south of the Ninth Ward.
The Lower Ninth Ward is one of the worst hit by the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Why? Against various dangers - such as the lack of swamp drag or the dangerous proximity to the Mississippi River Gulf Outlet MRGO, which was built badly as an abbreviation for shipping because it directs storms into the city like a large funnel - against these dangers, should protect a dam. Amsterdam, which like New Orleans is below sea level, is protected from flooding by a dam. But what use is a dam if it stands on mud? In the end, nothing helps against multiple, serial, engineering failures.
In 2005, as a result of Hurricane Katrina, the dam breaks in several places. Instead of being 17 meters deep as would have been necessary, it was barely anchored in the ground. It is washed away and washed away. Botched construction. Between 1,100 and 1,800 people died as a result of Katrina in New Orleans in 2005. There is still disagreement about the number of deaths.
Much went wrong in 2005, if not everything. Around 20,000 people who had to get to safety in the Super Dome before the storm were waiting for help under inhumane conditions. There is none. You wait around a week. Ultimately, buses come to be put on and taken somewhere. Specifically, this means: the people on the bus have no idea where the bus is going. Baton Rouge, Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, New York? The residents of New Orleans, US citizens, are called so-called refugees Spread across the country, families torn apart.
And how should they return home? When? What kind of home, anyway? Is the house still standing? The insurance companies refuse to pay. The most serious damage is not storm damage, but damage from flooding. The hurricane insurance does not pay for this, it is outside of their responsibility.
There will soon be discussions about demolishing the most severely affected areas, where a predominantly black population lives. To transform back into swampy landscape. Or in resorts. A city park? To promote health? And again and again the misunderstanding: “The Lower Ninth Ward is so low, almost even lower than the rest of the city, so it makes sense not to rebuild it. The residents might be better off elsewhere. "
In the chaos that will last for a few years, various, mainly white, interest groups see their chance to gain influence and prevent the return of the population scattered across the country as refugees. Houses are demolished, including houses that have not suffered any serious damage. The following thesis is put forward: "Perhaps God has called the storm for New Orleans, so that the city will rise again, but in white."
Tenants of social housing in the inner city area are locked out of their residential areas, the so-called Public Housing Projects being torn down by private real estate companies. Over 99 percent of the affected residents are African-Americans, most of them single mothers, people with disabilities and the elderly.
The bridge to Gretna.
When half the city was in ruins and under water, immediately after the storm, a group of people roamed the destroyed streets in search of shelter, for help, and probably also for drinking water. The heat is almost forty degrees. Here and there they meet overburdened police officers. Here and there they meet helpless people who join them. Finding a way out of the destroyed city together, finding help together.
Eventually they are told you have to cross the river. On the other side of the Mississippi River, there in Gretna, there are buses waiting to take you to safety.
The group, there are hundreds of them, including old people, people in wheelchairs and children, drag themselves in the heat across the asphalt of the huge car bridge, the Crescent City Connection. From a distance they see police officers, obviously they are expected. When they are within earshot, they hear the armed police shouting: Stay where you are, not a step closer, or we'll shoot. People think they have misheard. You are getting closer. So where are the buses that bring us to safety? Is there water to quench your thirst in this heat? Some of us can no longer take it. Turn around or we'll shoot, the police from Gretna on the Mississippi, across from New Orleans, yell at the residents of New Orleans. Then they fire shots into the air. The group turns back: "We thought they would shoot us."
We acted for the safety of the city of Gretna. We couldn't just let everyone into our city, the police later explain. The threat was a group of people fleeing a destroyed city, 95% black.
'We‘re not having black people coming into our neighborhood.', That's how Larry Bradshaw understood it from the group of refugees.
We're going on a swamp tour. The swamp is called bayou here. A small boat, 6 people, quiet engine, who knows, maybe we will even see a crocodile? It is teeming with alligators. The meeting point is at a truck stop on the Pearl River. Huge trucks are here, one next to the other, 10, maybe 15. A truck from the mass of a good one and a half European trucks. And the heat, almost forty degrees, almost one hundred percent humidity. How are you supposed to breathe? What is sweat, what is humidity? Everything is soaked. At least one disproportionate fan rotates in each chamber. And the whole row of parked trucks keeps the engines running. What why? A crash and the environment? The drivers rest inside, which would be unbearable without air conditioning.
The water level in the bayou is low. Different water levels can be read off the trunks of the mangroves. In New Orleans there are strings of colorful plastic beads hanging from all lampposts and trees. Mardi Gras beads. Here the Spanish Moss hangs from the branches. In photos it looks musty and damp, like moss, but it isn't, it is rather dry, like a kind of lichen. Garlands.
It's loud in the bayou: chirping, rustling, whistling. It will probably start raining soon. The hurricane season started at the beginning of June. Again and again, here and there, behind the next bend in the river, we see little huts on stilts. Some swim and rise with the water, others will probably go under soon, only last one season until a storm comes or the water rises. Who do you think lives here? And what would it be like to spend the night here? What kind of noises are there in the night? The huts are hardly bigger than camping cars. Tiny houses. Most have a small veranda with a rocking chair. Watched too much TV, one wonders. Probably not, but one wonders anyway.
At the next bend in the river, a sandbank. Toys are scattered in the sand. What? I thought this was teeming with alligators? Do children play here in the sand by the water?
An infinite number of small flies sit on the water, which stands motionless in the bayou, a surface of water like mercury. Whole states of tiny flies sit on the surface of the water with their flyweight. And the surface is NOT A BIT MOVED_________________________________________________________________________
As we get closer, tiny waves arise that roll from the boat towards the flies. Then they panic and set off in a fleeing movement, as if the rearmost, last of the million flies always moves to the front. And then the next last one moves to the very front, and so on and so on. At a speed that panic resembles a sophisticated choreography that we set in motion with our boat.
When we are back in the car, it starts raining. First it rains, then it pours. The water lashes across the windshield like waves. The windshield wiper is in full swing, but it might as well be rowing through the bayou. Doesn't do much. We can also turn it off.
We drive over Interstate 10, which runs for a few kilometers over bridges, lake and swamp. Pretty impressive, actually. But, as I said, we don't see anything. If we were to drive straight to the end of Interstate 10, we would arrive in Los Angeles. The water lashes over the panes. The street is under water. What a WORLD ENDING. Then it stops again.
The Mississippi River Road leads directly along the Mississippi River, which you cannot see because it is located behind a larger wall of grass. Some time ago the richest people in the United States lived here. A plan shows it like in the land registry office: strip by strip by strip. Sugar cane was grown here plantation after plantation. Harvesting and processing are particularly painful, because the leaves of the sugar cane are hard and sharp and cut into the skin like razor blades.
A German immigrant named Ambroise Heidel founded the Whitney Plantation in 1721. It got its name from a later owner who ran it after the slave trade. The current owner, John Cummings, a lawyer from New Orleans, created the open-air museum and memorial, the so-called Whitney Plantation Historic District, from the plantation.
We see a short introductory film in a small Baptist church built by free slaves after the civil war. Around us there are dozens of life-size bronze sculptures of children, girls and boys, in dresses and dungarees. The 40 sculptures by the sculptor Woodrow Nash depict the children of the Whitney, witnesses of the past. One of the sculptures is shown on each of our admission tickets. One of the children and his or her name. We find out there are survivor. The sculptures are portraits made from original photos.
The survivors have their say and tell of the time when they were someone else's property. Each sculpture is an image of a person, with its own name and story. That touches. The name "Henry Reed" is on my card. On the back a short quote in which Henry Reed talks about his life on the plantation. The child on the front of the card is probably around 7 years old. At the point when Henry Reed reported on the time as a free man, he is 86. A person who survived.
A “Wall of Honor” is engraved with the names of 2,200 children who perished on the Whitney and in the adjacent community. On average, an adult male survived 7 years of plantation labor. Women lived longer. Women were more expensive, more valuable than healthy, strong men who were used up on work. New workers could be found from the women breed. Two people were locked in a cage until the woman was pregnant. Cages, metal prison blocks that must have been unbearably hot in the heat. New life, more capital. Unborn life, precious possession. The container-sized cages were made in Philadelphia. The whole country was involved, not just the south. In the south, the dirty took place, the inhuman, the inhuman, that where the rest of the country preferred to look away, that's where most of the millionaires lived.
Before the slave trade, the USA was a subordinate trading partner of the major European powers; after the slave trade, it was an economic superpower.
In the Whitney Plantation Historic District, black marble steles with names engraved on them stand in memory of the victims. One name after another. Names of people who were enslaved here. Bodies that only served to increase the owner's capital. Depending on health, gender and labor, childbearing ability, fertility, valuable or worthless.A block of marble was left blank. He stands for all those who have remained nameless. A large, empty space.
Somewhere on the premises hangs the gong that marked the beginning and end of daily slave labor. A brass disc with a heavy clapper. We are invited to beat him and remember the victims, those who perished here and those who survived. It hits heavy and dark and reverberates for a long time. It's hot and humid, and most of all, it's quiet. It's intense. Although we expected disturbing things, we keep struggling to maintain our composure.
It starts raining again. Our guide Ali says urgently that it is important that we pass this on. We all feel that it is important to him and that he is right. It's not over. The half has never been told. He says it out loud: slavery and oppression are not over, it is not over. In no other country in the world are there so many people in prison as in the USA. 25% of people incarcerated worldwide are in a US prison. While there are 478 prisoners for every 100,000 US citizens of white skin, the number for black citizens is 3,023.
Of a good 35,000 museums in the United States, the Whitney Plantation Historic District is the only one that deals exclusively with the history of the enslaved plantation dwellers.
The Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve is located south of New Orleans. You can hike through the middle of the swamp on planks and explore it. We see schools of dragonflies, huge grasshoppers and two alligators. Later we get into conversation with a ranger who talks about an alligator nest that is being guarded by an alligator mother somewhere. Yeah, don't get too close. A short man who looks astonishingly like Steve Buscemi.
Suddenly, probably because we are from Germany, he begins to tell: His ancestors came from Europe. His ancestors settled in the north of the United States. His ancestors did not displace or murder native people, but they did benefit from others doing it. When ships brought tons of cotton from the plantations up the Mississippi north, passengers could travel almost free on the empty ships down south, so his ancestors moved on. He says: My ancestors never traded in slaves, nor did they keep slaves, but again, they benefited from others doing it. What do we benefit from?
Last but not least, we would like to see a second plantation. I say: you know, of course it's American how the past is dealt with here. But at least it is being dealt with, and from the point of view of the victims and the survivors, I think that's good, I had no idea and learned a lot.
Laura Plantation is recommended on TripAdvisor. Five stars, the best plantation ever: “Immerse yourself in history.” The visitor enters the Laura Plantation through the gift shop. The marketing is working, that's obvious. Shower gel, biscuits, bottle openers, towels, souvenirs of all kinds, most of them with the likeness of Laura, who lived here as a young woman, the youngest offspring of a plantation owner dynasty. An emancipated woman who soon left the plantation to live in a big city. At some point she wrote her memories of the plantation. It goes without saying that everything wasn't going well.
We are a large group, Americans from all over the country, happy to see a real plantation. Southern glory, torches in the storm. At least a selfie in front of the old oak trees, they are much younger than the plantation itself, but that doesn't matter: the mansion is magnificent. Our guide squeezes her PET water bottle into her back pocket and introduces herself to us as “Katie”: “You know whenever you have a question ...” She opens her eyes and tells stories of plantation life: “Sometimes when a slave does something got it wrong, he was shot: just like that. And nobody was punished for murder, because: A slave life was not worth much ... "
In the cellar of the house we see life-size cardboard displays of the plantation owners. It was the largest plantation in the area, so master Hinz and his wife Kunz lived like king and queen. Of course, there was a lot of work to do, of course with such a large plantation - “Hey Katie !!!” someone calls out from the group, “Say, the table here, is it original and from the time?” No, of course not , we bought that together, unimportant. But here we have planted banana trees: They thrive splendidly in our hot and humid Louisiana climate, “come on and check it out! Let us now take a look at the kitchen, the cooking barrack, here the slaves prepared their many delicious recipes that they brought to us from their old homeland - Africa -: Jambalaya, Gumbo - attention: every cobblestone we stand on here, everyone single brick, the slaves made with their hands, brick by brick. From the MUD that you got from the: MISSISSIPPI RIVER ... “I mean ... whaat?
The Laura Plantation is loved on TripAdvisor: If you've always wanted to see a major sugar beet plantation, this is the place to go. Gone with the wind.
We wait until the group has disappeared into the replica kitchen barrack. Then we walk across the plantation through the back exit and take a deep breath as we sit in the car.
The NOLA (New Orleans) series is shown in this ↣ issue. Watercolor on paper, always the back first, then the front. They are all pearls, water, water like mercury, mosquitoes on the surface of the water, the bayou, huts on stilts, with veranda and rocking chair, Mardi Gras beads, mud, mold, Spanish moss, fans, trucks with running engines, heat, swamp, a city built on swamp, a dam placed on mud, downpours, storms, destroyed houses, demolished apartment blocks, the Mississippi River, along which the millionaires lived.
Ayumi Rahn, 2018
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