Levee Break, Katrina, New Orleans

Have Courage in Your Convictions

In another week, I’ll be visiting New Orleans for the third time. Last night I watched The Big Uneasy (2010), a documentary about the reprehensible tragedy that befell the city when Katrina hit in 2005. It covers the willful incompetence of the Army Corp of Engineers going back to the 1950s, their vindictive opposition to post-Katrina investigations, and some of the shameful public attitudes about New Orleans and its protection & restoration post-Katrina. I’d like to say something about those attitudes.

One of the things people ask about places like Katrina is, “why do people live in a place like that? If you do, why should other people pay to protect you, or rescue you after something happens?” Which, fair enough. These are reasonable questions.

There are great justifications for protecting a city like New Orleans. Not just its history and culture, but its economic importance. As mentioned in the film, most great port cities are at water risk of various kinds, since they have to be at or below sea level in order to function.

But here’s the thing. All of that boils down to two questions:

  1. should we protect New Orleans?
  2. should we help it recover after a disaster?

And the problem is this: those questions have already been answered. The decisions were Yes, and Yes. But the follow-through was lacking. The infrastructure was shit. The Mississippi River Gulf Outlet plan was shit. People have known these projects were shit since before they began. But no one with any power cares. And it seems like things are continuing the same as before.

And that’s the problem: no one with any power has any courage behind their convictions.

If you think New Orleans doesn’t deserve protection or recovery, have the courage to just say so. Have the courage to say, “Sorry, we’re not fixing things. You gotta move.”

Because the alternative, smiling and nodding and promising fixes that don’t do the job because your heart isn’t really in it — that causes immeasurable death and destruction.

But … well, being mediocre is kinda just what works for everyone who matters, so there you go.

Umbrellas of Cherbourg

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

I’d been meaning to watch The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964) for a few years now, and finally did a couple nights ago. What a lovely little artifact of a film. The music and colors are delightful, the story is romantic and tragic, and the characters memorable. It got me thinking about communication in relationships, fear, youth, and representation of emotional awareness in art. What would we tell our younger selves if we could? Would they listen? How do the emotional flaws and misguided agendas of adults visit unnecessary pain on the young? How do the emotional flaws of artists perpetuate poor understandings of emotional self-knowledge? What’s the line between “emotional flaws” and “immature?”

Spoilers below…

I’m going to be 39 later this year. For a number of reasons, I’m a bit of a late bloomer, but I’ve done and learned a lot in my 30s. There are things I wish I could tell my younger self, but would I listen? Maybe it would depend on what the advice was, the intentions of its giver, and how it was given. And, granted, maybe I still wouldn’t listen…

I feel like the tragedy of Umbrellas of Cherbourg is one of non-communication, but it is shepherded by adults with flawed agendas. The two youths in love must be separated, and the adults never take their love as a reasonable thing. If two people are in love, might you not counsel them on communication? On precautions? On how to take care of each other’s fears when separated? On the challenges of long-term relationships or long-distance relationships?

No, if you’re an adult in this movie, apparently you just assume young love must be tragic and end, giving way to serious, sacrificial adult relationships later on, so you don’t help the young at all, you shepherd them straight into tragedy, because hey, that’s how life is.

The girl might not even have gotten pregnant if the adults in this film were halfway decent. But no, the adults are just as immature as the children.

The girl’s mother cares about her daughter, and wants the best for her, but instead of focusing on that raw care and goodwill for her daughter as a human, she focuses on a proxy for that: her imagined set of guidelines for what a young life should include. She never imparts any actually useful advice for any situation her daughter is in, she tries to create alternate situations that she is comfortable with.

The boy’s aunt cares about him, but is obsessed with her own attachment to him and her own loneliness, playing the martyr. She doesn’t impart any actually useful advice for the situations her son is in, she only considers his situation in so much as it applies to her own life.

I guess I feel like most people probably see this film as a straightforward story of completely normal youthful romantic tragedy, but I see it as a story of sick, selfish adults whose own agendas make them emotionally blind, neglectful, and abusive to their youthful wards.

People act as if they will somehow shield their children from pain, or save them from the mistakes they themselves made. But doing this only causes more pain, or at least, alleviates no pain. Your kids will make their own mistakes. That is the inevitable thing. Better to help them process the pain and navigate the situations present in their lives, rather than try to route them to other situations you imagine will be “better.”

The film, I loved. I loved that it got me thinking about these things, I loved the way the music never stopped moving, never felt forced, but felt playful and fresh throughout. I loved the acting, I loved the characters — the film itself is such a gem.