Sunday, February 24, 2013

Why New Orleans Can't Handle Its Precipitation

New Orleans is famous for its water-related difficulties. What with our year-long rainy season and all them hurricanes, the city never really dries out. It's okay, though, because it means stenches never have much of a chance to build up, and, truly, I love the rain. 

Back in Colorado, I used to sit at the living room window, elbows on the back of the couch, and just stare out into the rain. I loved the sound, the brittle staccato against the roof, like some magic had distilled the chaos of the universe into the droplets that hammered against the window, offering the world itself a baptism of renewal. I used to take walks in the rain, not caring about the cold or the wet, just because I loved the sound my feet made against the pavement, and the way the lightning lanced against the sky. It is simultaneously soothing and exhilarating and inspiring. 

Here in New Orleans, rain is a different animal entirely. It's still beautiful to me; it's pouring torrents outside right now, pounding against the windows and the exposed half of my window-unit AC, and the room is illuminated with blue fluorescence every few minutes when lighting and thunder compete for attention. But New Orleans is well-known for being (stupidly) built below sea level on ground that is sinking all the time at an almost preternatural rate. That means that when it rains here, even just a tad, the streets and sidewalks flood. 

As with many industries in New Orleans (like energy, Internet, and local government) there is no competition for the branches of the city that control the infrastructure related to drainage, which means that everything having to do with drainage is terrible, ill-maintained, and falling apart. All the pipes are incredibly old, unreliable, and clogged with God knows what, so when it rains, not only does flooding begin immediately because the runoff has no where to run off to, but the storm pumps fail spectacularly at pushing the standing water back up into the river. It's like the bilge pump on a ship, but only if the pump were 100 years old, filled to bursting with decomposing debris, buried under cement, and powered by the collective, faltering desperation of every soul aboard. 

Back in the mountains, when hydroplaning only happened, like, once a year, rain was always a welcome thing, because it meant fewer water restrictions the following summer. Here, we get more rain in a single evening than Colorado gets in a year, and it just stays. I am still happy when it rains, here, but I am also learning to be wary of it. Rain is a powerful force here, as I learned the weekend I moved into my apartment. Two days after we got here, when Mom and I were unpacking and settling me in, Tropical Storm Lee struck. It wasn't a big storm, but New Orleans' standards, but my house is 100 years old, and I don't think it had ever been re-roofed. So when the rain got serious, the bathroom ceiling simply...surrendered. It just gave up, and collapsed. We're not talking some put-a-pan-and-towels-out leakage; we're talking the rafters flipping broke and the whole ceiling was suddenly a skylight. And because it's New Orleans, it took weeks to get repaired. 

That fall, there were some other tropical storms. One morning, I remember, my boyfriend-of-the-time woke me up, drowsily complaining that it was raining in the bedroom. Turns out the ceiling above my bed had developed the ability to cry. This happened, also, in the living room, kitchen, and porch. I was living in a semi-aquatic environment, like a frog, or some species of turtles.

Since those storms, my landlord re-roofed the whole building and repaired the external siding. Now, during storms like this, where it inexplicably starts spitting hail the size of golf balls, I no longer worry about waking up in the midst of an interior ocean. In the meantime, though, I get to wander around the French Quarter in the rain, wearing a trench coat and fedora like a legitimate badass, instead of a middle school teacher who just pretends to be one on the weekends. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Down at dat Mardi Gras!

It's Mardi Gras Day here in New Orleans, and Mom, Dad, and I have pictures for you poor souls so far from Carnival. 

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