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My Fellow Americans:
The enthusiasm to help New Orleans has already started to wane. The mayor of New Orleans asked today (September 30, 2005) for a hand up not a hand out. NPR Radio had a story about how the front-page story worthiness of Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans’ efforts to recover from its all but total devastation is getting stale and pushing it further and further back in the paper.
This is a natural phenomenon. People tend to push pain back in the recesses of their minds in order to protect themselves from the dangers of a long-term downward spiral. Monuments and memorials get erected to serve as ways to compartmentalize feelings of pain and sorrow and to establish places to go where, from time-to-time, these feeling can get vented without remaining at the forefront of one’s every waking moment. In the same way, people often mark time by annually observing a “moment of silence” on the exact anniversary of a particular tragedy.
This is not what needs to be done with regard to the aftermath and recovery of the areas of our country so damaged by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.; most specifically the city of New Orleans. The monies being allocated, collected and distributed in the grand effort to rebuild New Orleans and the other Gulf Coast areas will have a great effect. But something very special beyond that type of assistance is needed now and will be for a long time to come. This special assistance of which I speak would not just be for New Orleans and not just for those who hale from there but for all of us who are frustrated in only being able to offer some money or to swing a hammer for a few days of building temporary replacement houses that will be shipped to the Gulf States or other such activates that get done and then that’s it; they’re done. We all know that nature and man can wreck all kinds of havoc on any of us at any time and that even though New Orleans is perhaps more vulnerable than other areas, it could have been any of us who might be suffering and in such need as our brothers and sisters in New Orleans are now.
I propose that while the levees are being repaired in and around New Orleans, and while the rebuilding of businesses and homes in New Orleans is still in its most embryonic stages, that each of New Orleans’ sister cities, by which I mean every city in America, every town, village and hamlet, bring together their own restaurateurs, realtors, artists of all stripes, musicians, dancers painters, sculptors, photographers, actors, all of them, along with architects and designers, and mission-critical planners and organizers, and plan and develop, with all the speed seen during World War II, when ships and planes were produced faster than anyone ever believed they could be, in order to save our way of life and our freedom from the very real threat Nazism and Fascism presented to the world, and create stand-alone buildings that will be, at once, a restaurant, a jazz club and a cultural center, and call every one of them New Orleans.
I ask these leaders in the restaurant and hospitality community, the real estate development field, the architectural and design professionals and let me add the travel and transportation experts, to move quickly, before the impetus is gone, and to set these New Orleans Oasis in place; to populate them where ever possible with unemployed chefs and restaurant staff people from the city of New Orleans, with musicians from that city and to otherwise make a place where New Orleans can stay vibrant while its home base gets rebuilt and where the rest of us, who are not from New Orleans, can keep the attachment alive for those of us who have had the pleasure of having experienced the Crescent City, or to get a little taste on a regular basis of what it was like and what it will be like again.
Let the big cities like New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Chicago and the like make appropriately sized facilities; big. Smaller communities can make smaller centers. It might be a sandwich shop, but it will be one as would be seen and tasted in New Orleans. But get them open now, without delay, as temporary centers with all the life that New Orleans itself can not yet muster and present, and then, later, when there has been time to complete the buildings, in whatever glorious forms they may take, transfer those initial microcosmic replicas of New Orleans into what will be their permanent homes.
The menus will be like the menus in New Orleans. The jazz will be like the jazz in New Orleans. The décor will be like you would find in New Orleans. If New Orleans chefs can be brought in and employed along with their restaurant staffs, that would be even better; so that they can stay in practice and continue earning while their own restaurants are being revived. Jazz musicians can play; artists can exhibit their work; and the cultural aspects, so unique to that part of our country, can be given a place to be experienced all across our country.
These New Orleans centers will be cultural institutions with not-for-profit tax status the funding for which will come from each local community. The surpluses generated from their restaurants, jazz clubs and programs, if any, will be directed to the ongoing rebuilding and relief programs that will surely be needed for decades if not for ever in New Orleans. A national association of these centers can be put in place to serve as a clearing house for information, staffing, traveling shows and exhibits and other coordinative assistance that will help the local centers succeed.
Everyone will be included. Get me the big design houses from the movies and theme parks to make these installations look the part; lighting, graphics, costumes, everything. And do not be afraid that they will cut into the business of other local clubs and restaurants. What ever might be lost to the new eatery in town will be made up for by the great cross pollinating of ideas and creativity so that everyone will come out ahead. It may be the wrong analogy to use so soon after the horrible flooding, but it is still a truth that a rising tide raises all the boats on the water.
And don’t think that these centers called New Orleans will ever substitute for a vacation trip to the real New Orleans. Who would ever say that eating dinner in an Italian, Chinese, Japanese or a Mexican restaurant could ever substitute for a trip to those countries?
Only time will tell, but I can see where these New Orleans of America can remain in place as permanent reminders of how we all help each other when help is needed. These New Orleans centers would be living and breathing monuments to the greatness of our country; really to the greatness of our people; who eventually do the right thing; who are able to and who really do lead ourselves out of disaster and who can and do over come whatever mistakes that might get made before we finally get it right.
New Orleans will thrive and the New Orleans centers across the United States will eventually be the encouraging factor to get more of us to visit Louisiana and to see New Orleans than might ever have done so before.
Please spread the word and help make it happen. We need neither government directives nor a permission slip.
Plainview, New York