Whither New Orleans?

Darryl Lorenzo Wellington in Dissent:

New Orleans has been challenging the limits of taste for over a century now. It is the city of Mardi Gras, of decadence, romance, stylish bohemianism, and, on Bourbon Street, unadulterated raunchiness. One might think that nothing could offend the residents of New Orleans. But many are offended by the spate of disaster tours currently available from local tour companies. You’ll find brochures for them in the lobbies of upscale motels in the French Quarter and the Central Business District. Alongside flyers for the ubiquitous jazz and voodoo tours, there are foldouts blazoned with such headings as “Katrina: America’s Worst Disaster.” Open one of these, and the ad copy invites you to reexperience the tragedy, to share the pain.

The very concept of a “disaster tour” is carnivalesque and slightly criminal; it may strike outsiders as capturing the peculiar charisma of New Orleans—a city of macabre dualities. “All you needed to live the good life in New Orleans was a lawn chair and a cooler,” recalls a former resident for whom New Orleans was a relatively inexpensive city that encouraged culture, provided neighborliness, and was tolerant of individualism and extravagance. New Orleans pre-Katrina was also a city of entrenched poverty and crime statistics so high that many residents remain scarred by memories of murders committed in their own backyards. Only in New Orleans could a tragedy responsible for over one thousand deaths in Louisiana become a vaudeville show; but in this case, the local residents aren’t laughing.

“Tours by Isabelle” promises to bring you “up close” to the disaster.