Louisiana Purchase?

My skin started to prickle as I drove into the underpass. Of course I was secure in my car even if it was dark and I was in a new neighborhood but, I was still thinking of my evening conversation. That guy on the bridge was there for seven days.



His name was Freddie and I was driving home from a program put together by the Humanities Council. The focus was on the five year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina and two authors were spotlighted. I live hundreds of miles from New Orleans and while I had an idea about the impact of the storm, what I discovered listening to these authors was new and disturbing.

I’ve been to Louisiana. I remember going through the drive-through daquiri place on my first visit. And that there were still pockets outside of Lafayette where the ESL programs were teaching kids who learned French as their first language. Truly, it was the most different place that I’d been inside the borders of my own country. But it was so foreign, that when the hurricane hit, I didn’t relate. I saw CNN. I read about it. I’ve never visited the 9th ward but I heard about evacuees making their way to Phoenix and Los Angeles and Nashville and Denver. Our church even had a mission project to support a congregation in the same spot.

The faces in the photos are black and old and female and those of children. This natural act of God did not cut across racial and gender lines in a natural way. Rather the devastation disproportionally affected lines that had already been drawn by the community there.

The stark beauty of the work created by Hogue and by Whitaker is two-fold. First, Hogue introduces us to individuals by telling their stories in their own words but she does so with such grace that we refer to it as documentary poetry. The corresponding Ross photos accentuate the words. Whittaker on the other hand approaches the topic from a historical perspective. How did the 9th ward come to be so black and so female and so old with handfuls of poor, white, single mothers thrown in? Do we even use the word segregated any longer?

And while we all support the notion that acts of God are not about race, this one brought race to the forefront. There’s a blessing in that for all of us. If you have room on your holiday list for a book, When the Water Came or Hurricane Katrina: America’s Unnatural Disaster will enlighten you and cause you to think – perhaps about things that we haven’t thought about often enough.

Louisiana Mustard Greens Au Vin
From “The Justin Wilson Cookbook”
Serves six to eight
  • 4 bunches fresh mustard greens
  • 2 to 3 cups sauterne wine
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Fresh green hot pepper or Louisiana Hot Sauce

Clean greens wells. Cover bottom of pot (preferably an iron pot) with about 1/8 inch olive oil. Place greens in pot and pour wine over them. Put one whole pod of green hot pepper or one teaspoon of Louisiana Hot Sauce (cayenne) in pot. Salt to taste. Cook until greens are tender and seasoning has permeated them. If additional liquid is needed, add water. (When I first posted, I hadn’t made this. Tonight I did and enjoyed it but it’s a strong flavor.)

Leave a comment


  1. Having grown up in the Cajun area of SE Texas, near the Louisiana border, I am very familiar with the areas you spoke about, and the “other-world” feeling about N’Orleans and environs. Katrina was a disaster of immense proportions, and one that will always resonate. It has already become iconic. I have a feeling that 100 years or more from now, people will still talk about Katrina in the same way they still talk about the SF earthquake, or the Johnstown flood, or the Coconut Grove fire.

    Justin Wilson was a fixture in my home as I was growing up – but as a comedian. We didn’t come to know about his cooking until much later in his life (and mine – long after we left Texas). BTW, the greens recipe would work just as well with collards or turnip greens. And, genuine “Tabasco” sauce (made in Itasca, LA),would be much better than just cayenne! I’m the only person in my house who likes greens, so I don’t get to eat them very often – may I come over to your house? 😀

  2. I thought you were in Australia *scratches head* …

  3. I visited New Orleans in December 2007, but didn’t do any of the tourist crawl around the ravaged area – for some reason, that never sat well with me. Fingers crossed the city keeps coming back to life and blazing brightly again!

    • I think they have a good start on the part that has always provided the vibrance but it’s hard to say about the other areas. I have to wonder how it would’ve be remedied if it’d been in an upper income parish.

  4. Quite profound questions, you have raised, Tammy. I knew about the socio-economic profile of the area affected, but not the female angle. One of the cruellest accidents of recent times, made far worse by slow response times and the fact that even before the hurricane, many of these women had the hard end of life.

  5. Can you explain a little more about the guy on the bridge for seven days?

  6. I think hurricane katrinia is part of why I had to get out of working in insurance. It was just so devastating and so many people I worked with couldn’t relate to being poor because that’s what I saw while handling auto claims after the storm: how the storm destroyed so much more in relation to the poor (even outside of race) than the more well to do.

    • I can imagine that seeing that first hand would take its toll.

      • Jessie, I respect you so much for being true to yourself and for mentioning this. A gesture such as that has incredible impact. Your quiet, unassuming ‘telling’ of such a powerful gesture will cause any of us to look at ourselves. Blessings galore, beautiful soul.

  7. Great reminder that just because other natural disasters have become the current cause celebre that does not mean all is well and good. The theme seems to be these disasters seem to hit those that can least afford the upset, their lives are finally balanced.

  8. I’m going to make note of those books – they both sound like worthwhile reads.

  9. Even after these years have passed, I still hear heartbreaking stories of Hurricane Katrina’s wrath. Such a hard and sad time for all involved. Blessings,Kathleen

  10. Tammy, this was so well approached and written and shared. Thank you, for those of us who may never get to be there and see what you’ve seen or hear what you’ve heard. You have helped!
    The idea of documentary poetry does sound wonderful. Do you think it might be something that you would like to do as well?

  11. I went to New Orleans on business about 6 months after Katrina. The French Quarter looked the same, but there were evacuees from the 9th Ward still living in the hotel where I stayed. A PR guy drove me around. There was a black line along the curb. He called it “the tattoo.” It was left by the polluted flood waters. As we drove toward the 9th Ward, the tattoo climbed higher and higher, and when you couldn’t see it anymore, you knew the place had been underwater.

    I’ve seen floods and I’ve seen hurricanes, but I’d never seen anything like Katrina.

  12. I haven’t been to New Orleans since the hurricane. The tragedy of it all still exists but because it’s not the focus of the media, we hear little about the recovery of the people.
    Sad. But you followed with a recipe I would sure like to try. Ending on a good note.

  13. I’d love to visit Lousiana!

  14. oops…Louisiana 🙂

  15. It is so sad what happened with hurricane Katrina.

    I’d love to visit Louisiana. Thanks for the lovely recipe.



  16. Thank you for the book recommendations. It’s good to be reminded about what happened and how it affected so many. I will pick one up.

  17. Thank you for reminding us about our fellow Americans down in New Orleans. We sometimes forget that we still got to make that right, and that something like this can happen to any town in america, and we need to help each other out. Thank you, Tammy!

  18. Isn’t it true, Tammy, that poverty draws that black line (thanks, Todd Pack) long before any emergency happens. We just keep making policies that ignore it. The growth is silent and demeaning. The results are our handiwork of indifference.

    Thankfully people are lifting the carpet by writing books. However, it takes people like the two you heard to shine the light.

  19. YUMMY. That sounds so good. I’m so hungry right now.

  20. There is a great lesson and blessing in that. And I’ll have to check out the books you’ve recommended.
    Great post as always! 🙂

  21. I’m very intrigued by documentary poetry, and shall seek it out. the stories of Katrina need to be told and told; our response to this tragedy was a disgrace. and you are right with your point about how the disaster would have been handled—had it happened somewhere else.

  22. I drove through Louisiana once, and I know what you mean about it being different. I saw poverty there like I didn’t think existed in the USA. And then you give us a recipe for mustard greens, which I adore. I fell in love with them while living in Texas – they are particularly fantastic with white beans in the winter.


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