The Times-Picayune's James Varney tries to answer a question that I'm sure a lot of people are asking today, "Will New Orleans Survive?" (reprinted in its entirety under the cut because NOLA.com's permalinks aren't working):
On the southern fringe of New Orleans' City Park there is a live oak with a branch that dips low, goes briefly underground, and comes up the other side still thriving.
It's ancient and gnarled, this tree, and filtered sunglight slants through its crown at dusk. It's a sublime thing.
When we talk about these majestic items that dot New Orleans' landscape we say, "is," but we may mean, "was." The reports are still scattered, the news from the ground still incomplete, but Hurricane Katrina may have annihilated New Orleans.
It looks bad to everyone. "It's impossible for us to say how many structures can be salvaged," Gov. Kathleen Blanco said late Tuesday. But can the birthplace of jazz truly be wiped from the face of the earth?
New Orleans may yet surprise. Too often the city is written off as a whiskey nirvana, where one guzzles Pimms cups at Napoleon House in the French Quarter at night, and eggs and grits at the Camellia Grill in the Riverbend at sunrise.
In truth, however, New Orleans is as sublime as it is Rabelaisian. For example - and this is a thing few tourists know - the French Quarter, home of Bourbon Street and jazz and possessor of a global reputation for parties, is in fact a National Park. Now and then, through the spokes of a horse-drawn carriage taking honeymooners up Royal Street, one can spot the distinctive, "Smokey," hat of a park ranger telling a more earnest visitor some genuine history.
That could include the iconic statue of Andrew Jackson, rearing back on his mustang between the Mississippi River and the St. Louis Cathedral. At its base - and this is a thing few locals know - are the words, "Our Union: It Must and Shall be Preserved."
Jackson said that as president, and his toast was first carved into the statue by Union troops during the Civil War, a reminder to the former Confederate citadel that even one of the South's greatest sons was, at heart, a Union man.
Of course, the locals in 1864 didn't cotton to that sentiment. Legend holds the ladies residing in the Pontalba, the graceful brick apartment buildings that flank Jackson Square and are reputedly the oldest such edifices in the United States, would dump their human waste pots on the caps of officers strolling underneath.
Fortunately - and how odd that word sounds in association with New Orleans today - the French Quarter was still mostly dry, largely intact, late Tuesday. In another Big Easy quirk, the impossibly charming neighborhood Uptown, which is hard against the Mississippi River, is one of the highest spots in the city.
The true highest spot is an upriver paddlewheel ride away: Monkey Hill
in the New Orleans zoo. No one reportedly sought refuge there as
Katrina surged about the city, although it might not have been that bad
a spot since it's at the opposite end of the zoo from the king cobra
and the Komodo dragon.
The zoo itself is another example of how New Orleans, for all its famous decay, can survive. What was once dubbed an "animal ghetto" was turned around by the city and was, until the dreaded "Big One" grazed the city, a bucolic spot.
Other areas, too, may weather the storm. Certainly the fishing spots in the bayous of eastern New Orleans will remain; the fate of the gorgeous trellis of live oak branches arching over St. Charles Avenue is less certain.
Those 19th century trees are one symbol of New Orleans. A 20th century symbol, William Faulkner, was first published in The Times-Picayune while he was living in the city and writing his first novel. He called the city, "a courtesan whose hold is strong upon the mature, and to whose charm the young must respond."
Now, in the 21st century, the courtesan cries for help. The response from young and old will decide if she lives or dies.