Our City of Ruins, Our Belle Ville
11"x11" oil on linen 2005
NBC's Dateline producers movingly combined scenes of the destruction and the suffering of the victims of Hurricane Katrina with Bruce Springsteen's song "My City of Ruins" at the close of their look last night (Thursday, 9/1) on the hurricane devastation in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. It is a brillant, sad, and stirring song, which Springsteen originally wrote for the economically-gutted hometown of his imagination: Asbury Park, N.J. It changed meanings when he included it in his performances after the World Trade Center's destruction on 9/11/01 and on his album exploring the pain of that day, "The Rising." On screen last night his words and somber chords honored yet another group of sufferers who have seen their city ruined. And its our city too, our belle ville, our most European and artistically fecund city that has been drowned. It is our neighbors who have died or had their lives washed away. This disaster is bigger than insurance companies, bigger than the Federal Emergency Management Agency, bigger than the governments of Lousiana, Mississippi, and Alabama can handle. To "rise up" as Springsteen calls at the end of the song, for New Orleans to rise up, we will all need to help. I know that many of you feel as helpless as I do right now. One thought of how we could connect and help raise our belle ville:
1. The emergency agencies coordinating care quadrant out the disaster area into 45 or so sections and assign each quadrant to one of our non-affected states.
2. Then relief-minded groups and individuals in each state could focus their attention on one quadrant of the disaster.
3. State coordinators could then help community groups identify and adopt a block that they will commit to help until it is rebuilt or reestablished someplace else.
4. Members of those community groups could then adopt a family from that block to walk with them and support them in the reestablishment of their homes, livelihoods, and lives.
Imagine the returnees seeing a sign by their flooded home when they are finally able to return. This block has been adopted by your friends in Seattle or Los Angeles or Brooklyn, call us for help.
I've always dreamed of celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans, but it's now going to take some rising up work to now be able to do that. Artists, there are going to be a lot of homes to paint. It's time for a city-raising.