The Eternal Note

By Tom Peters |

The skies were relatively clear—but hot and humid, of course--when I flew into New Orleans midday on Friday. Even from the air I could detect something different about New Orleans. Quite a few of the homes and businesses still have bright blue tarps covering part or all of the roofs. I also could spot some lines of white mobile homes forming impromptu trailer parks--FEMAvilles.


By the time I was on the ground, there was an accident on the interstate that serves as the normal route from the airport to the downtown and French Quarter, so our shuttle driver took an old route through the neighborhoods. 

The economic aftermath of the hurricane was much more visible than wind damage. I saw several strip malls that were built in the 90s and were obviously going concerns prior to Katrina, that now are all boarded up. Many of homes down the side streets were boarded up, too. Several had FEMA trailers parked on the front lawns, where families were living while waiting to repair and rebuild. Business outlets that you rarely see fail--in part because these businesses do such a good job of selecting retail locations--are all boarded up. McDonalds and Walgreens, for example. 


It may take years for both the large and the small effects of Katrina to be overcome. While waiting for the elevator from the tenth floor of my hotel, I looked out the window. On the outside ledge sat a matted tuft of pink fiberglass insulation and a few shards of glass. 

That thing that Matthew Arnold called “the eternal note of sadness” always has been discernible amidst the revelry and riot of New Orleans. It's just easier to detect now. 


Once I got down to the central business district, however, another sense emerges—of vitality in rebuilding. Construction and renovation is everywhere. Granted, New Orleans has a certain slow pace that must be maintained, but the sense of energy was palpable.  


Friday afternoon I caught the tail end of the Library Journal Movers and Shakers luncheon. Unfortunately, I arrived too late to hear the keynote speaker, who several people commented was excellent. In the late 1990s John Wood left his position as a member of the senior management team at Microsoft to create Room to Read, a fast-growing nonprofit organization dedicated to creating schools and libraries throughout Asia. His new book, Leaving Microsoft to Change the World, is scheduled to be published in September. 


Also, hearing about the innovative and courageous work of the movers and shakers being honored always makes me proud to be a librarian. I'm also proud that ALA Annual is the first major post-Katrina convention in New Orleans.