Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Can you imagine 50 million pounds of frozen chicken, stuck in an enclosed warehouse, defrosting and then sitting for over a month before clean-up began? I get stuck on statistics like that. Here's a picture of the famous New Orleans trolley running along St. Charles Street.

Today I washed my hands several times unpacking books that were covered with mold. Libraries and individuals here in New Orleans and all over the country donated books to help the library here get back on its feet. We're still sorting those books, boxes and boxes of them, and every once in a while we find treasures, a first edition by D. H. Lawrence, a three-set volume history of Spain dated 1853. The New Orleans Public Library is in the process of opening six temporary branches to serve those communities most affected by the flooding, generously funded by the Gates Foundation, the Bush-Clinton Foundation and numerous corporations. The library full-time staff, originally 213, is now at 86 hard-working individuals. The volunteers I work with are cheery, well-organized residents of New Orleans who struggle with painters who don't show up, who live in FEMA trailers, and who come to the basement of the Latter Library to sort books twice a week.

This week's highlight was visiting the National World War II Museum, in the warehouse district near Riverwalk and the Mississippi River. Higgins Industries, run by the charismatic Andrew Jackson Higgins,designed innovative landing boats based on his experience in building boats used in the Gulf. He believed the boats could bring soldiers closer to the beach, but the Navy and Army wasn't convinced. He invited the military down to New Orleans to see these amphibious boats in action; when one of the PLPs was having trouble driving the boat up on the beach, he told a supervisor to "fire that s.o.b.". "But Mr. Higgins," was the reply, "we can't fire your son." This hard-nosed guy ran a boat-building factor employing 50 people before World War II, but employed up to 25,000 (including women and minorities) before war's end. More about D-Day later, and we saw the famous Enigma codebreaker machine. Time to make sandwiches and go to Rigoletto on a preview.

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