My first poetry publication!
Almost eleven years ago, I was in a car on my way to Baton Rouge to wait out a hurricane for what I thought was a long weekend. I had a backpack with a few t-shirts and some shorts, my laptop, and, for some reason I still can’t explain, a photo album. As I wrote last year, and as most of the world knows, New Orleans flooded, causing the 80% of the city to go underwater.
Now the situation is reversed. Huge swaths of the Baton Rouge are underwater. Tens of thousands of people are displaced. And in the coverage I’ve seen, many of the comments are unflinchingly cruel, hauntingly familiar, and smugly ignorant. I’d like to address some of the general comments here where someone may learn something, rather than in a comment section because arguing with idiots online is a futile exercise.
That’s what you get for living there.
NO ONE DESERVES TO LOSE EVERYTHING IN A FLOOD. That shouldn’t have to be said, but apparently it does. No one deserves this kind of destruction and loss any more than the victims of earthquakes or tornadoes. For some reason though, we see floods as both predictable and avoidable, and therefore the people affected by them somehow brought it on themselves. There are other implications in this statement, but I’ll address them further down.
What did you expect?
I’m sure many of the victims expected that they were being smart by buying and building houses in areas that hadn’t flooded in a century. I’m sure they expected to be safe and dry and protected from hurricanes.
They didn’t expect two feet of rain in 72 hours.
They didn’t expect the Tickfaw River to rise 18 feet in 12 hours, or for 4 rivers to break previous flood records.
They didn’t expect to become stranded for over 24 hours on major highways.
They certainly didn’t expect to deal with the second 24+ rain event this year.
Why do people keep building in flood plains?
Fun fact: not all of the state of Louisiana is a flood plain. While we are part of a massive river delta, and we do suffer alarming coastal erosion, those weren’t really the issues here. We’ve had an exceedingly wet spring, followed by a dramatic rainfall event.
People are saying this is “unprecedented,” but what about Katrina?
I was going to be snarky here about Baton Rouge and New Orleans being different cities, but that doesn’t serve as well as actual information.
According to google Maps, Baton Rouge and New Orleans are about 80 miles apart. For reference, New York and Philadelphia are 90 miles apart. While they are both on the Mississippi River, there’s no doubt that Baton Rouge, being farther upriver and farther from the coast is higher ground and less prone to flooding. Baton Rouge did not flood during Hurricane Katrina.
It is also important to notice that New Orleans was not flooded by rainfall. The city was actually on the “better” side of the storm (for those of you not from hurricane prone areas, yes, there is a better side of the storm to be on). What caused the flooding in New Orleans was the failure of levees near Lake Pontchartrain (as opposed to the ones along the Mississippi River) to withstand the coastal surge that accompanied the storm because they were improperly constructed. In one case, a barge broke free of its moorings and smashed a levee wall. The levee issues and the ultimate causes and responsibility for the flood are complicated issues and are still being argued today.
The important distinction is that Baton Rouge is suffering a catastrophic and unexpected natural disaster (like a tornado), whereas New Orleans suffered a catastrophic and unexpected infrastructure failure (like a bridge collapsing). Katrina did cause devastating destruction as a natural disaster, but that was seen further east, in Slidell, Mississippi, and Alabama.
How can I help?
This is the other kind of comment in the comment section. The Gambit posted a great list of places you can donate goods and money. The five-day forecast for Baton Rouge shows a 50-80% chance for more rain. If you can help, the need is real.
Well, it didn’t win or place in the photo contest, but I’m still extremely proud of this photo. I chased this dragonfly for ages and took several photos (I posted another a few weeks ago). In color, this one is actually pretty drab, but on a whim, I converted it to black & white. That looked pretty cool; the structure of the wings popped and the details were no longer lost in a sea of dull green. I added some sepia tones for warmth and sharpened everything a bit more and ended up with this. I think it’s one of my best.
So I bought this book today. It’s a French-English/English-French pocket dictionary.
98 years ago tomorrow, a WWI sailor stationed in Pauillac, France wrote his name in the dictionary. That’s pretty cool. But then I saw this:
It’s a bit hard to make out in the photo, but it reads
“Juillet 7, 18
Melle (Mlle?) Suzanne Hosteingt
I love you
I lovv you”
Did they use this dictionary to talk with each other, translating piecemeal as needed? Did they manage to fall in love, despite not sharing a language? It looks like she even practiced writing her (new? soon-to-be-new?) name below his own— with a slight mistake likely the result of habit, considering her maiden name.
Speaking of her name: She’s titled Mademoiselle (Melle/Mlle), but is Hosteingt French? German? Dutch? I haven’t the slightest clue, but it makes it hard to know if she was from the area or a nurse or something else.
And finally, on the front endpaper:
By this point, I was curious to know more about their story. So I did a little extra research and was able to find Wusthoff’s draft registration:
Hometown boy, cool! Born Jan 31, 1895 enlisted 1917, single, with a mother relying on him for financial support. Worked as a laborer for Gulf Bay Co. 5’7 with blue eyes and light hair with a slender build. Now let’s move on to census records. Well, he made it back home, which is great. But then I see something unexpected.
1930 census, spouse: Louise Wusthoff. Louise?
Son: Charles F. Wusthoff, Jr, born 1922.
Where’s Suzanne? What happened to her?
Did they ever actually get married? Were the irreconcilable differences? Was she killed in the war, or maybe in the flu epidemic? Did she start going by her middle name, which happened to be Louise?
So now I have a love story and a mystery. And maybe a tragedy. I’m not sure what happened to Suzanne, but I know Mr. Wusthoff died in 1971. He’s buried with his wife Louise in Metairie Cemetery. He also kept the dictionary. It was recently sold in a estate sale, possibly a result of the death of his grandson in 2013.
I’d love to know the details of what happened, but that story is probably lost to history.
I entered a local photo contest this week. It’s my first, so I’m not holding out too much hope, but it’s still exciting.
I know some of my followers are local photographers, so if you’re interested, here’s the link: