New Orleans & the Levees

I confess I drove to New Orleans to escape the northeastern winter.  But I was also eager to explore new territory.  For decades, I'd photographed the arid landscape of the American West.  But here was something else, a city that is surrounded by water, that is 54% below sea level, that is sinking, that will always be at risk of flooding. New Orleans is a city that must be fortified. Since the French settled there in the early 1700s, levees have been built to defend against the surrounding lakes and wetlands, and against the Mississippi which flows right through the city.  From most points in New Orleans, you see more wall than water. 

 But when I wander up onto the levee walls, I discover that they do more than play a defensive role. They offer fresh air, a broad view of the river, and a chance to mingle.  In terms of tonnage shipped, New Orleans is the largest port in the country.  I take in oil refineries, cranes and immense container ships silently plying the waters. And I marvel at the human promenade before me.  New Orleans is mad for display. People stroll and strut on the levees, inviting a response. I feel like a casting director with too many choices. I give a nod and a stranger in bold color says yes. We all know the city is famous for its extravagant parades. But, for me, the serendipitous encounter on the levee is more thrilling than working the Mardi Gras parade.  

I fear for the city's safety, while I celebrate its freewheeling spirit.