All things environmental

Musings about the environment and all it touches, from education to city planning

All alone in the dark

with 2 comments

Yesterday the Vancouver Sun featured an article about rising sea levels.  Kitsilano and False Creek may flood, it said.

What would that be like?

Books about Katrina give an idea of what may be experienced – especially if it happens catastrophically, like a dike failing following a combination of storm, spring tide, and freshet.

No power, no drinking water, overcrowded shelters, no way out: a city alone in the dark, as depicted by Douglas Brinkley’s The Great Deluge.  Hard to read, hard to put down: an unflinching look at the magnitude of the disaster, the incompetence that lead to it, and the sheer absurdity of the response.  There are depictions of kindness and of people helping one another, but this isn’t a feel-good book about the human spirit: the stupidity of an incompetent emergnecy response program, and the selfishness of the authorities are unbearable to read at time.

Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers, gives a very different view of the drama: the non-fictional account of what happened to Abdulrahman Zeitoun, long time New Orleans resident, painting contractor, and American of Lebanese origins.  Zeitoun uses a old canoe to rescue people in his neighbourhood, as well as bringing food to a famished dog stranded on the second floor of a flooded house.  But, as a resident of Arab origins, he gets picked up under suspicions of – terrorism? looting?  It is never made clear, and Zeitoun ends up in a Kafkaesque nightmare.  The absurdity and cruelty of the nightmare becomes clear as he realizes that the dog he has been feeding will slowly starve, as he tries to unravel his situation with the authorities.

But even if Zeitoun is a true story about a real character, it is difficult to really know who he is.  This is why some realities are best depicted by fiction. Tom Piazza`s City of Refuge is a fictitious account of two families, one black, one white, as they struggle with surviving Katrina and rebuilding their lives. A wonderful book full of complex characters by an author who has himself lived through it.  Written a few years after Katrina, it benefits from hindsight and is a more hopeful book than the other two.

What should Vancouver do?  Abandon False Creek or Richmond?  It`s good to read these books before answering.  Vancouver is not New Orleans, it doesn`t have its history – but it still home to a lot of people, and growing.  Maybe it needs to find where its soul lives.

Blues artist Ray Bonneville wrote a song shortly after Katrina, his paean to the city.  ”But I got soul, I got heart  / All alone, I’m coming out of the dark”.  Enjoy.


Re-reading this post, I’ve been wondering why the story of Katrina affects me so.  I remember where I was: on a road trip to California, in a motel in Crescent City, a bland, soulless town on the Norther California coast.  Funny, nearby towns like Brookings or Arcata have a lot of character, but not Crescent City.  Turns out that the town was completely destroyed by a Tsunami back in 1964.  It felt a bit surreal, watching the destruction of a city on TV, while spending the night in a destroyed city.  This is when you get overwhelmed by a sense of irreplacable loss.

I also discovered another song, Mary Chapin Carpenter’s Houston.  If Bonneville’s is a musical rendition of The Great Deluge, Carpenter is closer to City of Refuge: a personal viewpoint, where the overriding feeling is disorientation, where nothing makes sense anymore – your home, your city, it’s all gone.


Written by enviropaul

August 19, 2011 at 4:45 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. hey enviropaul, I liked your idea that vancouver needs to find where its soul lives. Got me to thinking about all the different neighbourhoods. I can’t choose one…
    On a different note, we have been lucky in terms of natural disasters but there’s another problem we have — affordable housing. I can’t believe rents have gone up again!


    October 18, 2011 at 9:58 pm

  2. […] I’d go with Mary Chapin Carpenter.  Her lyrics sometimes touch on environmental issues, as in the devastation following Katrina, or the social disruption that go with climate change, as in The Age of Miracles: Greenland is […]

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