I am back.
For the last five days I have been in bayous of Louisiana covering the oil spill for the newspaper. We drove to the southern tip of Plaquemines Parish to a town called Venice – which has nothing but water in common with its with its Italian counterpart.
Venice is ground zero for the millions of gallons of oil that have spilled thirty miles offshore. If the winds keep blowing hard out of the southwest Venice is doomed. Venice is 80 miles from the nearest Walmart. There are no grocery stores in Venice. No mall. No movie theatre. No stop lights. No wifi. No Dunkin’ Donuts. No downtown. Two sit-down restaurants. One road in and out of town.
That’s it. The town’s only motel was full of Coast Guard officials. We slept in a trailer. We mostly ate granola bars, until the convenient store ran out. Then one of the restaurants ran out of chicken and Diet Coke. My iphone freaked out. Even when I could get a signal it did really weird things, like reminding me repeatedly that I had new voicemail features.
Venice was wiped off the map by Katrina. There are still overturned mobile homes and beached boats around and mountains of debris just south of town. Most people live in RV trailers or mobile homes. Everything seems to be painted beige or dirty white. The levies block a view of water – which could make the town somewhat panoramic.
While I was interviewing local fisherman — shrimpers, crabbers, oystermen and guides — I was amazed at these folks’ mental fortitude. Katrina was bad, but at least they knew their livelihood had not been destroyed forever. This threatens their generations-old way of life forever. It’s Armageddon time.
Me, I would be totally freakin’ out. I would be in a frenzied mania. I know this because I have been through several hurricanes and my bipolar went through the roof (which actually had a tree on it after Hurricane Frances). It took months for me to level off. I would vascillate between desolate/desperate crying jags and frenzied, frenetic cleanups with chainsaws, hammer drills and my Red Wing steel-toed boots.
After one hurricane, I got so fed up with the hurricane panels on my windows that I went out one night with a coal miners headlight on my forehead and took them down in the dark, twisting those freakin’ wing nuts until my fingers bled.
These folks in Plaquemines Parish are mad, anxious and scared but they are rational. I would doing a Chicken-Little about now — running in circles clucking that the sky is falling. As the oil bobbed closer and closer to their bayous, they stayed level headed. Where do they get this mental fortitude? Is mental fitness like physical fitness: the more pain you endure the stronger you are?
Maybe it is in the Cajun DNA. Maybe generations of disasters have made the Cajun more mentally fit. Hell, Venice itself made me depressed. Even though it was sunny, I felt a wave of seasonal affective disorder taking over.
I admire the heck out of these people. There are no therapists here and no pharmacy to fill a prescription for antidepressants. If I was a researcher I would go there and study the mental health among the Canjun.
I want what they have.