The House on First Street, by Julia Reed
Posted on October 18, 2009
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I pulled out another New Orleans book because my friend Andrew just blogged a manifesto
about the place, and it made me miss it. And this piece seemed a bit less hurricane-tragic than the others I have read:
The House of First Street: My New Orleans Story
, by Julia Reed, is another New Orleans journalist’s account of life before and after Katrina. It doesn’t have near the emotional intensity of Heart Like Water
or 1 Dead in Attic
. (Although Reed seems to be a friend of Chris Rose, who wrote the latter.) In fact, Reed spends half the book complaining about the nightmare rehab job on her historic house in the Garden District – before the hurricane. While I found it all rather tedious, I ought to keep it in mind the next time I think that I would like to live in a Victorian that has some personality.
Where Clark and Rose wrote of heart-wrenching moments and broken relationships, Reed wrote about how food and booze kept every going. OK. Where Rose (I think) wrote about randomly breaking down in tears one day at a gas station – which no one seemed to find odd – Reed wrote about gaining the “Katrina 15”. Clark wrote about staying in the city and desperately dodging the cops that were trying to clear the place out. Reed wrote about asking Newsweek for a press pass to get home, because she was afraid the one from Vogue wouldn’t quite impress that National Guard.
Reed knew that she sounded like Marie Antoinette in her dispatches to Vogue, because her editor told her so. She knows that she was very lucky, but I still feel like the story was less about New Orleans and more about her building a newlywed middle-aged life in a big house that happened to be in that city at that time. I guess that’s fair enough – she does call it “My New Orleans Story”. The epilogue was about how her house was robbed five days before the manuscript for the book was due and she hadn’t backed it up and had to write the whole thing over again.
She has a couple of interesting accounts. One was the rumors about typhoid and the plague going around. They were patently untrue, but kept many people from coming home. Another was a description of a doctor friend of hers that set up camp in the French Quarter to help people because those in need couldn’t find the official free clinic that had been put together in the basement of a hotel. He pulled it off because someone – I think it was one of the National Guard groups – gave him access to a pharmacy they had on lockdown.
Those brief pieces of the picture I didn’t have before were few and far between. To sum it up, “A New Orleans story for readers of Vogue” probably isn’t too bad.