New Orleans

It was more than 20 years ago that I visited New Orleans, the capital of jazz. On the airplane from Chicago to New Orleans, I remember seeing the cityscape of New Orleans and the mouth of the Mississippi far in the distance and, directly below, a line passing like a thread over a large lake. “What on earth is that?” I thought. “A bridge?”

Around that time there was a very impressive television commercial for Honda in which Louis Armstrong, with his mellow voice, sang “What a Wonderful World” against the background of a car and the Florida Keys bridges stretching in the southern tip of Florida from Miami to Key West. For some reason, I had a longing to actually see that scenery.

A cabin attendant explained to me that the lake’s name was Lake Pontchartrain and that the bridge, the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, was the longest in the world with a total length of about 38 km. I stared in wonder at this structure that seemed to stretch across the middle of the lake. According to the explanation, the lake is relatively shallow.

Upon landing in New Orleans, we rented a car and headed for this Lake Pontchartrain. It was indeed a straight road, with arched bridges giving some variation every few kilometers. What surprised me was that from the top of the arched bridge in the middle you could see the horizon for 360 degrees all around you. I remember being excited at seeing a kind of condensation of the immense scale of America. It took us about 25 minutes to drive across the bridge.

In the evening, almost as if on cue, we went to the French Quarter and enjoyed a storm of jazz. Boarding a paddle wheeler on the Mississippi River, which could be seen from the Marriott Hotel, we immersed ourselves in southern cuisine and jazz music. Occasionally the damp breeze that is peculiar to the Mississippi Delta would blow, and dusk quietly came and went. Enveloped in the darkness of night, the stars in the sky and the lights of the town played a kind of harmony.

This beautiful, dreamlike city of New Orleans has been obliterated by the huge Hurricane Katrina. President George W. Bush said that it was as if the area had been hit by a completely unimaginable new type of bomb. Whatever, the massive hurricane, which would have covered the entire Japanese archipelago, had a wind speed of 65 meters. It smashed the glass windows of hotels and other buildings and swept away the bridge over Lake Pontchartrain. The rising waters of the lake and the Mississippi breached the levees and engulfed the city of New Orleans. To make matters worse, the city was hit by a huge eight-meter tide. The mind boggles.

Amazingly, that beautiful city of New Orleans was situated at sea level and surrounded by levees designed to withstand a Category 3 hurricane. Katrina was a massive hurricane approaching Category 5, so they were no defense at all against such a storm. The hurricane claimed many victims, and the economic loss is estimated at about \11 trillion. Observers are saying that it might take decades for the city to restore its original condition. Every day the television news shows scenes of the flooded city, but most people have evacuated and there are few remaining. I can only pray that New Orleans will recover as soon as possible.

Climate changes caused by global warming are bringing about major disasters around the world. Maybe the United States should lose no time in signing the Kyoto Protocol.

Come to think of it, when I returned from New Orleans I reported about my experience to the late jazz drummer George Kawaguchi, who replied that he was an honorable citizen of New Orleans. I wonder what he is thinking when he looks down and sees the state of New Orleans today.