Discover more from Richard Goodman's Newsletter
The lost town
A trip to Lafitte
A friend and I drove to Lafitte, Louisiana yesterday. We wanted to find a new place to go kayaking. The drive, south from New Orleans where we both live, is about forty-five minutes. In forty-five minutes you can be in a different world in this region. We both had been to Jean Lafitte National Park and the town with the same name before, which is north of Lafitte and not the same at all.
According to the census, just over 1,000 people live in Lafitte. By what we saw, that was hard to believe. We saw hardly anyone there. Mostly, there were workers, dotted here and there, some working on the road, some fixing roofs, some clearing refuse. Other than that, the place was empty. On August 30, Hurricane Ida, a category 4 storm, struck this area hard and the rest of southeastern Louisiana. Here we were, some four-plus months later, and the place clearly had not recovered. Not nearly. The town felt desolate, abandoned. I don’t speak for its people. Or their spirit. I only speak for what I saw.
Lafitte is in a part of Louisiana that is fast disappearing due to sea level rise, land subsidence, and hurricanes like Ida. It you look at the Google map of Lafitte and the surrounding area, you look at your grandmother’s doily, often more water than land, the land barely not tethered strongly or securely, and vulnerable.
There are no stores at all in Lafitte. Not even a gas station. A few restaurants, only one of which was open. One tiny elementary school, closed, damaged. We passed crushed houses, houses moved off their foundations, boats that had been thrown up on shore. A few shrimp boats had been smashed against the docks, some tilted and broken. And mud, caked and dried—mud, everywhere. In some cases, it was blotchy and sectioned, rock-hard, what you are used to seeing in photographs of sub-Sahara African droughts. What could grow in those places? There are standing trees, but they’re dead, leafless and stark. There is scant green here. Destruction is, in the end, ugly, like poverty.
We passed by three small graveyards, and we saw tombs—the tombs in this part of Louisiana are always above ground. We saw crypts that have been upended, moved, rearranged, and in once case, opened at the end so that we could see the end of a coffin, which appeared to be made of metal, opened. No, we did not see a body. Secretly, ghoulishly, I wish I had.
We drove to the end of the line. Route 45 ends past Nick’s Marina at Jean Lafitte Harbor. Just ends. Beyond that, there is no road, just water. A canal cut by an oil company leads, eventually, to the Gulf of Mexico. There, at the end, is a spot of land were some twenty trailers, all identical in make, are parked and tethered. They would seem to be for displaced residents. They are all occupied. You can tell, because you can see the trappings of domesticity about them—laundry hanging, beach chairs, barbecues, propane tanks.
A few hundred yards from this clutch of trailers, none of which were that big, we passed a young woman walking with three children. The children were small, one so small she carried it on her hip. The woman was young—who can tell the age of people anymore? I would say around twenty-five. I thought that she could be out of a Steinbeck novel, or a Dorothea Lange photograph, this young woman, probably living in one of those trailers, tending three children, all day. She was not smiling. Her children were not smiling. Walking, who knows where, no car, in the middle of the day. There it was, the responsibility of women. I didn’t know, of course, what her situation is, but what are you doing walking with small three children in tow during the middle of the day in a semi-desolate area, no stores of any kind. No place for her children to play. It felt unseemly to gaze at her.
We turned around and drove away.
We drove back to our homes and lives. Lafitte stayed with me, though. There is something highly unnerving about seeing a once-vibrant community that’s virtually lifeless.