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A Season of Night

A Season of Night: New Orleans Life after Katrina

Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    A Season of Night
    Book Description:

    For many months after Hurricane Katrina, life in New Orleans meant negotiating streets strewn with debris and patrolled by the United States Army. Most of the city was without power. Emptied and ruined houses, businesses, schools, and churches stretched for miles through once thriving neighborhoods.

    Almost immediately, however, die-hard New Orleanians began a homeward journey. A travelogue through this surreal landscape,A Season of Night: New Orleans Life after Katrinaoffers a deeply intimate, firsthand account of that homecoming. After the floodwaters drained, author Ian McNulty returned to live on the second floor of his wrecked house without electricity or neighbors. For months his sanity was writing this book on a laptop by candlelight.

    By turns haunting, inspiring, and darkly comic, this memoir offers a behind-the-headlines story of resilience and renewal. From bittersweet camaraderie in the wreckage to depression and violent rampages in the lawless night to the first flickers of cultural revival and the explosive joy of a post-Katrina Mardi Gras,A Season of Nightdelivers an unprecedented tale from the wounded but always enthralling Crescent City. Learn more about the book and its author at

    Ian McNulty is a freelance writer and regular contributor toGambit WeeklyandNew Orleans Magazine. He is the author ofHungry? Thirsty? New Orleans, a guidebook to restaurants and bars.

    eISBN: 978-1-60473-322-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-2)
  3. One Rowed Home
    (pp. 3-16)

    I fled my New Orleans home in a car speeding up the old River Road the day before Hurricane Katrina struck. I crept back to it two weeks later in a boat, drifting slowly through the ruined urban wilderness of brown floodwater and battered houses that had been my neighborhood.

    We floated up to Canal Street on the wrong side of the frontier separating the empty, dry wards of the evacuated city from the empty, flooded ones. Military helicopters hammered away overhead, whole black flights of them in formation or individual machines flying low with crewmen framed in their open...

  4. Two From Pillar to Post
    (pp. 17-27)

    Back in Baton Rouge, time passed like the days on someone else’s calendar, quick and meaningless. There was much work and worry, but most of all each day just marked off time until I could manage another trip back to New Orleans.

    The work at the bank continued at a furious pace as we tried to shift operations to other sites and find scattered employees and reassure frantic customers. O’Brien continued his daily trips back to the city and fed us reports. The floodwater had been drained out of Mid-City just a few days after we boated through my neighborhood,...

  5. Three Heartbreak Motel
    (pp. 28-44)

    I had no family stuck in the city to worry about when the storm struck. Nobody I knew drowned in an attic or died on the sidewalk waiting for diabetes medicine. I knew most of my friends had left, and even my dog was safe with me. But in the aftermath, what I worried about most was my neighborhood—a mixture of people, buildings, history, and geography that had stolen my heart, anchored me to a now-crippled place, and drew me through the muck to return after Katrina.

    My life in Mid-City began in 2002 when I met Minnette Patterson...

  6. Four Omens of Homecoming
    (pp. 45-58)

    My friend Peter Reichard worked up this little saying a few years back, during the public relations run-up to the war in Iraq. When a calamity somewhere in the country made the news, he would point out its potential meaning as an omen of bad tidings. I think he got it from a flip comment someone made to him in passing, but it struck such a chord that it attached itself to the collective parlance of our group of friends. We would hear of some terrible event and the refrain would be “In another culture, you know, they would call...

  7. Five Candles & Coolers
    (pp. 59-72)

    I’ve always felt that the great, weathered old buildings of New Orleans are part of the city’s landscape in the way that mountains and bays define other towns. Their old bricks and lumber seem groaningly alive. Their many details in woodwork and stained glass and plaster, though the craft of people, nevertheless come across a hundred years or so later as beautiful manifestations of nature, like crystal formations or the intricacy of a mottled iris. But I also think the buildings need people living inside them to animate their old bones and bring them to life.

    The Amazing Dr. Watson...

  8. Six Civilization, Distilled and Deglazed
    (pp. 73-87)

    Back in September, during that first foray I made with O’Brien into the city, the proprietor of Molly’s at the Market pub in the French Quarter kept the big arched doors of his old establishment wide open to admit as much light and breeze as possible. We were sitting inside the sweltering, blacked-out bar listening to the Saints game on the radio in the corner, drinking some of the beers we had delivered from Baton Rouge to help resupply the place, when a woman on her bicycle glided right in through those open doors from Decatur Street.

    The fat front...

  9. Seven Ground Scores
    (pp. 88-102)

    Whether it was considered treasure or just plain clutter, most of the stuff in our homes was trash after the levee failure, and all of it ended up on the street. Katrina debris was a collage of broken building materials—the moldy drywall, the rusty pipes, and shattered porcelain—mixed up with belongings that never would have been tossed under normal circumstances. That was the precious stuff, the keepsakes and memorabilia, the photos and trophies and art. And it was joined by the merely valuable, like all the appliances and DVDs and furniture. All of it was soaked and ruined...

  10. Eight Open Houses
    (pp. 103-113)

    When I first started trying to buy my own house, before I met Mrs. Minnette and saw the house I would fall in love with, the most intriguing part of the whole real estate process was touring through properties put up for sale. The upper limit of my price range was very low, so most of the places I saw were old New Orleans shotgun houses that had been cut into any number of shoddy apartments over the years by distant landlords. It always seemed that the houses my real estate agent and I visited were still occupied by tenants...

  11. Nine Tropical Lows
    (pp. 114-124)

    Nothing in New Orleans was remotely normal that winter, yet at the bank office my workday had settled into a familiar rhythm. There were phone calls and e-mails, coffee breaks and conference calls, consultants and customers and spreadsheets. All we talked about between times was Katrina and whatever we imagined for the future, and most of the business we were doing was somehow stamped with the flood’s impact, but it was still a day at work in a functional, wired office with lights and nice people wearing business outfits.

    The morning bike ride to work was usually sunny, and, apart...

  12. Ten The Katrina Christmas
    (pp. 125-134)

    It snowed in New Orleans on Christmas Day 2004, the Christmas before Katrina. It was a faint dusting, with fluffy wisps of the stuff coming down from a gray morning sky, and it melted as soon as it touched the warmer pavement. But it was the first time New Orleans had seen snow in many years, and the first time this freak precipitation had visited on Christmas Day in half a century.

    No one was prepared for it. Highways closed down, stranding people on one side or the other of the Mississippi River and radically changing holiday travel plans. Mostly...

  13. Eleven Mardi Gras
    (pp. 135-149)

    Before New Orleans, the holiday seasons of my life always seemed to move at the same, normal pace. From Thanksgiving through New Year’s, there were enough parties and visits to relatives and buffets and such that the rest of the slow, cold New England winter arrived like a welcome respite by the end of it. My first year in New Orleans, however, made clear that all of that would from now on be merely a prelude to the main event—Carnival.

    There is less than a week between New Year’s Day and the next major holiday on the city’s peculiar...

  14. Twelve A New Normal
    (pp. 150-154)

    The return of electricity and hot water at my house launched my own creature comforts into the stratosphere, but it did nothing for the frazzled nerves of Ginger. My troubled little foundling dog remained as anxious as ever. She still preferred hiding somewhere in the house, and failing that always had her back to a wall when in repose, scanning at all times for as-yet unseen threats. She seemed to jump out of her bristly, ratty fur at almost any loud or sudden noise, like a crash of thunder, the bap-bap-bap reports from the nail guns going off from roofs...

  15. Epilogue: The Unsinkable Crescent City August 12, 2007
    (pp. 155-163)

    Humans may be known in some circles as the tool-making animals, but two years after Hurricane Katrina roared in and treated New Orleans to a municipal-scale version of the Poseidon Adventure, I have begun to think that what really distinguishes our species is the ability to make routines.

    Sure, a lot of beasts out there will go about their business day after day in a certain pattern. But I’m convinced we are the only ones who insist on imposing normal routines on situations that are anything but normal, situations that might cause your average caribou, for instance, to rethink the...