I could tell you how many steps make up the streets rising like stairways, and of the degree of the arcades' curves, and what kind of zinc scales cover the roofs; but I already know this would be the same as telling you nothing. The city does not consist of this, but of relationships between the measurements of its space and the events of its past...A description of Zaira as it is today should contain all Zaira's past. -Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities

Friday, September 09, 2005

What to do?

It is hard not to feel helpless in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, especially from up here in the Northeast--the donations of money and goods I have made will make a difference, but it barely feels like it. Fortunately, all of my family (cousins) left New Orleans before the storm and are now all convened down in Texas. And, fortunately, though they too have lost much, they have means and connections to have apartments, etc...not part of the huge mass of people with nowhere to go.

It is interesting though because two different colleagues have asked me whether I would take people in to my house (because they themselves were considering whether it was the right thing to do, since they both have extra rooms). Obviously, I would take in family, or friends of family--I think anyone who had a connection to someone I know. I don't think I would take in a stranger (and of course the people who really need housing right now are strangers). Is this selfish or wrong?

I can't imagine what it must be like to lose everything (and I hope I never have to). And on top of that, people who have never left their home towns are being put on busses and planes to totally different parts of the country. I am glad we are all doing what we can to help, but the culture change will be yet another thing for many people to deal with.

There is a temptation to take an intellectual view of it--the National Science Foundation is already awarding grants for research on the aftermath of the hurricane. A long view is important, so we can handle such catastrophes better next time, but in the meantime there are so many people that need help now.

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