Vendome Place & Broadmoor Post-Katrina
beauty after the beast









press clipping


New Orleans Schoolgirls Have a Message for the President

NEW ORLEANS, Jan. 12 - It was not exactly a protest, but it was pretty pointed nonetheless. As President Bush hustled through town Thursday morning, the proper young ladies of the Academy of the Sacred Heart were in Jackson Square, wearing life jackets over their plaid-skirt uniforms, and politely but firmly demanding better levees.

"Do what it takes, do what it takes!" more than 200 of the high school girls chanted, many holding aloft signs reading "Category 5 Levees and Coastal Restoration" and "Party Affiliation: Louisianian." Cars passing through the French Quarter honked in support.

The girls of the academy, a stately, turn-of-the-century institution in the Uptown neighborhood, do not normally forsake the school's ornate high iron gates for the streets. And school officials were at pains to emphasize that they were not protesting anything, and that politics had nothing to do with it. Mr. Bush won a mock election at the school handily, they said.

Still, that it was young daughters of New Orleans's elite - almost exclusively white - who organized the city's sharpest response to the president's brief visit spoke volumes. Anxiety for the future and pain over the past cuts across class, race and economic lines here. Indeed, some of the school's students and faculty members lived in Lakeview, the well-to-do, largely white section destroyed by Hurricane Katrina's floods.

"When the mock election was held they stood behind Bush," said Liz Manthey, director of public relations and marketing at the school. "Now it's his turn to stand behind us."

Behind her were the high school's girls, arrayed on the steps of the Mississippi River levee in the French Quarter, delighted to have the morning off. Some carried life preservers, while others had put masking tape on their foreheads inscribed with the words "water line."

As Emma Matesky, a 15-year-old freshman, smilingly explained, pointing to her head: "We're literally up to here with this."

Elizabeth Evans, an 18-year-old senior, said: "We're going off to college, and we want to come back. If we don't have these levees, will there be a safe place to raise our children?"

The high turnout - 230 students out of the pre-Katrina enrollment of 269 - was further evidence that the better-off in this city have had a far easier time returning than inhabitants of poorer neighborhoods. At a protest over demolitions in the Lower Ninth Ward last week, there was hardly a single local resident.

Thursday's rally was organized by Shawn Holahan, a parent whose Lakeview home was destroyed in the flooding.

"I've lost my home, I've lost everything," said Ms. Holahan, a lawyer. "I've got three kids here, and no home. I'm frustrated that that issue - Category 5 levees - is being obfuscated by politics."

The president has committed to spending $2.9 billion on levee restoration here, but has made no commitment to spending far more for protection from Category 5 hurricanes, a project that could cost over $32 billion, experts say.

Money was not the issue at Thursday's good-natured but earnest demonstration, however.

"This institution is out in the street to show the world that this city is unified on this issue," Ms. Holahan said, exasperation breaking through.