Through the Eye of Katrina  •  special issue, december 2007

Markers indicate locations discussed in this article; click on a marker for more details about a location.


Neighborhoods: Read more about the neighborhoods mentioned in this article. [+]

French Quarter
Bordered by the Mississippi River, Canal, Esplanade, and Rampart streets, the French Quarter is the original site of New Orleans. It is also known as the Vieux Carré, or the “Old Square.” More >

Lower Ninth Ward
Border by St. Bernard Parish, the Florida Canal, the Industrial Canal, and the Mississippi River, the Lower Ninth Ward is one of the last districts to be developed in New Orleans. More >

In New Orleans Uptown and Downtown describe large sections of the city in respect to Canal Street and the Mississippi River, not individual neighborhoods. More >

The Mourning After: Languages of Loss and Grief in Post-Katrina New Orleans

Marline Otte

Journal of American History, 94 (Dec. 2007), 828–36

The following essay is as much a testimony to, as a testimony of, the post–Hurricane Katrina era in New Orleans. First formulated about four months after my return to New Orleans in January 2006, this essay was written in transitional times, when many returnees felt compelled to share their thoughts and coping strategies after months of isolation and displacement. For the more fortunate ones, the Katrina drama unfolded in three distinct acts: a hasty evacuation, a shocking return to the ruined city, and an arduous path toward the restoration of former lives. A returnee myself, I was most interested in how others managed their passage through those distinct periods, as a smooth transition from one to the next could not be taken for granted. I thus began to investigate the coping mechanisms we had developed individually in post-Katrina New Orleans. What was the relationship between individual and collective memory in this disaster, and what prevented many from experiencing and processing their trauma collectively?

As a historian of Germany, I have always been intensely interested in tracing how individual and collective memory and trauma manifest themselves in commemorative rituals and practices of mourning. On my return to New Orleans, I could not help but observe—with at times morbid fascination—how returning residents processed the disruption of cherished daily habits and rituals as well as the more obvious losses of homes, financial security, and the comforts of familiar communities. In fact, I gained a whole new appreciation for the postwar reconstruction of Europe (the subject of my current book project), as I myself now live in a city crippled by a palpable breakdown of order, a marked collapse of the boundaries of privacy and property—even of civil society. The spectrum of loss and human drama is vast in today’s New Orleans, ranging from the material to the intangible. Facing the ruins of ravaged communities and of hollowed-out houses, we may not forget that the list of the missing and the presumed deceased remained long, well after Katrina made landfall. During my walks through barely recognizable streets and alleys of devastated neighborhoods littered with the vestiges of collapsed structures and caked with toxic mud, the all-pervading stench of decay served as a bodily reminder of the many lives lost.

Coping with this disaster was indeed a full-body experience, and memory and cultural recall of it had to be performed to be meaningful. A combination of the visual and of the tactile seemed ever more essential in the construction of a narrative memory of abandonment, dislocation, and bereavement.[1] I embarked—with considerable help from a dedicated group of Tulane University students—on an oral history project that was designed to explore how New Orleanians coped with the formidable trials of evacuation, months of homelessness and continuous migration, and, for the more fortunate, a difficult return to a spectacularly altered cityscape. In about 350 interviews, we explored the immense adjustment of the minds and hearts of a population of returnees. The response to requests for interviews was overwhelming, and fascinating tales emerged from the conversations.

One of the most notable commonalities among interview subjects was their inability to narrate their lives as a continuum. Today, local residents think of their lives only in terms of before and after the storm. For virtually all New Orleans residents, Katrina marked a defining moment in their lives, dividing and organizing their private and collective memories into a pre- and post-storm era, with the latter threatening to overshadow the former. Some interviewees marveled at their inability to remember specific events in their private lives immediately before the storm. Many expressed difficulties recovering from the blow to their hopes and aspirations, fearing that Katrina had permanently derailed them, threatening not only their own, but the city’s collective, mental health. As the concrete and more mundane recollections of the pre-storm era faded, other memories seem to have taken their place. In many cases individual despair expressed itself in the idyllic terms subjects used to portray New Orleans prior to its destruction. Few if any mentioned the crime, the staggering poverty, the failing public school system, or the omnipresent threat of flooding that plagued the city for decades and that led to the continuous flight of both white and black middle classes. Instead, respondents used terms like pleasant, peaceful, fun, organized, complete, laid-back, and stable to describe their pre-Katrina New Orleans. “Then,” one participant said, “it was a good life. . . . Compared to the present, it was a great life.”[2]

Initially, no one anticipated being unable to return home for months. Evacuees left in flip-flops and shorts, kids, cats, and dogs in tow, equipped for a road trip, an overdue visit with relatives, or a stint at a hunting camp. Some drove alone, but most joined family, friends, and neighbors in colorful caravans of up to a dozen cars. Many had boarded up their homes to minimize wind damage and to deter looters, but others did not even bother to do that. Most had postponed their departure until the last minute, leaving only after the mayor called for a mandatory evacuation of the city. New Orleans had dodged the bullet so many times before; just one year earlier Hurricane Ivan had brought only a few drops of rain to the city.

Listening to those New Orleans residents who were fortunate enough to come back, one begins to appreciate the fine but crucial distinction between knowing and believing. Many accounts reveal a notable lack of foresight in the preparation for evacuation that cannot be explained by a lack of information. That is especially true for those residents who had lived in New Orleans for most of their lives. Almost none decided to bring clothes for more than a few days; most expected the storm to take a turn on landfall and to lose strength as a result. More than half of the interviewees did not take their insurance papers, marriage certificates, birth certificates, professional degrees, or medical records. Exceedingly few New Orleanians thought of emptying their personal bank safes holding family inheritances, property deeds, jewelry, and other valuables, an omission many came to regret dearly later on.

To be sure, they had all known about the fishbowl scenario: the city, mostly below sea level, could fill with water if the levees were breached. It was part of the city’s oral tradition; it made the annual hurricane parties interesting and fun in their brazen defiance of the odds. The New Orleans Times-Picayune had repeatedly run cover stories on the impending scenario of levee breaks and tidal surges following “the big one,” a direct hit everyone agreed would brutally unmask years of local and national mismanagement.[3] Reporters and scientists had scripted the future cataclysm with such accuracy that one has to wonder how in the wake of Katrina the president of the United States could in good faith claim that no one could have anticipated the extent of New Orleans’s destruction or adequately reacted to the so-called natural catastrophe—or how he initially got away with it. I would like to argue, however, that even that presidential statement was not simply another expression of White House cynicism, but was also a distorted echo of a local tradition of denial in which a large number of New Orleans residents had implicitly participated.

Loss and regret go hand in hand in survivor accounts in post-Katrina New Orleans, and I would like to focus on the coping mechanisms of the most severely uprooted: those whose homes with all of their contents were demolished by the storm. As one interviewee pointed out: everyone’s experience was different. There are, however, striking parallels in the goals and motivations that individuals of vastly different cultural, racial, class, and age backgrounds shared as they began to imagine a life beyond the ruins. All of those who were quite literally washed out of the city sought ways to regain control over their existence by creating individual rites of passage capable of instilling meaning into what hitherto had been a senseless experience of destruction. All were awed by the storm’s power to create a deep caesura in their lives, but all strove to reclaim the choreography of their lives, even though the specific terms varied widely according to social and cultural factors.

Some of the most captivating testimonies by Katrina survivors emerged from interviews we conducted in one of New Orleans’s premier tattoo parlors on Frenchmen Street in the largely intact Faubourg Marigny, a highly meaningful place for any exploration of languages of mourning. During preliminary, unrecorded interviews a number of returnees casually noted that they had recently had gotten the first tattoos in their lives. Pressed on the issue, they confirmed that all of them were storm related. Further inquiries in other local tattoo parlors corroborated our intuition: there has been such a demand for body art in post-Katrina New Orleans that it could only be satisfied with the additional help of professional tattooists from out of town. It is no accident that the artist Rachel, who executed the tattoos discussed below, came from Los Angeles to New Orleans in the first month after the storm. She planned to return to California once her “work was done here.”[4]

In post-Katrina New Orleans, tattoo artists consistently reflected on their work as a form of (unrecognized) community service. The two cases discussed below are no exception. It was Rachel who introduced me to Laura Vidacovich, the daughter of the renowned New Orleans drummer Johnny Vidacovich and to Laura’s friend Erin. Laura and Erin both evacuated from their homes in Mid-City with their families and friends. Laura ended up camping out in a horse trailer on the banks of the Mississippi River until she was able to return shortly after the city reopened. Having lost her home, she resettled on the “sliver by the river,” a local idiom for the predominantly white middle-class Uptown quarter, her new “hood” to which she proudly pays homage on her tank top.

Laura’s two most important tattoos are both hidden in places that make it impossible for others to see them without her consent. Her blue tinted fleur-de-lis tattoo on her neck and the black nola letters, short for New Orleans, Louisiana, imprinted in her lower inner lip, evoke opposing New Orleans cultures. As both women pointed out, in post-Katrina New Orleans one is hard pressed to find a surface that is not adorned by a fleur-de-lis, the most recognized image in local political discourse and in conspicuous consumption. It serves as a fashion statement and as an innocuous pledge of allegiance to the city and its distinct cultural heritage. The pervasiveness of the fleur-de-lis in New Orleans is one of the most obvious references to French royal ambition in southern Louisiana. True to the aspirations of a long line of French monarchs, the fleur-de-lis was said to signify perfection, symbolizing light and life. Allegedly, the national French heroine Joan of Arc carried a white banner that showed God blessing the French royal emblem—the fleur-de-lis—when she led French troops to victory over the English in support of the dauphin, Charles VII.

With the fleur-de-lis, Laura has chosen one of today’s most inclusive symbols of New Orleans’s uniqueness in order to—as she put it—“beef it up for the home town.” She wants to be reminded not only where she is from but also what she went through. Laura’s audience is both local and national. Embracing the cultural separateness of New Orleans from the rest of the nation seems as much an act of loving homage as one of proud defiance. Raising both fists while she stated “you had to do it,” her particular choice seems to place her right in the footsteps of Joan of Arc, who embarked on a passionate quest for liberation from foreign (English) rule. Her choice resonates with the feeling of abandonment and alienation many New Orleanians have felt as a result of the squandered response of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (fema) and the disheartening unwillingness of the federal government to fund, plan, and direct the rebuilding process.[5]

Written in the color of divine revelation (blue), the tattoo on the back of her neck also draws attention to a space on her body that many tattooing cultures have considered highly eroticized. Traditional Japanese culture, for example, had long assigned special importance to the back of a woman’s neck as a taunting semipublic, semiprivate area, exposed to the gaze but forbidden to the touch. The symmetry of its location intends to evoke ancient religious tattooing traditions and less the decorative Polynesian ones or the punitive tradition of tattooing slaves, prisoners, and convicts. A gendered vision of withheld eroticism is suggested in Laura’s indigo blue fleur-de-lis. That she can show or hide her tattoo not only heightens its allure but also highlights her agency. Just like Joan of Arc she chose, and is chosen by, her tattoo—“she felt it there.”[6] The romance of an unequal battle and a mission is what attracts her as she makes and marks New Orleans her destiny.

If her blue fleur-de-lis refers to light and to the blue Louisiana skies reflected in water, her black nola tattoo wholeheartedly embraces the shadows. Laura’s tattoos complement one another even though—and maybe because—their aesthetic language could not be more distinct. While the fleur-de-lis is a highly stylized vision of beauty and symmetry that pleases the eye, the crude letters nola written in black ink on the inner lip of her mouth lack sophistication and refinement. They are signs of a different sort, representing the “ghetto” as she calls it. They are intended to provoke and to surprise, to draw more exclusive boundaries. The fleur-de-lis identifies Laura as an uptown girl, nola references her real and imagined downtown roots. The fleur-de-lis is displayed on the surface of her body, nola remains hidden within; together they make her whole again.[7]

Again her choice of placement is meaningful. The interior of the mouth is one of the most sensitive parts of the body, tender and easily subjected to pain. Indeed, one cannot help but suspect that pain is not an undesired side effect of the tattoo but in fact is essential for its success. To endure the tormenting needles without crying is key for Laura as she returns for a touch-up of what seems to be an already-completed tattoo. Throughout the procedure, she thus insists that she is not crying even as her eyes are watery with suppressed tears. This, however, is meaningful and manageable pain unlike that inflicted on her and her community by the storm. Laura’s nola tattoo can be understood as a form of self-mortification, a reference to a tradition of branding often observed among marginalized communities of social outcasts. Those tattoos were not meant to be adornments, as they lacked the aesthetic qualities created by other tattooing practices. Instead, they were derived from a punitive tradition of slaveholding societies, laying an irreversible claim on the body, which Laura is well aware: “you are going to die with it, you better be happy with it.” Taking control of the pain subverts the punishment into an act of self-assertion. It also makes her part of “the brothers,” a term usually used in African American speech. Her family of brothers cannot be found in white Uptown but among New Orleans’s vibrant scene of French Quarter bohemians, black and white musicians in Faubourg Marigny, and Creole Mid-City residents. Brothers of a different kind controlled the crime-ridden housing projects of the city.[8] Laura was careful not to choose one community over the other as she constructed her rite of passage from pre- to post-Katrina New Orleans. The letters nola on her lips serve as reminders to stay true to her roots, to her “family” as she reorients herself in the new cityscape, and any words that leave her mouth will have to pass those formidable gatekeepers.

In an unprecedented wave of tattooing, New Orleanians chose a wide array of aesthetic forms, the recurring predominance of local symbols such as the fleur-de-lis notwithstanding. By aligning the life cycles of the individual (such as graduation or the passage from childhood to womanhood) with the cycles of a turbulent past and present, highly individualized tattoos allowed New Orleanians to process an otherwise unfathomable experience of disruption. In my second example, the interviewee’s body art was inspired by a 1937 sketch by Salvador Dalí, Female Figure with Head of Flowers. The sketch was part of a series of large, abstract female figures; the most important, The Burning Giraffe, was rendered in oil.[9] Despite the benign or surreal titles of these works, Dalí thought of them as premonitions of war and destruction; for him, the Spanish Civil War was only the bloody prelude to genocide and mass murder in World War II. Female Figure with Head of Flowers is the first of a series of images that become increasingly explicit in their stylized violence. It is a marriage of impending danger and beauty aflame. Indeed, the head of flowers could be viewed as a fireball, and the slinky body recalls both Renaissance and art deco traditions, in turn foreshadowing the aesthetic of animated monster cartoons. Dalí’s sketch is simultaneously timely and timeless. The coloring of black, red, and gold is intense and primal and belies the studied pose of the female figure. She is frozen in movement, shifting between snapshot and statue; her agency yet remains to be defined.

That particular sketch resonated so forcefully with the interviewee that she decided—after Katrina destroyed her home and familiar way of life—to cover her entire back with her first and only tattoo. The storm, the damage to belongings, and the isolation of the Katrina diaspora rendered the timing of the tattoo imperative. The interviewee yearned for a meaningful way to say “good-bye” to 2005, to “be done with” it, and to “never having to go through any of this again.” Instead of being caught in a cycle of loss and loneliness, she wanted to create a lasting statement commemorating her survival and her hopes for a successful transition from childhood to womanhood. Now in her early twenties, she also wanted to celebrate her coming of age and a maturity that was dramatically accelerated by the trauma of abandonment and forced self-sufficiency. As she reflects on her motivation she concludes that this was one of “those times when you are fully about what [you are] going to do.”[10] In collaboration with another woman, her tattoo artist, she created a new reality, a new self; in order to represent a wound, she created one. Getting a very bold and fantastic first tattoo was instrumental in reassembling her life and regaining control of it. Her new self is able to see the woman’s head as a bouquet of flowers. To her the figure is strikingly beautiful, not monstrous or predatorial, self-possessed, not feverishly decaying. She can now resolve ambiguity in life by accepting ambiguity in art.

Tattoo parlors were by no means the only sites where New Orleanians sought to heal from trauma. For many, the physical return to the site of their suffering was a rite of passage instrumental in a long process of recovery. The following example is thus set in the Lower Ninth Ward. No other part of town suffered the same irreversible destruction. The neighborhood had become all African American after the white flight of the 1950s. Residents remember it as a tightly knit community of working-class extended families. Drug trafficking had also turned it into one of the most crime-ridden neighborhoods in the city. After the storm two siblings and their children were interviewed there as they went to look for their adjacent houses for the very first time. They wanted to retrieve any memorabilia that were still worth saving after a flood surge of more than twenty feet had swept away their homes, leaving them stranded and their houses interlocked on the other side of a four-lane intersection.

A young woman choses to commemorate her traumatic experience of Hurricane Katrina with her first tattoo.

This young woman, shown in February 2006 in a Frenchmen Street tattoo parlor in New Orleans’s lively Faubourg Marigny neighborhood, chose to commemorate her traumatic experience of Hurricane Katrina with her first tattoo. Still from film by Marline Otte and Helma Kaldeway. Courtesy Marline Otte.

A young woman choses to commemorate her traumatic experience of Hurricane Katrina with her first tattoo.

This young woman, shown in February 2006 in a Frenchmen Street tattoo parlor in New Orleans’s lively Faubourg Marigny neighborhood, chose to commemorate her traumatic experience of Hurricane Katrina with her first tattoo. The 1937 Salvador Dalí sketch Female Figure with Head of Flowers inspired the tattoo, which covers her entire back. Still from film by Marline Otte and Helma Kaldeway. Courtesy Marline Otte.

In a neighborhood in which most households were headed by women, it seemed only natural that Mama Di—the maternal figure of this family—decided to speak for her kin as they struggled to make sense of the radically changed topography of their neighborhood. Clearly, neither place nor space conformed to her pre-storm memory. Four houses had constituted the nerve center of her being in New Orleans, and their arrangement and distance from one another were a reflection of their inhabitants’ relationships. Mothers lived beside their children, with aunts, cousins, and uncles across the street. Now everything had changed as the floodwater had lifted some of the houses higher than the power lines and left only their concrete porches and slab foundations as memorials for a dispersed community. Tennessee Street today looks like a cemetery with staircases leading into oblivion, with rusty gates swinging in the wind, abandoned by the houses they once opened to.

Searching through the house was not a quest for material belongings. After weeks in the muddy waters anything of material worth was ruined. The search was about finding reminders of moments of individual sovereignty, success, and happiness and tokens of and for faith. The daughter’s high school diploma and her student id card from Dillard University made her mother glow with pride, and she was careful to hold her brother’s Certificate of Completion from the New Orleans Police Department—presumably for an officer-training course—in front of the camera. Most important for her, however, remained the retrieval of the house altar with a reproduction of the Virgin Mary. They left the house with a flood-soaked icon covered in mold.

After returning to her car, Mama Di explained the purpose of their visit. Just like the previous interviewees who lost everything in the storm, she stated that her primary objective was to get “closure.” Closure for her meant a “hands on” experience of walking about, of touching and seeing the ruins, unmediated by film or by camera. She needed to breathe the offensive smells of mold and rot while negotiating her way through a house whose contents were turned upside down. Only that last blow to her cognitive system would allow her “to move ahead.” She was certain that this pilgrimage to hell would prove cathartic for herself and her family. She found solace and strength in her faith, convinced that “you can not go up against the wrath of God,” as “God makes it and God can take it away . . . and you cannot get mad.” She has had three heart attacks and a stroke; she clings to her religious belief to survive this last crisis, if only for her family’s sake. She found signs of hope even in the direst scenario, amazed by the immaculate statue of Mary that remained untouched by the surrounding mayhem, even though the storm moved the house that the statue was meant to protect to an entirely different street corner.[11]

Mama Di’s example poses some of the most difficult questions. While the intention of her symbolic visit to the ruins seemed clear, its prospects for success remain undetermined. Listening to conflicting and perhaps irreconcilable notions of resilient agency on the one hand and categorical acceptance of fate on the other, one has to wonder how that tension could be resolved. While Mama Di emphatically affirmed her belief in the benevolence and higher divination of God—“God never gives you more than you can handle”—she simultaneously agonized over the senseless loss of many lives. While she was able to talk to an outsider in the religious language of grief, she seemed notably restrained in her interactions with her children as they struggled to make sense of what they saw. It almost seemed easier for her to address the now absent Ninth Ward community via the camera, rather than to attend to present family members. Like the previous interviewees, she intended to use the cultural repertoire of her community to overcome the stasis and paralysis of trauma. It remains to be determined how one can recognize individual pain in the language of collective mourning without the help of a community to reaffirm the self. How can one speak meaningfully in the voice of the collective while being physically separated from it?[12]

Viewing the interviews together, one cannot help but notice how instrumental the interplay of visual and tactile senses were in coming to terms with a loss of material security, of a vision of the future, of family, of lives, and of cherished communities. All returnees struggled to regain control over their emotions and life trajectories. They are often quite literally searching for a way to become healthier, stronger, and more assertive. All made great efforts to find meaning in a meaningless tragedy by instinctively seeking challenging physical experiences. They seemed convinced that only a combination of the visual and tactile would allow them to heal. These three women countered storm-related pain with self-inflicted pain, be it through the needle or the physical confrontation with the remains of former lives. All of the subjects interviewed emphasized how much their hearts and minds have irreversibly changed, but they remained uncertain whether their bodies have acknowledged a fundamental transformation. They understand that if they are to move forward they will need all of their faculties to be in sync. Only those efforts can turn trauma into narrative memory and unlock the individual from the grip of the past.[13]

Marline Otte is associate professor of history at Tulane University. She would like to thank Helma Kaldeway for her invaluable assistance interviewing these subjects and her colleague Linda Pollock in particular for her helpful comments and suggestions.

Readers may contact Otte at motte at tulane dot edu.

[1] A similar argument has been made in the context of Holocaust survivors and their traumatic memory. For an insightful discussion of the need of survivors to overcome trauma by “re-externalizing” the traumatic events see Dori Laub and Shoshana Felman, Testimony: Crises of Witnessing in Literature, Psychoanalysis, and History (New York, 1992); Charles R. Figley, ed., Trauma and Its Wake (2 vols., New York, 1985–1986); Cathy Caruth, Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and History (Baltimore, 1996); Cathy Caruth, ed., Trauma: Explorations in Memory (Baltimore, 1995); and Linda Williams and Victoria Banyard, eds., Trauma and Memory (Thousand Oaks, 1999).

[2] Andre J. Martinez interview by Linzey Powers, Feb. 21, 2006, questionnaire (in Marline Otte’s possession).

[3] A five-part newspaper series on New Orleans’s vulnerability to hurricanes proved accurate: John McQuaid and Mark Schleifstein, “Washing Away: How South Louisiana Is Growing More Vulnerable to a Catastrophic Hurricane,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 23–27, 2002. For the first of the series, see John McQuaid and Mark Schleifstein, “In Harm’s Way,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 23, 2002, p. J2. For President George W. Bush’s statement, “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees,” see Dan Froomkin, “A Dearth of Answers,”, Sept. 1, 2005, available at Lexis-Nexis.

[4] The interviews in the Frenchmen Street tattoo parlor were conducted in March–April 2006. All subjects agreed to have their interview and tattoos videotaped by Otte and Helma Kaldeway.

[5] Laura Vidacovich interview by Otte, March 2006, videotape (in Otte’s possession). On the failures of local and federal governments, see Walter M. Brasch, “Unacceptable”: The Federal Government’s Response to Hurricane Katrina (Charleston, 2006); Douglas Brinkley, The Great Deluge: Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, and the Mississippi Gulf Coast (New York, 2006); John Brown Childs, ed., Hurricane Katrina: Response and Responsibilities (Santa Cruz, 2006); Ronald J. Daniels, ed., On Risk and Disaster: Lessons from Hurricane Katrina (Philadelphia, 2006); Jed Horne, Breach of Faith: Hurricane Katrina and the Near Death of a Great American City (New York, 2006); and John McQuaid and Mark Schleifstein, Path of Destruction: The Devastation of New Orleans and the Coming Age of Superstorms (New York, 2006).

[6] Michel Pastoureau, Blue: The History of a Color (Princeton, 2001); John Fiorillo, “Hashiguchi Goyô (‘Modernizing’ Utamaro),” Viewing Japanese Prints,; Vidacovich interview. On the branding of slaves, see C. P. Jones, “Stigma: Tattooing and Branding in Graeco-Roman Antiquity,” Journal of Roman Studies (no. 77, 1987), 139–55; and Mark Gustafson, “The Tattoo in the later Roman Empire and Beyond,” in Jane Caplan, ed., Written on the Body: The Tattoo in European and American History (Princeton, 2000). For a comprehensive overview of tattooing practices, see Caplan, ed., Written on the Body.

[7] Vidacovich interview. On the tattoos of those who lost loved ones after the 9/11 attacks, see Jonathan Hyman, “The Public Face of 9/11: Memory and Portraiture in the Landscape,” Journal of American History, 94 (June 2007), 183–92.

[8] Vidacovich interview. For tattooing practices in prison communities, see B. V. Olguin, “Tattoos, Abjection, and the Political Unconscious: Towards a Semiotics of the Pinto Visual Vernacular,” Cultural Critique, 37 (Autumn 1997), 159–213; and Margo Demello, “The Convict Body: Tattooing among Male American Prisoners,” Anthropology Today, 9 (Dec. 1993), 10–13. In New Orleans, there was a tradition of branding slaves with the fleur-de-lis, a brand that was prominently displayed on their bodies or faces that could not be hidden away. Today, however, the punitive association of the fleur-de-lis has been erased from public memory.

[9] Salvador Dalí, Female Figure with Head of Flowers, 1937, drawing (private collection); Salvador Dalí, The Burning Giraffe, 1937, painting (Kunstmuseum Basel, Basel, Switzerland).

[10] Anonymous interview by Otte, March 2006, videotape (in Otte’s possession).

[11] Mama Di interview with Helma Kaldeway, March 2006, videotape (in Otte’s and in Kaldeway’s possession). Her desire for a real-life experience of space and destruction may add a new dimension to the ever-growing literature on memory, landscapes, and monuments. See James Young, The Texture of Memory: Holocaust Memorials and Meaning (New Haven, 1993).

[12] Mama Di interview. On the relationship between individual and collective memory, see Maurice Halbwachs, The Collective Memory (New York, 1980).

[13] On the importance of turning trauma into narrative memory, see Mark Klempner, “Navigating Life Review Interviews with Survivors of Trauma,” Oral History Review, 27 (Summer–Fall 2000), 70; and Susan J. Brison, “Trauma Narratives and the Remaking of the Self,” in Acts of Memory: Cultural Recall in the Present, ed. Mieke Bal, Jonathan Crewe, and Leo Spitzer (Hanover, 1999), 39–54. See also Elisabeth Tonkin, Narrating Our Pasts: The Social Construction of Oral History (Cambridge, Eng., 1992); and Bessel A. van der Kolk and Onno van der Hart, “The Intrusive Past: The Flexibility of Memory and the Engraving of Trauma,” in Trauma, ed. Caruth, 158–82.