CHAPTER 17 – FINALE
The ninth Steamboat NATCHEZ is the last authentic steamboat to ply the Mississippi River. During the riverboat’s heyday, over 3,000 paddle wheelers traveled from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, Shreveport, Natchez, St. Louis and to hundreds of smaller ports up to Illinois and along the Ohio River. Mark Twain would become a steamboat pilot to quench his thirst for adventure. Today the steamboat may be a dying breed, but the fleur de lis, a symbol used on furniture, utensils, and the finest china on these "floating palaces," has never gone out of style. Once used on maps and compasses to indicate "True North," the fleur represents a fundamental, natural, mysterious element that helps direct the curious to their metaphorical "True North."
So what does the fleur really mean? For an enslaved African with the fleur branded into their flesh it meant subjugation. Alternatively, for those of African descent, the fact that the symbol originated in Africa is a source of pride. For royalty, it connected the King with divinity. For today’s denizens of South Louisiana it often means resilience, family, hope, luck, and home.
In 2011 the New Orleans Saints won the Superbowl. After the stunning defeats that South Louisiana and the Gulf Coast encountered a decade ago during Hurricane Katrina, the win became a psychological turning point for a region that had suffered collective PTSD.
After over four decades of “bad luck,” a team that only die-hards believed in became a team that inspired “true believers.” Victory after stunning victory, the people of the region stood and roared. Amazed, in a frenzy of excitement, they cheered “the boys” on. It was said that pigs would fly and hell would freeze before the Saints ever won the Superbowl. Well, pigs flew. With the overwhelming support of an America that had come to love New Orleans by almost losing it, the underdogs snatched victory for a downtrodden people.
And so they celebrated. They did so like no others before them. They festivaled with food, danced in the streets to jazz, and mixed it all up with Mardi Gras. Some are still celebrating.
Before every cheering fan, on every float, on waving pennants, etched into to-go cups, on jerseys, worn by every creature on two or four legs, a fleur de lis found purchase. Just when the battle needed most to be won, this mysterious symbol – a symbol that helped define civilization – helped a people shake off the repercussions of a mighty, deadly storm and its residue.
It was time to move on. It was time to finish rebuilding. It was time to heal. Is it any surprise, after all, that the fleur would symbolically lead us toward a more fruitful recovery and point us toward tomorrow with its steady compass pointing to a metaphorical, if not divine, True North?