With three years behind us since Hurricane Katrina and, continuing in the spirit of The New Orleans 100 project, I’ve been contemplating my hometowns future and realizing the positive changes that have come about since the storm. While researching information for the NOLA 100 project I came across an article from Chris Rose, a columnist for the Times-Picayune. This jist of this article rings so true even today – enough that I had to append to it and pass it on. Some will recognize a bit of themselves in this post and, if you don’t, then you should get out more.
New Orleans. How wonderful those words sound when said with no quirky emphasis on odd syllables. And they always seem to elicit a response from both those who’ve been there and those who are dying to go. “Have you been there?
Have you ever been to Cafe du Monde for beignets and cafe au lait and gone back every morning of your visit? Have you ever been to Mardi Gras – attended Bacchus? Endymion? Rex? Have you ever had oysters at the Acme Oyster House? Have you ever sat out at the “fly” eating crawfish, drinking Abita beer, watching the river go by and basically doing a whole lot of nothing?
Have you ever taken a walking tour of the Garden District? Have you ever sung karaoke at Cat’s Meow? Do you know who John Folse is? How about Uncle Lionel? Hubie Vigreaux? Coco Robichaux? Have you ever risen at 6AM to roam the streets of a “quiet” French Quarter? Have you ever been to Galatoire’s for a Friday liquid lunch? K-Paul’s? Emeril’s? Can you remember when Zulu threw gold-painted coconuts? Have you ever ridden the streetcar down St. Charles Avenue secretly sipping a daiquiri?
Have you ever had a mint julep on the porch of the Columns Hotel? Been to the Napolean House for a Pimm’s? Have you ever sat for hours at the piano bar at Pat O’Briiens sipping hurricanes? Have you ever been to Audubon Park? City Park? Have you ever been to mass at the St. Louis Cathedral?
Do you know who Harry Connick, Sr. is? Have you ever had breakfast at Brennan’s? Have you ever been to the original Tipitina’s? Have you ever been to the Superdome? Saint’s game? Sugar Bowl? Super Bowl? Final Four? Have you ever had cheese fries at Fat Harry’s? Thrown peanuts on the floor of O’Henry’s? Have you ever been to the Rendon Inn? Can you remember the Worlds Fair?
Have you ever been to the campuses of Tulane and Loyola? Have you been to a crawfish boil? Sucked the heads? Have you ever been “on the lake”? “Across the lake”? To the “west bank”? Have you ever had a Ferdi from Mother’s and wondered what “debris” was? Have you ever been an unexpected invitee to a jazz funeral? Have you ever been to JazzFest – the first or second weekend? Have you ever been to Pontchartrain Beach now, or then.
Have you ever stood in line at the Camellia Grill? Had a po-boy at Uglesich’s? Oyster and artichoke soup at Mandina’s? BBQ shrimp at Pascal Manale’s? Gumbo at Dookie Chase? Have you ever visited a plantation home upriver?
Have you ever been to the French Quarter festival? Strawberry festival? Tomato festival? Can you pronounce Tchoupitoulas? Thibodaux? Boutte? Have you ever been to Clancy’s? The Upperline? Brightsen’s? Feeling’s Cafe or Mimi’s?
Have you ever driven out to the Biloxi beaches? Have you ever had a monsoon at Port of Call? Breakfast at the Blue Bird? Have you ever seen the Neville Brothers? Cowboy Mouth? The Radiators? Have you ever been to the Maple Leaf at 2AM to hear Rebirth jamming into the wee morning hours on a work night?
Have you ever been to New Orleans?
If you’ve been there, undoubtedly one of these things found its way into your itinerary. You probably also saw the dirty streets, the tired shotgun houses, and cracked sidewalks. You’ve heard about the high crime, poor public schools, poverty and racism. And yes, there are many housing projects. It’s very hot in the summer, people are generally overweight, and the city is always a hurricane away from being flooded out and washed away.
Thankfully, each visitor choses to see the New Orleans they want to see. Luckily, New Orleans has the amazing ability to win over many more than it loses. It can cause one to see the big oaks hovering over St. Charles Avenue and not the trash on the sidewalks. It can cause one to see the street musician rather than the street beggar. It can cause one to see the wrought iron balcony rather than the dilapidated building it hangs on. What is it about the “city that care forgot” that makes most see the positive rather than the negative?
The answer to New Orleans’ allure may, on the surface, seem different for locals and tourists but I suspect there is common thread – its people, the people are the heart an soul of New Orleans.
There is a culture and tradition in New Orleans that is sweet and simple. No need to overanalyze this. It recognizes that the enjoyment of life itself is as attainable for the poor as it is for the rich. A hand on the shoulder and touch on the arm is just the way we say hello. We call our friends “cher” and “heart” because we love them. We know that good music, food and drink is made all the better when surrounded by friends who share the same outlook. When it is your way of life, when it is woven into your circle of friends, social gatherings aren’t seen as “events” but as something you just do.
And New Orleanians don’t believe they’ve cornered the market on this way of life. We recognize it when we see it elsewhere and applaud it. We take it with us to far away places and infuse it into the fabric wherever we live. Like the stickers say “Be a New Orleanian wherever you are”. What makes New Orleans so special is that we have a concentration of people who have it and foster it. It’s generational. It’s hereditary. It’s in our blood. It’s in our soul.
The challenge to New Orleans, to the New Orleanian, is as great as ever. Our reputation temporarily tarnished by the things that occurred in the after math of Katrina, it is now up to those who live here, have been here, and adopted this city to not let these terrible scenes replace the ones we have of our city. While money is needed to rebuild, preserving that feeling and attitude that New Orleans gives you is just as important. Did the flood waters wash away the New Orleans way of life? Not a chance. Not a chance that New Orleanians would deprive future generations of this breeding ground of the good life.
With the vast destruction of parts of this great city now clear, the question is being asked even now, “Is New Orleans worth rebuilding?” To that, I can only reply, “Have you ever BEEN to New Orleans?”
To end this post, here’s my favorite quote from the Times-Picayune newspaper about my beloved city:
“We dance when there is no music. We drink at funerals. We talk to much, and live too large and frankly we’re suspicious of those who don’t…”
When you meet us now and you look into our eyes, you will see the saddest story ever not told. Our hearts are broken into a thousand pieces. But don’t pity us, we’re gonna make it, our soul – the collective soul of this city – is waterproof, and don’t you ever forget it.