People are exceedingly friendly, and whether you are black or white, straight or gay, rich or poor, addicted or dry, deviant or devout, from this country or another, needs are fulfilled. New Orleans rolls out the welcome mat, in spite of having gone to hell and back.
You can walk home long after midnight on noisy or quiet streets, get a good night’s sleep behind closed shutters, wake in the morning, not too early, sit for a spell in the courtyard or on a balcony, and then prepare to start the day again, maybe with a walk along the mighty Mississippi.
Did you know that at dawn in the French Quarter the streets and sidewalks are washed with lemon juice? Elegant.
We haven’t seen much of New Orleans, but we saw what makes New Orleans a fascinating and unique American city, a city of our time. We sampled the good life but we also explored neighborhoods: the French Quarter, Bywater, Treme, the Lower 9th. Ward, Central Business District.
As far as we are concerned, there are no limits. Anytime someone asked, “Do you want to see ...?” We replied, “Yes, of course, show us.”
The New York based French Heritage Society is mentioned again and again for stepping up to help where needed in the aftermath of the flood. The Edgar Degas House , is among the grateful. While Degas spent only six months visiting his maternal relatives in the house on Esplanade Avenue, he did important work there, particularly A Cotton Office in New Orleans. The house, while a museum, is also a B and B. In 2010 one can sleep where Degas slept in 1873. FHS provided thousands of dollars for restoration work.
Like so many out-of-towners, and legions of volunteers, we were drawn to the devastated Lower 9th. Ward, and historic Treme, both predominantly African American communities. Treme was historic before Katrina; the Lower 9th is historic because of Katrina.
A visit to the Lower 9th. stirs complicated feelings. Before the storm it was a community of approximately 14,000 people who lived in close to 5,000 homes, more than half the families owned for 25 years or more, the highest percentage of African American home ownership in a U.S. city.
According to Common Ground Relief , “The loss of these homes represented the disappearance of a family’s major asset, economic livelihood and, as a result, their future.” Since many didn’t evacuate, they were left to struggle or perish.
Today, among the ghosts, ruins and the weeds where once stood homes, there are obvious signs of new life. Thanks to all kinds of groups, and especially architectural entrepreneurs, the Lower 9th. is a model of volunteerism, preservation, restoration and urban renewal.
Still, for every revitalization project, there remain many beaten up and abandoned homes, bearing the coded symbols of the horror: spray painted tattoos from the search and rescue effort. Some locals believe the codes should not be painted over – an enduring reminder of what happened.
It wouldn’t be a visit to New Orleans if we didn’t jump in – with all our senses – to the pleasures of food, wine and music. We sampled with abandon.
This morning I went in search of a café au lait and beignets. After the meal, like a cat covered in bird feathers, I dusted powdered sugar off my face and clothing.
Night is for music. Here, finding music is as easy as breathing. Next day we walked around humming the music of the night before. Music is everywhere and in everything.
Possibly the most telling symbol of New Orleans is the statue of Jesus at St. Louis Cathedral. His arms raised in blessing. At night, a floodlight casts his shadow against the Cathedral wall and the arms loom larger and higher. The natives do call him “Touchdown Jesus.”
Just to show you, a sense of humor may save the day, even for a city.
safe 4th., friends