Thursday, April 17, 2008

Goin' back to NOLA

It only took a week for me to be sufficiently recovered from a weekend in New Orleans to actually write about it. It was my ten-year (dear god, I am old) Tulane Law School class reunion, and the perfect reason to get back to NOLA. More importantly, I got to initiate Seth into all the pleasures and idiosyncrasies of this one-of-a-kind city. 

We stayed at the most charming Chimes B&B in Uptown, just a few blocks from Napoleon Avenue where I lived during my debaucherous law school years. Thank you Jill for being such a relaxed, wonderful host and great conversationalist. We'd stay with  you anytime. 

We tried to do it all. Soft shell crab and oyster po'boys and boiled crawfish at Franky & Johnny's.  Strolled the French Quarter and the Fest. Ate divine crawfish bread. Pimm's Cups and muffelatas at the Napoleon House. Beer and boudin at Cooter Brown's. Wandered in and out of the antique shops on Magazine Street. Dinner at Galatoire's with my law school class. Token Hurricanes and tourist watching at Pat O'Brien's. Jazz brunch at Commander's Palace, followed by a stroll around the heart of the Garden District to aid the digestion. Live music on Frenchmen Street in the Faubourg Marigny.
French Quarter Fest was going on the weekend of the reunion, and reaffirmed New Orleans' talent at throwing the best damn parties around. Great music, fantastic food, and spectacular weather made for an amazing weekend.

I wanted to drive through Mid-City to City Park and the Lakefront and the Industrial Canal to see the neighborhoods that washed away, to see what's coming back, but there just wasn't enough time. Uptown and the Quarter seem shockingly normal, but the locals say there are little things - the traffic (more in some directions, nonexistent in others), the places you just can't go to any more (jazz in the 9th Ward, crawfish at Bruning's and Jaeger's on the Lakefront, fried seafood at Sid-Mar's), and the fact that half the people you know still haven't come back, came back and left, or are still remediating their houses, even in the less-flooded neighborhoods.  My friends in New Orleans saw their law firms and jobs literally wash away. Some folks moved on, some came back to New Orleans and worked tirelessly and creatively at finding new ways to make a living and practice law (suing the britches off of unscrupulous insurance companies has worked well for many). Everyone confirms what I'd gotten from the media - the government of New Orleans remains indecisive, waffling and in disarray, and the rebuilding efforts by the city are the mirror image of that. Anything good that's happening is coming from private organizations and benefactors: Brad Pitt, Harry Connick, Wynton Marsalis, Habitat For Humanity. 

I highly recommend "1 Dead In Attic" by Chris Rose, a Times-Picayune reporter who was on the front lines of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath. He's a NOLA resident who almost lost himself in the post-hurricane madness. I bought it at Maple Street Books, one of my favorite bookstores ever, trying to put more of my dollars into the small businesses at the heart of the New Orleans economy. I didn't make it to see all those neighborhoods, but that doesn't mean I have forgotten what happened to this fair, sultry, magnificent, fecund city, lately drowned, and just drying out. 

The riverboat Natchez

French Quarter Fest-ers fill Jackson Square

Classic French Quarter balcony
This is the way to enjoy the Fest. The Ellis Marsalis Quartet was playing. 
Shoe repair store sign on Magazine Street
Seth drinks his first Hurricane. 
But beware - this is what happens to you if you drink too many Hurricanes. You end up being just one more stupid tourist who can't hold his liquor and passes out in his chair in the courtyard at Pat O'Brien's. It was only 11:30 for Pete's sake. Amateur. 

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