Award-winning author
Unusual times, remarkable places

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

The "Standard of Ur" from ancient Mesopotamia

20 June 2009

I know what it means to miss New Orleans, part 2

My husband and I went back to New Orleans at the end of May. We had not even left the grounds of Louis Armstrong Airport before we had realized that New Orleans would always be home. Even the humid heat that blasted us when we left the over-refrigerated baggage terminal felt normal and good and right.

As always, New Orleans was beautiful and green and offered more things to do than we had time for. We ate at many real restaurants (the dining options here in Southern California consist almost entirely of fast food places and chain restaurants), visited the cool new insectarium and the aquarium (where I took pictures of the beautiful rays), strolled around the Vieux Carré and the Marigny (where I got my infamous tattoo), and visited former neighbors. And of course, we attended the wedding we went for.

We had wondered how much the city would have recovered since we left in September 2007. The first clue came as we flew into the airport: We looked out over a sea of blue-tarped roofs, a continuing legacy of FEMA’s inadequacy.

In the city itself, tourist areas looked better than ever, although tourists themselves were sparse, and the refurbished French Market had only about a third of the usual vendors. Our old neighborhood had been back to normal before we left, but now our male neighbors complained of hearing gunshots almost every night and of carrying sticks when walking their aggressive dogs, an indicator of how crime has worsened. (Hearing about the gunfire did cool our homesickness some!)

In the hardest-hit areas, recovery correlated with income level. Insurance proceeds and FEMA’s “help” were clearly inadequate for the people who had to rely on them totally. The poorer areas downriver, including the Ninth Ward, were a vast wasteland except for showcase projects such as the Musicians’ Village and the houses Brad Pitt is building.

In contrast, up near Lake Ponchartrain, many homes have been renovated and reoccupied, while others had been torn down and replaced with much larger homes in popular older New Orleans styles—Greek Revival, bungalow, foursquare. The many vacant lots startled us, but overall the neighborhoods seemed lived in and viable, with Robert's grocery store having opened a few months ago.

We stayed with harpist and booking agent Rachel van Voorhees, who is back performing primarily in New Orleans now, although many other musicians remain away. She has finished her house repairs, although several of our friends still have not.

Ninth Muse’s wedding had several near-disasters, yet everything came together magically at the end. The bride was beautiful, as was her gown, and her critique group members were honored to all get to play a role in the wedding. (Below, left to right: Farrah Rochon, reader; Laurie Bolaños, officiant; Ninth Muse, bride; groom, who is not a writer; me [hair is up, not cut off], bridesmaid; Margaret Nichols, reader.)

My husband and I concluded that yes, we would like to move back to New Orleans sometime, or at least have an apartment there for visits—but not now, while gangsters hold turf wars near nice neighborhoods, levee repairs are years from completion, and rebuilding the Ninth Ward seems to rest primarily on the shoulders of already-busy people such as Brad Pitt, Harry Connick, Jr., and Ellen DeGeneres.

Last week's contests

The contest entry deadline has been extended until 12:01 am on 23 June. Many people stopped by my blog last week, sometimes numerous times to have a laugh at my expense (you know who you are, D.L.M.!), but few people entered the contests. (Is it really that hard to take a wild guess about what my tattoo was supposed to say?)

So you’ve got a few more days to win my forthcoming book based on the "Epic of Gilgamesh," Like Mayflies in a Stream. For the complete lists of rules and prizes, see

Contest 1. Come up with the funniest joke about my reversed tattoo or the funniest rejoinder for when someone asks what my tattoo says.

Contest 2. Guess what my tattoo would say if it weren’t reversed.


Charles Gramlich said...

The gang crime rate is definitely scary. But no, you can't beat the food here. mymmmmnnn.

Travis Erwin said...

My wife and I are thinking about making a trip to New Orleans in October for our anniversary. It's been far too long. Nearly 7 years.

Shauna Roberts said...

CHARLES, we were in heaven, eating all sorts of decadent, delicious things that aren't available here. Cornbread so rich that it doesn't need butter, for example.

TRAVIS, the new insectarium is oriented at kids, so your boys would surely enjoy that, as well as the zoo and the aquarium. (Or, since it's an anniversary trip, are you leaving the boys at home?) There are also a lot of new restaurants since you were there last. The city focuses police in the tourist areas, so you don't need to worry about the gang wars I talked about.

Barrie said...

Very interesting to see New Orleans through your eyes. I've never been there, but have always wanted to visit.

Anonymous said...

You look so elegant! (All of you -- bride really does look gorgeous, and happy!) Striking color and cut of your suit (dress? can't quite make out bottom). Nina K.

Shauna Roberts said...

BARRIE, New Orleans has so much to offer the tourist—many historical places to visit; quiet, beautiful neighborhoods to walk through; lots of art and antique stores at every price range; the swamps nearby with tours to see alligators; some of the best restaurants in the world, many with Early Bird specials. If you're there over the weekend, check out Friday's paper for a list of all the free concerts on Sunday afternoon.

NINA, the bride had good reason to be happy—all those months of wedding planning were finally over! My outfit was a jacket and floor-length skirt. Being a bridesmaid is lots more fun when the bride has good taste and chooses an attractive bridesmaid dress.

Margaret said...

Shauna, it was great to see you and your husband. As one crazy-in-love with this city, I wanted to add a little data to your post: Although you may not have seen a ton of tourists during your visit, the Essence Fest over July 4th drew the biggest crowds in its history, including its first sell-out performance, the new Mahalia Jackson Theatre in Armstrong Square has been rebuilt and is gorgeous, and I would say my mid-city neighborhood isn't any more crime-ridden than pre-Kat., maybe less so, and it's also filling up with young couples who can afford their first house and are gardening and looking after each other like old-time natives. Now yes, I'm also the crazy friend who is doing all the renovations herself (along with my equally crazy hubby) but still--this is a great city, folks. Ya'll come on down!
ps:okay, we've got corruption like you've never seen...oh, except in Chicago, or Detroit, or Hoboken.