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 http://shaunaroberts.blogspot.com/2009/06/i-know-what-it-means-to-miss-new.html.
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.