I just got back from 12 days in New Orleans and wanted
to tell you what I saw. First, foremost and most important
is this. If you or anyone you know is thinking about
traveling to New Orleans, don't even hesitate. Go. Have
fun. The tourist areas--the Quarter, the Garden District,
the River Road--are all in great shape. Shops, clubs
and restaurants are open and thrilled to see visitors.
And, at least for now, you can actually get into places
like GALLATOIRE'S and MURIEL'S and K PAUL'S and many,
many more without much of a wait. I'll have updates
on my newest favorite places to eat, drink and stay
when I get back from Ireland. Right now, though, suffice
it to say that the smaller hotels are hospitable and
happy to see you. I just stayed at the HOTEL MONTELEONE
for a conference. A bit pricey on a regular stay, but
well worth it for the old world hospitality and gracious
service. It's like staying with really nice family(My
family's never that nice when I stay with them). More
importantly, though, the city needs our business. The
quickest way to help the city get back on its feet is
do what the city does best, tourism. And that's us.
Trust me. You won't regret it.
As for the general situation, I spent time with a lot
of locals, with friends in police and medicine, and
new friends who tell fortunes, play blues, sell trinkets
and drive cabs. When you meet the people of New Orleans(and
yes, the entire Gulf Region, from what I hear. But I
only got as far as New Orleans), your first impression
is that these are resilient, strong, committed people.
These are people who can find humor in any situations(just
a scan of the t-shirts for sale will tell you that.
I can't even print what most of them said), who rely
on their faith and their friends to see them through.
You see them smile and laugh and sing so much that you
sometimes forget that they have to also be deathly tired.
I said that the tourist areas are fine. The rest of
New Orleans isn't. The Ninth Ward, where people have
owned their own homes, many of them since being freed
from slavery and have worked hard to keep them, still,
seven months later, looks like Hiroshima. Lakeview,
a middle class suburb, is lined in debris. The "blue
roof" , the FEMA tarps that are supposed to be temporary
roof patches, are endemic. Now, the people are helping
each other. In Chalmette, there is a weekly lottery.
If a person's address is pulled, the whole town comes
and helps gut their house. Seven months later. People
are still living with friends, caring for animals, picking
through debris. Still arguing with insurance companies
that seem more concerned witih finding out how they
won't have to pay for damage than helping people. Seven
months later. Housing is rare, and landlords are extorting
terrible amounts of money. A cab driver I met was evicted
when his rent went from $400/month to $2000/month, and
nobody is doing anything to stop it. People are waiting
for government decisions that need to trickle down before
insurance companies will insure their property again--if
they can get insurance again--and so are kept in limbo.
A police officer I talked to told me that his district
just got their first FAX machine since the hurricane--and
it's on loan. The post office just opened in April so
that it finally takes less than four weeks to get letters.
Seven months later.
These people are resilient. But they aren't superhuman.
New Orleans isn't just a national treasure. It's a treasure
for the world. It is the most unique city we have. The
idea that we shouldn't rebuild it is like saying, why
rebuild Venice? It floods. Or San Fransisco. It's bound
to fall in a quake. But the most important component
of New Olreans is its people. To lose them is to lose
its heart. And even now, after seven months, they need
us. So go. Have fun in New Orleans. I promise you will.
Or, if you can't get there, give a hand to the people
who help on a daily basis. Certainly HABITAT FOR HUMANITY.
SALVATION ARMY. UNITED METHODISTS COMMITTEE ON RELIEF
and CATHOLIC CHARITIES. I've heard people praise each
of these for their selfless work. Or just hug a trumpet
player. Just don't forget this grand, glorious, mystical,
magical, sensual city. And next time you come down,
if I'm there, we'll lift a glass to her. I hope she
"Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez"