New Orleans Update


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 lives forever.

"Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez"