Laissez Les Bons Temps Rouler
My current job is taking me on far more business trips than my last job, which took me on none. Already in six months I've been to Houston, Windsor Locks (CT), and twice to New Orleans, the latter from which I've just returned. I am fast developing a soft spot in my heart for this jewel on the tip of the Mississippi even though for years I harbored an irrational mistrust of the South. I was awed by the deep history, though truthfully I know little of it, and charmed by the creole townhouses down in the French Quarter with their balconies and iron lacework. I was also taken aback by the lingering damage from Hurricane Katrina two years ago. Along a stretch of I-10 just east of downtown were miles of houses, apartments, and shops in various states of disrepair. Wooden fences were torn to pieces and brick walls lay in unnoticed heaps. Tall signs that once advertised restaurants to freeway drivers were nothing but empty frames on posts. A shopping mall that once spanned a city block was now a concrete slab that spanned a city block. One co-worker told me it looked like the apocalypse; another told me it was a modern day ghost-town.
I went looking for a quick breakfast the first morning but had no luck. I tried a few exits off the freeway but invariably once I found anything that looked remotely like it might have food, a Winn Dixie, even a McDonalds, the parking lot was choked with weeds and the windows were boarded up. That afternoon I brought my camera and sought to document the state of these areas since "it was a mess" doesn't really capture the essence to the folks back home. I don't mean to imply that all of New Orelans is a disaster area, but there are certainly areas that have yet to recover. How can they recover when the peeople have left?
This is a picture I grabbed off of Google Maps which shows an arial view of the apartment complex I visited. Even from space you can see the destructive power of the hurricane.
The shattered ceiling, the broken door, the matress all bring the horror of the storm into focus. I dearly hope no one was around when this happened.
Nothing seemed more personal to me than this chair, sitting just where it did when the storm hit nearly two years ago. It was as though the owner would drive up at any moment and say "Hey!!! What the hell happened to my apartment??"
Already nature is reclaiming what the property owners haven't.
Once I got my fix of destruction I head downtown for a taste of what most people come to New Orleans to see: the French Quarter. I wasn't a big fan of Bourbon Street with the seedy bars and sex shops, but the rest of the Quarter was picture perfect. It feels like being at Disneyland, which I know is a perversion because in Disneyland you are supposed to feel like you are in New Orleans... What can I say? I have the same problem with the Alps and Fantasy Land.
We were wandering the narrow streets looking for a good place to eat dinner when we stumbled across a hip and bustling restaurant with an inviting menu. When I looked closer I saw that it was NOLA, Emeril Lagasse's signature restaurant. How awesome! We sat at the counter where we had a great view of the kitchen, but sadly no Emeril tonight. I highly recommend the Shrimp and Grits - wow.
I went back to my hotel, the ornate Le Pavillon, for which I found a really good deal online. Great deal for the room, at least, not so much for the parking. Breakfast is not included either, which is why I was wandering around abandonded shopping centers looking for food.
It was fun to stay in this swanky joint but in the end I decided that frou-frou French isn't really my style. You can't beat the pool-with-a-view, however. Or the crystal chandeliers in the lobby. Or the late night PB&J and hot chocolate.
I'm glad to be back in Colorado but already I'm looking forward to my next trip to Louisiana, despite the fact that June 1st officially kicked off the 2007 hurricane season. There's a whole lot of history to learn and many more places to explore. Mmm, not to mention all the fine restaurants and jazz to sample.