We drove through an area that prior to Katrina housed 17,000. Only 6,000 people have returned. It’s a challenge to come back because there are still, five years later, very few services. Neither the drug store, the bank, the dry cleaner, the grocery store, the churches, the local Popeye’s, nor any of the other restaurants have reopened.
The debris – which included hundreds of large trees and abandoned cars – has been cleared, but the area still looks like a checkerboard but with very few checkers. You can see the outlines of the demolished houses on the ground, but very few have been rebuilt – and those are being constructed on raised foundations about three feet high just to stave off the normal downpours. You can also see some homes built by a foundation dedicated to house musicians, just so they would return to the area and bring New Orleans back to life. We stopped in front of the rebuilt Fats Domino home and took a picture. Unfortunately, the music legend was not there to greet us. The homes being constructed are beautiful and colorful, and provide passionate hope for the future.
We spent our days roaming the French Quarter and eating some of the city’s finest food. There is no way to leave New Orleans without being well-fed. We spent our nights on Frenchmen Street bobbing from one club to another while listening to Jazz, Blues or Funk. No deejays are allowed here – only real live musicians. One evening, we visited the most famous club on Frenchmen, Snug Harbor, to hear a fabulous 16-piece big band led by two Marsalis brothers (there are four in all). The cost was $15 a head. Where else can you get a deal like that?
When I think of New Orleans, I think of Cajun, Creole, Jazz, Zydeco, Louis Armstrong, Al Hirt, Pete Fountain, Catfish, Crawfish, Po Boys, and Beignets. I hear musicians on the street playing all kinds of wonderful music. I feel a vibe that no other city in America has to offer, and I taste flavors and see colors unique to a distinct community.
America has many special places, but New Orleans is at the top and thankfully it’s on the way back. It is a national treasure that helps to make this country the majestic gumbo in which we all live.