"Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans", a song written back in 1946, is having a rebirth with Post-Katrina New Orleaneans. The song never actually faded away. Someone would usually request it at a local piano bar, like Pat O'Briens in the French Quarter. Hearing it nowadays, though, the tune has a much more melancholy effect on me than it ever did before. I also find my self singing it just about every time I break out my guitar.
I grew up in the Ninth Ward and later the Gentilly section of New Orleans. My Aunt lived in Lakeview. All three of these places were devastated by Hurricane Katrina. They were old neighborhoods, each one having a different "feel". They all had their own neighborhood grocers, bars and restaurants. When the white population began to move out of the Ninth Ward, many of them migrated to newer homes and subdivisions in St. Bernard Parish, to communities like Arabi and Chalmette, and there too, the neighborhood family owned establishments were the "heart" of the community.
That's not to say we didn't love the French Quarter or Garden District. If not the heart of New Orleans, the French Quarter and Garden District are where you find it's history and spirit. I think major damage in those areas would have truly meant the ultimate demise of New Orleans as the world knew it.
My last visit to the New Orleans area was just 5 months before Katrina. I still had family living in Chalmette. I would stay with them when ever I came back for a visit, which was every year, usually in the Spring...crawfish season! There were several seafood markets and restaurants within 5 minutes of their house. I could also walk just a few blocks to Tony's Po'boy restaurant, as well as Vincent Brocato and Daughter's Italian Ice Cream and Pastry shop, tucked in the middle of a residential block of older homes. All of these places are gone, along with the crawfish (at least for this season) maybe never to recover. My sister and her family along with my mom are also gone, having evacuated to Florida a day or so before Katrina hit. The damage to their homes was so bad that my brother-in-law sold both homes, and they have re-settled in Florida. This is the scenario that has been repeated with the majority of the New Orleans population. Neighborhoods gone, family and friends gone, not just those that died, but those that moved away and won't be coming back.
I have no doubt that New Orleans will survive as a city. It's too important as a national and international port and its most popular tourist attractions, the French Quarter and Garden District, survived practically unscathed. I can't help but wonder, though, if the old neighborhood communities in New Orleans and St. Bernard... my New Orleans... is gone forever.