Monday, February 27, 2006

My New Orleans

"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.

1 comment:

Big Brother said...

I get a kick when I hear the MSM blame goverment (local, state, and federal)for not evacuating the city sooner. History taught the people to stay until the last moment. Betsy flooded parts of the city and St Bernard, Hilda destroyed camps in Little Woods (ours being one of them)Camile dodged the city, Georges, caused a major evacuation but did little damage. When people evacuate, they lose pay from work, increase expenses for hotel rooms, food and gas. The people who did not leave get a full pay check. If the storm dodges the city, as most have, the citizens who left are now angry at public officials who yelled wolf to early. "See if I leave next time" is their response. You could see the expression on Nagin's face when he called for the manditory evacuation, "If this storm turns and does not affect us, I'm toast." That's just the mind set from years of close calls. When a storm dodges the city, it's not headlines nationally, FEMA does not pay evacuation expenses for a non event (and they shouldn't)Maybe a rider in a personal insurance policy for "close call evacuation reimbursement" would have helped. I don't blame goverment. When people take personal responsibility for their actions rather than try to find fault with government, things will change. But now things have changed since Katrina. I don't think you have to worry about people evaucating this season. I think if we have an active season this year evacuation won't be the problem, getting people to come home will be.