A Visit to New Orleans - 12 January through 20 January 2007

I think the most striking thing about this trip is the sense of strengthened identity both as New Orleanians and as survivors evidenced by those who have chosen to return here. The playoff defeat of the Philadelphia Eagles by the New Orleans Saints and the winning record of the Saints throughout this football season have both served as focal points for the energy of the city, as well as providing a much needed injection of cash (to the tune of around 240 million dollars, based on estimates I heard) to a city whose tax base and population have been slashed by anywhere from half to four fifths, depending on whom you ask.

The crowd on Bourbon Street was like a giant football party, but the energy seemed much broader, more universal. It was like a public celebration that was not just of a sporting victory, but of a civic victory. It was a confirmation of the idea that New Orleans not only can come back, but *has* come back. I'm not what you would call a big sports fan, but I felt caught up in the spirit. As we sat at D.B.A. with the crowd of black-and-gold clad denizens cheering what actually turned out to be a very good game, I could not help but lean over to see what play had evoked the cheers which shook the walls; what step closer to the full restoration of glory the Saints had taken for their city.

Shouts of 'Who Dat!' followed us from one end of town to the other. I had purely by chance packed, and worn on the night of the game, a shirt with a gold tone to it. As a result I was welcomed as a fellow fan, a compatriot, by strangers passing by or just sitting in doorways. I still haven't quite understood where the phrase comes from, though it seems to be a fan fight song for the team.

On the other side of the coin, is the Heaven's Gate Playground, shown in pictures 7 - 13. This is an urban recovery/renewal project that was well under way, with a completed brownfield cleanup already under its belt, when it suffered a crippling setback in the aftermath of Katrina. I'm still waiting for the details of the story, and will include them when they arrive. I got a brief insight into the story when we came across Amy LaFont, the site manager, just as she was about to pack up and depart the site after the city pulled funding and the property owner abandoned a commitment to the project. Right now, New Orleans is experiencing a bounty of creative energy, and creating facilities to foster and encourage that creativity is essential to the restoration of and renewal of the cultural identity of New Orleans.

At one bar, we played pool with a local film student, Travis, who related his story of evacuation to Houston and subsequent return. He showed us a tattoo he had done on his left side, over a foot in height, of a three dimensional fleur de lis (the symbol of French royalty, but also of New Orleans) with rusted metal corner pieces and rivets lining the edges. It was an amazingly beautiful work of art and statement of identity. 'We may have been inundated, battered and told not to return, but we have come home, because New Orleans is us, and it cannot be New Orleans without us in it.' [My interpretation.]

At Markey's Bar, a couple of old men bantered over a game of video poker; a young couple with an infant in pram sat at the table in the open doorway, just out of the early afternoon sunlight. The neighborhood bar which from all outer appearances was indistinguishable from a dilapidated garage was on the inside warm and welcoming; a watering hole and neighborhood gathering place where friends and fellows can come together and be reassured; where those who survived can share their stories and celebrate their triumphs in partnership and community. The re-opening approval permit on the door is like a badge worn proudly, awarded for meritorious service. It even looks new enough that it might be a replacement for the original, so that one can be preserved from the elements like a diploma or deed of trust.

At the Erin Rose, Emily told of her daily battles at City Hall, reveled in the triumph of actually having her trash picked up for the first time in months, and castigated neanderthal tourists from Canada who took up a whole shift of her fellow bartender's time and then refused to tip unless she flashed them her breasts. Her friend was reduced to tears, and Emily jumped in and told the cretins where to get off. Michelle told her story of evacuation to Wisconsin and the return journey. Evil Bob ate his deeply over-fried crab rangoon bar snacks, and actually seemed to enjoy them, but he was *wicked* drunk at the time, so who knows. And Beverly was, well... let's just say the boys were happy to stay for much longer than they had planned, so long as Bev was working the taps and working that smile.

Although I have expressed here certain generalized perceptions about attitudes of the residents of post-Katrina New Orleans, it is only fair to say that though I didn't notice it at the time, the range of contacts I had in this visit to New Orleans were overwhelmingly caucasian. I cannot accurately estimate that the attitudes I observed are truly reflective of the entire current population of the city, because I simply did not encounter a representative population of non-white New Orleanians. I don't know what the racial balance of the restored population is, and I don't know the attitudes of other portions of the population than those who live or work or play in or near the French Quarter.

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