New Orleans, June 2006

June 23rd, 2006

I just got back from a week long trip in New Orleans, or as locals say it, Nawlins, Louisiana. It’s been almost 9 months since Hurricane Katrina hit this town, and its slowly but surely coming back. The spirit of the people there is great, but i would guess half the population are back to their pre-katrina lives (some say even less than half, could not find any real data), the rest are rebuilding or relocated. The popular areas like French Quarter and Downtown avoided most of the flooding, and its possible a tourist could visit and not even know katrina happened. I stayed with my friend Shayna Cohen and enjoyed my time there seeing the sights, eating delicious southern food, riding bikes around in the hot and humid afternoons, and grooving to bands at various little bars at night. I purposely went during a time when there were no festivals, to absorb the normal way of life in the big easy. I took a ton of pictures, and spend the last day uploading them to flickr. It’s best to view those while reading this, i’m writing this blog to complement the 5 sets i created there (click on the picture below to view them).

I left SF Tuesday night, and arrived in New orleans Wednesday morning, June 14th. My friend Shayna was working at Praline Connection, so i dropped off my stuff, ate some of their tasty fried chicken, cornbread, and bread pudding, then walked around the French Quarter (or just the Quarter). I took a bunch of pics, including a jackson square, 516 doorway with tons of cool doorbells, and a store with tons of hot sauces (mmmm.. hot sauce). Later that night we hung out on frenchman street, hitting some of the best joints in new orleans – dba, ??, and spotted cat (my favorite). Thursday shayna showed me where she worked with the kids in the afterschool program. We took the ferry to algiers for that, and biked around that area till we melted in the sun. Then we ferried back to downtown, and spent some time in the Audubon aquarium, which only just opened a few weeks earlier (they lost animals and suffered damage from katrina). We were lucky enough to catch the feeding in the big tank where we saw sharks, manta rays, giant turtles, and tons of fish gettin’ their snack on. But my favorite was the hawk feeding – got a few pics of that bad bird eating a white mouse. After that we biked over to Plan B – a free, community do-it-yourself bike repair center. Then we ate at Bywater BBQ .. prolly my favorite meal. Thursday night we were too tired to make it to zydeco night at the bowling alley, as planned. That heat sure does take its toll.

Friday we biked to the cemetery – St Louis No. 3 – and then to the city park. On the way back we stopped at a nice local whole-foods-like grocery store to get supplies for dinner. We made ourselves some tortellini with pesto, apps with tomato-basil-mozz, and salami and asparagus sandwhiches. Who would have known that salami and asparagus were soo good together?

Saturday shayna worked during the day and i hit the Audubon Zoo. They say to get there early while the animals have some life in them, before the heat makes everybody too tired to move. Luckily i did, and got to see elephants, tigers, lions, spider monkeys, tons of birds, and even a giant white aligator. I especially liked the gator cuz it was inside an air conditioned building, and taking a 15min AC break is like breathing life into me after walking around in that humid southern heat. Given that alot of the city was still recouperating from katrina, I was impressed that every section had animals aparently doing well. Only the sea lion exhibit had a sign saying “gone to texas”. There was also a free concert in the zoo that day – i was hoping to see Kermit Ruffins, but he was not on till 4:15pm and the heat was too much to wait for that. So i hopped on my bike and headed back to shayna’s pad, about 6 miles away. Along the way i stopped at Mother’s (on Poydras and Tchoupitoulas) for supposedly the best po boy in new orleans. It was my first and only po boy, and it was delicious. I got the one with ham, roast beef, and swiss. I ordered a side of greens, and .. get this .. there was more meat in my thing of greens then there was greens. AND, they through in a side of savory roast pork – not sure if it was on purpose or an accident. Gotta love the south. I met shayna at her place and we sat on her porch eatin the po boy in the heat. Thas the way to soak up the culture. Saturday night we went out drinking, hitting bars, bourbon street, Donna’s, the Oz, amoung others. More on this later if i remember.

Sunday i chilled most of the day, did some reading online about new orleans and readin’ of my book. Sunday night we ate at Orielles’ creole restaraunt. It was good, but not great, but the service was excellent and affordable ($10-20 entres). Monday we rented a car and drove around to see the post-katrina new orleans. First we went to Lakeview, then saw East New Orleans, and then the Lower Ninth Ward As everybody says, lower ninth ward, right across the bridge by the canal, was by far the most destroyed. You really must see the flickr pictures to understand the devastation.

Katrina really did a number on new orleans. Even though it was all over the news, and people still talk about it, it’s hard to paint an accurate picture. I was there a week, and i still couldn’t understand it as well as my friend shayna, who’s been there a few months. And even she can’t understand it as well as the ones who experienced it. Can you imagine losing everything you know? your house, your friends, your neighborhood? Businesses were looted, people lost those closest to them, kids would see dead bodies floating in the flood waters, and there was just too many people for all to be helped. Even now. Check out rebuild status from this june 2006 article from gambit weekly, local newspaper. But as i said before, the spirit is surprisingly strong. I met many that still love new orleans, wave their rebirth flags proudly, and are there to stay.

Monday night, after that sobering afternoon we treated ourselves to a tasty meal at Jacques-Imo’s Cafe. Jacques himself was there, and bought me a shot of tequila while i was waiting for the bathroom. Thats my kind of guy.

Tuesday I hit the st. louis cemetary no 1, and then magazine street. Did some shopping, and found Juan’s flying burrito. Yes, and i had to get my friend juan a shirt – the back says “We are all Juan – New Orleans”. Classic. After that, i noticed there was a joint called “Chad’s Bistro“, so we had to hit that. Then back to jacques-imo’s for another snack. Then we got our groove on at Maple Leaf Bar, listening to the Rebirth Brass Band. Those guys were great, the crowd was totally into them, and it felt very new orleans. That and spotted cat were my favorite two spots in nawlins.

I left, but my soul is still there. I see why many want to rebuild the city – the “rebirth” flags are everywhere, and slowly but surely it will rise again. As you may know, I quit my job, and I could easily move to nawlins and become a bartender. I could use some Big Easy in my life.

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