Tuesday, March 8, 2011

New Orleans, I Remember

In R.E.M.'s song Houston, a citizen post-Katrina leaves everything once loved and familiar for Houston, thoughts racing. "If the storm doesn't kill me, the government will, I've got to get that out of my head...So a man's to put to task in challenges, I was taught to hold my head high. And so there are claims forgiven. And so there are things that are gone."

In "Oh My Heart" (from their new album Collapse Into Now), it is not an exodus out, but a homecoming to the beloved New Orleans, now "a city half erased."

"This place needs me here to start. This place is the beat of my heart.
The storm didn't kill me,
the government changed.
Hear the answer, the call, hear the song rearranged.
Hear the trees, the ghosts and the buildings sing.
With the wisdom to reconcile this thing."

I love the hopefulness of the latter song. Nature, so powerful a force, cannot be conquered, governments powers will shift, but will and spirit reawaken in the human soul. In The Curious Case of Benjamin Button film set in New Orleans, based on the F. Scott Fitzgerald story, it was declared, "You can be as mad as a mad dog at the way things went, you can curse the fates, but when it comes to the end, you have to let go."

Today, on this Mardi Gras, looking back at the few short days I got to know New Orleans (post-Katrina). She feels like an old friend you haven't seen in years, but you immediately feel like you've picked up where you left off like it was just moments ago.

The sun shining on Jackson Square.

Bananas foster at Arnaud's Restaurant.

In 1951, a chef at Brennan's Restaurant created Bananas Foster, named for Richard Foster, who served with owner Owen Brennan the New Orleans Crime Commission. Recreate it at home.

Cafe au lait and beignets at Cafe Du Monde.

Musicians filling the street with the sound of jazz.

Not wanting to leave the South without having had fried green tomatoes. Mission accomplished at Louisiana Bistro, where the chef made me a vegetarian plate like none I've ever had.

Remembering no matter how lush your surroundings in life and in your sendoff, we all have the same destiny.

Admiring architecture so unique to the city.

A rainbow smiling over the river. A smile on my heart, remembering New Orleans.


  1. What a BEAUTIFUL vegatarian plate!
    Knocked my socks off more than anything :)

  2. It was divine! The chef was so friendly. This was not on the menu and he came out and asked what he could make for me since I don't eat meat. There really is something to be said for that southern hospitality.

    Thanks for the comment!

  3. The French Quarter, one of my favorite places on Earth, blending history, architecture, arts, and fun. My wife insists that it is the nocturnal decadence that attracts me to the French Quarter. There is some truth to that.

    Pre-Katrina, the bartender at the pension we were staying at asked me if I wanted my drink to stay or to take outdoors. It was 3pm and we just arrived from hours-long drive from Houston.

    " What do you mean? I can take my drink outside on our walk?"
    " Yeah, " bartender said with conviction.

    I liked the place immediately.

    Post-Katrina, I noticed that the places were closing early. They've lost most of their workforce, either killed or homeless. It was still fun on Bourbon Street. The people refused to sulk and fret. The party went on.

    Brennan's used to be, in the 1850s, the home of Paul Morphy. He is considered the first American world chess champion. He's buried in the cemetery St. Louis on Basin Street. I didn't dine at Brennan's but asked to see the premises. Soon, I realized that they had torn down walls and the bathroom in which Morphy died would be unrecognizable by now.

    I like the place, the French Quarter. My 15-yr old dog just passed away around the time of my first visit (2004) and I lit a candle at the church on Jackson Square to light his way in the afterlife.

  4. Hi Ted. Thank you for sharing your memories, and interesting bit of trivia about Brennan's. What a difference I thought to New York City, where the picnic crowd has to hide their wine in paper bags or drink discreetly in cups while watching an outdoor film in Bryant Park or enjoying a concert in Central Park.

    "People refused to sulk and fret." Sounds like many of us could learn a lesson from them. I'm guilty of sulking myself over matters in a year's time I'll have forgotten. Life goes on. We can dwell on the bad days, but I'd like to remember the positive ones.

  5. Just a point of clarification, the French Quarter didn't go underwater during Katrina. It is actually high ground inspite of the river running along it. Many people who work in the French Quarter live in the outlying areas and those went underwater and the people made homeless. I don't know if you saw the very expansive Lake Pontchartrain which lies just north of the French Quarter. That's the cause of the flooding when it overflowed during Katrina.

    My wife thinks I am crazy for considering the French Quarter as the place to retire. She maybe right since there was/is a lot of poverty and crime surrounding the area, making the French Quarter somewhat of a mirage, an aberration, a much confined dreamland, an island in a stream of crime.

    Nevertheless, I want to go back.

  6. I took a small bus tour to the outer areas of the city badly hit by the hurricane. I still recall the shells of houses that remained, and wondered about the fate of their inhabitants.

    I know many people who have told me they are put off by the rowdiness of Bourbon Street, but I think a city is what you make it, and shouldn't be dismissed wholesale because of the behavior of some. I hope you find your way back to this dreamy city, even for a visit.