Lou and I went back to New Orleans this past December, from the 27th through January 2nd.
Our original flight was cancelled as were our rooms at the Sheraton on Canal Street. We couldn't fly non-stop out of LaGuardia like we usually do. Instead, we had to stop in chicago. Anyone who's had to go to chicago in the winter knows what a nightmare that was. The Sheraton sustained water damage and was only housing relief workers at the time of our intended stay.
We easily found lodings at the Hotel Convento (the place the song "house of the rising sun" was written about) and we were much closer to Jackson Square.
When you fly to NOLA, you fly directly over Lake Pontratrain and the 9th Ward /Bernard Parish. This time, in addition to being happy to be returning to NOLA, I was terrified because I knew I was going to see live, up close and personal what I'd been watching for the past 4 months. (A note, by the time you pass over the lake and the 9th, you are very very low, almost landing) As we passed over, my mouth dried up and my heart missed a beat. All you saw was a sea of broken homes and battered vehicles with the ocassional blue tarp on a roof that was lucky enough to still be attached to 4 walls. The trees looked like broken toothpicks and the piles of rubble were more numerous than you could count.
The airport was all but deserted. The usual train of taxis waiting to take you to the quarter was significantly shorter than usual. The ride was quicker because there was less traffic.
Then you see the red Xs painted on the doors. On every door. On every street. Even in the quarter, and even on restaurants and historical buildings. The significance of the numbers was gut wrenching. The date, how many dead inside, how many taken out alive.
Naturally, you want to go to your favourite places to see how they fared. Seven out of every 8 establishments were still closed in the quarter, the garden district, uptown, CBD, Foubourg Marigny. Of those that were opened, they were open at a very reduced schedule. The curfew was lifted for the holiday week. Army National Guard still had a tent city on Decatur Street.
My boyfriend and I cried and rejoiced more during that trip than any other. The loss is unparelled and words cannot do the images any justice. An entire population is scattered and almost forgotten except by their own and those who would still love NOLA. We spent New Year's Eve in Jackson Square with everyone who managed to get back to their homes in time for the holiday and with tourists who simply couldn't stay away another minute. People raised glasses at midnight in the thickest fog I'd ever seen and shouted "we're still here!".....and in that fog, I felt every other person who'd ever lived there before, saying the same thing.....'we're still here'.
The day we were leaving was the day they began the 9th ward drive through tours. The man who is doing the tour is a wonderful man who lost much but feels compelled to keep the story in the public eye. I intend to do the same.
Lou and I are going back in March. If any of you can visit, you'll never forget the place and will pine to return before you even leave. Millions of ghosts and spirits from a myriad of backgrounds cannot be wrong.
As a personal opinion, I believe the local musicians and restaraunters have done more towards a rebirth and renewal than any government agency. I will always support their efforts.
How can we sleep while our beds are burning???