NOLA: thankfully, a phoenix

I spent last weekend in New Orleans, Louisiana with my parents, celebrating my father’s birthday. It was a milestone one, but I’ll leave the numbers out in case he’d prefer it that way. πŸ™‚ The Husband didn’t get to join us because he had a different celebration going on: his parents were celebrating a milestone anniversary. What a weekend! Congrats and happy birthdays all around.

I’ve never had such a lovely time in New Orleans. It was one high point after another. I left work early on Friday to get there in the early evening, and walked Bourbon Street with the folks and had a delicious dinner at NOLA, one of Emeril’s restaurants. Saturday morning was my father’s big birthday event, the Crescent City Classic 10k race, a very big and very big-deal race through the French Quarter and out to City Park. I ran with Pops to the start and ran around a bit til the race came by where I was stationed on Rampart, and even jumped in to run a few blocks with him – I’m not a runner, really, but had a nice run myself while he had a very HOT but ultimately successful race. Next was breakfast with my mother, walking the French market, and then lunch with all three of us together again.

Then we went to the Louisiana State Museum to see their Katrina exhibit. This is difficult to describe. According to the National Hurricane Center, Hurricane Katrina caused close to 2000 deaths when it hit Louisiana in August of 2005, and in the weeks of aftermath, including flooding and major loss of services. As a Houstonian, I was only indirectly affected; I had friends who evacuated, and I made new friends, as some New Orleanian evacuees stayed in Houston. Searching various sources tells me that my city absorbed the largest number; NPR claimed in 2007 that over 90,000 New Orleanians were still living in Houston. I’ve visited NO all my life, and certainly was aware of appallingly great suffering and the recovery that has been taking place ever since. I’ve traveled back to NO a number of times since 2005 – including for my honeymoon in 2008 – and I’ve seen how well the city is doing; but I’ve also seen that things are not the same as they were, and they never can be. I’ve seen the high water marks on the freeway walls – several stories up.

But I hadn’t taken any of the “Katrina tours” offered, and this was my first museum exhibit. It was beyond powerful. There were photographs, interviews, objects & artifacts, text, interactive educational displays (mostly relating to the “forensics” of how the destruction of wetlands contributes to flooding, the myriad ways in which levees can fail, hurricane formation, etc.), and multimedia displays, audio and video recordings of folks telling their stories. I cried. I promise you would cry too.

I think this exhibit should be required for visitors to New Orleans. This event will never cease to be deeply relevant to everyone’s experience of the city; the horror that took place, and the efforts necessary to rebuild and recover, are an important part of the city’s culture and what it has to offer today. I love this city and its people, the great food, the friendly attitudes, the art, the extraordinary live music, the irreverence and the unapologetic, frank approach to the party lifestyle. It’s a very unique culture, and I’m glad it’s back, although in a slightly different incarnation.

When we left the museum after this intense and emotional experience, it was time for a change of pace. We took a streetcar out of the Quarter to a pub my father had found. It was just our kind of place: long beer list of obscure and diverse beers with quirky, knowledgeable, friendly staff. We camped out there for most of the rest of the day, and I got to drink a bottle of De Drie Fonteinen Schaerbeekse Kriek!! My father and I visited this brewery years ago, and I wrote about it for the newsletter of the liquor store I worked for at the time, and golly, there’s a picture floating around here somewhere of me with the brewer… it’s a very, very rare bottle to find, and it was very exciting to me to find it in NO – and very yummy to drink! (This was only one of many exciting and delicious finds.)

We left the Avenue Pub (highly recommended) late in the evening, and caught the streetcar back into the Quarter for some live music. We watched a sidewalk act for a while and then settled at Cafe Beignet to watch Steamboat Willie’s band play. Both were outstanding! I settled in feeling very content with my weekend.

On Sunday morning, on our way out of town, Pops took us by a statue he’d seen after Saturday morning’s race. It’s a memorial, in the spirit of New Orleans: using color and whimsy to commemorate a tragedy. Like singing at a funeral. It’s called the Scrap House, by Sally Heller, and is part of a commission by the Art Council of New Orleans of public art. Made of recycled materials, it depicts a little bayou shack stuck in the top of a tree.

We stopped on the way home at the Cafe des Amis in Breaux Bridge. This was another outstanding meal – I recommend the Crawfish Cornbread!

And finally, the bookish news: I finished Jacqueline Winspear’s A Lesson in Secrets, started Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca (review to come), and listened to the audio of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five in the car with the parents on the way home (review also to come, but for now I’ll say WOW! like I do for all of Vonnegut’s work).

I’ve never had such a lovely time in the beautiful Crescent City. It has so much to offer. If you’ve never seen New Orleans, now’s the time. Be sure you go to the Louisiana State Museum (right on Jackson Square), and be sure you bring a handkerchief. Thanks Mom & Pops for a beautiful weekend.

Edit: Pops found the picture of me with Armand. Thanks Pops!

Julia at Drie Fonteinen w/ brewer Armand Debelder, Jan. 2006

4 Responses

  1. This makes me want to go to New Orleans. I haven’t been in at least 10 years.

    I’ll just follow your itinerary … except for the running part! πŸ™‚

  2. Oh my, you should definitely go! What fun. 10 years is too long. No running necessary – was definitely a new view on the French Quarter for me. πŸ™‚

  3. […] But as soon as we started listening to this audiobook (my parents and I, on the way home from New Orleans) I knew I’d never heard or read this book before. Vonnegut is always thrilling and […]

  4. […] the whole sum total of my knowledge of Sara Gran’s book when I began it, and that was enough. I love New Orleans and I think my favorite mysteries are those with a strong sense of place, a well-developed sense of […]

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