With this weekend being the 10 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, I thought I would reflect on my experience with the storm. Though I have never lived in New Orleans or Louisiana for that matter, I have many dear friends who I’ve met while in DC who are from the area. And I’ve befriended many of the locals who I see each time I return. My annual sojourn down to NOLA for Mardi Gras gives me a different perspective. While I was not physically or economically impacted by Hurricane Katrina, I was emotionally affected.
Between 1995 and 2005, I had travelled to New Orleans eleven times – 6 times for Mardi Gras, and 1 time each for New Year’s Eve, Southern Decadence, a wedding and a Congressional junket.
Most tourists, unfortunately, don’t venture much outside of the French Quarter. Thankfully, I was taught by friends local to the area that New Orleans had so much more to offer than 78 square blocks that is the Vieux Carré.
My dear friend Monica had me visiting Uptown (which ironically is south of The Quarter) quite often. Not only did I get to see some of the most beautiful grandiose mansions along St. Charles Ave., but along the 30 minute streetcar ride, I would get to pass Tulane University and come close to the Audubon Park Zoo. We would end up at Cooter Brown’s Tavern & Oyster Bar, where I had my first taste of alligator.
On other trips, I would visit some of the jook joints in Treme, Marigny, and Chalmette, which were not necessarily the safest of neighborhoods, but a damn good time. I have fond memories of Sweet Lorraine’s. Then there were the many trips to visit the famous cemeteries at the end of Canal Street near City Park.
The photos above were taken in the lower Ninth Ward during our trip for MG06, six months after the storm.
In the months after the devastations of Katrina, me and my friends who’ve gotten so much joy from our trips down to the Crescent City, decided that we would return to New Orleans the next year for another Mardi Gras. The city wasn’t going to recover solely from federal dollars, the economy had to rebound. And that meant residents had to return and tourism had to continue. The common mantra we heard that year from the locals was “thank you for coming back!” For us, it wasn’t even a question.
Since the levees broke, we’ve been back to N’awlins seven times for Mardi Gras. And who could forget the pouring rain mud-fest that was British Pat’s bachelor party for Jazz Fest in 2007. And every time I return, I make new friends. On our trip to Mardi Gras this year, we met Corey, who bartends at our favorite breakfast place – Deja Vue. He makes a mean bloody mary and an absolute delicious French 75.
By the way, I was sitting at Deja Vu one morning, and a guy comes in, orders a drink, sits for a minute and then leaves. When he left, I said to my bartender, he looks familiar. He said to me, “that was Kermit Ruffins. He comes in a lot.” Kermit Ruffins is a local jazz trumpeter. He’s quite well known nationwide in the jazz circuit. He was also in the the HBO series, Treme, which is about New Orleans’ recovery after the storm.
I will continue to love this city and will visit it as often as I can.