Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Keep on Trying Til I Reach the Higher Ground

Admittedly, it's been 28 hours and I'm still in deep recovery mode from my trip to New Orleans. I won't even attempt to recount all my adventures, insights and Abita-fueled escapades in this forum. If you want juicy details about the bouncer who willingly plied me with shots of Patron or tales of extreme bar hopping, you know where to find me. For the purposes of Shtetl Fabulous-ness, I wanted to focus on some of my perceptions and impressions of the Crescent City.

If you have never been to New Orleans, go. Go now. Just as the media reported, the French Quarter and Central Business Districts escaped the storm's major wrath and you will see very little evidence of Katrina in the downtown areas. I highly recommend the Doubletree Hotel on Canal Street between Peters and Tchopitoulas (hope I spelled it right!). Great location, reasonable price and close to both the streetcar and Harrah's Casino.

What sets New Orleans apart from any other American city and what makes it so incredibly compelling is the culture. Nowhere else in the US can you experience a fully-developed local cuisine. While most of the Creole and Cajun specialities fell outside the bounds of kashrut, the essential flavors and spices carry through even without the pork sausage or shrimp. And if you do eat those things, then NOLA is a foodie's paradise on par with New York and other cities five times its size. And those beignets from Cafe duMonde do live up to the hype. Just skip the always long sit-down line and jump into the shorter queue in the back. You may even be able to flag down a tip-hungry waiter who will bring you your order to go.

Luckily music has fewer boundaries and the traditions of jazz and zydeco flow out of nearly every club and permeate your eardrums with their soulfulness. On one afternoon, my cousin and I strolled down Bourbon Street and heard the fascinating sound of a guy playing a washboard. The instrument covered his entire torso like a shield and he put his entire body into playing. A few days later, I heard classical jazz from an astoundingly fast trumpeter and a perfect rendition of the blues come from an wizened man on the harmonica. And where else in America can you walk down the street and randomly bump into an eight college-age guys in a jazz band?

Of course, all of these wonderful sounds, smells and tastes exist against the backdrop of the costliest natural disaster in our nation's history. After Hurricane Katrina hit, 80 percent of the city was under water and 120,000 residents still have not returned. On our tour of the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernards Parish, we saw abandoned shopping centers, dilapidated houses still tattooed with spray painted Xs and water lines.

Our guides told us that every green patch dotted with slabs of cement was once a home. I couldn't help but think of what would happen if the areas around the levees were allowed to revert to marshy swampland. How would the environment change? Would it be for the better? Would these newly rebuilt levees and houses be protected from the next storm?

As we drove through the Holy Cross section of the Lower Ninth, we saw kids playing on the porches of rebuilt homes. Again, I wondered what it must be like for them to grow up as tourist attractions? We clearly were not the first bus to roll through their streets and I hope we are not the last because I think it's really important for all of us to understand what happened in NOLA and to work to keep it from happening again.

Time and time again during my trip, people asked what we could do to help. Our entire group of 550 young adults spent a day volunteering at a former high school that spent two months under 12 feet of water after the storm. It was such a big deal we made it on the local news.

I don't want my experience to exist in a vacuum, so I hope hearing my stories will inspire you to take action. Here are some sites you can check out to learn more, give of your time or money and to make a difference.

United Way of St Bernard's Parish - a forgotten area deeply impacted by the storm
Make it Right Foundation - the closest any of us will likely get to Brad Pitt
Common Ground - great local group, plus my friend works there
Musicians Village - provides affordable housing for musicians to keep the music in NOLA

This is a really small sampling of all the amazing groups working hard (for very little money) to make New Orleans great again. If you know of other organizations, please post them in the comments section. Now, get packing!


Anonymous said...

Job 5:13 "He captures the wise by their own shrewdness, And the advice of the cunning is quickly thwarted.

Psalm 52:2 Your tongue devises destruction, Like a sharp razor, O worker of deceit.

Jeremiah 2:8 "The priests did not say, 'Where is the LORD?' And those who handle the law did not know Me; The rulers also transgressed against Me, And the prophets prophesied by Baal And walked after things that did not profit.

Jeremiah 5:13 "The prophets are as wind, And the word is not in them. Thus it will be done to them!"

Jeremiah 8:8 "How can you say, 'We are wise, And the law of the LORD is with us'? But behold, the lying pen of the scribes Has made it into a lie.

Jeremiah 11:19 But I was like a gentle lamb led to the slaughter; And I did not know that they had devised plots against me, saying, "Let us destroy the tree with its fruit, And let us cut him off from the land of the living, That his name be remembered no more."

Jeremiah 18:11 "So now then, speak to the men of Judah and against the inhabitants of Jerusalem saying, 'Thus says the LORD, "Behold, I am fashioning calamity against you and devising a plan against you. Oh turn back, each of you from his evil way, and reform your ways and your deeds."'

Jeremiah 20:10 For I have heard the whispering of many, "Terror on every side! Denounce him; yes, let us denounce him!" All my trusted friends, Watching for my fall, say: "Perhaps he will be deceived, so that we may prevail against him And take our revenge on him."

Jeremiah 43:2 Azariah the son of Hoshaiah, and Johanan the son of Kareah, and all the arrogant men said to Jeremiah, "You are telling a lie! The LORD our God has not sent you to say, 'You are not to enter Egypt to reside there';

Malachi 2:7 "For the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts. (NASB ©1995)

Anything Attack Attend Attention Care Counsel Cut Design Devices Devise Divine Heed Instruction Jeremiah Law Let's Lost Pay Perish Plans Plots Priest Prophet Prophets Sage Says Smite Strike Surely Teaching Tongue Tongues Wisdom Wise

Maya said...

hmm, I am totally not sure what "Anonymous" is trying to say... on the other hand, I guess crazies walking down the street spouting Bible verses IS part of the New Orleans experience...

My husband and I went to New Orleans for our honeymoon!! (The winter before Katrina and during the tsunami... and the only time New Orleans had snow on Christmas in 50 years...) Your description captures that amazing city so well. We saw this blues singer, Big Al, who was VERY big and amazingly talented... I always wonder if he's still there.

Oh, and I made beignets for Chanukah this year. They were actually delicious!

Rowe said...

You have done an amazing job capturing the essence of our trip from the participants POV. I looked forward to hearing more...holla