I lived in New Orleans for two years in the mid-1980s. After I completed my masters degree, I got a job teaching at the University of New Orleans.
Although I have some pleasant memories from that time, living in New Orleans was not a good fit for this 20-something New Yorker. For one thing, it was too hot. But the main problems I had living there were cultural: the lingering vestiges of institutionalized racism, the cordial-to-your-face-but-gossipy-behind-your-back manisfestation of southern hospitality, and the “Laissez les bon temps rouler” approach to life that made me feel like I was too intense, too driven, and too ambitious to fit in. So I left, and I hadn’t been back since.
Despite these incompatabilities, I remember New Orleans as a beautiful city. Lovely homes looked out on delightful boulevards lined with majestic live oaks. Great restaurants and ramshackle dives served some of the best cuisine anywhere. And the city had a vibrant energy centered in the French Quarter. So when Katrina devastated the city in 2005, I grieved. So I decided that I wanted to see how it had changed and how it had remained quintessentially the same.
In December 2009 I made my return to New Orleans.
I didn’t blog about the trip, and I honestly don’t remember a great deal of my day-to-day itinerary. But I can recall some highlights:
- I stayed at the lovely Roosevelt Hotel, which had been closed since Katrina but was completely renovated and reopened in July 2009, just five months before I was there.
- On a “Post-Katrina Tour,” I saw some of the areas that were damaged, some that were completely destroyed, and some that were being rehabilitated and rebuilt.
- I reconnected with an old friend. Louise and I were in grad school together. She was from New Orleans and lives there again.
- I ate some great food, including a muffuletta from Central Grocery, lunch at Liuzza’s, an oyster po’ boy at Mother’s, and dinner at K-Paul’s.
- I rode the St. Charles Streetcar out to Audubon Park. (I never rode the streetcar when I lived there.)
- I went out to some of the city’s gay clubs, including Cafe Lafitte’s in Exile, the oldest in the United States.
- I saw the house where I lived in the Gentilly neighborhood, seemingly unaffected by the storm.
And how did it feel to return to New Orleans after 25 years? I had a wonderful time! It was sad to see how Katrina affected the city, but I got a real sense of hopeful optimism as well. It was a city in recovery, but the prognosis is excellent.
New Orleans is a city that is so much easier to appreciate as a visitor than as a resident. As the expression goes, it’s a nice place to visit, but I (still) wouldn’t want to live there.
I didn’t take a lot of photos. There’s just 21 in my album.