Five years ago, Hurricane Katrina made landfall.
Much has been said about this grim anniversary, and I won’t top what numerous news outlets have said about the terrible events and the recovery since. I’m especially encouraged by stories of the city reinventing itself, with entrepreneurs arriving in the city to start businesses and spark the economy.
One tiny silver lining: Katrina is partly responsible for my love for New Orleans.
I’d never been to New Orleans before the hurricane and the levee failures, though John had tried to talk me into going to Jazz Fest. All those heart-breaking images of streets under water and people waiting on their roofs to be rescued moved me to take action.
Tourism is one of New Orleans’ biggest industries so we decided to help with recovery in a way I felt totally qualified for — I might not be much help swinging a hammer in a Habitat for Humanity house but I know a little something about eating, drinking and watching music.
With two other couples, we flew down for the first Jazz Fest after Katrina. It felt like a combination wake, exorcism and celebration.
I got chatting with a woman outside the fairgrounds about our decision to come specifically because we wanted to show support. She hugged me, and asked me to please come back, spend more money and bring my friends.
I wish I knew her name so I could tell her done, done and done.
Knowing the city only post-Katrina helps me not take it for granted. I see every single thing I love about NOLA as fragile.
As part of anniversary coverage, a British writer named Paul Oswell shared his open love letter to New Orleans:
Someone once said that life is either looking forward or looking back. There’s never The Moment. In New Orleans, The Moments come with joyful ease if you open yourself up to them. Walk through the French Quarter with a frozen Daiquiri. Grab a picnic from St James Cheese Company and sit in the sunshine in Audubon Park. Stick your head round any door on Frenchman Street and hear a blast of infectious music.
Sit in a streetcar and rattle through the Garden District. Eat baked ham at Mothers, or beignets on a Sunday afternoon at Café du Monde. Fall in love by the Mississippi. Do all of this is one day.
I’ve known places with civic pride, but never one whose residents so ferociously love, breath and embrace their city, eating and drinking its spirit with gusto at every opportunity, and letting it drip from their grinning chops.
I’ve written several posts about New Orleans and people there I admire. If you haven’t yet read enough about NOLA, you might check out:
- A profile I wrote on Clint Maedgen, a New Orleans multi-instrumentalist who leads the New Orleans Bingo Show, does about 250 gigs a year at home and around the world with Preservation Hall Jazz Band and still has a one-man band, a wife, a son and a sense of humor.
- A profile of Ben Jaffe, the second-generation creative director of Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Ben talked to me about honoring the tradition of the New Orleans institution his parents built while infusing it with new ideas and energy so it doesn’t become a museum piece.
- I didn’t expect to like New Orleans Jazz Fest, but it surprised me. Now I look forward to our annual springtime pilgrimages and I’m deeply grateful I gave it a chance.
- I’m not alone in loving traditional New Orleans jazz — so does Woody Allen.
The New Orleans Times Picayune has some excellent coverage, as you might expect, of the anniversary. Some of my favorites are before and after photos submitted by readers and an opportunity to post your thanks to anyone who helped you post Katrina.
And of course if you have HBO, you can watch David Simon’s new series, Treme. This trailer is lovely but not suitable for work.