some things are exactly the same...
Last week, I attended the International Association of Culinary Professionals conference in New Orleans, my favorite city. My last>"/>
some things are exactly the same...
Last week, I attended the International Association of Culinary Professionals conference in New Orleans, my favorite city. My last visit to NOLA was pre-hurricane, and I was curious to get a general sense of the city’s recovery. The Garden District, downtown, and French Quarter give the impression that all is fine, but these neighborhoods sit on high ground, and weren’t as
effected devastated as areas like the Lower Ninth Ward.
Small signs of squelched prosperity are all around. An empty upscale bakery that looks like it was vacated in the night stands just near one of the city’s top restaurants. I’m warned from a few of my go to places, as they’ve changed hands in the last few years. Rue Royal’s galleries and boutiques have many lonely, empty spaces peppered in between them, and I can actually get a sunny table at Café du Monde in the afternoon. Everywhere you stand in the French Quarter, “For Rent” and “For Sale?? signs surround you, even on Brad and Angie’s block. I asked everyone I met about the city’s recovery, and at first I was afraid I’d get the “everything’s all better” gloss over, me being a tourist and all. I was really surprised how open and honest everyone was with me, though I don’t know why. This is New Orleans and the people are incredible here.
Just about every cab driver, hotel employee, restaurant worker, and shop girl I asked had the facts of recovery at the ready. Everyone is still in a great deal of pain, but they agreed that the general state of the city is steadily getting better. That being said, everyone had a giant “but.” The population of New Orleans stands at about 75% of pre-Katrina, and service industry employees put their industry (diners, cab rides, hotel stays) at about 80% pre-Katrina.
Many workers complained about the transportation system that hasn't been fully restored (the streetcar just started running a few months ago), making it difficult and more expensive to get to work when most people are already experiencing a decrease in wages. People are moving out of FEMA trailers at a quicker pace, but childcare is tough to come by, rents are through the roof, and homelessness is still a big problem, but not noticeable to tourists who travel on the upside of I-10 or stick to the designated guide book areas.
On an up note, the IACP conference wasn't the only thing in town. Pyrate Con was happening (yes, I totally had conference envy), and FOUR films are shooting in New Orleans right now, including the big-budget Cirque de Freak which is using as much local talent as possible. Popular restaurants like August (gorgeous but mixed reviews from attendees), Bayona (stunning patio), and Cochon (my new favorite place in the whole world), were packed, but sadly not with many pirates. We woke up in our apartment one morning to an impromptu brass parade promoting tourism (note to NOLA: promote tourism AFTER 10am, please. Ugh.)
Most people may go to New Orleans to use party as a verb all weekend long, but they miss the best that this city has to offer, outside of the food, namely the people. Everyone in New Orleans may still be as friendly as ever, but there is sadness there now, like a jovial friend that's just finishing a long illness. The people of New Orleans are determined to show visitors a good time because they know that's the road to a full recovery, and I highly recommend a visit. Even at 80%, New Orleans is one of this country’s greatest cities.
But if you do go, promise to look past your gumbo or your Sazerac, and ask you server how they’re doing. And when a shop owner greats you on a quiet morning, don't just give him a quick hello, stop and talk for a little while. Give the people of New Orleans the chance to tell you their story, and you’ll be richer for it.