The first and last time I visited New Orleans was in 2005 just 2 months after Hurricane Katrina eviscerated the city. It was a ghost town. At that moment in time, exploring this pedestrian-friendly city by foot was simply out of the question.
So instead, my parents, whom have been to New Orleans no less than a dozen times, toured my brother and I around by car to see what was left. Even though 2 months had passed, the sight was indescribable and unimaginable. Twenty minutes was all I could take before a lump of anger, sadness, shame, and empathy rose up in my throat and practically choked me. The floorboards quickly became my focus until we hit Baton Rouge. And I was just passing through.
It was one of the few times in my life when food was the last thing on my mind.
As the city’s residents began putting their lives back together in the weeks following the storm, I was amazed to hear how food played a vital role in the rebuilding. Even before electricity was back on, a handful of restaurants started serving again (albeit limited menus). Some locals even set up mini-cafes in tents or out of their homes serving just a couple of dishes, but the impact was huge.
In such a food-centric city, it was tremendous to see and hear how people were coming together over the simple enjoyment of a good meal. I was absolutely in awe.
Last week, I had the opportunity to go back. I could feel the lump rising in my throat as a I drove in nervous to see what had been fixed, and what hadn’t, as my first impression six years ago was just plain heartbreaking.
As I roamed the French Quarter, Garden District and Frenchman’s District, there were some visible scars. There were a few tattered buildings and a handful of homes that will likely be torn down rather than rebuilt, but much looked restored as if nothing had ever happened. Esplanade Avenue is no longer littered with broken refrigerators and unidentifiable remnants from people’s homes.
Of course, the restoration and reparations are still a work in progress. One local attributed the remarkable recovery to the intense devotion of residents to their city, which is truly a rare find.
What really took me aback was the effervescent life of the city. It was overwhelming. This is what I had always envisioned the historic New Orleans to be, and I couldn’t wait to jump in.
In a post coming soon, I’ll share with all of you the INCREDIBLE food I had the pleasure of devouring during my brief return to this great city. For now, I’d just like to say that I am truly humbled by the residents of New Orleans and Louisiana for not allowing such a horrendous tragedy to change the way you eat, you celebrate and you live. Thank you for letting me experience it the way it was meant to be seen.
Sara from Texas