Saturday, January 27, 2007

Impressions of New Orleans

OK, here are some belated impressions of New Orleans now that we've had time to think about it.

The city is damaged. You can tell. The French Quarter is all gussied up so that the tourists will feel good, but it just seems odd. There are almost no grifters or homeless people about. We did see some homeless folks in Fauberg-Marigny, but not in the Quarter. And there was a certain desperation in all the shops. We consistently had people saying thank you for coming - and spending money - now please tell your friends that it's safe to come down - and spend money!

In Jackson Square, the number of artists and tarot readers was way down. Also, there were quite a few galleries on Rue Royal with Going Out of Business Sale signs. Ordinarily, I would tend to be skeptical of this, and in New Orleans, it pays to be skeptical. But I had the feeling that this was the real deal. Walking down the streets in the Quarter, it seemed like there were way fewer people than I remember. We got to talk to a few shop keepers, and they agreed with that - one said that there were about half the number of tourist that you would have expected for this time of year pre-Katrina.

Continue reading about NOLA...

We also noticed that a number of businesses were off their game. We ate at Nola one night, one of Emeril's restaurants. We had eaten there before, and it was one of the best restaurant experiences either of us had ever had. This time, the food was good, but the service was not the effortless ballet that it had been before. I think that part of the problem is that many of the people who used to work in the quarter have not returned. When we were at the Crescent City Brewery, there was a guy doing the oyster bar, and a few folks were welcoming him back. Turns out that he'd only returned to his job there 2 days before - a year and a half after Katrina!

The changes were more stark once you got out of the French Quarter. We rode the streetcar out to the Business District to Julia Street to check out the art galleries. There were only about a half dozen people on the streetcar, all of us tourists. When some folks started chatting with the driver, he told us that they had only gotten the streetcars working again for a 10 block distance - out of the original 7 miles! You can forget riding out to the Garden District. We did get to check out some nice galleries, but some that we had seen before were just gone.

Fauberg-Marigny and the part of the French Quarter fronting on Armstrong Park were much worse off. There was no pretense of gussying up for tourists. Marigny was alway kinda dicey - some nice places, and some not so nice. Now, there were some very nice places side-by-side with some wrecked places. Shattered windows, a balcony that had clearly fallen off so now the roof was propped up by temporary beams that were now anything but temporary. And yet, some places were showcases. We were admiring one particularly nice place when someone pulled up in a car, handed us his card and asked if we wanted to buy it - he was the realtor. This bespeaks a certain desperation, and he did tell us that the price was originally $650K, but now it was more like $500K. Not a good market to be selling in. Over the weekend we heard several similar stories.

We also noticed the markings on many of the buildings or sidewalks indicating that crews had been through checking for bodies and not found any. Or, in some cases, how many they found. We weren't quite sure about that because the marks were done inconsistently. Keep in mind that Marigny was one of the more well-off places as far as flooding was concerned. The markings were conspicuously absent in the Quarter - can't upset the tourists! We tried talking to a shop keeper in Marigny, who wasn't really interested in sharing stories of the aftermath and recovery with us. What was interesting was when another local came into the shop while we were there and started talking to the guy behind the counter about a meeting at the town hall earlier in the week. It dealt with the sudden spike in crime. Turns out that Anderson Cooper was there. The local said that he had watched the newscast to see what kind of spin Cooper would put on the story. He went on to say that sometimes Cooper is good for the city, sometimes he's not, and this time he was not good for New Orleans.

We wandered about quite a bit after that, and then returned to the Quarter. The next morning, we saw on the news that the 10th murder this year had happened in Marigny at 6:00 am that morning. They showed a map of the location, and the hubby and I had walked right by the house the day before - twice. It was a dispute between a father and son over money that turned deadly. The newscaster went on to report on the measures that the city was taking to reduce the crime wave - roadblocks and checkpoints. Uh, sorry folks, but there is no way that checkpoints could have prevented the killing that day. They did manage to hand out some traffic violations, though.

We had noticed how the Quarter was crawling with police - both LA state police and city police. We did not notice the heavy police presence anywhere else. I can understand the desire to protect the Quarter - it's a great source of revenue for the city. However, people are hesitant to go to New Orleans because of the crime wave. They'll never see the police if they don't come! Which brings us to the heart of the matter with the crime wave. A large part of the problems that New Orleans is facing is the same problem that our nation is facing, only greatly magnified. The problem is poverty, and no amount of police presence will solve it. People don't choose to be poor. Sometimes they are born to it, sometimes it is thrust upon them. But they will try to deal with it in whatever way that they can, and frequently we will consider those ways bad - desperate times do indeed call for desperate measures. However, you won't solve this by telling them it is a bad way, or by punishing them for choosing the bad way. We'll solve it by giving them some better option!


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