Visiting the Gulf

Bradless but hopeful.

Bradless but hopeful.

From New Orleans: The last half-decade has been hard on the Big Easy. Five years ago, the levees broke, water invading the streets. Five months ago, a well pipe leaked, oil invading the waters.

Cruising through the city, monuments to Hurricane Katrina’s devastation are all around: “X,” the FEMA-spray-painted check for inhabitants after waters receded, still eerily marks the spot of many homes. The decomposing skeletons of buildings—all bones and teeth and cartilage—rot on roadsides. Concrete foundations rise up out of the earth like an above-ground tomb at Lafayette Cemetery.

This past Sunday was the anniversary of the hurricane, and concerns over the start of shrimping season earlier in the month brought even more bad news. And while the effects of the oil spill at this point are not as visibly evident, its imprint upon industry and environment will no doubt be felt for decades.

The media has been relentless with perilous, bummer reports from the area. I think we could all use some good news from the Gulf.

When I recently paid a visit to the Crescent City, it was music, not water, that flowed through the Quarter’s streets, enveloping everything in its path, all day and all night. Quiet was perceived as suspicious.

It was beer, not oil, that spilled from plastic cups taken “to go” from nightclubs as I wandered the Marigny. (Local brewer Abita’s Save Our Shores Pilsner helps clean up the other mess; go find it at BevMo.) The smells of gumbo, shrimp po boys and sugary beignets lurked around every corner. And the spirit of the city—warmth, strength, resilience, pride—seemed to course through every resident’s veins.

I met many who were affected by the hurricane, but the universal response was looking forward.

There was Brad, the waiter at a famous historic restaurant in the Quarter, who raved about the money he made in construction, which helped him start over upon his return. There was Josh, who liked that he got to check out Manhattan for a bit, but was relieved to finally find his way back six months ago. And then there was Liam, the surfer/cook who worked a vendor booth at the French Market and, upon my “I’m sorry” after hearing he lost all he had, responded, “Don’t be. It was a rebirth.”

And New Orleans itself is slowly being reborn. There are no doubt many more difficulties still to face, and a week’s visit won’t tell you everything. But I can say I had a wonderful time.

My only bummer news is that I missed Brad Pitt by a matter of days.