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Postcards from New York

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Friends from afar weigh in on the future of New Orleans

My sisters and I grew up in Greater New Orleans but live in New York and New Jersey now. After Hurricane Katrina, friends the world over contacted us to find out how we and our parents, who still live in New Orleans, were doing. They also reached out to help. My sister Marci’s friend Bill gave his guest cottage to my parents and their dog, Bogey, during their evacuation. I work for a state judge in Manhattan and my status as a New Orleanian brought me closer to many court officers and clerks in my building.

Linda and Ross Bodin first visited New Orleans in 2004 and loved it from the start. “It’s a combination of old and new, history and fantastic music, fine dining. You get it all,” Linda says. They were devastated when Katrina struck. “Especially as New Yorkers, we had empathy for a city in distress.”

Linda remains concerned about the less fortunate, who may lack the resources necessary to surmount the obstacles facing them. She hopes everyone who wants to return can do so-otherwise, the city may lose its “depth of culture”-and that the compromised levees are being repaired effectively.

Linda is optimistic about New Orleans’ future. With its spirit and culture, “I know it is going to rebound.” She and Ross are eager to return, support the local economy and help “bring New Orleans back to the place we all know it to be.”

David Evanier’s novel The Great Kisser will be published this October (Rager Media). He became an expert on New Orleans music while researching his biography of Louis Prima, which he’s writing with Prima’s widow Gia. “New Orleans is the musical soul of the country. Everything stems from it.

Traditional jazz, the blues, rock ‘n’ roll.” Also, it was “an early laboratory for black and white integration. … Though
segregated, the musicians found and were inspired by each other.”

Like many, David was heartbroken by Hurricane Katrina. He also worried about the future of the musical heritage. He is encouraged, though, that so many musical landmarks (Preservation Hall, Hotel Monteleone, Vaughan’s) survived. “It’s a miracle that the French Quarter, the most important part of this legacy, survived,” he says. “New Orleans is indefatigable. It can’t be beaten.”

Debbie Melnick, principal librarian for the Manhattan Civil Court, hasn’t visited New Orleans but feels great compassion for the city.

She helped in a way close to her heart: “I learned of the Women’s Bar Association Louisiana Public Library book drive … [and participated] in our court’s effort.” The drive was hugely successful; the last batch alone filled a dozen boxes. She also notes that people donated books they thought would help libraries to begin rebuilding. “They didn’t just use the book drive as an opportunity to dump their junk.”

Her sense from the news is that “the physical, economic and demographic structures in the region will develop again but in an altered way.” She adds, “I have confidence in the mayor and was happy to hear he was reelected.” If he receives political and economic support, she feels “he will be successful at leading the [city] forward.”

When Katrina hit, Chris Lombardi was a journalism student at Columbia University.

“We discussed it a lot,” Chris says. Katrina prompted conversations about America’s racial divide, media coverage and other issues.

Outside school, Chris worried about friends with local ties. In addition, her fears about the Bush administration were confirmed. “They did the worst job possible and shifted the blame to everyone else.” Chris hopes Katrina has awakened the nation to social and environmental concerns. Also, she’s angry help has been so slow to reach the city.

Chris hasn’t visited New Orleans but is intrigued by its character. She worries that corporate interests want to create a “Disney New Orleans” but believes local resistance will prevail. She hopes for a complete recovery-“partly selfishly,” so she can experience the mythic New Orleans herself. Even though it’s not in the forefront of people’s minds as much, “that doesn’t mean the [situation’s importance] has changed.”