Here are five great reasons to embrace New Orleans a decade after Katrina.
New York Times best-selling local writer and journalist Chris Rose really said it best. “We dance even if there’s no radio. We drink at funerals. We talk too much and laugh too loud and live too large and, frankly, we’re suspicious of others who don’t.” It’s not often we reflect back 10 years in our lives, but nearly every New Orleanian can tell you where they were on August 29, 2005. I didn’t lose anyone or anything significant, but I’ll never forget that day and the weeks that followed.
My husband and I had only been married about five months, blissfully ignorant and madly in love. Hurricane Katrina arrived quite unwelcomed, violently rocking our lives as newlyweds. My whole family was evacuating, but I refused, opting to go to West Jefferson Medical Center where my husband was working as a CCU nurse. I remember thinking it would be like any other storm, where I would be stuck in the contra flow trying to come home, while my husband was already home watching TV. I packed just a bag and my wedding album, and we moved into a hospital room with another couple before Katrina made landfall.
Next thing I knew, I was helping move critical-care patients away from windows, rationing water and food, urinating in a biohazard bag and watching Aaron Broussard run amuck without his toupee. We played board games, while listening to Garland Robinette and watching the National Guard move about the hospital. When my husband was asked to receive a patient from the helipad, I was terrified he would be shot, listening to reports of snipers. After a few days, he was allowed to leave to bring me out of the city. I had to get IV fluids due to dehydration, and we made our way to my friend’s house in Lafayette. Homemade gumbo never smelled so good! I remained there with her family for two weeks, and was blessed to return home with minimal damage and some MREs to boot.
Fast-forward one year; my marriage had survived quite a test. My family only lost refrigerators and roof shingles, and my Granny had another major hurricane story besides Betsy. The following September, we were so happy to be at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for the Saints homecoming. For those who didn’t go through it, it might sound trivial, but it was the most amazing feeling. I no longer thought, “Wake me up when September ends,” but more of “The Saints are coming!” It gave everyone hope.
Katrina reawakened my love for the city, and we have since built a home and had two children. While I believe the city has much to improve upon, there are some things about New Orleans that I just need in my life. I encourage you to embrace them as well.
We now have not only more restaurants post-Katrina, but more variety. Chefs are planting roots and serving up phenomenal dishes. I’ve always been a huge fan of John Besh and thoroughly love the happy hour at Pizza Domenica. There’s traditional drum at Jacques-Imo’s to mouth-watering wings at Mopho — our options run the gambit. Foodies from all over the country head to the Big Easy for a gastro experience like no other.
Micro breweries, Tales of the Cocktail, a classic Sazerac. Didn’t finish your drink at dinner? No problem, you can have a go cup. Need something cool on the way home? Swing through a daiquiri drive thru; we serve them up like Slurpee machines. New Orleans made it through Prohibition with cases of absinthe in tow. We keep it local, and we love it.
If you’re looking for a good time, you’ve come to the right place. Our bars don’t close when people crawl home, and we’ve happily joined the no smoking movement. Yay, I can go to Gold Mine Saloon and my hair won’t stink! As a float lieutenant for the Krewe of Cleopatra, I save up my party juices the whole year for one magical evening. Where else in the country do kids get off school to party hard, and then pray and fast? Sin, repent, repeat.
New Orleans has its own joie de vivre, a completely unique approach to life. You always know you can get red beans on a Monday, that there will be St. Joseph Day altars at Lent and we’ll find any excuse for a second line. It’s those things I miss when I’m away. I might get hit with massive humidity as I deplane from a trip, but that suffocating heat makes it home. And it gives me an excuse for a sno-ball.
As I talk to more friends who aren’t native to New Orleans, I am learning that we have our own way of speaking. “Come, see! Ya heard me? I need a brake tag. I’m going up front. I live down the road. I’m on the neutral ground side. Oh, that’s just lagniappe.” I could go on and on about the dialect and conversations you’ll hear on a walk down one of our busy streets. From the Bayou to Metry, we might not make sense to everyone else but we certainly get one another.
We emerged from the waters a stronger, more vibrant city. We love our home with a passion and are proud of all our little nuances. As we reflect on the last decade, get yourself something good to eat, have a Sazerac, catch a coconut and manage the heat with a sno-ball. Ya heard?
-Angelina Chauvin Vicknair