It’s another August 29, the fourth one since Hurricane Katrina smashed into one of the American cities that’s closest to my heart. I didn’t live in New Orleans in 2005 when the levees broke; by that point, family obligations and job opportunities had brought me to Philadelphia. But New Orleans is the type of place that stays with you – if you’ve lived there and loved there and allowed le bons temps roule to seep into your soul, some part of the city will always be with you. A fleur de lis has been imprinted on your brain.
It’s tough for me to write about Hurricane Katrina. For one, it’s not my story to tell. Although I did go back to the city to report for the Inquirer in the storm’s aftermath, I wasn’t one of the amazing journalists who raced against the flood waters, reporting and writing and photographing what would become a great American tragedy. I know these people from the Times-Picayune and elsewhere, and the work they’ve done inspires me, even as I’m saddened by the personal toll that the storm took on their lives.
Explaining New Orleans to outsiders is never easy. Tell current colleagues that you spent six years of your adult life there and wait for the smirk. Bars, booze, boobs – the Bourbon Street stereotype still lingers, especially for those who have only made convention visits or quick Quarter drop bys.
And well, yes, there was that. But there was – and still is – so much more. MusicMardiGrasJazzfestSecondLinesShotgunsCreoleCajunGumboGalatoiresYeahYouRite, not to mention the most welcoming populace in the country. New Orleans is a culture unto itself, strengthened even more after nearly being lost. I honestly believe you can’t call yourself a world traveler until you’ve experienced it – and you can’t call yourself an American unless you hope for its recovery.
So to my fellow travelers out there, it’s time to put aside any lingering misconceptions. Move Louisiana to the top of your list, acknowledge that it’s one of however many things you have to see before you die. Resolve to learn the meaning of the fleur de lis. New Orleans still needs you – and who knows? You may need New Orleans too.