Immersion journalism

Never let it be said that I am not devoted to the craft of journalism. OK, so I’m not Nellie Bly, the pioneering female journalist who in the 1880s faked insanity to study a mental institution from within. But I’ve done something actually insane: Just in time for our young homeowners feature, I’ve gone and bought a house. So now, I am a young homeowner, in proud possession of a quirky Uptown home (the linen closet locks from the inside, presumably so my towels and sheets can feel safe, but there is no door, locking or otherwise, on the master bathroom), a backyard full of banana trees and a hefty monthly payment that is about one-third insurance. I couldn’t be happier.

On a crazy-busy Thursday, I signed all of the closing papers for my new home, took a brief moment to thrill at the feeling of the keys in my hand and then rushed over to the photo shoot at the home of Ian and Amanda Smithson, our featured young homeowners. When I told them I’d just closed on a home moments before, Ian took a bottle of champagne out of the liquor cabinet and congratulated me on joining the club –– the club of nutty, romantic people who decide that banana trees in the backyard balance out a monthly payment that is one-third insurance.

Ian and Amanda, high school sweethearts from Virginia who landed in New Orleans so that Ian could attend medical school at Tulane, are the kind of people who give me hope for New Orleans. They moved to the city in June 2005, made friends, succumbed to the charms of the city … and almost immediately lost everything in Katrina when their Broadmoor apartment flooded. Ian attended medical school at the interim school Tulane set up in Houston, and Amanda stayed in New Orleans to work with Save the Children. When that year was up, they could’ve gone anywhere. But instead of running away, they bought property. And instead of going back to medical school for his second year, Ian asked for a year off to gut and rebuild a house. And instead of telling him he was crazy, Amanda learned how to plumb. (“There was wine involved,” she says when asked how Ian convinced her to start from scratch on a home.)

As excited as Ian and Amanda and my husband and I are about our homes, one home is just about all we can handle. Not so for our other featured homeowners this month. Bunkey and Kate Prechter King and Pamela Pipes are lucky enough –– or crazy enough –– to have two places to call home. The Kings can take their second home anywhere: It’s a yacht. And Pipes has a second home in Palm Beach, Fla., that might be short on space but is long on style.

With all of the celebration going on both in my personal life as a new homeowner and in the city with White Linen Night, the Red Dress Run and the Vieux Carré Soiree, it’s all too easy to forget that August can be a tense month here as we keep an uneasy eye on the Gulf.

But we can’t change hurricane season, and we can’t erase the scars of Katrina. All we can do is go forward, and as we mark the fourth anniversary of that awful storm, I’ll be popping the cork on the bottle of champagne that the Smithsons gave me and celebrating the faith and love that we all have for this improbable, impractical, precarious, glorious, wonderful city. And although I will be mourning –– am always mourning –– what the city used to be, I will also be rejoicing in what it is becoming while I raise a champagne flute out in my new backyard among the banana trees.

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