A lot of us are experiencing unpleasant memories while watching the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico – both because of the initial damage done and because we know so well how awful the recovery process can be.
I have a number of friends who were born in Puerto Rico, but I’m writing this blog for one in particular. He’s a friend I met at a meeting of outside counsel for a client a few years ago, and we bonded over food. His name is Jaime.
We were seated next to each other at a dinner and started talking about our lives. I was struck by how similar our interests were. It’s not a universal truth, but I think it’s generally accurate to say that we do things a bit differently in New Orleans as compared to the rest of the country. We take things a little easier, perhaps; we pay more attention to food and to leisure. Where else is there a celebration like Carnival? Nowhere in this country, that’s for sure.
So when I met Jaime and we started talking about food, I knew I’d found a friend. He told me that his great pleasure was getting together with a group of friends to cook, drink, and generally pass a good time. He described his kitchen – including an outdoor grill – in some detail, and we talked a long time about the similarities between the cuisines of Puerto Rico and New Orleans.
He told me a lot about ingredients common in Puerto Rico that are difficult to find here and how to prepare them. I was familiar with some – cassava, yucca, taro – but there were some that we just don’t have here, and only recently did I realize that one of those ingredients, Apios Americana, is a plant I’ve been looking for during my intermittent foraging expeditions. We both agreed that chayote/mirliton is underappreciated, and we made plans to stay in touch.
We did, for a while, but we were both busy, and so the next time I saw Jaime was when that same annual meeting was held New Orleans. Because I am from New Orleans and something of a "Restaurant Insider," I was tasked with setting up the dinner. I was a little nervous about doing it, but then I managed to snag the upstairs dining room at Bayona, despite the fact that we were probably about five seats over their capacity, and everyone enjoyed the meal.
I hadn’t seen Jaime in about a year, but we picked up where we left off, and I ended up inviting him to my house for dinner. I was very much looking forward to hanging out with him in my kitchen and around the grill in my backyard, cooking and enjoying a beverage or two. I don’t remember exactly what interposed, but I do know that I ended up having to cancel our dinner and instead met Jaime for a drink and a quick bite somewhere downtown.
We exchanged an email or two thereafter, but he did not make the last meeting, and I did not follow up with him as I should have. Then I left the firm at which I’d been practicing law for 23 years, and it occurred to me very recently that some people, like Jaime, might try to get in touch with me without knowing that fact. So I’ve reached out to Jaime, my friend, in the hope that I can reconnect with him. It is extremely unlikely there is anything I can actually do for him, but I’ve made that offer, as well.
I am not familiar enough with the various agencies providing relief to suggest you pick one over another, but I have done some research, and I cannot fault any of the charities listed by PBS on this page.
You also may have noted that I did not address anything political in this blog. That is because politics are unimportant when we are faced with tragedies of this scale. When I evacuated to rural Tennessee after Katrina, not a single person asked me whether I was a liberal or conservative. They put us up and brought us damn good ham.
More important than the ham – and it was great ham! – was just to be recognized, to have someone reach out with an offer of help and hope when a lot of people were talking about how we should never rebuild New Orleans because we’re under sea level, and we’re lazy, and the subtext was we’re a majority black city. I am not about to start claiming I have the right to be offended on that front, but I can’t help but see some parallels with the Puerto Rico situation and … oh, shoot, there I am going political when I just said I wasn’t going to address anything political. Sorry.
So to sum up, I hope my friend Jaime is OK and that his family is OK and that Puerto Rico is and will be OK. I hope I can see my friend Jaime again, whether in New Orleans or San Juan, and that one day we will cook together and have a glass or three of wine/rum and just enjoy ourselves.