This afternoon I spoke to a chef who is opening a restaurant in Broadmoor. She and her husband moved to New Orleans just before Katrina. “Perfect timing” is all I could say. She just nodded.
Yes, this is another “Katrina” article. I recognize that there are some of you who do not wish to read another such article, and I understand that sentiment. I understand it on a couple of levels, in fact. There are those of you who don’t want to remember the experience, and then there are those of you who feel we should move on.
But it’s coming up on 10 years, and I’m hardly the only one to write about it; maybe I make the reference more often than I should, but I cover restaurants, and restaurants are a big part of the Story Of New Orleans Post Katrina.
Cut me a little slack, and I’ll try and work some humor in here somewhere and we’ll all get through this together.
The chef in question is from Slidell, and I’m not giving her name because I didn’t discuss writing this piece when we met. I live in Broadmoor, and I only spoke to her because I happened to see a sign going up and decided to stop and check it out. She and her husband were working in the Northeast before they decided to move back, and other than the fact that they came down just before Katrina, I don’t know anything else about their experience.
I don’t know if they lost their home, where they evacuated or when they came back. It didn’t really occur to me, and I find that interesting, because we did discuss how the restaurant scene has changed. The chef told me that she was concerned about opening yet another new restaurant, but said words to the effect, “This is all we know, and we decided to go all-in.”
How many of us does that sentiment describe? I don’t blame anyone who left New Orleans after Katrina because of the fear that another storm would hit and finish what the post-hurricane flood started. Just because I can’t live anywhere else doesn’t make me virtuous. In fact, if a clinical study were conducted, I think the irrational need to live in New Orleans might meet the criteria to be classified in the next edition of the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders.
This is where, if I weren’t so tired, I’d come up with a clever name for the disorder. Instead, I must rely on your creativity, dear readers, and hope that you will suggest a name in the comments, below.
Seriously, let’s make it a contest – come up with the best name for a mental disorder in which the main symptom is an inability to live anywhere more than an hour’s drive from New Orleans.
I will be the sole judge of the contest, and as a prize I will, at your discretion:
- Sing the national anthem for you over the phone
- Record a voice mail message in which I tell your callers that you are lovely and smell very good
- Describe a meal I ate in New York City’s Chinatown in 1984 in great detail, including the seven-hour period thereafter
- Allow you to choose one work from my collection of “Outsider Art” (by the artist G. Ruth Peyton, age 3)
- Promise to leave you alone forever (this option not available to my immediate family)
If this goes well, we’ll print t-shirts, people, and I’ll, I mean we’ll, be in gravy.
What I remember from 10 years ago is painful, and I’m confident that’s the case for most of you reading this. There were a lot of difficult things going on in my life at the time, and the experience of being away from home involuntarily was something I hope never to experience again.
I remember being in Memphis, Tennessee, in the bar in the lobby of the Peabody Hotel, and watching news coverage of the city flooding. It’s a hackneyed expression, but I was crying into my beer. Or whisky, I can’t recall now.
I remember an idyll in Columbia, Tennessee, when my friends hosted us for a few weeks at a place that, even in those trying times, I still think of fondly. I was going through some photographs I took around that time, with the intent of sending them to my friend Daniel, and the sense of gratitude I feel is overwhelming.
I remember that house was the first time I’d had access to a kitchen in weeks, and I recall going to a grocery and buying things to cook. I remember the first thing I cooked – and I have no idea why – was crepes. I must have turned out 3 dozen of the things.
I remember some of the folks, who lived near this house in Columbia, coming by with a hell of a lot of food, and apologizing for not doing so sooner. They hadn’t realized we were from New Orleans. I remember that country ham very, very well. Some of it went into crepes, actually.
I remember the day we found out that the power was back on in my mother’s home in Amite; and the drive back from Tennessee, during which I called in to a talk radio show being broadcast from Nashville. I don’t remember the name of the host, or the station, but it was clearly the middle-Tennessee version of Rush Limbaugh, and when I tuned it the guy was talking about whether we should rebuild New Orleans.
I like to think I was articulate about why New Orleans mattered, and maybe I was. I do know I thanked the host and all of his listeners for being so kind to my family while we were there, and he seemed to like hearing it, and so did the next few folks who called in.
I remember how grateful I was that some friends had already cleaned out the refrigerator in my mother’s house, though at that point I had no idea how great a favor that was.
I remember feeling fortunate to be in a familiar house, but anxious to be so close to my home and still unable to visit. I remember the close quarters and the tension and that’s all I’m going to say about that.
Then I remember being back in New Orleans, and feeling as though writing about food was frivolous. In fact, I wrote something along those lines on my (now-defunct) website. Then I started getting emails from people who hadn’t made it back yet, asking me whether one restaurant or another was back open.
So I started driving around town, taking pictures of restaurants and writing about where each was in the process of returning. I reported rumors, which I regret, and I reassured a lot of people, of which I am very proud. I wish I’d saved more of the pictures I took back then, and I wish I hadn’t let the hosting on my old website lapse, but I’ve got an archive of the posts somewhere in a .txt file, and the pictures probably weren’t as good as I remember anyway.
What started me down this road was the realization this evening that I hadn’t even asked a chef I met today about her experience. I don’t know if that’s progress or whether I’m just so weary of considering it that I can’t even raise the topic these days. I guess it doesn’t matter, so I’m going to go with the former.
I have made great strides in the last decade! I no longer ask strangers to tell me about a horrible, life-changing experience within moments of meeting them!
I joke because that’s what I do to avoid thinking seriously about things sometimes, but the truth is that I have made strides. I am not the sort of person who feels that adversity is necessary for such positive changes. I am grateful for a lot of things about my life after 8/29/05, but the Katrina-aftermath experience is not among them.
I’m better than I was 10 years ago today. I’m stronger, happier and healthier. I hope all of you can say the same.
Also, PARTICIPATE IN MY MENTAL DISORDER CONTEST.