Wednesday, September 28, 2005

New Orleans Update

Ah the spirit of New Orleans lives on .... (taken from an email forward to me by a friend down in New Orleans)


Candy may be dandy, and liquor may be quicker, but on Monday, when the juice again began flowing in the French Quarter, it was the power that re-energized happy hour

Curfew? What curfew?

For the first time since Katrina, the streets of the French Quarter didn't go dark Monday as night fell.

Streetlamps and neon signs glowed, loud bars stayed open past midnight, and carousing patrons cheered the LSU Tigers on television. Local eccentrics were back in their element. And there were tourists, even if most of them were relief workers or law enforcement personnel.

What was strangest about the scene was that it was so strangely normal. But in the wake of two hurricanes, restoration of electricity in the city's oldest and most cherished neighborhood was like finding a pulse on a patient who was thought to have flat-lined.

"When the power came on, I said, 'Yea!'" said Bonnibel Byars, a part-time Ursulines Street resident who had just returned from her other home in Minnesota. She was impressed by the activity in the Quarter, the lodestone of New Orleans' tourism industry.

"I was skeptical," she said, having expected things to be "kind of desolate."

Byars was enjoying a cold beer with a friend at Stella, a Decatur Street establishment that was serving up smoked sausage sandwiches, cheeseburgers, salads - and blessed air conditioning.

On the upriver end of Bourbon Street, music, strobes and barkers lured passersby into several fleshpots and honkytonks that were back in business.

Rock reverberated from the Famous Door, where Deborah Richard, Heineken in hand, was one of a handful of patrons. "I'm surprised. I didn't think anything was open," said Richard, an off-duty corporal with the Department of Homeland Security. She had just arrived in the city from Philadelphia and had yet to learn her assignment.

Richard said she got the mistaken impression from TV media that New Orleans was flooded throughout. "The way the news explained it, I thought it was all under sea level," she said.

Famous Door manager Art Irons said the bar opened a week ago, only to be quickly shuttered by city officials and Hurricane Rita. "We had people. We had cold beers. We decided to see if we couldn't get back to normal," he said.

Irons said he wanted to give people something to do "besides looking at damage."

A block away, at Bourbon Street Blues Company, a female bartender climbed on top of the bar and gyrated to music before an enthusiastic crowd of about 18.

Another bartender, Bridgett Derdin, sang the praises of local residents. "During the summer, the local people pay our bills," she said. "We're trying to get Bourbon Street going again. New Orleans takes care of New Orleans."

Customer Wayne Williamson was happy to lend himself to the cause. "It wasn't a whole lot of fun until power today," said Williamson, a credit union manager who returned late last week to his French Quarter apartment. "The place has been dead," he said. "We can start the comeback now."

Along the Quarter's largely car-free streets, many storefronts and homes remained darkened, but streetlamps gleamed throughout the district.

Sidewalk trash bins had been emptied, but the stink of piled garbage was still inescapable. Closed pubs and boarded-up shops far outnumbered bustling businesses, but some, such as The Original Dungeon at 738 Toulouse St., posted signs promising a Tuesday reopening.

A small crowd gathered around the Royal Street Grocery, apparently the only store in the area selling staples such as cigarettes, aspirin, batteries and insect repellent.

Owner Robert Buras, wearing a Saints cap and a T-shirt with an alligator on it over the words "Cajun yard dog," said he left only briefly about four days after Katrina hit, when looting and lawlessness were at their peak.

"We had separation anxiety," Buras said.

After numerous trips in and out of the city to restock his wares, Buras was back in business within a week of Katrina, serving crawfish etouffee as well as red beans and rice.

On Monday, his wife, Fahreena, worked the kitchen and the counter, and their 3-year-old daughter, Ava, dashed around customers' legs and played drums on a plastic can.

One of his most loyal customers, James Stephan, 58, pronounced the chicken "delicious," then washed it down with a Coke.

The shop's inventory offered long-deprived locals such surprises as Starbucks coffee, lemons and peaches, postcards, and pints of Wild Turkey.

"I'm going to be resettled in the first place that's a community again," Buras said of the French Quarter, crossing himself as an expression of gratitude that the electricity was back on.

On Decatur Street near the Quarter's downriver boundary, laughter and conversation spilled from Molly's at the Market, a watering hole that, like Buras' grocery, had been operating even without electricity.

Before the power came on, Molly's honored the official curfew and closed at 6 p.m. On Monday, the bar stayed open until a more civilized 2 a.m.

"It's a regular Monday night crowd," said Uptown resident Greg Ensslen, who rode his bicycle to the bar with two friends and dined on donated burgers.

Ensslen said the bleak state of the city had been depressing. "It felt like when you break up with a girlfriend because you've done something wrong."

Shortly after 9 p.m., two New Orleans police officers pulled up to Molly's in a motorized cart. The crowd of about 18 grew hushed, and the jukebox stopped playing a Van Morrison song. Whether the bar was being shut down seemed an open question.

A moment later, the jukebox cranked up again and the officers were mingling in the crowd. Asked what time the curfew kicked in, officer S.M. Smith exhaled a cloud of cigarette smoke, shrugged and said, "Whatever."


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10:03 AM  
Blogger ZiPpo said...

This is a real comment on your N'awlins Update. Can you tell me if Cafe du Monde is open, Margaritaville, or the French Market?

Thank ye, me bonnie wee lass.

6:48 AM  
Blogger Sassy said...

I don't know directly although I read several reports that said Cafe du Monde did not get hit that badly during the first round of hurricane damage.

Man I remember eating there just in June, yummy!

6:02 PM  

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