New Orleans is open

New Orleans is open: On Flickr, I’ve posted some photos from the Louisiana Cookin‘ Magazine’s 2006 Chefs to Watch benefit dinner Monday night in New Orleans. As this will likely be my last New Orleans-visit post, I also want to point to this AP story and stress what it points out: The part of New Orleans most tourists and convention-goers know is up-and-running. While an incomprehensibly broad swath of neighborhoods are still struggling through the very earliest stages of coming back to life, and may never recover fully, — and these range from inner-city to affluent neighborhoods — such a tourist-iconic spot as Jackson Square was stunningly beautiful when I strolled through it Monday. And all those seedy joints on Bourbon Street are still seedy — in a touristy, seedy way. The beignets at Cafe Du Monde still taste exactly like you remember them tasting and there’s still powdered sugar and pigeons on the floor of the outside area. The Superdome is about to reopen and the Aquarium reopened a few months ago. The food is still glorious (as you’ll see on my Flickr photos). It’s amazing to me that the part of New Orleans that most conventioneers, Sugar Bowl fans and tourists know is still pretty much like you’ll remember. Even all those shops along Magazine Avenue are still there. Considering all of the businesses I passed by in other parts of town that are boarded up (including suburban malls and well-know chain retailers), there are an amazing amount of “wonders” to still experience in New Orleans.

According to the AP article:

“The state economic development department estimates 81,000 businesses in Louisiana were damaged by hurricanes Katrina and Rita last year. Though more than half reopened their doors by the end of 2005, it’s been a struggle for the rest to start up again or remain in business. More than 18,000 businesses have closed permanently since the storms.

That’s a staggering number, but, like any statistic, it doesn’t tell the whole story. Here’s another quote:

“Harris said the merchants, like most of the tourism industry, are trying to overcome the image that the entire city was destroyed. ‘We’re all hoping people will realize the Central Business District, the French Quarter and the city are basically fine,’ he said. ‘The outlying areas will take years to rebuild, but the business area of the city is basically fine.”

One last thing: It may be in a few weeks or years from now, but one day, you’ll be in New Orleans for a convention or a tradeshow or a sporting event or Mardi Gras or for a vacation. When that happens, I hope you’ll make it a point to seek out restaurants owned by chefs and local restauranteurs. Seek out local restaurants that reopened as soon as possible after Katrina. Not only do they prepare and serve the best food, they are New Orleans.

Update: The NY Times is running a similar story on Friday, a part of a series leading up to the first anniversary of Katrina.

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