With the recent Superbowl win, New Orleans this February felt like a phoenix rising. Mardi Gras on February 16th, 2010 was electric and extra celebratory. The feeling in the air was buoyant and alive. The crowds were densely packed, often jumping in unison to catch those famous multi-colored beads tossed unceasingly from those beautiful, inventive and elaborately crafted floats. The hard drum beat from the numerous marching bands kept people moving. When the parades were over, the crowds filtered en masse into the French Quarter. And there people with their fanciful costumes, rubbed shoulders with tourists and other locals. The line for Cafe du Monde stretched down the street, everyone craving those warm doughy beignets caked in powdered sugar. As the day progressed, the bars got increasingly busy, and the revelers rowdier and wilder.
For the few days, I was in New Orleans, I visited the French Quarter daily. I love the music that echoes through the streets, the architecture and the galleries. We indulged and sampled the best restaurants in the French Quarter and every night, they were overflowing with patrons. It was wonderful to see a New Orleans so full of life, so vibrant. So different from the images I saw on the news in August 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit.
New Orleans is still struggling with this new normal. When you wander outside the French Quarter, signs of the devastation from Hurricane Katrina are still visible. A constant and painful reminder of what was lost.
For residents of the more impoverished Ninth Ward, Upper and Lower, the area that was perhaps the hardest hit from Katrina as they were flooded from multiple sources, rebuilding continues to be struggle in spite of the assistance from Habitat for Humanity and numerous celebrities including Brad Pitt, Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis.
Yes, New Orleans is still hurting despite valiant efforts to rebuild and recover. For a brief moment in time, Mardi Gras reminded us all of the joie de vivre that once was and still is so prevalent in this city. There is a spirit you find in cities that have experienced the worst that humanity can bare. There is just that extra passion for life, that extra appreciation for what you have got and that extra love for those people dear to you. I went to New Orleans to see in part what had happened four and half years after Hurricane Katrina and perhaps to see how I could help. While I left with a twinge of sadness, that one feels when you see someone you care about hurt, I did not however, expect to leave feeling so enriched with life lessons of perseverance, gratitude, and overcoming what seems to be insurmountable difficulties.