Did you ever go to visit a friend who had survived a serious illness? There is no question of your desire to see them, but all the way there you had an uneasy feeling because you simply didn't know what to expect. That's just how I felt last week when I went to New Orleans for the first time following Hurricane Katrina. I had been there 12 times prior because I simply love it the city. I cannot get enough of walking the French Quarter and its surrounding neighborhoods and virtually every time I've visited I've found a new side street or a new shop to explore.
I'm now happy to report that the French Quarter is open for
business and that you should most certainly send your clients there. The
restaurants, the bars, the shops and the hotels are ready to serve with an
extremely enthusiastic level of energy; I stayed at The Windsor Court (along
with about 100 luxury travel agents who are top producers for Orient-Express
Hotels); the service at the hotel was exemplary and the rooms were pristine and
I do admit I took my walk toward the French Quarter with
some trepidation. A trip up Canal
Street revealed several boarded-up buildings; it
was also chilly for New Orleans,
there was none of that sultry humidity that hugs you every step of the way. I
headed over to the shuttered Fairmont Hotel, whose fate has been in question
since Katrina. While it was indeed fenced off, its front doors were ajar and I
saw workers moving up and down the very long corridors that in the past have
been so opulently decorated at Christmas. (Later that evening I heard a rumor
that the hotel, which has always been a key landmark for the city, may indeed
reopen.) Energized, I crossed Canal
Street, which now boasts a long line of towering,
fresh palm trees all along the streetcar track towards the Mississippi. I dropped in at The Ritz-Carlton;
I have to say, I have never seen a hotel sparkle so much.
I walked down Bourbon
Street and peeked into Galatoire's, which is once
again serving adoring New Orleans'
locals. All of the strip joints were open, as were the T-shirt shops and those
selling voodoo memorabilia. I realized I was grinning; I was getting my New Orleans groove back.
I made a right onto Royal Street
and there was the A&P; I dashed in and bought three packages of New
Orleans-blend Community Coffee to take home, which I've done on every past
visit. Along Royal Street musicians were setting up; and on Decatur in front of
Café du Monde a most melodious trumpet player had snagged one of the most
enviable sidewalk spots in town and was being tipped generously by everyone who
The chilliness of the morning was burning off and it was
beginning to get balmy, in fact, it was turning into a rather warm, Southern
day. It wasn't sultry yet; we'll have to wait a few more weeks for that. But
otherwise, my New Orleans
The challenge now in New
Orleans is a housing shortage; restaurants, hotels and
shops are lacking in staff because there is simply no place for people to live.
Many of those who do have a home are living in FEMA trailers. At the heart of
the problem is a slowdown in the Louisiana Road Home recovery program;
according to The Times-Picayune, more than 103,000 people have applied
for housing grants, but fewer than 400 have had closings, thanks to endless
slowdowns within the system. The good news is that last week the House
Financial Services Committee in Washington was
set to hold hearings to deal with the shortage of affordable housing along the GulfCoast.
This, nearly one and a half years after Hurricane Katrina destroyed thousands
of homes and apartments.
That this national treasure has been left to fend for itself
following one of the worst catastrophes in our history is a national disgrace.
I'm not sure why it's become okay for this city to suffer so; its suffering has
actually become a part of the fabric of our culture. Let's hope that the new
efforts in Congress have an impact, and soon.
In the meantime, you can assist on the grass roots level by
signing up for Habitat for Humanity at www.habitat.org, where you can donate or actually volunteer
to work on homes around the city. In the meantime, please send your clients
back to New Orleans.
Give them the chance to sample the Big Easy's rebirth for themselves.
Ruthanne Terrero, CTC Editorial Director