So we’re picked up at the hotel at noon by the lead attorney on our case and taken to the firm’s office in New Orleans. We’re briefed on what’s to take place in the mediation the next day, returned to the hotel, and turned loose to explore and partake of the saturnalia that is the French Quarter.
We find a nice place to eat dinner. It’s called Oceana and is more a bar with restaurant seating than a restaurant. The atmosphere is considerably quieter than the other places we’ve passed on Bourbon however, so it’s a welcome thing. Neither Mrs|ce or I enjoy having music blared at us while attempting to eat. After an appetizer of oysters on the half shell, she has the fried oyster dinner, I have the jambalaya, she drinking a margarita, me an ice-cold lager. Total cost, 52 bucks. The quarter is a blast, but it ain’t cheap. Remember this is the one place I’ve found in the world where you’ll pay 4 bucks for a 20oz dr pepper (about a 1 1/4 pints brits) and a dollar for a 40oz beer (about 2 1/2 pints brits). We enter the fray looking to see how other parts of the quarter fared. Clusters of people roam the quarter and it feels like a good party during off season – business is a bit slow in most places, but still at a decent clip. These crowds will party all night. Mrs |ce and I see a few courtyards which were damaged, wander over through Pirate’s Alley into Jackson Square (St. Louis Cathedral is still pristine and beautiful, showing only a few roof tiles damaged) and see the closed down shops mentioned earlier.
Mediation goes well. I won’t discuss details, but I’m somewhat satisfied with the outcome. Started at 10am, ended after 5pm. What struck me most though was what we saw during the breaks in the action out on the top level of the parking garage (aka the smoking lounge – all open air). Mrs |ce and I both looked over 2 seas of blue, one beautiful, one shocking. The beautiful sea was Lake Pontchartrain which, after having such filth as was pumped back into it from the flooded sections of New Orleans, still looks pristine. Mother Nature seems to own a wonderful water purification process. The other sea, the shocking sea, were the roofs of the houses in the surrounding area, covered with blue FEMA tarps in lieu of actual roofs. There were literally hundreds. At least a dozen roofing crews were seen working steadily, but after 6 months of hard work their progress was barely notable. In Metarie at least, the devastation was incredible.
Now we were on the 6th floor of a skyscraper. There’s 2 others in the immediate vicinity. Plywood sheets are everywhere on the towers, and some windows still sit open to the weather with neither glass nor boards blocking out the elements. Our tower is being repaired, with only the first and 6th floors open for business, and those only recently. Window crews ride scaffolds up and down all three towers, and a drywall crew monopolizes the first floor.
5pm comes and goes, a settlement is reached, and two of my attorneys drive Trish and I back to the hotel. On the way we go through Metarie instead of taking the I10 back – and cross the 17th street canal. We drive right through a zone that still sits empty and desolate due to flooding. Million dollar homes line the roads, all covered with red and white X’s marking whether or not anyone alive or dead was found inside, and also marked with the dates they were found – these marks are near the roof of these 5 and 6 story homes. Quick peeks through holes where windows used to be show collapsed floors, molded and melted sheet rock, and sheer desecration of these once noble edifices. The smell in the air is of death and decay, and mold. This is the most shocking scene Mrs |ce and I see our entire stay. We’re told that 80 percent of the city is as bad or worse than this zone.
Putting the shock behind us, the evening brought a celebration dinner at a steak house on Bourbon called Embers. This is one of the older restaurants in the quarter, dating back to the early 1900′s. More raw oysters for appetizers, cold beer and mixed drinks, a very thick steak for me and fresh grilled gulf fish for Mrs |ce. Tab: $78 but damn it was good. Several more rounds of drinks followed at various bars along Bourbon, and we went to bed drunk and happy.
Our last morning arrives, we pack and load the car, check out of the hotel, meet with our lead attorney one last time to get a nice fat ‘starter check’ to tide us over until the settlement arrives, eat a wonderful breakfast of beignets and cafe au lait at Jazz Memorial Park (tab $6 bucks, beignets are cheap and plentiful, as is coffee). Planning to get a bit more sightseeing in we hit the streets yet again. We journey one last time to Jackson Square, buy some pralines as presents for our respective moms, and hop a horse-drawn carriage tour of the Garden District. This is the rich section of old New Orleans, with mansions owned by Nick Cage, Anne Rice, Archie Manning, and many other celebs. It’s required by city ordinance that all houses in the Garden District must appear from the outside to be precisely as they were when they were built, and special contractors must be hired to perform any restoration which takes place. Needless to say this is quite pricey to those who live there, and a wonderful tour to take. Katrina wasn’t merciful on the Garden District, although she didn’t hit it as hard as she did Metarie or Slidell. Repairs were being effected at many of the homes, and others sat waiting on contractors to come available, but the district still had beauty to look upon, and friendly, hopeful faces of residents who greeted us with smiles and waves as we passed. After the tour we returned to our hotel, got our car and came home.
All in all the devastation of New Orleans is still there. It’s still very severe. The outlook, however, is hopeful, as is the attitude of the residents. They hate Ray Nagin, most especially of late because of his ‘chocolate city’ comments on MLK day (willy nagin and the chocolate city t-shirts are popping up everywhere (think willy wonka)), as bad or worse than they hate their governor, and fema. Plan on some big changes come election day. They need an economic shot in the arm to spur more reconstruction, but otherwise they’re trudging onward. The merchants and locals are all looking to this coming Mardi Gras for this shot in the arm, and after discussing it with the hotel staff, and staff of other hotels we met, it’s a good bet they won’t be disappointed – the hotels are all booked solid, and large corporations are (for the first time) helping sponsor the week long party. So this to you travel types – hit mardi gras this year if you can. They need all the $ help they can get. Watch New Orleans rise like the Phoenix – all proceeds go to help Katrina victims. This year’s theme will be “Phoenix” – rising from the ashes to be reborn.
Ok, nuff said – I’ve been over an hour typing this and I’m exhausted.
Written by l3lacklce