Saturday, July 22, 2006

French Quarter Still Lives

My daughter’s best friend since elementary school, who’s attending the Culinary Institute of New Orleans, has met us at the mall for a happy reunion. Tara’s been here since January and navigates around the city with a food compass. She knows all of the best restaurants, all of the good food markets, all of the culinary legends, and regales us with the history of Creole Cuisine and Cajun Cooking.

Tara leads us around the French Quarter, peppering our walk with spicy New Orleans legends and salting it with savory snippets of gossip. Downtown New Orleans and in particular the French Quarter was built on the highest ground in the area. When the levee broke, water from Lake Pontchartrain flowed into the downtown crescent as far as St. Charles Street, bypassing most of the French Quarter. It was the brutal arms of Katrina that tore boards from storefronts, punched out windows, and spewed water into the shops.

On the third day after the storm the sun came out. And so did the looters. With every law and emergency worker that didn't abandon post busy rescuing people, guarding merchandise was a low priority. Stores like Lisette Sutton's Creole Delicacies were stripped. In addition to such necessities as food and water; clothing, cosmetics and drugs, twentieth century pirates commandeered liquor and cigarettes, designer duds, jewelry, electronics, and anything they could barter for a buck. Not since the days of the infamous pirate Jean Lafitte has Pirates Alley seen more thievery.

We pass Café Du Monde, crowded with tourists and others sinking beignets into café latte. Jackson Square is powdered with pedestrians, bicyclists and the lovely horse and carriage charmers that lend romance to the French Quarter. Stores and restaurants are open, people are shopping, drinking, laughing. Life is all about us.

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