Category Archives: New Orleans

Rebuilding the marshes five years after Katrina

The boat sped through the marshes, past a BP staging area of trailers and mobile homes set up on the water’s edge near a busy dock. Fishing boats with outstretched arms of nets sit idle, though I can’t tell if this is due to the spill. In the distance, column of thunderheads gathers, dark as crude.

Up until today, most of my hurricane-related volunteer work in Louisiana has centered on houses. I’ve gutted, restored, and rebuilt, but what good is that if those rebuilt neighborhoods are left exposed to future storms?

Louisiana loses a football field of wetland every 38 minutes, thanks in part to channels cut for oil drilling. These natural barriers have historically helped slow down the wave action churned by big storms that move through in late summer, but they’re disappearing fast.

Read the rest of this story online at Matador Network’s Change blog


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If the oil comes

I could barely make out the shape of the city’s skyline though the smog. The nighttime lights bathed it in a sickly yellow glow, but there was the unmistakable arc of the Superdome and the twinkling curves of the Mississippi River bridge.

The boat bobbed gently on Lake Pontchartrain, the water below dark as crude. I don’t sail often, so I couldn’t help thinking that this could be the last time I see the lake this clean. Summer means hurricanes, and hurricanes mean that oil slick in the Gulf could be pushed our way, up into the rivers and lakes and bayous and marshes I’ve spent many summer evenings staring out over.

The lake has always been dirty. I remember learning what a syringe was as a kid because the shore near our house was littered with them. And I noticed every summer when we went fishing in Slidell, our catches would diminish. We clearly don’t need any help polluting out waterways.

The biggest shame, though, is that all we can do is sit here and wait, helpless, for the places we love to take a final spin around the toilet bowl.

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The high water mark

So Starbucks is giving away free coffee today if you bring in your own mug, in honor of tax day. I rode my bike over to the Starbucks in Lakeview, put my travel mug full of hot coffee in my water bottle holder, and rode back home.

I’d forgotten that this Starbucks has painted a pinkish stripe on the outside of the store to mark the waterline. They’ve put up some nice metallic letters spelling “KATRINA” in the middle of the line. It’s about 7 feet high.

The water that spilled into this area from the breach in the 17th Street Canal sat in the streets for days, leaving a yellow-orange line on all the buildings and houses and street signs. Some days it’s easy to forget, as I’m biking around all these beautiful, bright new houses, that everything in sight of my apartment was once under several feet of water.

As unpleasant as that reminder is, maybe, while people are eating scones and drinking coffee, they’ll remember that we shouldn’t get complacent even though the water is gone. It’s also a testimony to the defiance of rebuilding here, which is something I take pride in even though I haven’t decided whether that defiance is a sign of bravery or stupidity. Maybe it’s both.


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Farm to table

I nabbed one of the coolest assignments ever recently, with the new magazine Edible New Orleans. It’s great to see the locavore movement growing in a place where cuisine is already such a major part of the local culture.

Yeah, hot sauce!

I visited Tony Accardo’s farm to write about his amazing selection of heirlooms, which also feature prominently on the menu at Dante’s Kitchen. I loved this restaurant so much that I went back again last week. It’s in an old shotgun house near the river and the walls are lined with jars of pickled veggies from Tony’s farm. Many of the creative and delicious “local vegetable selections” use Tony’s produce, too.

But my favorite part has to be the hot sauce. Dante’s keeps two oak barrels on the bar with two house-made hot sauces, which you can sample in tiny shot glasses. This will seriously blow your mind, people.

One is the “eternal damnation,” made from 18 different peppers–all Tony’s. You really can taste the complex flavors layered in the sauce from all those peppers. It’s insane. The second is made from the fatality pepper, one of the hottest peppers in the universe. Apparently it’s “mellowed” some in the oak barrel, but it still about killed me.

I really appreciated seeing both the produce in the ground and on my plate.  It’s important, I think, to know where your food comes from and to maybe even meet the person who’s grown it. You get a sense of appreciation for all the effort that goes into farming–and cooking–which is something I think we often take for granted. It’s nice to slow down when you eat and sort of give thanks to all the people who have helped make that meal possible for you.

So the lighting was terrible for my admittedly amateur photography. But the food is beautiful. Check out next month's Edible New Orleans for some great shots!

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Believe dat

In a few hours, the New Orleans Saints will play in their first Super Bowl. When they won the NFC Championship game two weeks ago in overtime, the city erupted in pandemonium. There were fireworks, cheering, horns honking, people screaming in the streets. Grown men crying. If they win tonight…well, I can’t even imagine.

So this must mean the Saints are the soul of New Orleans. At least that’s what the media has proclaimed over and over as they tell the story of how much the team means to a broken and battered city. Even Gregg Rosenthal, writer and Tulane University graduate has more or less positioned himself as the outside expert on the city in his recent columns, wrote: “The team is the heartbeat the city, of everyone you meet.”

By that logic, everyone in the city would drop dead if the Saints no longer existed. There’d be nothing left to live for. There’s nothing else keeping this city alive. Apparently he’s forgotten the distinct local flavor that permeates the humid air. The joie de vivre of every day living here. The culture, the history, the brass bands and cuisine. None of this is contingent upon our football team.

But here’s why we love them, and here’s why they’ve made such a great story that writers like Rosenthal are compelled to make sweeping statements: Because the team reflects our underdog experience, because the team has similarly risen from the ashes, bounced back from adversity. Because our love for the Saints reflects our welcoming attitude towards outsiders. Because a winning football teams gives us another reason to party–not that we need one, but we’ll take it. Because guys like Drew Brees have given back to this community. And because we’ve waited a really, really long time for this.

You’ll hear a lot about the Saints’ story, the city’s story, today. But make no mistake: The New Orleans Saints are not the heart and soul, the lifeblood, the heartbeat, the whatever, of this city. The people are.

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What the what?

At long last.

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Mardi Gras Survival Guide

Natives of cities like Mobile, Alabama and New Orleans seem born with Mardi Gras survival skills—what to bring, where to park, where to pee. Newcomers to Mardi Gras in the Gulf South are at a disadvantage, but this guide should level the playing field come parade time (February 16th this year).

Start Early

Mardi Gras may be about indulgence and debauchery, but you’ve got to be serious about your preparations. Die hard revelers actually sleep next to the parade route overnight or bring their frat buddy’s beat-up couch out to the median. This isn’t entirely necessary, but you should still get out to the route early to avoid some traffic and to secure a good spot. Use a tarp or blanket to stake out your space.

Read the rest of the story online at Matador Nights.

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