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Debbie Sharp Loeb, teacher by training but full-time mom to a disabled son, craftsperson, bead artist, great cook, creative homemaker & terrific spotter of cool new products for everything under the sun, presents Hodgepodge: recipes, household hints, stories about children, friends & relatives, cool stuff, music, & much more.

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Monday, February 04, 2008

Article on New Orleans

This article was emailed to me by Hodgepodge reader Linda who says:
"I wanted to get the word out about New Orleans- we are still a broken city but our spirit is not. If you choose to put it on Hodgepodge I would be forever grateful- spread the word all over the country and world! "
Thank you- Linda

Benham column: New Orleans' Life Never Tasted Sweeter
BY HERB BENHAM, Californian staff writer
Thursday, Jan 31 2008 1:03 PM

In New Orleans, talking to yourself is accepted, encouraged, even celebrated as part of the local flavor, but the cab driver who picked us up at the airport and delivered us to our hotel in the Garden District raised talking to herself to an art form.

We visited New Orleans recently. I had no idea what to expect. I'd never been and after Katrina, it seemed like a whole lot of money to see a whole lot of bad news.

I couldn't have been more wrong. More surprised. More intrigued.
First of all, the food hasn't gone anywhere. Those people know how to cook. How to eat. How to sit for two hours and let the pleasure of company and a good meal sink in.
Crayfish bisque at Commander's Palace, sweetbreads at Clancy's and beignets at Cafe Du Monde (yes, they are better there).
That's just the food. Not that food isn't important. Especially when you combine a beignet with good strong coffee and lump crab meat with ice-cold champagne.
It's all about the people. Some have left. The city, now with 270,000, is a third smaller than it was before Katrina rolled through and flattened the place.
However, 270,000 is 270,000 and those who stayed, believed. They left when they had to, but like the couple we met at Clancy's restaurant, they have returned. It took 18 months, but they put on the hip waders, sloshed in and rebuilt.
So did the blond, 30-ish waitress at Galatoire's, who said 75 percent of her neighbors returned to her Gentilly neighborhood, built higher off the ground and are now throwing neighborhood barbecues again.
So did our black cab driver who gave us a tour of the Lower Ninth Ward, which he finished by driving by his recently restored 100-year-old house.
"We're going to be all right," he said. "We're going to be all right."
So did Sal, the middle-aged, white cab driver who took us to Preservation Hall one evening. Sal, a Catholic, slept on the floor of a Baptist church for six months and couldn't stop preaching the gospel of hope.
"We saw thousands of young people come here, work, tear down houses and clear streets," he said. "This is the greatest country on earth and you can tell people that."
Cab drivers, people in restaurants, visitors from Baton Rouge, what is it about the South? They have souls sweeter than the powdered sugar heaped on beignets.
New Orleans was cold, windy and rainy but the people weren't. Can you be beat up and upbeat at the same time?
Beat up but still warmer than a hot water bottle. Sit in a restaurant in New Orleans and you talk to your neighbors. You have no choice. It's not family style, but they might as well push the tables together.
This is what I heard: Come and visit. We're here, we're not going anywhere and we'll treat you better than about 99 percent of the places in the country.
I know I sound like the chamber of commerce, but I'm ready to drive the welcome wagon.
Sal, the cabbie who spent six months on the floor of the Baptist church, had four cataract surgeries at East Jefferson General Hospital after Katrina.
"I've never been treated better," he said. "I had the best nurses. Two of them were part of a group who won the $80 million lottery a couple days ago."
Good things happen sometimes to good people. To people, to neighborhoods, to a city that may be talking to itself, but refuses to quit.
I wouldn't bet against them.
Chuck Robinson, owner of an antique store in the French Quarter, compared New Orleans to gumbo - thick, rich and spicy. The soup needs time. Patience too.
We might find that a taste for good gumbo is a hard habit to break.


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