Take Me Back to New Orleans

Before the levees broke there was a city of nostalgia and deep longing. Katrina just multiplied the grief. Tenfold.

Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Ever since the levees broke, I’d been meaning to get back there. But things kept coming up. So it is when you’re doing the avoidance dance. I’ve always had a complicated relationship with New Orleans, my ancestral home. I finally made it back to NOLA two summers ago, driving past my grandparents’ long-abandoned house. Literally driving past it. As in: I didn’t recognize that big, old, double-shotgun, where I’d spent many a summer running ‘round and ‘round the backyard.

Even up in Uptown, far from Ward Nine, Katrina had reach: Her winds wreaked havoc on my family’s home, wiping away fences, smacking down shutters, smiting the garage. Wiping away the past with a fierceness.

But then again, when I think of New Orleans, it’s always in the past tense. Even before Katrina. Katrina just put an explanation point on a period. From its cemetery tours to Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo to its music, New Orleans is firmly rooted in nostalgia, holding onto what once was. It’s what propels tourism there, what lures revelers there for Mardi Gras, that whiff of exoticism and decadence hung over from days gone by: Laissez les bon temps roulez. Let the good times roll. No matter what.

But underneath all that partying and nostalgia is a deep, desperate sense of sadness and longing.

Katrina just multiplied the grief. Tenfold.