NEW ORLEANS, 02 September I thought so much of New Orleans,
one of the world's most unique cities that I included on my web
site mast head an image of an original New Orleans Jazz Band at
www.ronbookmanandassociates.com. It's symbolic of the great music
and jazz culture of a City I came to love, New Orleans.
If you've ever tasted the red beans n' rice at Mason's Strip on
old Claiborne back in the day, or the stuffed shrimp at Dooky Chase's,
or the original gumbo at Commander's Palace or the specially fried
chicken prepared from a secret recipe by Chef Austin Leslie, "you
truly know what it means to be in New Orleans".
With all of its problems, New Orleans remained a great place to
live and to visit. It's food, it's people and all of its great history.
So it's painful to watch as many of my friends and family have lost
their homes and sadly in many instances, their lives.
The devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina this week is beyond
comprehension. Yet, it was not totally unexpected. Many geologists,
engineers and scientists had predicted for years the misery that
would come in the wake of one hurricane too many. Yet, it's difficult
to tell homeowners and friends that "you better get out or face
death". And that's exactly what the Mayor of New Orleans began telling
his citizens last week. The well to do and those that could afford
to do so packed the car and SUV and made it to higher ground in
Baton Rouge and as far away as Houston to sit this storm called
Katrina out at a safe distance.
Yet, the poor as in most instances around the world when the forces
of Nature strike were unable to put the baby and family in cars
and drive away. The reason was simple, they couldn't.
is being made about the looting and thievery that is taking over
New Orleans now. The damage is being principally done by a small
group of thugs who would take advantage of any crisis at any time.
But, the pictures you see of gleeful and mostly black individuals
looting the stores of New Orleans on Canal Street, its major artery,
does not accurately represent the people of New Orleans.
The same individuals stealing everything not bolted down in New
Orleans are the same ones that steal and pillage when there is no
crisis. A storm tragedy of this magnitude just gives the bad guys
another reason to steal.
Unfortunately, the media that is looping the same film clips of
individuals stealing are projecting an image of lawlessness that
does not adequately reflect the character of the majority of the
great people that inhabit New Orleans.
For several years I lived in New Orleans in the heart of its French
Quarter and later in a very special neighborhood of New Orleans
called 'The Treme'. The Treme is said to be the oldest black neighborhood
in America. It's an extension of the French Quarter and is just
blocks away from the most famous city center in the world, the French
Quarter. There simply is no other city in the world that even comes
close to the unique character of New Orleans. Whether it's the jazz,
the food, the easy going character of its people, New Orleans holds
a unique place in your heart if you've ever visited or had the opportunity
to stay there.
As I wrote over 11 years ago about the 'Big Easy', "New Orleans
is a unique and historic city reveling in its more than two centuries
of history and heritage."
It's a unique spot in the world where all cultures come together
to create an incredible gumbo. From Europe, Africa, the Caribbean,
Canada and South America, its people have settled into New Orleans
to make it into a lovable atmosphere that defies explanation.
A mixture of voodoo, jazz and gumbo gives the city a rare character
that's not found in any other place on earth. But, beyond its easy
going manner is a city that has some of the best colleges and universities
in America. Xavier University, Dillard University, Tulane University,
Southern University at New Orleans can compete with the educational
needs of its citizenry that prepare its students for worldly challenges.
But, the history of New Orleans is very precious. Black Americans
excelled in New Orleans even during slavery. It was one of the few
places in the South where an African American could actually purchase
and own property. And that was during the horrible repression of
the slave years. More than that, many blacks were free in New Orleans
during the period that defined slavery. They were simply referred
to as 'free people of color'. These free persons of color, who in
many instances had attended the great universities of Europe added
much to the landscape of New Orleans from the arts to classically
trained musicians to the famed iron architecture of the French Quarter.
New Orleans was the site of the landmark civil law case, "Plessy
vs. Ferguson", where mostly black lawyers at the end of the Nineteenth
Century challenged the whole issue of Segregated seating facilities.
Although, they lost the case, it was an instance where the black
lawyers carried their legal arguments all the way to the US Supreme
Court. That was a momentous occurrence in 1896.
The first African American Governor post the Civil War, P.B.S.
Pinchback was the first black in America in 1877 to serve as a chief
executive of an American state, Louisiana. After his term as Governor,
Pinchback owned a newspaper in New Orleans and was active in New
Orleans politics until his death.
But clearly, one of the reasons that makes New Orleans forever
special is that it gave birth to Jazz. From the creative juices
of New Orleans Jazz legends like Buddy Bolden, King Oliver, Louis
Armstrong and Jelly Roll Morton came a music that was not easily
defined. Yet, it's impact on the culture of America and the rest
of the world is beyond comprehension. Most say that Jazz is America's
only true export. That's probably true. What made New Orleans the
site of the incubation of Jazz has kept historians writing for over
a century. The Marsalis family of musicians has kept the Jazz of
New Orleans fresh and original.
And then there was the Rhythm & Blues sounds of New Orleans that
came from Fats Domino, Alan Toussaint, Ernie K'Doe, Professor Longhair,
Lloyd Price, the Dixie Cups and hundreds of others that had more
of an impact on popular music than they're normally given credit
for in its creation. These music originals created a movement in
music that has never been duplicated. And it lives on through the
Neville family and a newer generation of rockers that hue close
to the music traditions of New Orleans.
But, the food of New Orleans is to live for in your palate. With
influences from Africa, the Caribbean, Europe and South America,
the food of New Orleans simply defies definition.
As the water rolls out of its gates in the Eastern part of New
Orleans letting the great water of Lake Ponchartran pour in and
Canal Street now resembles a watery canal in Europe's Venice, you
have to wonder what will happen now that this historic city is under
ever rising water and its last remaining citizens are being carted
off to Houston, Atlanta, San Antonio. Just what will happen to the
uniqueness of New Orleans.
Some say that New Orleans will never be the same. Others say that
most of the original trappings of New Orleans that make her so unique
can never be recaptured. Dire predictions of New Orleans future
But, what also makes New Orleans special is its ability to endure.
As one of America's oldest cities, New Orleans has had to face deadly
plagues, several wars on her soil, floods and God only knows what
else. Yet, she survived every challenge hurled at her. And she'll
survive the ravages of Katrina, too.
New Orleans has an indomitable spirit. Just imagine Louis Armstrong.
As long as he was alive, no matter where he went, he carried the
spirit of New Orleans along with him.
And so too will the citizens today. New Orleans will survive. Maybe
a bit battered and soiled for its brush with Katrina, but the city
will survive. And not only will she survive, New Orleans will be
stronger and better for its near death ordeal.
It's water restraining barricades will be stronger, its buildings
better able to handle the next Hurricane and its great spirit that
makes New Orleans so unique will be intact.
Fear not, if you've not been to New Orleans, do not despair. It'll
be back, more unique and special than before. New Orleans will handle
this current crisis like it has all of the challenges that have
threatened her in the past.
And once more in the not too distant future, we'll hear the words
that define that great city. "Laissez Les Bon Temps Roulez". Translated,
it means "Let the Good Times Roll".
A New Beginning.