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Rebuilding New Orleans

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Photo: Julian Broad

Since the storm, an estimated 1.1 million people have come to New Orleans to help with recovery and rebuilding. There are still many opportunities for "voluntourism" (see the Guide, page 241), and such initiatives need help as much if not more so today. Twenty-six months after Katrina, except for the media’s obligatory anniversary reports, New Orleans has faded considerably from public view, and the flow of donations and volunteers has also dropped off. Yet the emergency of Katrina did not end when the hurricane passed, nor when the floodwaters receded, nor when the last welcome mat was finally wrung dry. In many ways, the storm isn’t over.

Yet so much of New Orleans is accessible, and its inclusive spirit can make newcomers feel they belong here. No matter where you come from—no matter how badly you mangle the street names, how confounded you are by the ordering system at Domilise’s, or how clumsily you dance—New Orleans welcomes you as one of its own, with a warmth that verges on the comical. Even the most jaded out-of-towner has to get a charge out of being greeted "Heeyyyyy, brutha!" by a Ritz-Carlton doorman. Or having Domilise’s gruff counter lady finally fix you in her sights, her frown suddenly changed to a smile, and ask, "What can we feed you, baby?"

"One of the great things about New Orleans is how democratic places are," says Brett Anderson, restaurant critic for the Times-Picayune. "In all my time here I’ve never seen a velvet rope." There’s not even a bouncer outside the Spotted Cat, which, on one recent Monday, was still packed at 2 a.m. with boho musicians, yuppies, grizzled old men, three goths, and a bachelorette party. The Jazz Vipers wrapped up their set with an original tune, "I Hope You’re Coming Back to New Orleans." During the trumpet solo a firetruck roared by on Frenchman Street. Whooo-ooo, whooo-ooo, whooo-ooo, went the siren. Whooo-ooo, whooo-ooo, whooo-ooo, replied the trumpet, and sax player Joe Braun grinned as he sang in a Satchmo growl:

Stormy weather may come and go
Mother Nature may put on her show
Still in my mind there’s nowhere else to go
So baby won’t you please come home?

Peter Jon Lindberg is a T+L special correspondent.

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