I visited New Orleans back in college. It was my first real traveling experience (I was a naive college freshman) and we drove from Nebraska all the way to New Orleans, stopping in Arkansas, Memphis, Vicksburg, Shreveport, and numerous other places along the way. My feet have trod the very ground where Katrina struck.
In my college years, I loved the South. I loved the rich history. I'd grown up with a very avid interest in the Civil War, reading Gone With the Wind at a relatively young age. The Ante-Bellum South fascinated me with its history, both good and bad, and I eagerly jumped at the chance to visit. Packed in a van with my history professor and ten other people, only one of whom I knew even slightly, we set off. We drove from a tiny town in Northwest Nebraska to Arkansas in one day - sixteen hour trip. We made our way down through Arkansas, Tennesee, and Mississippi until we hit Louisiana and headed to New Orleans.
I became captivated with New Orleans. It is such an eclectic city, full of different cultures, all blending together to form this intriguing mix of humanity. I visited the French Quarter, tasted Blackened Voodoo beer for the first time, wandered around St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square, watched a man shoot fire from his mouth and listened to a flute player dressed like a medieval minstrel. I talked with a poet standing in the lights of the French Quarter, was serenaded by a wandering band of jazz musicians, and listened to Irish music in one of the best Irish pubs in town. I saw the multi-colored shot gun houses, the above-ground cemetaries, and took a ride on a steamboat and ate shrimp Creole.
Now I wonder if that pub is still there...
We walked down Canal Street after the trolleys shut down for the night, in awe of a city that could be so quiet, almost mystical. We drove out to the site of the Battle of New Orleans, a battle that didn't need to occur because a cease fire had already been declared. Is that under water? Probably.
It's a trip I'll never forget. And I hope to someday walk those streets again, listening to jazz music drifting across the noise of vendors selling Mardi Gras masks.
My thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by this tragedy.