I rolled into New Orleans on Thursday night with the dog (the wife and kids and movers having preceded me by a day). Windows up, AC cranked, in a car full of recycled air from the Atchafalaya.
I pulled into the driveway, opened the door, and the first thing that hit me was the smell.
Mold. The Katrina ick smell. I was surprised that the city could still be thick with it, and I looked around for a debris pile that might be the culprit. Nope, it was just the same old background smell of the city that's been there these last eleven months.
By later that night, I couldn't smell it any more, and I haven't smelled it since. Once something becomes natural to you, it fades into the background and you aren't really conscious of it any more.
Which got me thinking about perception versus reality for those of you who have been here all along compared to those of us who are arriving with fresh sight and unsullied noses. Over the past few weeks, as the summer doldrums have set in and the mayor's race has receded past the horizon of yesterday's news, I've noticed a steady drumbeat of frustration from the NOLA blogging community. "Nothing's happening! No progress! The rebuilding is stalled!"
I haven't walked in your shoes, but if you could see New Orleans the way I've seen it...in November, twice in February, in April, and now July, like a stop-motion animation that jumps ahead two months on every frame, you'd see the progress. It's everywhere. The difference in Broadmoor between April and now is striking. Similarly for South Claiborne and Fontainebleau. Everywhere are signs that people are coming back, that they're fighting the good fight, that they're not giving up.
I haven't had a chance to see the other parts of the city yet. Too much unpacking to do and I started back at my job today, and I know there are parts of the city like the Lower Nine and Gentilly that are probably more disheartening. I know the politics of the situation are maddening, that the frustrations of daily life are exhausting, the uncertainty terrifying, that y'all have been through hell and are still going through it. But from my outside vantage point, I see hope. Real hope that we are gonna be OK.
Thanks to Alan for hosting what felt to me like a spectacular welcome home party, where I got to meet fine folks like Sophmom and Lisa and b. rox and Schroeder and Oyster and Morwen and Karen and Loki and Dangerblond, and re-hook up with Ashley and Mark and Maitri. It was a blast, and we need to do it again soon. For those of you who missed it, the whole sultry mess is captured in flickr here and here and here and here.
(I confess to being a little embarrassed about bringing the brie after seeing what it did, until I saw Maitri and Lisa put down their cameras and start tearing into it with chunks of bread.)