Sunday, October 28, 2007

Come back now, you hear ...

By Mark Hinson for the Tallahassee Democrat and

This is the first time I've been back to New Orleans since the tropical-borne apocalypse of ’05. I did not know what I expected to find in the city that I called home in the late ’80s and early ’90s.

"So, what do you think?" everyone has been asking me as I make my way around the French Quarter, which was untouched by flooding and only lightly looted. I had no idea how to answer. The streets are cleaner than I've ever seen them and you can actually find parking. But there's a buzz — and I'm not talking about frozen drinks with silly names like Pit Bull on Crack — that's missing. There just are not as many people taking up as much space.

Down at Frankie and Johnny's, a funky restaurant near the Mississippi River, they've taken the signature crawfish pies off the menu. When I ask why, the waitress with the beautiful N'Awlins accent says: "Oh, dahlin', the cook who used to make the pies disappeared. He just left and never came back. We don't know where he is."

The merchants, jewelers, gallery-owners and bartenders who work along Royal Street in the Quarter are back, though, and ready to talk, baby. They practically hug us when my wife and I step into a store. They want to know what horror stories we've heard, why we're here, when we're coming back.

"Go home and tell everyone we're open and ready for business," jeweler Sylvia Weidert says.

"I can do that," I say.

My friends, who are both Big Easy exiles, have returned to New Orleans to get married on this beautiful fall night. They moved to Atlanta after Hurricane Katrina and the levee collapses crushed the city's economy. Just like Louis Armstrong, they really do know what it means to miss New Orleans.

As the wedding Mass comes to a finale, the wedding party packs up to move the celebration into the heart of the French Quarter. The reception is being held atop the old Jackson Brewery building — which is now a mall of shops and offices — with a terrace-top view of the Mississippi River. The food and wine flows before the famed Rebirth Brass Band enters the banquet room blasting joyous jazz music. The guests instantly form a second line, the same sort of street dance that generations have danced after funerals in New Orleans.

This isn't the music of the dead, I think to myself as I join the second line; it's the music of the living.

Maybe this city is going to be OK after all.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Rolling by the River ...

By Zora O'Neill for

My husband, Peter, and I were in New Orleans for the French Quarter Festival, but we wanted to do more than listen to big brass bands. Like many of the people slowly returning to the city, we had to pay our respects to the area devastated by Hurricane Katrina.

We weren't thrilled about taking one of the many new van tours that are popular with tourists, and it just didn't feel right to hail a cab and say, "Show us the worst of the Lower Ninth Ward!" Instead, we decided to bike around the two-square-mile district -- and it turned out to be the perfect way to explore.

At Bicycle Michael's, near the eastern edge of the French Quarter, we rented city hybrids with sturdy, fat tires (essential for navigating the potholed streets) for $20 each. From there, it was a 10-minute ride to the Bywater, a community of artists in the Upper Ninth Ward where flowering magnolia branches hang low over the sidewalks and colorful cottages still bear the spray-painted codes left by search-and-rescue teams.

On Dauphine Street, we browsed racks of vintage umbrellas at The Bargain Center; then we had the delicious praline bacon at Elizabeth's, a restaurant now run by insurance adjuster Jim Harp.

The Lower Nine is just over the Industrial Canal from the Bywater, which required us to carry our bikes up to the St. Claude Avenue Bridge. The contrast between the Bywater and the Lower Nine was stark. Above Claiborne Avenue is the breach in the canal, and the flood's path is still marked by a swath of rubble that fans out from the levee. "It's as if someone tipped over a Monopoly board," said Peter.

We biked south, following the dike along the Mississippi River. Aside from a few people who greeted us with polite nods, the streets were desolate as we pedaled past FEMA trailers on our way to City Park, its 1,300 acres brought back to order by volunteers who've dubbed themselves the Mow-Rons. On Hagan Avenue, the 85-year-old Parkway Bakery & Tavern also made a quick comeback, thanks to an electrician who needed his shrimp-and-oyster po'boy fix.

In Central City, we watched as a second-line parade organized by a neighborhood social club streamed by. The street was packed with trumpeters, dancers, and vendors pulling wheeled barbecues. It was an encouraging sign for a city that likely will be rebuilding for many years to come.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Summer in October …

Last weekend included several activities within walking distance of our apartment, another advantage of life in Hyde Park. We dined with friends at Teller’s restaurant on Saturday. On Sunday we were back at Hyde Park Square for a brunch, hosted by our neighbors, and visited the Art Show. The Art Show was excellent, with exhibitors offering a variety of interesting and impressive pieces.

Sunday afternoon was the first performance in the “Broadway across America” series, of which we are subscribers. It was held at the Aronoff Center, a beautiful theater downtown. The play was “My Fair Lady,” perhaps a little too familiar, but the staging made it as fresh as ever.

Summer in Cincinnati has proven to be a long, hot and dry one. Even in early October we were still suffering through temperatures in the upper 80s with the occasional record-breaking 90. A bit more seasonable weather arrived last Tuesday and we hope it is here for its normal three-month stay. By the weekend I am dressed as if for skiing just to get the morning paper at the end of our sidewalk.

I am still working with my primary care doctor on my shortness-of-breath problem. A stress test, chest x-rays, and oxygen uptake and lung function tests were encouraging, even reaffirming my fitness. So I was sent to the specialists.

A visit to the cardiologist led to an angiogram. He said my heart muscle was fine, and that there were no blockages, not even the need for a stent. Next stop was the pulmonologist. He laid out a complex program including using inhalers, scaling back other medications, blood testing for thyroid problems and testing for sleep apnea.

Last week I also started a non-credit class in cultural literacy. The course is offered by the University of Cincinnati, and held at Temple Sholom. The first class focused on classical literature in fill-in-the-blanks form. I flopped miserably.

Our cultural extravaganza of the last week ended with dinner at “Porkopolis” on the way to see “Othello at the Playhouse. Both were delicious.


jbv's Competitive Edge 

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Short Subjects ...

Austin firm tapped to help New Orleans plan on rebuilding business

From the Austin Business Journal:

AngelouEconomics has secured a $200,000 contract to complete a regional economic development strategy for the New Orleans metropolitan area.

Greater New Orleans Inc., a non-partisan group charged with bringing companies and jobs to that city, has tapped the Austin economic development consulting firm to develop a strategy looking at ways to improve the region's business climate over the next five years.

"The goal is to create a road map for economic development going forward," says Pam Meyer, director of regional business development for GNO Inc. "We brought in Angelou(Economics) because of their site selection and economic development expertise to come up with a plan that includes determining and marketing our most competitive assets and coming up with specific action items we can implement."

The plan slated for completion in December will focus on a 10-parish region of Southeast Louisiana. Meyers says part of it will include determining three specific sector niches where GNO Inc. should focus its recruitment efforts.

Half of the funding for the plan came from the Greater New Orleans Foundation, a nonprofit group that provides grants for causes from workforce development to education. The Louisiana Economic Development Department put up a matching grant to secure the contract.

Rooting Out New Orleans Corruption with Few Tools

by Carrie Kahn for NPR (go to the article for a link to audio of the show):

Robert Cerasoli is New Orleans' first inspector general; his job is to be a watchdog over local government and root out corruption and waste. But as of now, the newly hired Cerasoli doesn't have an office or car, and he makes calls from his personal cell phone.


jbv's Competitive Edge