Sunday, December 11: A barker howls at nobody outside Coyote Ugly. Folks sit down to bread bowls behind a guarded fence around a makeshift federal facility near the French Quarter riverfront. “Now Hiring” and “Now Open” banners hang off trinket shops and eateries. At Café Du Monde, the beignets are as messy as ever with powdered sugar, the cafe au lait just as milky and the Vietnamese servers as efficient and surly. It is sunny and in the 60’s in New Orleans. The open-air space is half-filled, locals mixed with transplanted workers and their families.
Kristen and I take a drive north from the Quarter and then west, past eye-high piles of debris and the ghostly frames of folks’ former homes, over the London Avenue Canal at the spot where the levee broke. St. Roch’s Market in the Bywater is boarded up. It was known for its po’boys. At the marina in West End, the lighthouse has been tipped on its side into Lake Pontchartrain. Joe’s Crab Shack, a sprawling chain joint jutting over the shoreline, has been chewed like a cob of corn.
Across the 17th Street Canal, Metairie is nearly fine as can be. The eastern levee burst, not the west. We eat lunch at Deanie’s in Bucktown, a lakefront neighborhood stuffed to the gills with seafood shacks. The after-church crowd packs the place. The servers deliver mountains of fried soft-shell crab, oysters, shrimp, catfish, crawfish dressing balls; po’boys so large you have to cradle them like a child; altitudinously challenging onion-ring piles. Our waiter quotes Orwell and pushes lemon meringue pie. He won’t tell me what’s in the barbecued shrimp, but the rich, red sludge in the pan shows chives and scallions and tastes of pickled lemon. The shrimp are likened unto langoustines, they’re so large. This is the South – order one giant soda, they bring you two. The amuse bouche has been a bowl of boiled russet potatoes, steaming and mildly garlicky. Kristen describes her diet during the evacuation: “Cookies and Klonopin. It’s a great combination.” Though Deanie's was on the dry side of the levee, the electricity outtage and a month's closure made the post-storm clean-up no picnic. "You don't want to be there when the catfish liquifies..," our waiter remarks.
On Veteran’s Boulevard, we pick up a hitchhiker. His name is Salvatore Sicarelli. He is 89 years old. He was once in the ice business, he tells us. His father delivered blocks of ice to restaurants in a cart pulled by a mule. He is going back to Gentilly Terrace where his house was destroyed but his wife and he are living in an upstairs apartment rent-free. “I got no gas, no hot water, no heat, no electricity, but I have two blankets and a comforter,” he says. “That Katreen, she’s a dirty girl. She put a lot of people in a lot of trouble.”