Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The City that Care Forgot

I just returned from a long weekend in New Orleans where I was attending my favorite annual conference. I spent much of my time there going to sessions where scholars presented their preliminary works, touring the exhibit of academic books, and spending time with old friends from graduate school and new friends from all over the country.

I did get out to explore New Orleans a bit. I have not been to the city since right before Katrina hit and I was stunned at how much even the touristy areas are still suffering from that hurricane and others:

My father and brother, also academic historians, attend this same conference. Every year is a family reunion. This time we got together for an absolutely delicious meal at one of my favorite restaurants. Delicious. If you are ever in New Orleans, try it for brunch. (Go on a gorgeously sunny day and sit in the courtyard.)

Walking back from the restaurant to the conference hotel, I stopped in at the French Quarter's local yarn shop:

In this store, you can never forget where you are. I love going in shops that sell locally-dyed fiber or the yarns of local spinners, giving them a real sense of place. While the Quarter Stitch has mostly national commercial yarns, the whole store nevertheless embodies the spirit of New Orleans--the magic of Mardi Gras, the glitz of colors and textures and shine. Lots of fun, even for this Plain Jane.

* * *

My annual southern history conference has been held in New Orleans very regularly since the 1930s. Every time I come to the city for this meeting, I feel saturated by the ghosts of the past all around me and moved by the immediate relevance of history in our present lives. This year seemed especially resonant with these thoughts. There were sessions on the destruction and the rebuilding of New Orleans, conversations about race and politics and poverty, songs about anger and despair.

There were also talks about glimpses of that well-handled, smooth-hewn stone of hope--the one we are all searching for.

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