We've just returned from New Orleans. We had a marvelous time, the first real vacation we've had without the children in, well, ever. I love my kids. They are easy going and fun and all around marvelous, and yet, traveling with kids has its givens. My son would have loved the swamp tour but not the four hours on the roads seeing countryside. My daughter would have loved the trip to the plantations, but not so much the menus that were mostly shrimp and if not shrimp then pork and if not pork then crawdads. It was just easier, you know? I do love New Orleans; its food, its architecture. I don't even mind the humidity that makes you feel deliciously lazy.
Restaurant rec: the Green Goddess in New Orleans on 307 Exchange Place. It's been a long time since I've eaten at a restaurant where the chefs cared so much about the food and were still having fun, just like the chef scene in San Francisco when I was cooking. All about pushing those boundaries. Some of the dishes didn't work quite as well as you would hope, while others knocked my frigging socks off, but it's that experimentation that I adored. And to say they didn't work just means that they were only delicious as opposed to orgasmic. That's what this wee place is trying to do. Get you to gasp when you're eating. Highly recommended. We loved it so much we went back twice. Toques off to Chef Chris DeBarr.
I took two books with me on this trip that ended up having tremendous relevance. One, was a book about Joan Root, the filmmaker and conservationist who was murdered in her Kenyan home in 2006, and the second is Annette Gordon-Reed's history on the Hemingses of Monticello. The first book read like a beefed up Vanity Fair article (which indeed it was), but had its own inevitable sense of tragedy that trumped the sensationalistic tone that haunts those sort of articles. Basically, you have a corrupt government and a bunch of white conservationists who are a holdover from the colonial period and the indigenous population who need work and corporations who don't give a rat's ass about the environment, throw in some hardcore thugs, and, unsurprisingly, people get murdered. She was gunned down in her bedroom by someone wielding an AK-47. I was shocked to read that she was just one of a series of people who'd been killed in the lawlessness that has characterized Kenya in the last twenty years. Joan Root joins Dian Fossey and the Adamsons of Born Free fame, all of them murdered.
I'm winding my way through the Gordon-Reed book. It's a little overwritten, but then again I'm betting it's in reaction to her first book, which pretty much ended the debate on whether Jefferson had fathered children by Sally Hemings. I imagine she is writing to deal with those who can't wrap their minds around the fact that Jefferson would actually sleep with a slave woman. I don't have a problem with that because, hello, brilliant though he was, he was pretty morally bankrupt in my book. Please do not tell me it was the time. He kept slaves even though he knew it was immoral, but he couldn't live his life as he envisioned it without slavery. Aside from the global issue, what about sleeping with your wife's half-sister, fathered by your father-in-law... You get the picture.
Anyway, my little commentary aside, Gordon-Reed makes a lot of leaps here, and I understand why (sources being thin on the ground), but what is more fascinating is how the Virginia ruling class actually applied a different set of laws to slaves so that they could maintain this system (as opposed to laws governing the white and free population). It was a bash to fit solution. General law deemed that your status in life was passed down through your father. That wouldn't do at ALL in a slave-owning culture, therefore, they changed the law so that status was passed down through the mother. A simple, yet effective solution. Of course it also gave complete latitude to white men who wanted to bed black women and not have their bi-racial children actually be legitimate heirs. Even when Jefferson was ambassador to France, he never registered his slaves as dictated by French law, because then if they decided to declare themselves free, he would have had to free them. So he didn't. Another charming bash to fit solution to his little slave problem.
So I'm reading these books while in New Orleans. I have lived through my own natural disasters: an earthquake and a firestorm. You live in California, you're going to face one or the other at some point. Fortunately, I wasn't on a freeway when the earthquake hit, and I lived far enough away from the firestorm that I didn't lose my home. I know lots of people who did, who ended up fighting with insurance companies, and getting FEMA loans to rebuild, and who were genuinely scarred but who survived. Four years later I wouldn't say that New Orleans is surviving. Lots and lots of boarded up buildings, even now, with the telltale watermarks on the roofs. The only places that have full parking lots are the Lowes and the Home Depots, yet we saw block after block of foundations. Just foundations. Even now. Occasionally, you'd see that someone had rebuilt, but you had to ask yourself why? Because to either side of them were the outlines of foundations with nothing on top of them. Generally, the areas that were most devastated by the water were inhabited by the poor. The areas that were devastated by the firestorm here in California were populated by upper middle-class types, who knew that if the insurance company jerked you around, you called a lawyer. Houses were rebuilt and FEMA money came through. People were not living in trailers two years down the road.
I picked up the Times Picayune every day we were in New Orleans. On every page there was an article about someone being indicted. Every day. Every page. Obama came through while we were there and I thought, pick up the paper, dude. It's all there. That's why four years down the road you're in St. Bernard's Parish and the water is gone and the bulldozers have moved in but that's about all you can say. The land grab must be imminent. If you don't rebuild, then the property only loses in value every day it sits vacant. And when you have block after block, then, well. People with the checkbooks are waiting. It's going to be pennies on the dollar.