Salutations from the Third Coast!

Given my affinity for South Asia, monkeys and South Asian monkeys, it is an honor to gain guest access to the ND bunker. I must say – seeing lutefisk placed on the same shelf as mango chutney warms this former Upper Midwesterner’s heart.

Employment ushered me to the other end of the Mississippi. With a choice between Houston and New Orleans, I opted for the city with the most interesting cultural dynamics in the United States. A mélange of European and Afro-Caribbean, New Orleans is 70% non-white, poor in wealth, rich in customs and conventions, and a lot more than the drunken-tourist section of Bourbon Street.

As you know, it has been 359 days since Category-3 Hurricane Katrina made landfall in Buras, LA and laid waste to Slidell, LA and lovely beach towns along the coast of western Mississippi. Whole beachfront streets and homes in Waveland and Bay St. Louis were torn off their foundations by the whipping winds of an unusually angry hurricane.

Thankfully, New Orleans was spared that fate. However, our long-suffering and neglected canal levees could not handle the 25-foot and higher storm surges and the unthinkable happened – the levees broke flooding 80% of this city. Friends who stayed behind were forced to act as rescue workers and witness things no American in the 21st century should. Trapped in their homes for more than five days without food, water, medication and rescue, approximately 1400 New Orleanians, mostly the elderly and little children, perished. Demolition workers find carcasses to this day.

What does this have to do with desi or Sepia Mutiny?
The plight of New Orleans all the way from hurricane evacuation to today’s recovery reeks of abandonment of a people, to the point where many of our citizens declare Sinn Fein. “New Orleans should not rebuild”, “They’re just a bunch of poor criminals” and “The city got what was coming to it” are phrases that ought never be thrown about in modern-day America. Along with the Brinkley book Siddhartha mentioned, read Disaster: Hurricane Katrina and the Failure of Homeland Security. At the rate of the decline of natural disaster prevention planning and the increase in anti-terror boondoggles (and attendant racial profiling), this could happen to you and me as a people, too.

Please don’t forget us and we will return the favor. Peruse our >100 blogs, keep yourself informed of an American problem and visit our lovely city. From the restaurants and performance venues of Carrollton and the oaks of Audubon Park upriver to the funky-bohemian eateries and music joints of the Treme and Bywater downriver, from majestic Lake Pontchartrain in the north to the steamships, food and smells of the Mississippi in the south, New Orleans is the Mumbai, Chennai, Karachi, Dhaka, Colombo, Suva, Kingston or Port-Of-Spain of this nation. Spicy cuisine, magnolias and night-blooming jasmine, festering garbage, burning diesel and preserved colonial architecture – it’s all here for the living and rebuilding.

Come on down and weÂ’ll make us a good time, cher!

Jambalaya, feta cheese and a laddoo ‘Cause tonight I’m gonna see my ma cher amio Pick guitar, fill lassi jar and be gay oh Son of a gun, we’ll have big fun on the bayou. – MaitriÂ’s good-global-eats reconstruction of Jambalaya

P.S. New Orleans is not the only thing on my mind. Look forward to many foodie thoughts and sci-tech geekery.

24 thoughts on “Salutations from the Third Coast!

  1. I opted for the city with the most interesting cultural dynamics in the United States.

    What, you moved to New York?

    But seriously, great post. The night-blooming jasmine stays in the mind. I hope the city of New Orleans comes back, for all the reasons you mention.

  2. I lived on the East Bank of Jefferson Parish from 2000-03. I tear up every time I think of how virtually everything I did for 3 years is blown to shit.

    I watched Spike’s doc the past two nights and barely slept afterwards. Afterwards, I decided that I had to go back for a visit. I have one friend whose family home was in Metairie and was totally destroyed. Several lost their apartments but everyone, to my knowledge, left. I have to track down a couple of people whose families are locals. If Katrina is not proof that the US is not a christian country, then I don’t know what is.

    Could you tell me the state of the Marigny, Magazine & Tchoupitoulas?

  3. New Orleans is not the only thing on my mind. Look forward to many foodie thoughts and sci-tech geekery.

    It’s all good. Welcome, Maitri!

  4. I went down to N.O. in 2001 for JazzFest, or heaven for this music lover. I stayed with some friends who were from the area and I’m so glad my visit was not limited to just bourbon street. I look forward to going back.

  5. Could you tell me the state of the Marigny, Magazine & Tchoupitoulas?

    The Marigny and everything south (riverside) of St. Charles (including Magazine & Tchoup) and St. Claude is mostly fine (scattered wind and fire damage).

    tamasha, I think gatamala means that if the US were truly a Christian nation, Christian charity would have prevailed and New Orleans would not still be in its pathetic state. Charity begins at home, as some say. However, as I state over and over again: money that we paid in the form of taxes and insurance was not spent on bolstering our city’s levees. They were appropriated for other things the US government deemed crucial after 9/11. A disaster is a disaster no matter the cause – terrorists, hurricanes or government incompetence.

  6. What’s up, macaca (if you don’t know the inside joke for this, I’ll explain later).

  7. Oh I would LOVE to visit New Orleans! I was in the USA only last year(Dallas, Texas so be precise) but there were little kids around so we couldn’t visit the city, even though my dad was pretty keen.

  8. Voodoo Lakshmi???

    Maitri,

    New Orleans is the Mumbai, Chennai, Karachi, Dhaka, Colombo, Suva, Kingston or Port-Of-Spain of this nation. Spicy cuisine, magnolias and night-blooming jasmine, festering garbage, burning diesel and preserved colonial architecture – it’s all here for the living and rebuilding.

    Hello Pulle(girl in tamil), great to see you here.

    My favorite memory of New Orleans is sitting near a garbage can in some french quarter market with my big brother, eating just-boiled crawfish and tossing the shells in the garbage. Definitely gross! Would I do that elsewhere in America? Can’t wait to go there again and I’m sure people all over the world feel the same way. We’re just waiting for the rebuilding.

  9. Meena: Little kids are welcome in New Orleans. We promise not to put them in our étouffée. In fact, NO is pretty kid-friendly (my nieces loved it here) and Mardi Gras (the real deal) is truly for them. Of course, Mardi Gras is not the only thing we do, contrary to popular opinion.

    rasudha: Come help rebuild by reliving your crawfish experience! Rebuilding is a symphony playing in the background of daily life here.

  10. Doesn’t the term “Third Coast” usually refer to Chicago and the surrounding Great Lakes region?

    http://www.thirdcoastfestival.org/ http://www.thirdcoastpress.com/ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_Coast

    BTW any good desi restaurants in the N.O.? We road tripped a few years back after college, but us vegetarians had to resort to liquids (messiers jack, johnnie, and the captain prevailed). There’s always Big Masi’s House in Baton Rouge tho…

  11. BTW any good desi restaurants in the N.O.? We road tripped a few years back after college, but us vegetarians had to resort to liquids (messiers jack, johnnie, and the captain prevailed). There’s always Big Masi’s House in Baton Rouge tho…

    As a tea totalling vegitarian, I feel doubly lame.

  12. I claim the Third Coast for that part of the United States adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico. Amongst our weaponry …

    As much as I love the Great Lakes, I think we have a bit more water area and volume here. In all honesty, I was going to say the Dirty Coast, which is what we call ourselves, but hey.

    The only good desi restaurant in NO is my house or those of friends. Nirvana was alright, but the food quality has plummeted since the storm. With a larger customer base than usual (everyone eating in the dry area), they’ve had to up on quantity vs. quality.

    There are a few vegetarian restaurants, but my teetotalling vegetarian family (yours truly is the culinary black sheep) was hard-pressed to find tasty veg food outside of home. However, they found other things to keep themselves occupied.

  13. Meena: Little kids are welcome in New Orleans. We promise not to put them in our étouffée. In fact, NO is pretty kid-friendly (my nieces loved it here) and Mardi Gras (the real deal) is truly for them. Of course, Mardi Gras is not the only thing we do, contrary to popular opinion.

    Really? When I was 15 or 16 or so I expressed a wish to visit New Orleans, but my father claimed that “it is no place for children”, and the same line was used last year when again I made clear my desire to go there.

  14. Maitri:

    This is not meant to be an offensive or obnoxious question so please forgive me (nor am I trying to detract from your main point); but it seems your roots in New Orleans are pretty shallow (not more than a few years?) Yet your tone makes it seem that it is your ancestral city or something. How did you develop such strong feelings and self-identification with this town in such a short time?

  15. Amitabh:

    Home is where the heart is. I was born in Cleveland, grew up in rural Mississippi, and live in San Francisco, but my heart belongs to Washington, D.C.

    It’s not how long you’ve been there, it’s how much you love it.

    I think the same holds true for relationships.

    Anyway, Maitri–great post, looking forward to reading more. Many years ago, I helped open the Passport Center on Canal Street, and got to spend a significant amount of time there. I love your city, too, even if it’s not my home.

  16. Meena: In that regard, Chennai, Mumbai and Delhi are no place for kids either.

    When I informed my mom’s friends that I was moving here, all of them, who had never visited this city, told me it was no place for a good girl. a) I’m not a “good” girl, whatever that means. b) If your father has been nowhere other than the upper, seedy end of the French Quarter, it is by no means a place for children. However, there are 200,000 residents of NO right now (who were all once children) and the city plays host to three world-class hospitals with birthing centers. The public school system deserves a lot of derision, but these academies along with the many private schools and music academies across the city produced some of the most talented musicians, dancers and artists in the world.

    Amitabh: Home is where the spirit thrives the most (and what Salil said).

  17. Maitri: Great Post. Enough about French Quarters. Last time I was there almost three years ago, I had best appetizers in the world at a restaurant called NIRVANA. Location was so-so, but the food was great. What they did was, took the regular Paapad for us Gujus (Papadam for South Indians!!) and filled with deeeeeeeeeelious stuffing (similar to Samosa) and light fried. I hope the place survived and next time I am there I am looking forward to visit it. Pray to God another one of those “Katrina” does not hit soon, as I understand those levees are still not designed to withstand Category V force. Good luck.