By Leonard Earl Johnson
June 7, 2010
New Orleans tourism is not showing much effect from British Petroleum's gift that keeps on giving. After all, tourists never did come here for the water.
There is no coastline inside Orleans Parish. At least not yet. No marshes. No wetlands. No water. No oil.
The oil-assaulted wetlands are all below New Orleans. And west of the River. And now east. The heart aches with the sight of each noble pelican slathered with deadly black goo.
It is those marshlands of Plaquemines and Saint Bernard and Jefferson Parishes that feed and protect us. We fear greatly for them. And now the beaches of Mississippi. And Alabama. And Florida.
British Petroleum's gusher is filling the Gulf of Mexico with oil.
But in the French Quarter and Uptown cafes and shops the crowds are normal. Summer-thin, to be sure, but normally so.
Inside restaurants -- numbering two-hundred more than before the hurricanes of 2005 -- the atmosphere is comfortable and the kitchens are busy.
Summer comes early to New Orleans. It is a city as deeply inside the magnolia curtain as it can be. One step further back and we would be out in the off-shore oil patch.
This time of year the heat and humidity are present enough that you might comfortably spend an afternoon sharing a bottle of wine with them on the gallery.
This is a time when crowds melt down to small trickles of hearty family travelers, worldly Europeans (who don't buy souvenirs), and assorted National Geographic readers.
They come with smaller footprints than the high-rolling oil barons, conventioneers, and limitlessly-funded bankers who account for the bulk of our high annual hotel occupancy. They tilt the numbers heavily during the cooler months. Then they leave the summer for us to do with as we please with our better-mannered visitors.
In June we become less like a Disneyland for adults and more like a city. This time of year we can get a seat on the street car, and ride our bicycle without navigating around tourists walking five abreast down any street in the French Quarter.
Now we see who is in town
Recently seen grazing in trendy cafes among the Summer herd has been British Petroleum's head honcho (I guess he is the head? Can anyone tell what all those BP titles mean?), Chief Executive Officer and apologist, Tony Hayward. His table mate was Admiral Thad Allen. Hopefully they dined on Louisiana seafood. God knows those two had things to talk about.
The megacatastrophe they can not handle has now reached as far as Florida's white sands, with promise of going even farther.
Their meetings are not the dreaded collusion of power that talk radio can neither stop talking about nor locate. Those meetings go on in secreted situations. Like Dick Cheney's Vice Presidential office. Where undisclosed energy barons met and planned America's future without regulations that required off-shore drillers to plan, baby plan for a worst-case, May-Day situation. Like the one today filling the Gulf of Mexico with oil. Louisiana Senator David Vitter led the battle for repeal.
BP's end of the world not withstanding, this is still one of the better times to be in New Orleans. And thus it has been for the thirty-some years I have called this 300-year-old City home.
A story of fun and bad timing
On Sunday June 5, amid the worst assault on America's fisheries ever, the first annual New Orleans Oyster Festival launched itself in the broiling midday sun, atop a melting asphalt parking lot, between Decatur Street and cool green Woldenberg Park overlooking the Mississippi River. Rent must have been cheaper in the parking lot. Proceeds went to save our coastline.
In the park atop the levee, TV luminaries like James Carville and Anderson Cooper told audiences nothing of the Oyster Festival but lots about the oil pollution.
Zazzle.com created a custom stamp for the New Orleans Oyster Festival
Down in the hot parking lot, Andrea Apuzzo, owner of Metairie, Louisiana's noted Northern Italian restaurant, Andrea's, stood beside his tent offering savory examples of his great skill with Louisiana oysters and shrimp. A wafting tar-pitch smell washed over us. A tourist asked if the odor was from the Gulf oil spill.
Apuzzo waved his hand towards the row of tents and said, "That's from the oysters down there."
It was not, of course. What was down there was more great food. Like the signature dish, Shrimp Rmoulade, from Galatoire's, one of the grand old ladies of New Orleans restaurants. In the French Quarter, Galatoire's invented American Rmoulade.
The example they passed out of their tent was as succulent as the day of the dish's birth.
Dickie Brennan's Bourbon House, also in the French Quarter, served one of the best dishes of the day, andouille creme sauce over oysters with a tasty slice of tangy chapati bread.
Another best dish was the three oysters fried and topped with a smoked tomato relish, from Luke's, in the Central Business District.
This divine offering came from one of the older of the 200 new post-Katrina/Rita restaurants. I had not been to it (there are so many) but let me say, welcome, welcome, welcome! They are on Saint Charles Avenue near Poydras Street.
Dishes ran five-to-seven dollars, and servings were a bit less than half normal in-house sizes. If we are all still here come next broiling hot June we will be back.
Not that anyone at the Oyster Fest said much about it, but President Obama was here again, Saturday, for his third visit since the oil volcano erupted.
He didn't stop for oysters. How could he, with Governor Bobby Jindal hollering in front of any mike that will open up for him that he, Obama, should do something about it now?
The sad truth is if anyone could really do something, they would really do it.
The Oyster Fest, we hope, is staying. And the president is welcome any time, any year.
Meanwhile in the End Times
BP CEO Hayward has dropped out of sight after his barrage of apologetic television ads bombed. He said things like he would "like his life back" to the families of the eleven killed when the Horizon drilling platform exploded.
Thad Allen has turned his Admiralty offensive East, following the oil plumes. He was last seen in Alabama.
In Florida, bigger tar balls and sticky oil patches are washing ashore, and Florida Governor Charlie Crist, looking like a suntanned movie star, walked gingerly on a black polka-dotted white beach. He told the TV audience he was flying over to New Orleans to meet with the President of the United States. He did not holler about doing something magical. But he did not come to the Oyster Fest, either.
Life goes on. The food is great. And the lines are shorter. Just like last summer.
Leonard Earl Johnson is a former cook, merchant seaman, photographer and columnist for Les Amis de Marigny, a New Orleans monthly magazine. Post-Katrina, he has decamped to Lafayette, La. Columns past, present and future are at www.lej.org.
Gulf Coast Soldiers On As BP Spill Fills the Gulf of Mexico...