Of all the things New Orleans has been called since Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville founded the place in 1718, “the Big Easy” is probably the least accurate. Certainly it is no problem to get a drink—this is the town that invented the “go-cup,” after all—but little about the city has ever been easy. The town is still below sea level, statues of Confederate generals still stand, and the politicians are still getting arrested with $90,000 cash in their freezers. If you want easy, go somewhere else. In the Crescent City, the high rubs the low, taffeta romance brushes knife-blade danger, and the eternal and ephemeral are barely a streetcar ride apart. Awful as it was, many say Katrina did much to repoetize New Orleans, if only to remind residents of the downside of stiff-neck Protestant long-range planning. It has been nearly seven years since “the storm,” and the Saints’ bountygate fiasco aside, everyone is talking about how the town is back, back, back. The Quarter is hopping. Mardi Gras was bigger than ever this year. Then again, all you have to do is look in another direction (or drive out to the Lower Ninth) to see what lies beneath the new paint job. That’s the real, uneasy NOLA truth.
Reporting by Jillian Goodman, Ashlea Halpern, Molly Langmuir, Andrew Parks, Andre Tartar, and Katie Van Syckle.