Friday, October 14, 2005

Bienvenue à Votre Retour, Mon Vieux*

[[L A N D M A R K S]] * I never fail, during my all-too-infrequent trips to New Orleans, to spend some time simply sitting and sipping and taking in the passing human parade at the Café du Monde, the now 143-year-old coffee stand on Decatur Street, at the French Quarter’s edge. Naturally, I have to order a chicory-laced café au lait. And I have to ask for a plate of hot beignets. And I have to spill at least half of the powdered sugar that tops those doughy delicacies straight into my lap. But heck, it’s all part of the tradition. Visiting the Crescent City without stopping in the morning at the Café du Monde would be like making a trip to San Francisco, but failing to pay a call at Union Square; like swinging through Portland, Oregon, without dropping some serious bucks at Powell’s Books; like passing through New York without having a hot dog from a street stand, or meandering about the loveliness that is Paris without once browsing the cheese and fruit stalls bordering Rue Cler. These things just aren’t to be missed.

However, New Orleans has been missing the Café du Monde for the last six weeks. Usually open 24 hours a day, 364 days a year (shutting down only for Christmas), this open-air landmark was forced to close because of Hurricane Katrina, the city’s evacuation, and the curtailment of services in the storm’s wake (no power or drinkable water). It hasn’t been serving customers since August 27.

Now comes news, though, that the Café du Monde will be reopening next Wednesday, October 19. It’s a clear sign that one of America’s most wonderful cities is back in business, after one of the last century’s worst natural disasters. General manager Scott Escara tells the Associated Press that “We’ve found about 50 of our 150 employees, and the cleanup will be finished by Tuesday. We’ll turn the fryers on about 5 Wednesday morning and we should have hot beignets pretty quick after that.” Sadly, I shan’t be around for the reopening. But I can still imagine the sweet flavor of those beignets and the powdered sugar covering me from nose to knees.

* Welcome back, old friend

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