A Birthday Bash in the Big Easy

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A 90th-birthday gathering for former Rep. Lindy Boggs features lots of politicos in New Orleans... and a lot of talk about what has to happen next in a town where gentility was brutalized by a lady named Katrina.


I went back to New Orleans last week for the first time since the hurricanes. I went for a birthday party. Lindy Boggs, who represented New Orleans in the U.S. Congress for many years, turned 90 last week. She's also the former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. And she's Cokie Robert's mother, so we Wertheimers went to the party.

The weekend was a strange combination of things that were fun, like always, and things that were not at all like the New Orleans I remember. I'm sure everyone has the same initial reaction. There is so much devastation. Blocks and blocks, miles and miles. Neighborhoods mostly empty, mostly wrecked. Bits of people's lives, fragments of furniture scattered around. We've all seen the pictures but some things are just more awful in person. Houses piled up against each other like untidy toys tossed in a corner. Hotel Al, the man who drove us around, kept saying, It's so much better now. You couldn't drive down these streets before, he said. There were cars in roofs and trees in this street.

Hotel Al stayed for months in the French Quarter hotel where he works. At Lindy's party, there were lots of political people and New Orleans dignitaries. The mayor was there. Also the leading candidates running against him. Everyone talked about what's been lost, argued about what has to happen next, laid out their sometimes competing strategies for recovery. There were Boggs cousins in New Orleans all dressed up for the party. Since I know them, I know their clothes are new, because they lost everything, including weight, slimmer on what they called the Katrina Diet.

But there were also toasts and jokes, good food and music. Several toasts celebrated Lindy Boggs' gift for getting people to talk to each other. She puts her hand on your arm and calls you darling and everybody calms down. The party was genuinely fun. There was a gallant air of comeback about it. People gathered to celebrate a woman whose worked for New Orleans for most of her long life.

At the age of 90, Lindy Boggs insisted on returning to New Orleans as soon as she could because, she said, New Orleans needs everybody and Lindy hopes to be useful once again.

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