A Big Easy Goodbye

A dispatch from Noah Adams, blogging from the Gulf Coast:

My final visit today was to the Fair Grounds Race Course in the Gentilly neighborhood. The "sad Fair Grounds," is the way I've come to think about the place, flooded, with plywood replacing big sheets of grandstand glass. The soft early morning sound of hoof beats around the turn of the sandy track is no longer there.

I drove into the parking lot past a garish sign that proclaimed in red and black letters: "OTB OPEN NOW SERVING FOOD!" Nothing wrong with off-track betting if you like it. The TV monitors showed the action at 26 tracks. You could bet on a horse at Arlington Park in Illinois, Charles Town in West Virginia, Golden Gate in California and Evangeline Downs and Louisiana Downs in drier parts of this state. Racing at the Fair Grounds is scheduled to return on Thanksgiving Day. The winter season opening is a traditionally a grand event (this track was founded in 1872).

There was no racing this past year and it's taken the full year to get things ready for the coming season. But what about the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, which also sets up camp each spring at the Fair Grounds? That's another matter. Word on the street is that "it was just like it always was — just as hot (weather and probably food), just as great (music and friends)." The festival was held this year in late April and early May, mostly "as usual," but with understandable stress.

I haven't been to the festival and remarked to a friend today, "How did we let so many years go by with doing that? This oversight will be corrected. Because I've seen the look in the eyes of people who've returned from one of the festival weekends — people I trust about music. "You gotta go."

Another reason to come back would be (and I'm whispering here just to hold back the crowds) the Cajun Creole gumbo at Liuzza's — a small, 11 to 5 restaurant a few blocks away. Made with chicken and sausage stock with shrimp and oysters eased in when served.

I was there for lunch and noticed a small white sticker someone had put up: "Be a New Orlinean wherever you are." I'm for that — I'll take the music and the food and the friends and hope we all stay safe from the hurricane winds and the storm surges.

That's about it for me. We're all taking advantage of the long holiday weekend, so on Tuesday, Mixed Signals will start back up in the capable and blog-worthy hands of science correspondent extraordinaire John Nielsen. Thanks for coming along this week as I've followed the route of Katrina from landfall in Buras, southwest of New Orleans, over to the next arrival on the Mississippi coast, then back to the city where, a year ago, the water was rising... and staying.

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