Blogging has been sparse because we've been driving around the country for the last two weeks, but we return tomorrow evening and get back to the regular grind. We've spent the last two days in my old stomping grounds--south Louisiana. Yesterday, we waited until we crossed the border just so we could make sure we got some authentic Louisiana cooking, and we weren't disappointed. We went to a place in Sulphur called The Boiling Pot, and it was everything we hoped it would be. Amy got a crawfish po-boy, I got an oyster po-boy, and we split a pound of spicy boudin between us. It was exquisite.

We've eaten very well since then but I won't bore you with the details. I did get my first ever Central Grocery muffaletta today, and it was worth the wait.

Unlike most tourists in the region who would consider staying at a cheaper hotel on the northshore or elsewhere in the city and then drive in to sightsee in the French Quarter, we have set up temporary residency in the Quarter, and then drove across the lake to gawk.

We began at the Abita Brewery, which isn't exactly tour-centric, but was wonderful all the same. The facility doesn't run on the weekends, so the building was quiet and hot (as is everything in this part of Louisiana in July), and the guy giving the tour was new, so he couldn't answer every little detail of our questions but he gave us a lot of leeway to poke around. Amy and I were interested in different parts of the facility--she has way more brewing knowledge than I did, and I spent my Anchor Brewing time in production, so I wanted to see the racking room and the bottling line.

The beer was, of course, fantastic. We went to the brewpub afterward and loaded up on schwag and got a little nibble.

On our way to Slidell, we drive past the place I first lived when we moved to Louisiana--a wide spot in the road called Big Branch. We drove down Bremmerman road so I could show Amy where I'd lived for two-and-a-half years, but which has affected my life in an extraordinary way. A lot of who I am comes out of that period.

Much had changed in the 27 years since I lived there. The railroad tracks lined with blackberry bushes were gone, replaced by the Tammany Trace bike trail. The cattle guards had been pulled up. But the road was still lined with pine trees, and there were only a couple more houses than had been there before. Some were replacements, but the name on the mailbox across from my old home was still the same.

When we moved to Big Branch from Lake Jackson, TX, we'd bought a trailer and put it on the back of a friend's 5-acre parcel. They had two houses on the front of the property, an old one, the original, and a newer one. As they were a large family, they were still using both homes. They sold the houses and the property some years after we moved to Slidell, and from what I saw today, the new owners had merged the two homes into one.

Our driveway was farther down the road, a separate entrance, and by the looks of it this afternoon, hasn't been used much in the intervening years. In ten more years, you might not be able tell that anyone ever lived back there. The woods have reclaimed what was its own.

When we got to Slidell, I pointed out all the places where I'd worked or spent a lot of time at as a teenager. We went by my high school, which is under reconstruction since Katrina made it unusable. Next year will be my 20 year graduation reunion, and if we have one, I may really try to make it back. I skipped my 10th for reasons I won't get into here.

Afterwards, we drove out Highway 11 toward the lake. The devastation is still incredible, almost a year later--boats in trees, camps crushing cars beneath them, pilings sticking out of the water supporting nothing. We drove down to Rat's Nest Road (sorry, but it'll never be Lakeview Drive to me), and down to where Vera's used to be. I took some pictures, but my heart really wasn't in it.

There were some things I thought I wanted to see--whether the geodesic dome on Carr Drive survived the storm, for instance--but after that, I decided I really didn't want to know. Maybe that's cowardice, and if it is, I'm willing to deal with it. Mostly, it was painful.

There's still a lot of destruction in this area. Amy asked me when we got off the Canal Street exit how much of it was from Katrina and how much was blight, and the truth is, I don't know. This area has been blighted in parts since I was a child, and I think that in those places, all Katrina did was pull away the facade, and make it so those buildings that started decaying before they were even completed have to be bulldozed now, assuming they don't burn to the ground before then. There's a lot of bulldozing yet to be done, that's for certain.

But one thing that hasn't changed is the spirit of the people around here. Last night we had a rollicking good time in the Quarter, no matter which bar we were in--The Famous Door, Pat O'Brien's, Maison Bourbon (aka Preservation Hall), Fritzel's European Jazz Club--the people were happy and the music was good and the drinks were expensive but worth it and at the end of the night, we staggered toward Toulouse, gave a Lucky Dog vendor our last five in cash, and made it back to the Maison Dupuy in love with each other and the city. It was beautiful.

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