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New Orleans has a spring in its step.

I was happy to find, over Memorial Day weekend in New Orleans for a friend’s wedding, that the city appears to be doing better. Much better.

As much was conveyed to me by our taxi driver, a sweet older woman in a brightly colored muumuu who hummed to the jazz music on the radio between our exchanges. I told her I had first traveled there for business in spring, 2008 and returned later that summer. Almost three years had passed since Hurricane Katrina, but the city felt like something terrible had just happened.

No one was walking around in the Business District or Garden District, and what few drunken convention attendees and bachelor parties there were to be found in the French Quarter made the place feel all the more depressing. I stayed at a boutique hotel, a huge studio loft, and a W, all for around $100 a night, which was indicative of a weak local economy. A work contact drove me around what had once been the Ninth Ward but was then mostly cracked cement stairs leading to rotting houses or nothing at all. She showed me Habitat For Humanity’s first completed housing area, dubbed Musicians’ Village, and it was small. Philanthropic attention had long since moved elsewhere.

I started to tear up as we passed the convention center in the taxi cab, and the driver and I had a moment. But as we pulled further into the city, I noticed something was different. There were people everywhere.

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President and secretary of the Kona welcoming committee.

When we arrived yesterday, it seemed like a family’s cat had wandered onto the resort property. I pet her–she looked a little dirty and on the thin side, but feral cats don’t approach people and press their forehead against ankles and knuckles and purr. But it becomes apparent when we wake up and see the young orange tabby sitting outside our sliding glass door on our little first-floor balcony that perhaps this cat has nowhere else to be. We see a dumpster not far off, and near it, another cat. In all, there are three, who we’ll come to refer to as Nice Cat (ours), Not As Nice Cat (same orange and white stripes, but not as nice), and Mean Cat (a true black and orange tabby, who sometimes bullies Nice Cat). A well behaved stray, Nice Cat never tries to come inside our condo–she just wants us to come outside and pet her. She probably wants food, too, but we see that there’s a food dish near the dumpster. (Not to mention the dumpster.)

We establish our morning routines–mom with her prayers and walks, my sister with her runs, dad and me with our, sigh, work email. We all take turns sitting on the patio, listening to the birds, and probably watching the cats more than we’d like to admit. Read the rest of this entry »

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Barrels of pickles at Pickle Guys, 49 Essex between Hester and Grand

1. With a slice of history. Today, New York’s Lower East Side is known for its lively nightlife, restaurants whose hype exceeds their collective square footage, and fashion boutiques I wish were my walk-in closet. But as importantly (and arguably more so), the Lower East Side is home to the history of New York City’s Jewish community, and few gastronomic remnants are left — like Katz’s Deli (1888), Kossar’s Bialys (1936 and the US’ oldest bialy bakery), and, arguably, a few places to buy a great pickle. But whose pickle?

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