Throughout its magpie history, New Orleans has cast a forgiving eye on the world's follies and failures, blithely accommodating the former while managing to dodge the worst of the latter. Now, however, the prospect of defeat hangs heavily in the thin winter air.
Not that everyone here sees the specter with great clarity. New Orleans's raffish charm, after all, was always about much more than Bourbon Street and the bananas Foster at Commander's Palace and relied instead on the easy grace of neighborhoods like the Garden District and the devil-may-care way of life of so many who called the Crescent City home. The same charm and grace may still be witnessed in parts of the city today, despite its devastation, and may, in the end, be the secret to the success of the city's efforts to remake itself. Success, however, is hardly a given. Herewith, in the pages that follow, an accounting of a true American original's heroic efforts to climb back out of the abyss.
This story appears in the February 27, 2006 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.