I recently got back from a long weekend in New Orleans. You can read about my food adventures on our sister blog CulinaryWoman.com. But I wanted to share a couple of thoughts about the city in general.

My family has been visiting New Orleans for years. My brother Frank lived there for a couple of years when he worked in radio, and we all love the city’s architecture, music, and of course, its food. It’s one of those cities that is permanently mapped in my head. New Orleans is among a handful like London and Paris and Tokyo and Toronto where I’d happily go live. 

Hurricane Katrina broke my heart. I was sleepless for weeks, haunted by the scenes at the convention center and the Superdome and on the overpass. And then I did what I felt I could to help. I gave money to the Red Cross and Music Rising. I bought CDs from New Orleans artists, went to their concerts, and shipped boxes of clothes to our friend Kay Danne, the owner of On the Other Hand designer resale. I bought books by writers like Julia Reed, Dan Baum and Tom Piazza and cookbooks by John Besh and other New Orleans chefs. I watched every minute of every episode of HBO’s Treme.

When it came time to pick a theme song for the Changing Gears project, I deliberately wanted someone from New Orleans to sing it, and I picked out Right to Complain by Trombone Shorty.

But I just couldn’t bear to go back. I didn’t want to see things for myself. I canceled a trip to the Jazz Festival and another to watch my friends at Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me.

For whatever reason, I spontaneously made a decision a few months ago to head down. It was ostensibly a girls’ weekend — I was meeting up with Tess Vigeland, the host of Marketplace Money on NPR. And after a long 18 months in public radio, I wanted a complete change of scenery.

I wasn’t sure what I’d find. And the answer was: not what I expected.