I gave 5 Katrina tours this week; 4 for Parks Canada staff and one for guests of the Creole Inn. In three days. Basically the same tour each time. It allowed me to really take a look at New Orleans through fresh eyes.

I think New Orleans is really coming back as a tourism destination. The French Quarter and the CBD are back to “normal”; whatever normal is in this crazy-ass town. But just outside the Vieux Carre is the devastation of the Lower Ninth that too many tourists never take the time to see. Even most of the tour companies no longer run Katrina tours, they just incorporate them into their city tour.

So I took folks through the Upper and Lower Ninth, out to Arabi and Chalmette, and up Esplanade to City Park to show them what was and wasn’t here. They were mostly shocked. Stunned. At least one was in tears.

But I saw the small stuff. Lots of groups of youth out working; building, cutting grass, digging, creating a path along Bayou Bienvenue. I saw a house being worked on that wasn’t started a few weeks ago. A house finished. A family moving in furniture from Rooms to Go.

I went to my branch of Whitney Bank in Chalmette between tours on Thursday and it had moved from a trailer into a real building. Lots of digging is happening at the site of the new St. Bernard Parish Hospital.

There were stores open. People on the streets. A couple old guys fishing and crabbing in the bayou.

And my tour guests got the message that New Orleans is back, and it isn’t back, at the same time. A message I trust they will carry home.