In Greek mythology, Elysian Fields was the final destination of good souls after death. The Fields were a land of song and sunshine where the air was sweet and cool. The good souls existed there in the flowery meadows for eternity.
In New Orleans, Elysian Fields is the name of one of the hundreds of boulevards, this one stretching from the Mississippi River, alongside the back of the French Quarter, all the way north to Lake Pontchartrain. A block from where it begins by the river sits the French Market. A couple of blocks north and one block west on Frenchman Street lies one of our favorite restaurants, the Praline Connection, where you can get a plate of crowder peas and turnip greens, fried chicken or meat loaf or breaded pork chops, then top it off with a slice of sweet potato pie with praline sauce, all for less than ten dollars. It’s as New Orleansy as they come.
A block or two further up Elysian Fields sits the Baptist Friendship House, where NAMB missionary Kay Bennett and her staff do an incredible job of ministering to troubled women and needy children of this section of the city. These days, while the neighborhood lies mostly vacant, the Friendship House is hosting volunteer church teams from Oklahoma. Gradually, the homes in the area show signs of returning to life. They have electricity, but the last I heard, no phone service.
As you get closer to Interstate 10, the signs of the floodwaters that followed Katrina are everywhere, the high water marks on the sides of houses and businesses, most still lying vacant. In the area around Interstate 610, and north to the lake, it’s a dead zone. The yard plants are dried and dead, businesses untouched, the houses still adorned by their National Guard insignia from the first days when searchers would check the homes for survivors and spray the results on the outsides or roofs.
The traffic lights are still out. It’s a gentleman’s game at the four-way stop signs with a dozen vehicles lined up behind you and that many staring at you from each direction. Elysian Fields is a wide street, with six lanes in places, and no one is choreographing the movements through these cross streets. You pull up, look around, wait, and go forward, hoping for the best.