Scroll below to see Dateline's travel photos of New Orleans, particularly, the devastation in the Ninth Ward.
New Orleans' best party at its historically worst time (Hoda Kotb, NBC News correspondent)
Video: Vlog: Back in New Orleans I was a local TV reporter in New Orleans for 6 years. As anyone who has lived here will tell you, the city gets in your blood, and its spirit is never stronger than at Mardi Gras.
But, after the city was ravaged by Hurricane Katrina, everyone knew the world’s biggest party, now just a day away, would surely be different. The only question is how.
I checked in with a Mardi Gras veteran Gene Lala, someone who has seen more than 70 of them. So far, this year he says something’s missing. “The glitz and glitter is not exactly there,” says Gene. “They are kind a rinkety-dink, most of them.”
At 77 years old, Gene lost just about everything to Katrina. He’s living in a shell of a house, still waiting for his FEMA trailer.
He hopes Mardi Gras, even a slightly diminished one, will be the right prescription for the Big Easy. “I think after any kind of trauma or disaster, you need a pick me up. Just like a cup of coffee in the morning… you just need something to kind of get you going.”
It will take a lot more than a single carnival season to fix the huge problems that confront the residents of New Orleans. But one woman we found along the parade route, Denise Smith, says that Mardi Gras is simply about moving on. Katrina took away Denise’s house and left her in a cramped hotel room. But she didn’t lose her optimism. “Knowing what happened, we can all get together and have fun and forget about that one day. So many people have lost so much. Look at us—we are out here having a good time."
Meanwhile, Diane Barrileaux is doing what she’s always done at Mardi Gras time: playing “beat the clock” to finish 12,000 parade costumes. With fewer parades, she’ll make a little less money this year, but she says there is something more important riding on Fat Tuesday.
“I think it’s a way to show the rest of the United States that we are here we trying as hard as we can to bring back New Orleans the way it should be,” she says.
It’s the best time of year at the worst time in the city’s history. Mardi Gras and tomorrow’s climactic celebrations are just another step in the long road to recovery.
- Mardi Gras vocabulary 101: The words you need to know to be a part of the party (As seen on the Nightly News Monday)
- Click here to read more of Hoda and Dateline blog entries during the immediate aftermath of Katrina.
A day in our life in Torino (Hoda Kotb, Dateline and NBC News correspondent)
Let me give you a little "day in the life": We’re up at 6:30 a.m. Torino time— breakfast and the 30-minute bus ride to the NBC workspace. That's where I am as I write this: sitting at my computer. This is an old warehouse converted into our newsroom. It is cavernous— an acre and a half, I am just told from Joe Alicastro, who helps run things around here...
There are hundreds of computers, TV screens, edit rooms, and machines that do God-knows-what. And by now, worn out people. Today Show, Nightly News, all of the local affiliates are here.
We are walking distance from the speed skating venue. The rest you need a lift or you can hop on the tram (which is free).
So, I shoot during the day— in this case a spot on “Olympic Moms,” moms who are participating in the games. We line up interviews with moms and their kids— shoot, write, and edit. While that's going on, we are shooting another story called "Why they fall," about ice skaters dropping like flies. We find former Olympian Dick Button and mic him up and go.
I grab a quick lunch upstairs in the workspace. Then I notice former gold Medalist Sara Hughes is here on a computer Googling something. On any given day around here, you will see Brian Boitano, Johnny Weir, you name it. They are doing interviews and hanging around. They seem to be having fun.
The day goes fast— one edit will happen overnight, the other, first thing in the morning. Sometimes, like a few days ago, I slipped out and to see an event — the last one I saw was Women's Hockey, the gold medal game between Finland vs. Canada. When we show up the score is 6-0. Canada beating up on Finland. In the bleachers, we catch the fever. You've gotta cheer... for the underdog. We do, and even do the wave in a sea of painted faces.
Later, I head out and meet Matt Lauer, Al Roker and company for a great dinner. We shared delicious steaks, wine, laughs, and a song. A Today show staffer (who shall remain nameless) belted out the finest version of "Old Man River" I have ever heard.
A word about the food in Italy: One dinner really said it all about the people here. On a recommendation from a guy in a chocolate shop, my husband and I strolled to this old Italian restaurant (he snuck over here for a few days). It was run by older wonderful Italian women. They, like the restaurant, had been there for 30 years. The place was vintage Italian, down to the menu, which we couldn’t understand because it was also in Italian. We stumbled through it, and my husband said aloud, “I think I'll just get lasagna.” A local woman sitting next to us said --"You CANNOT order lasagna or anything like that here. Let me help." She called the waiter over, talked to him for 5 minutes handed the menu back to the waiter. The waiter looked at us and said "I hope you like fish." The meal was wonderful-- She was wonderful.
I finished up dinner with the NBC crew at midnight but the day wasn't over -- not yet. I had to head back to the workspace. It was my “overnight,” which meant I had to sleep close to the live location, in case news breaks. I had a pillow and blanket from the hotel room. I curled up on the couch in Brian Williams’ make-shift office and closed my eyes.
Before I knew it, the alarm went off at 6 a.m. It’s time to start all over again...
Click here for Hoda's video reports from Torino:
- Kotb: Partners on and off ice — On an ice dancing pair who met online... and fell in love
- Kotb: Olympic cheer dancers — On the Italians who are cheering for all Olympians
Dateline NBC is off this week so that NBC can bring you the Winter Olympics.