After Matt and Aida married in Indiana the summer before last, a group of us took a road trip across America from Indianapolis via Chicago and Memphis to Louisiana in the deep south. It was a wonderful adventure, with amazing discoveries all the way.
... but it was New Orleans that haunted me. The debris of hurricane Katrina was everywhere and there was a real sense that the city was still waiting for rebuilding to start. Sure the party atmosphere was strong in the French Quarter and as tourists our money was welcomed everywhere - but I couldn't help feeling that a skeptical resentment remained. In the aftermath of the disaster the city had been abandoned, support and resources were late arriving and inadequate when they came. Thousands of citizens forced without supplies into the makeshift hell of the Superdome - hot and unhygienic in high summer. Why? The nagging doubt was that with little hope of protection from subsequent natural disasters, perhaps New Orleans had been written off. Why invest in a place that's always going to be geographically in the line of fire?
But killing off a city is hard to do - Coventry, Dresden even Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been rebuilt. Sarajevo and Baghdad are beginning to polish their treasures again and hopefully, in time, Port Au Prince will once again regain its glory. Cities aren't just accommodation or administrative centres - they also house thousands of stories, associations and memories and without a physical place for these to be situated, meaning is lost and the future becomes difficult to make sense of. It is they, not the buildings that are irreplaceable.
Tonight another chapter. New Orleans Saints met Indianapolis Colts in the Superbowl Final in Miami. A nightmare of split loyalty for me, but even worse for the Colts quarter back Payton Manning, a New Orleans boy and the son of a Saint's hero Archie Manning. Payton's spent the last five years ploughing money from his foundation back into the town of his birth as it gingerly gets back on its feet.
Beyond munificence Manning is a giant in the game, inventive, reliable and unswervingly accurate. Supported by agile and destructive offensive runners he was expected to put the Saints to the sword.
The first quarter went to plan, but the Saints bravely held on and clawed back to be just four points down 10 -6 by the end of the second. The third quarter was nip and tuck, until remarkably in a moment of madness or genius - it's hard to say - Manning, for the first time in a long career, threw with his heart rather than his hand. He threw low. The pass was intercepted by Tracey Porter who, leaving Manning on his backside, ran an amazing 74 yards to tie up an emotional win for the underdogs. New Orleans has a new signpost on the road to recovery, thanks inadvertently to their former son.
Cities are beautiful and proud but it's stories that keep them alive.