From Feb. 9-12, the APTA Combined Sections Meeting will return to New Orleans for the first time in six years. Unfortunately since then the Crescent City bore the brunt of the costliest natural disaster in the history of the United States. It was only about six months after CSM attendees joyfully strode down Bourbon Street in 2005 that Hurricane Katrina roared ashore just south and east of New Orleans with sustained winds of 125 miles per hour. When the city's levee system catastrophically failed, 80 percent of New Orleans and large tracts of neighboring parishes became completely inundated with floodwaters that lingered for weeks. The losses of life and property were devastating, and the scope of rebuilding has been like nothing ever experienced before by an American city.
For many CSM attendees, this will be their first time seeing New Orleans since the disaster struck. So what can they expect from this city whose world-class attractions made it such a tourist attraction in the first place?
"I think the French Quarter and [Ernest Morial Convention Center] area have bounced back really well," said Greg LeBlanc, PT, DPT, OCS, president of the Louisiana Physical Therapy Association (LPTA). "Some of the residential sections are still recovering but the commercial areas have definitely rebounded. In fact, I would say if you flew into [Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport], got into a cab, rode downtown to the convention area, did your activities down there for the week and then rode back to the airport to fly out, you would never know [how much damage the hurricane caused]."
For those unfamiliar, the French Quarter is the oldest and most famous neighborhood in New Orleans. The district as a whole is a National Historic Landmark comprised of 85 square blocks. It includes many buildings dating from before New Orleans became part of the United States through the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, as well as some late 19th and early 20th century architecture. Today, the Quarter is a distinctive combination of residences, hotels, restaurants, bars, shops, jazz clubs and tourist options.
"Obviously, the French Quarter will be a prime attraction for conference attendees," Dr. LeBlanc related. "The conference will be held about a month before Mardi Gras this year, which is March 8. So there won't be any real parades there yet but I think the Quarter will still have that exciting atmosphere. All the decorations will be up and you'll hear Mardi Gras kinds of music. So it could be neat for attendees to experience that in a more controlled atmosphere without the real big crowds."
New Orleans is also known for its cuisine, added the chapter president.
"There are lots of restaurants both in the Quarter and outside it in other parts of the city that are nice to attend."
He even offered a few recommendations.
"For breakfast, the Camellia Grill uptown, which would probably be a cab ride from the convention center, is a really unique experience," said Dr. LeBlanc. "It's been there a long time and is back after Katrina. Just a famous landmark-type place that is very good."
For lunch, one of LeBlanc's favorite spots is The Gumbo Shop.
"That's right in the Quarter, not too far from St. Louis Cathedral. It's nice for po' boys and they have some other traditional fare like gumbo, red beans and rice."
What's a "po' boy," you ask? Think about what a cheesesteak is to Philadelphia or a lobster roll is to Boston and that's kind of like what a po' boy is to New Orleans. Resembling a traditional submarine sandwich, it almost always consists of meat or seafood, usually fried, on baguette-style Louisiana French bread. Traditional versions are served hot and include fried shrimp or oysters. Soft shell crab, catfish, crawfish, Louisiana hot sausage, and roast beef and gravy are other common variations.
For dinner, Dr. LeBlanc recommended an uptown restaurant called Jacques-Imo's. "I may be a little biased because the owner's wife is a PT," he confessed. "But I still think it's a great, unique restaurant, with a lot of character. Not a white-linen, fine-dining kind of place. When you walk in, you go past the kitchen on the way to your table. So it has kind of a small-town, local feel and you can see all kinds of folks there from fairly casual dress to maybe a little more business casual. The food is just excellent, I think."
So that covers eating and atmosphere - what else does Dr. LeBlanc recommend to attendees while they're in town?
"The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas is a great venue to see as well as the Audubon Zoo. You can buy tickets to both of them at the same time. The aquarium is walking distance from the convention center. The zoo is uptown but you can take a riverboat to travel between them."There are also traditional swamp and cemetery tours that visitors often take to get a feel for local culture, Dr. LeBlanc added.
"For sports fans, the New Orleans Hornets [of the NBA] have a home game on Saturday. And I think the National D-Day Museum [commemorating the Allied invasion of German-occupied France during World War II] would be another favorite on the list. Even if you're not a big history fan, they've really done a nice job with that over the years. It's a good museum."
With so much to see and do in New Orleans, attendees should have no problem occupying their downtime. Furthermore, they'll likely be very impressed by what the Combined Sections Meeting itself has to offer.
"As president of the LPTA, I go each year because there are so many things I need to attend," related Dr. LeBlanc. "But I've enjoyed it so much that even when my term is done I will make a concerted effort to be there. My wife is a PT as well and we have probably been to five or six CSMs in the 10 years we have been physical therapists."
According to www.apta.org, highlights of the conference programming include the ABPTS ceremony at 7 p.m. on Feb. 9, Linda Crane Memorial Lecture at 3 p.m. on Feb. 10 and Pauline Cerasoli Lecture ("Excellence in Academic Physical Therapy: What Is It and How Do We Get There?") at 4 p.m. on Feb. 11.
"Those lectures are always good, to see what we're doing as a profession and where we're going," commented Dr. LeBlanc. "Other social events are fun to attend as well. For example, the Sports Section will be having a Masqued Ball & Silent Auction at 8 p.m. on Thursday. And the recognition ceremony for board-certified specialists on Wednesday night is a good event to honor your colleagues' achievements."
The networking opportunities in general at CSM are tremendous, he continued.
"You see profession leaders on a national level and folks who do research that you read about in journals. CSM provides the ability to put a face with a name, actually meet some of those people and talk to them. It's really nice to develop a professional network outside your state because I think sometimes locally you can get shortsighted, either from a clinical or professional standpoint. Colleagues from around the country can help shed light on ideas you might not have ever thought of, or just be able to help you. That's one of the great things about going."
Another attractive aspect of CSM to President LeBlanc is the wide diversity of educational opportunities.
"There is a lot of programming on a whole variety of topics," he related. "I'm an orthopedic kind of therapist so I would look at many of those options. But if you're an expert in one subject and want to learn a little bit about something else, you have so much ability to pick and choose."
So come on down to the Big Easy - have a beignet, maybe a café au lait, take a walk through the vibrant streets of the Quarter and find out for yourself how the spirit of the New Orleans is alive and well!
Brian W. Ferrie is managing editor of ADVANCE and can be reached at email@example.com