We arrived in New Orleans on a Monday night. The view of the Mississippi from my room on the 14th floor of the Riverside Hilton (click to embiggen):
After dinner, we took a stroll down Bourbon Street, which is apparently zoned for nothing other than saloons, strip clubs, and souvenir shops. Tarot readers and voodoo practitioners peddled their wares, and porters tried to rustle passersby into their bars, and lace-clad girls seduced the lustlorn from doorways and balconies… and moms and dads strolled their babies down the sidewalks. It was bizarre. We managed to make it all the way down to LaFitte’s Blacksmith Shop– which claims to be the oldest bar in the country– and back, dignity and bank accounts intact.
Tuesday morning, we took a Katrina bus tour. We drove into the Lower Ninth Ward, which was still in pretty rough shape. Some houses were still abandoned, with spray-painted markings left over from the rescue and recovery efforts. Some had been razed and left as empty lots, badly overgrown with weeds that must’ve been five feet tall. And some, despite everything, were still lived in. There were some new houses that were built several feet higher than the older ones. One house in particular was built such that, if/when the next flood comes through, all the owner will have to do is pull four cords and voilà, his house will turn into a boat and float to safety.
The levees were unimpressive, which of course was the biggest problem seven years ago. The lady sitting next to me on the bus said she grew up in a small town on the Ohio River, and their levees were much bigger than these. I responded that some places take flood control seriously, and some places don’t. After seeing those levees, I’m not convinced that New Orleans is taking flood control seriously enough.
(Back when Hurricane Katrina hit, people would get pissed off at me for pointing out that despite FEMA’s floundering, the people who were most responsible for flood control in New Orleans were the people of New Orleans. While I’m sure nobody wanted to hear that at the time, I stood by it. They live in a great big bowl that’s lower than sea level, and because God hasn’t rained fire and brimstone on the French Quarter in all this time, it’s reasonable to assume that the city faces only one mortal danger: flooding. Only one thing can go catastrophically wrong in this city, and the city’s top priority must be stopping that one thing. The first question at every mayoral debate, every city council debate, and every press conference with every government official in New Orleans should be about the levees. If the answers are unsatisfactory, BAM! Instant recall. If/When Jacksonville ever gets hit, we’d better be ready, and if we’re not we’d better not point the finger at anyone but ourselves.)
The next stop was at St. Louis Cemetery #3. It was full of family crypts (if there was a technical term for them, I missed it) in which the dearly departed would spend a year and a day before being shoved to the back of the crypt for make room for the next relative to pass away. Having grown up in a large family, I could empathize.
Padre Pio stands near the entrance, and supposedly bore stigmata. You can see the bandages wrapped around his hands.
Here’s a crypt funded by a Italian mutual aid society:
Later that day, we went on a “ghost tour” of New Orleans. The stories probably would’ve been more enjoyable if, while telling them, the tour guide had made eye contact with anybody. He spent more time telling stories to our shoes than to us, which was unfortunate because my shoes don’t share my interest in history. Long story short: lots of duels (which makes sense given the aristocratic, European nature of the town) and lots of disappearances (which makes sense given the seedy, scandalous nature of a town that lies at the mouth of a deep and fast river).
The guide pointed out the “Romeo spikes,” put on balcony-bearing poles by fathers in hopes of maintaining the virtue of their daughters. Have a look:
That night we took a cruise on the steamboat Natchez. While waiting to board, a little old lady played the pipes up top:
We settled in on the middle deck, just left of the bow, and consumed milk and cookies.
This was flattering:
At first glance I thought these were skulls:
The wheel in action:
And here’s the skyline of New Orleans, from the river:
On the walk back to the hotel, I got a few shots of the ubiquitous crack-addled blue dogs (by George Rodrigue) that show up all over the storefronts of the French Quarter:
And one pic of the shadow cast by a statue of Jesus on the back of the St. Louis Cathedral, though it isn’t very good:
I need a better camera. More tomorrow.