Friday, March 20, 2009

Ahhh! New Orleans!

New Orleans.

Just those words – what do they make you think of?

Is it Bourbon Street and women flashing their breasts and beads? Is it Mardi Gras and Carnival? Is it Katrina? Or is it crime and a high murder rate? A ‘chocolate city’ as its mayor Ray Nagin called it perhaps?

Well sure it’s all those things but they are such a small part of it just like in any city in the world. Everyone has their crime and everyone has their parties. Don’t point a finger at New Orleans and call it a city full of sin because it isn’t. It’s just a city. A city perched on the edge of being washed away. A city that is considered a ‘bowl’ because of the levees that keep the waters out (mostly – let’s not talk about Katrina just yet). It is a city that made the list of ‘things you should see before they are gone’ because there’s a chance that one day the water will take over and that will be it for New Orleans.

Anyway – I digress.

New Orleans. Many have tried to put words to what this city is – what attracts people – what keeps them there. I have no illusions that I’ll be able to best Tennyson or anyone else. But I’m going to try to say what I love about it.

It has an ambience and mystery all of its own. Its myriad architectures strewn about the city are so diverse they take your breath away. There’s the river – The Mighty Mississippi that flows constantly through the city and out into the Gulf of Mexico. Then there are the swamps and the canals and the bayous - the alligator sausage and the Cajun cooking. The cypress trees covered in Spanish moss and let’s not forget the people. The people who have endured and fought the hurricanes and floods and come back and survived. The people who love New Orleans with every breath they take.

How I long to be one of them. How I long to live there.

But more on that later.

Let’s talk about the French Quarter. A place that is so unique in its visage as well as in its history. Built on the highest point as instructed by the Indians, the French Quarter has endured hurricanes and floods. Burned to the ground a couple of times but rebuilt over and again by people who refused to walk away – who couldn’t walk away because they loved it so much. A place where the buildings are famous for more than just their beautiful lacy iron balconies and galleries. The place where every building is haunted - so we are told. How could you not love it? How could you not be drawn to it like a magnet?

When we visited New Orleans in 2006 – a little more than a year after Katrina ripped through the city – we tried to pack as much into 4 days that we could. We walked Bourbon Street and marveled at the bars and the antics of the people on the street and up on the balconies. Not being big drinkers we didn’t perch on a stool and swill back a Hurricane and stagger out into the street to embarrass ourselves. However we did goggle at what was to be found in the Voodoo shops and in the sex shops as well. Some things are just a must see…. and Bourbon Street is a must-see – once.

For us it was the art galleries and antique shops that drew our admiration and attention. We walked as many streets as we could gazing into windows and fingering displays. In 2006 the people of New Orleans were grateful for business – happy to have tourists back in their city supporting them – bringing in revenue. Because of the wonderful people who live in this city we promised we would return.

Many things stood out in my memory of that trip in 2006. When we drove in from Florida we drove through the devastation that remained from Katrina. To me it looked like someone had taken a huge hammer and bashed away at the city. We recognized buildings for what they once were and were never more to be. Huge piles of broken buildings sat in the middle of streets and buildings sat askew on top of cars. All this we could see from the interstate as we made our way into the city. It was the eastern part that took the worst hit from the hurricane and we had noted with despair the destruction as we drove along. I don’t have pictures of what we saw because we refused to be rubberneckers on someone else’s misery. We refused to take the ‘Katrina Tour’ that was being offered but we were happy to hand over donations for the cause.

There were many scenes that made me cry as I thought of what these people had been through. Yet their efforts to rebuild and renew their beloved city brought smiles to our faces and enveloped us. We took a tour of Oak Alley Plantation where they filmed Interview with a Vampire. The huge oak trees and the reflections of days gone by made my romantic soul ache. My only complaint was that our guides were reciting a script and didn’t have a single answer for any questions.

We also took a Cemetery Tour of St. Louis Cemetery #1 that is found on the edge of the French Quarter. We marveled at the aboveground tombs with their white crypts – so different from our graveyards. It was a walking tour that took us through the French Quarter and into the cemetery. We spent some time at the famous gravesite of Marie Laveau the famous Voodoo queen. Here was evidence of a different religion.


From the cemetery we went to the VooDoo Spiritual Temple where we were ushered into the presence of Priestess Miriam. This woman made me nervous. Out of the four of us in the tour she seemed to stare at me and I thought she could see inside my brain. I had a hard time understanding her dialect and found myself nodding and smiling – then wondering if it was safe for me to be doing so at that part of her dialogue. The Temple was full of masks and idols stuffed with money and – well – just a lot of junk as far as I could see. I understood that people came for spells and wishes and left money and gifts for services rendered. But I found myself wondering who ever dusted the place. That and I couldn’t stop myself from looking for the snake.

There were many pictures of the Priestess with a snake wrapped around her head and I was beside myself that I would suddenly come upon it and end up shrieking as I dashed for the street. It was an unnerving experience that The Man and I talked about for a long time. Shortly after we got back to Alberta we saw Priestess Miriam on TV dancing with the snake and performing a ritual. I almost swooned right then and there!

21 comments:

Leatherdykeuk said...

Ah! I think of Jazz, but thank you for giving me a glimpse into life in NO

Cath said...

What love you have for the place - comes through loud and clear. I don't really have any images, not ever having been to the US least of all New Orleans!

I tend to think of Satchmo and I didn't even know if he was connected or not. Now I think of Katrina.

I hope the place is well on the road to recovery now.

aims said...

Rachel - glad to take you there even if it is just a virtual tour.

Cath - We stood outside the gates to the Louis Armstrong park and looked in - it was all locked up and had been since Katrina. Here's a bit of info on it from Wikipedia -

Louis Armstrong Park is a 32-acre (130,000 m2) park located in the Treme neighborhood of New Orleans, Louisiana, just across Rampart Street from the French Quarter. The park contains the New Orleans Municipal Auditorium, the Mahalia Jackson Theater of the Performing Arts, Congo Square, and part of the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park. The park was also home to the first New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festivals. The park is named after jazz musician Louis Armstrong.

doctorj2u said...

I think of beautiful REAL people that have time to say hello to strangers on the street and ask you how you are doing and want an answer. As to Katrina, it was when I became aware that I was not an American, something I thought I was for over 50 years. I was and am forever a New Orleanian. That is enough for me.

Maggie May said...

When I think of New Orleans, I think of *bustling & business* for some reason. But now I think of Katrina and the levees.
I have never been to America so I really don't have any pre conceived ideas.
I can pick up your love for the place as it oozes out of the post!

Melanie said...

I have never visited New Orleans but what stands out for me is the French influenced architecture. I love all that ironwork. So little of it remains in Europe as a lot was taken down and melted for the war effort. There are still houses and parks round here where you can see the scars on top of walls where iron railings were removed.

Thanks for sharing your impressions.

Lane said...

Fascinating Aims. Thank you for this tour and your unique insight. x

Daryl said...

Royale was my favorite street in the Quarter ... and Toulouse is my second favorite

Did you get out to Fats Domino's Museum?

This last trip we stayed at Inn on Bourbon and it was just perfect.

You know I want to be there as much as you!

aims said...

Doctorj2u - Yes! The people! The people of New Orleans are the nicest we have met anywhere in the United States. That says it all doesn't it? In a whole country?! It was because of the people more than anything else that we were drawn back again in 2008.

As for what your government did to these wonderful people? It is more than a crime. It is an atrocity! An atrocity that they got away with. I believe that someday they will be held accountable. I sure hope so. Welcome to my blog. I hope I can do your incredible city justice with my words. And how we wish we could call ourselves New Orleanians. Sigh.

Maggie - bustling and business certainly describes the Port of New Orleans. The Man and I are just talking about the port and how it helped build America - yet the city is the poorest in the United States. Shameful.

Melanie - The ironwork certainly takes your breath away it is so beautiful - and it is everywhere! It adds such a grace and elegance to a building. We have a lot to learn from there architecture and designs and I am looking around the barn and wondering what I could do to make a few changes. :0)

Lane - I could go on and on about New Orleans - and probably do without realizing it .....

Daryl - yes girl. I know. Boy do I know.

Dr.John said...

I also think of Jazz when I think of New Orleans. I never will get to go there. My daughter will this summer. I am thankful for your taking the time to bring the great city to us in its many dimensions.

rosiero said...

I just love those balconies. Would love to go one day. I think the Voodoo priestess would have frightened the life out of me, though.

travelling, but not in love said...

I want to go!

Brett said...

Just got back from holiday and saw your comment about the island. The area around the lake is a nature reserver and the owner built the island to house birds for the bird watchers who visit, for the first few years it was just a mound of bear sand and rock but its looking better now.

Polergirl said...

What a wonderful insight into this city. Thank you!

*All I want for Xmas is a hippopotamous*

grandmamargie said...

What a unique and wonderful description of New Orleans. As far as Katrina, I remember watching for days as events occured and crying over all the losses. A man in our church, a fireman, went there afterwards to help with recovery and clean up. He said it was awful. Hopefully, one day, it will be fully restored. Anyway, thanks for sharing.

Salute said...

I think New Orleans is a lovely city and rich in history, great people and good food.

Retiredandcrazy said...

I love your descriptions aims. It bought the place to life and that is a rare talent. It has been on my "to visit" list for years. Now I am even more determined to go.

BT said...

What a fantastic experience aims. How weird that lady sounds. I would have been unnerved too. It's like I'm coming along with you, your descriptions are so alive.

Moonroot said...

My sister visted New Orleans some years ago on a business trip, and she loved it. I've wanted to visit ever since - it seems such a unique place!

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