Christmas Eve was far from over when the bus pulled back into Jackson Square.
During the drive back our guide told us his story about his experiences during Katrina. He pointed out sections of New Orleans that had been under water and we gazed around recognizing places we had been driving past daily – totally unaware. He told us about the broken glass that lay on the ground and of Walmart dropping water and food and opening their stores for the needy. He talked about people dying on the bus he finally escaped on and how they had to leave them at the side of the road and never knew what happened to them. As he spoke – I turned my head and wiped away tears.
These stories need to be told. The world needs to hear how the people of New Orleans were forgotten and left to die by their own government. How their own president turned his head away and pretended he didn’t see them dying in their own country as they begged him to help. We need to remember – the stories need to be told.
As we pulled into Jackson Square I knew I was in trouble. The Man was looking at me in that odd way he has that signifies I am giving off all the indications of having ingested gluten.
“I think there was gluten in the turkey or potatoes I ate,” I said as I bent over in pain.
Together we figured the turkey had to be one of those self-basted ones – they contain gluten. Why? I have no idea. Why inject gluten into a turkey that is safe for people to eat? Or – it could have also been stuffed with bread dressing and was contaminated. Either way it was my fault for believing (and wanting to) the women when they said it was safe to eat.
My one complaint about New Orleans – especially the French Quarter – is the lack of bathrooms. To be able to use a bathroom in the French Quarter you have to be a customer of the bar or restaurant. Your need has to be accompanied by a drink or a meal and on Christmas Eve – that isn’t going to happen.
With most of the restaurants and bars closed we went in search of a bathroom. Christmas Eve is the only time I saw Bourbon Street not packed with people. As we walked down the empty street we passed a few bars that held a smattering of patrons drinking in Christmas. Some bars in New Orleans are famous for never closing, yet they all have that same sign – bathrooms for customers only. The famous balconies were empty except for a couple of girls who tried to get The Man’s attention by throwing beads at him but I missed it all inside my own little world of pain.
When we reached Canal Street we had already walked blocks and my face was covered with sweat and not from the exercise. The streets were haunting in themselves – so gaily decorated with ivy and ribbons – yet almost empty. Blocks away stood Harrah’s and we suddenly realized the casino would be open and had plenty of bathrooms that were free! The Man took my hand and coaxed me on with that wonderful smile of his and that love he surrounds me with. He knows how much I suffer when my body is attacked.
A half hour later we were back on the street and heading for St. Louis Cathedral to attend Midnight Mass. As we approached the cathedral I realized that once again I was in trouble. When we got inside the cathedral we went in search of another bathroom but there weren’t any. You step inside the front doors and you are almost immediately inside the church. A police officer stood in front of the steps that led to the balconies saying that they were closed and we couldn’t see a sign anywhere that suggested they even had a bathroom inside this huge edifice!
The second surprise was the fact that the church was packed with standing room only left. The Man and I stood against the back wall close to the door in case I had to leave. My body was once again gripped with pain and could only think I was in the perfect place to be praying that I could make it through the sermon.
The Man and I are not Catholic but we have been to Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve before with friends. It has always been a lovely experience. This could not be said for this one. The Archbishop preached the sermon and it was so political that it made our heads reel. The sermon had nothing to do with Christmas. With people stepping on my feet and pushing me back into the wall I had finally had enough when Communion began. We stepped out into the fog and hurried back to Harrah’s once again.
Christmas Eve at Harrah’s must be some kind of tradition for the young crowd. Once Mass was over the casino filled with young people on the prowl. The girls were dressed in skintight miniskirts and heels the size of mountains. They congregated in the bathrooms, sitting on the couches or on the counters – doing their nails or hair and just chatting while the boys hung around outside as they casually surveyed the offerings. It was a meat market.
One girl took pity on me as she looked at my knee-length skirt and flat shoes. “Can’t you wear heels honey?” she asked me. I laughed and shook my head and claimed my bad back. “Oh! Poor you!” she said and patted my arm as I passed.
It took until 4am before I felt it was safe for me to leave the bathrooms behind and make the walk to the car and the 20-minute drive back to our trailer. Once home I collapsed into bed and I spent most of Christmas day sleeping off the effects on the front couch. I awoke at midnight as The Man was making the bed up once again. I have no idea how he spent Christmas – but my celiac attack had ruined it for both of us. I was done in then for another couple of days before I had the strength to venture about once again.