I hadn’t been to New Orleans since…oh…1995. Living in Atlanta at the time, it was fairly easy to visit — a 7 hour drive, even if you do have to drive across Alabama and part of Mississippi to get there. But as most people probably know, the Big Easy got whacked, big-time last year by Hurrican Katrina.
I have to give props to Camille and Wade for motivating us all to go down to Louisiana for their wedding. State Department types were in the minority, and guests had arrived from China and the Philippines, as well as Holland, the UK, and other far off locales. But the French Quarter was eerie. I had never seen it so empty. Granted, JazzFest had wrapped up the week before.
I learned a lot from the taxi driver who dropped me off at the hotel. He pointed out the canals that had overflowed, showing me the water line visible in the huge pipes that failed to pump water out of the canals as Katrina hit. I could see some of the damage to buildings that still haven’t been repaired. The Superdome looked like it was ready to fall down. Apparently there’s a Katrina Damage Tour that you can take, covering most of the 9th Ward, but after shepherding so many disaster tourists through the EQ zone in Pakistan, I just didn’t want to see houses on top of cars, houses at right angles, houses on their sides, etc.
We visited a cemetery in town. Because of the water level around New Orleans, people aren’t buried underground. They’re placed in vaults or mausoleums that house generations of a particular family tree. Many have elaborate marble inscriptions, and we saw vaults dating back to the early 19th century. As the vaults get filled up and as bodies decompose and decay into bone and dust, space inside decreases. So remains are pushed into a heap into the dark corners and recesses of the vault. I was snapping some photos when a grizzled man who appeared to make his home in the cemetery walked by and said, “You know ‘dem ghosts don’t appear in no photos.”
And the wedding? Very nice, but for many of us a bit tranquil. Out until 5am the night before — guess we’re just getting old. The best part was right after the ceremony, which took place in Jackson Square. It was a short function (awesome!) and we walked through the gate where pink and green feather boas were handed out along with a choice of a Hurricane or a Mint Julep. I had one of both. Then a local band, with a FAT trombone player, trumpet, Sousaphone, and drum started up and we had a police car leading the way down the streets to the hotel. People in New Orleans get into that kind of thing, and some joined as we danced through the French Quarter. I kept thinking of the scene in Live and Let Die.
One area I hadn’t know about was Faubourg Marigny, a small triangular-shaped area just downriver from the French Quarter. Nice bars, and cafes tucked in to a residential neighborhood. No people drunk on the cheapest liquor available, no one looking for a fight, and no trash littered at your feet. I sat down in a bar and watched some people who really seemed to enjoy their jazz, and even danced a little to it. Recommended.
I sort of miss the South. Flying in we had a gorgeous view through the sunset of what I thought was an otherwise hideous city. It’s not — the whole area is covered in lush vegetation, and even from the air the relaxed pace of life there teases you. I think most of us at one point or another imagined buying a nice little house, fixing it up, and moving there.