Thursday, March 12, 2009

New Orleans, Yesterday and Today

Thursday, March 12, 2009
New Orleans, LA

For three days and nights we’ve been here in New Orleans. Only a few blocks from the French Quarter. I’d been here 6 or 8 years ago, on business, and spent a couple nights at the Royal Sonesta Hotel right on Bourbon Street. It was a business trip so there wasn’t much time for wandering around, but I did listen to live music in a bunch of places, ate at a couple great restaurants, and soaked up the stories of the colorful history of the place. It wasn’t much of a basis on which to base a comparison… but it’s all I have.

There’s a wonderful side to this city… the history, the unique architecture, the Creole and Cajun food, the international flavor and feel of the place, the seaport, the wealth, the stately Live Oaks under which glorious mansions from another time still struggle for a place in the modern world.

And there’s another side… a seamier side… the forgotten brutalities of the past, the crumbling buildings, the sinking land and rising sea level, the abandoned water soaked homes, the poor, the dirt in the streets, the bawdiness of businesses based on sleaze, the excesses.

The two sides are probably joined in some way and neither would have existed in quite the same way without the other. The past is the past. It’s gone. Nothing we can do about it. But the present is here. And in the present it feels like head bangin’ rock music now pours out onto the narrow streets where jazz used to waft and even intrudes into other, quieter, nearby venues. Local establishments seem to be in decline while the chains… Bubba Gump Shrimp, Hard Rock Cafe, et. al. seem to be more successful catering to the needs of convention goers and sprightly smiling vacationers.

It seemed to me that the New Orleans I knew from my brief business trip a few years ago is slipping away, or at least changing.

After two days haunting the French Quarter and walking the Garden District we took a day off to see a few other things. We explored a couple nearby State Parks — one of which we may move to on Friday. We drove across the Lake Pontchartrain Bridge — the longest over-water bridge in the world at almost 24 miles. And we saw a new I-10 bridge over the east end of Lake Pontchartrain being built to replace the span badly damaged by Katrina in August 2005. We drove over that damaged bridge and there are a bunch of places where the old concrete sections have been replaced by narrow temporary steel spans.

After getting back to the Bus-House we whipped up a homemade pizza and lugged it over to the RV Park’s pool, along with a couple glasses of vino, to enjoy the New Orleans evening under a darkening ski. For the first time in a very long time we enjoyed a hot tub with alternating plunges into the much cooler saltwater pool. After a long shower, it was time to call it a day.

Just a sampling of pics follow.  There are many more in our online photo album.