Tag Archives: New Orleans

The French Quarter of New Orleans
January 29, 2009
Natchez, MS, Natchez State Park, Camp B, Site 43 — 1 day
Thursday, January 29, 2009 — Fulltimers 1 Year & 8 Months
Tuesday, January 27.  We take a two-hour walking tour of the French Quarter.
View of Pontchartrain Landing RV Park.

View of Pontchartrain Landing RV Park.

The sun came out and it was 57° at 8:08 am so it looked like our last day in New Orleans would be a warmer day.  I had one last tour scheduled for 1:00 pm, a two-hour walking tour in the French Quarter.  By 11:30 am when we started our drive downtown it was 72° although there was a breeze and I was careful to bring a jacket.

After parking near the tour ticket Lighthouse we walked over to Café du Monde and had two café au laits with one order of three beignets.  These are not as I remembered them when I visited in 1992.  I recall light and delicious pastries, a blown puff pastry covered with powdered sugar.  Today they are still smothered in sugar but they are heavy and greasy.  Our walking guide later told me that they are basically sopapillas.  Why yes!  That is what they are but the ones we had in New Mexico were far superior.

We killed an hour waiting for our tour and it was fun to sit in the outdoor patio to watch the crowds and listen to the street musicians.  Then we met our guide, Jill, and together with one other couple we set out.  We stood on the Moonwalk and learned about the founding of New Orleans by Bienville.  Jill says New Orleans residents don’t speak of directions (N, E, S, or W).  Although the river twists and turns so that the French Quarter happens to sit on a NW bend in the river, as the river flows, downriver is downtown and upriver is uptown.  Everything towards the river is Riverside and everything towards the lake is Lakeside.

In Jackson Park are several tall trees with red berries. Holly?

In Jackson Park are several tall trees with red berries. Holly?

“We walked into Jackson Square to learn more history. La Nouvelle Orléans was founded in 1718 by Jean Baptiste La Moyne, Sieur de Bienville and established New Orleans as the capital of Louisiana and a fortress to control the wealth of the North American interior for the French. Reclaimed from a swamp and centered around the Palace d’ Armes — now Jackson Square — New Orleans was originally confined to what is now called the French Quarter or Vieux Carré (Old Square).” I took some history reminders from this website: http://www.inetours.com/New_Orleans/French_Quarter_History.html

We followed St. Ann up to Chartres St. (pronounced Charter) and turned downtown (downriver) towards Faubourg Marigny.  We learned how to distinguish between typical French and Spanish architecture and to judge their ages accordingly.

Sometimes the Internet really pays off. I googled “S. Giallanza stalls” and found my man. Salvador Joseph Giallanza was born on Valentine’s Day, Feb. 14, 1917 in New Orleans and died in North Carolina at the age of 88 on Feb. 3, 2006. He worked in the family produce business with stalls in the New Orleans French Market. “The name “Giallanza” in sidewalk tiles still fronts three homes in the French Quarter.” The photo of tiles that I took are at 921 Chartres St. http://www.dlfaquifer.org (Search: bananas stalls)
http://www.wataugademocrat.com (Search: 2006 obituaries)

What did WID stand for? Wagons Invited Daily? Walk In Delivery? Welcome Inside Daily? Women Inside Denied? What’s your guess or what do you know? Please tell me!

“Although Spanish rule was relatively short — 1762 to 1800 — it was during this period when two fires virtually destroyed the French Quarter. The first in 1788 burned over 850 structures and then another 200 were lost in 1794. Rebuilding was done in the Spanish style with wrought iron balconies and central courtyards. Unlike New Orleans Square at Disneyland, New Orleans French Quarter is authentic, not a reproduction of history. Many buildings date back to the rebuilding efforts of the 1700’s which is why the dominant architectural style is Spanish not French.”

The Ursaline chapel is no longer used although the altar is very beautiful.

The Ursaline chapel is no longer used although the altar is very beautiful.

We walked as far as Ursalines and stopped to walk through the Old Ursaline Convent. In 1727 twelve women — Ursuline Nuns from France — established the first school for girls, ran the first free school and the first orphanage and held the first classes for African slave and Native American girls in what is now the United States. Following the Natchez massacre, the Convent took in the orphaned children of the French colonists killed at Fort Rosalie.

The Victorian with the “cornstalk fence” (below) is on the National Register of Historic Places. It was the home of Judge Francois Xavier-Martin, first Chief Justice of the Louisiana Supreme Court and author of the first history of Louisiana. Harriet Beecher Stowe stayed here and was inspired to write Uncle Tom’s Cabin after seeing the nearby slave markets.

After the convent, we cut east a block further away from the river and walked back upriver on Royal St. to St. Ann.  Here, we parted and Dennis and I walked back a block to Pere Antoine Restaurant, Cajun Kitchen, on Royal and Dumaine.  It was early and we were seated at a window table, an entertaining place to watch the street while eating.  We both ordered Crawfish Etoufee.  Served with rice and bread it was a bit spicy but we both found it to be delicious.  For dessert, I had a homemade pecan pie. It was the best I’ve ever had.

Unfortunately, the restaurant where we ate is not the same as the Antoine’s of book and movie fame. (See Beauregard Keyes house above.) “Antoine’s is a Louisiana Creole cuisine restaurant located at 713 Rue St. Louis (St. Louis Street) in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana. It has the distinction of being the oldest family run restaurant in the United States, having been established in 1840 by Antoine Alciatore….Dinner at Antoine’s, a 1947 murder mystery by Frances Parkinson Keyes, begins with a dinner party in the 1840 Room and includes another dinner party at Antoine’s near the end.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antoine%27s

After dinner we walked back three blocks to Governor Nicholls St. because, I am ashamed to admit, I wanted to see the New Orleans home of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.  We were told it was gray and our guide told us the address was 720 Gov. Nicholls St.  There was no 720 in the 700 block between Royal and Bourbon.  However, on the corner of Royal there was a very large and imposing 3-story gray building, well maintained and in good shape.  Next to it we stopped to admire 2-story pink and yellow home with balconies decorated for Mardi Gras.  An elderly lady stood opposite it.  We stopped and I said to her, “That’s a pretty home, isn’t it?”

She replied, “Why thank you.  That’s my home.”

The balconies that we admired belong to Miss Margie.

The balconies that we admired belong to Miss Margie.

We began to talk and visited for more than twenty minutes with Miss Margy who was born in 1925.  She was born and raised in Gulfport, MI and moved to New Orleans when she married a physician.  They had a big home in the outskirts of town and raised two daughters and a son.  Later they moved into town.  He passed on and she lives alone but her children take her to parties or events and she can walk around the block to do small errands.  We really enjoyed talking to Miss Margie and I believe she enjoyed talking to us.  She told us that Nicholas Cage lived in the gray building and that he was “very odd”.  She said that Brad and Angie lived in the next block.

We walked down Gov. Nicholls past Chartres St. and found a much more modest 2-story gray building with a balcony situated not on a corner but in the middle of the street between other residences. I later discovered that they purchased the six-bedroom, 150-year-old mansion for £1.92 million in January 2007.  Two large flags were flying from poles on the balcony, an American flag and a Louisiana state flag.

The latter flag puzzled me so I looked it up.  It features a white pelican against a blue field above a white ribbon with the state motto: “Union, Justice, and Confidence.”  The Brown Pelican is the Louisiana state bird.  However, this white heraldic charge is a symbol of Christian charity called a “pelican in her piety,” and represents a mother pelican wounding her breast to feed her young from the blood.  Hmmm, this sounds perfect for Angelina.

We were told that if flags were out, it meant the couple was in residence.  They just finished attending the SAG awards and in an interview I heard Angie say that their kids are “always packing” so we thought they might have just arrived here for the Mardi Gras season.  However, I think the flags fly all the time because they are not in town.  I read that they arrived with all six of their children in Narita, Chiba, Japan for the premiere of Brad’s latest film, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”.

 Wednesday, January 28.  We drive to Natchez, MS under a cloud.

I will probably never get used to precipitous weather changes.  This morning all was normal until suddenly about six I heard wind and rain.  I checked the forecast and we have rain today with winds from 20 to 25 mph.  A storm is blowing SE from Shreveport toward Baton Rouge and will arrive at Lake Pontchartrain this afternoon.  Meanwhile, there is a major winter storm sliding out of the southern Plains and Mid-South bringing snow from the northern Ohio Valley to the Northeast this morning.  And we are heading north — although not that far north.  But I’m sure it is going to be cold in Red Bay on the NE border of Alabama.

Dennis took a look at the rain and said, “Why drive in this?”  We are supposed to drive 170 miles northwest to Natchez, MS.  We have an extra day if we want to delay because I scheduled a sightseeing day in Natchez for tomorrow.

The rain stopped and we did decide to leave.  But first Dennis tried to boil some eggs and discovered he was out of propane.  So we drove the bus to the propane tank as we were leaving and a Pontchartrain Landing staff member put in 8 quarts before it was full.  So the tank wasn’t empty at all and the dial is wrong.  Dennis decided that probably he hadn’t waited long enough for the flame to come on and jumped to the conclusion that the tank was empty.  Next, I tried to open the canopy so I could stand out of the rain with the dogs for a potty break.  The canopy didn’t open.  So we have one more repair to add to our list in Red Bay.

Finally we left at ten o’clock and drove 170 miles northwest to Natchez, Mississippi.  Despite our weather concerns the drive was easy.  The first part is on piers as the highway crosses bayous and the southern and west ends of the lake.  The highway is concrete and very rough.  Our Spartan chassis got a workout:  bump, bump, bump.

The road leading to our campground in Natchez State Park.

The road leading to our campground in Natchez State Park.

It was overcast all day and we had a few sprinkles.  It was 57° when we left and it was 46° when we arrived at Natchez State Park at 1:50 pm.  The park told us not to follow the MapQuest directions that say to turn off of US-84 & US-98 on Tate Rd.  I can see why!  It’s a dirt road.  We continued west and turned north on US-61 and saw signs for the entrance on the right a few miles later.  The long entrance road does not look promising and we are always paranoid that we will come to a dead end where we can’t turn around.  Co-Pilot had no digitized roads and we felt like we were wandering around — not sure if we were in the park and going on the correct road or not.  We turned at a second entrance sign and passed Campground B.  There was no sign or indication that it is the RV camp.  Finally we came to a lake and an office and there was a small turnaround circle.  Dennis unhitched the car and I went to the office.  They thought they’d told us to go to Campground B.  We drove back in the car and selected #43, a pull-through, and then came back to the bus.  Sites are not particularly large or level but they are concrete and we got set up easily enough.  We overlook a lake in a pine and deciduous woods.

We saw a couple walking two little white Bichons.  Later we walked our little white dogs as they drove out so they stopped to speak to us.  They never heard of Cotons and were amazed at the similarities.  We plan to introduce them tomorrow.  We drove back to the office to pay.  While we were inside a huge flying insect landed on my jacket and then flew to a window.  I am not exaggerating when I say it was one and a half inches long.  They said it was a wasp!  There were two flying around.  Ohmigod.  We have to remember to keep our door shut at all times.

It was only 3:30 pm so we decided to drive into town but this was a mistake.  Dennis was tired (but did not say so) and we should have stayed put.  We are supposed to be ten miles north of Natchez but that is just to the outskirts.  Dennis began complaining about the town and how we’d driven 20 miles and where was it?  He always acts as if these things are my fault.  We did drive for thirty minutes and I finally told him to stop at a Shoney’s.  We didn’t make it to the river or the historic downtown, which I discovered is another ten or fifteen minutes beyond.  Shoney’s is a chain coffee shop but not a good one.  I’m crossing it off my list.  We sat in a booth and listened to very loud hip-hop and rap music for one hour.  This is OK when I’m watching So You Think You Can Dance, but not so great over dinner.  I said, “I can’t believe I’m listening to hip-hop in a restaurant.”  The beat is continuous and repetitive and by the end of an hour I felt like my brains were dribbling out of my ears.  We drove exactly 15 miles back to camp but it did take 28 minutes.

The camp is very dark and very quiet.  We have no cell phone and no Internet.  Fortunately we do have satellite so I was able to watch the new installment of LOST.

Thursday, January 29.  We relax in Natchez State Park, MS

Our campsite in Natchez State Park.

Our campsite in Natchez State Park.

Last night Rudi woke me up about midnight.  He generally sleeps on the rug under the bed or at the bottom of the bed leaning against my legs.  But once in awhile he comes up to my head and curls up on my pillow and then he shakes.  I used to think this meant he had to go potty and I would get up and take him out.  Then I thought he was cold but he doesn’t want to be covered with blankets.  Now I think he hears or smells something and is frightened.  I got him to curl up by my chest and he slept there the rest of the night.  Fortunately he doesn’t smell bad and he doesn’t breathe loudly.  I forget he is there.  Once in awhile he takes a deep breath and lets it out with a little sigh, like a child who has found comfort and is beginning to relax.  It is very endearing.

It was 32° this morning at 5:30 am.  Dennis disconnected the water last night and left the gas heat set at 55° so it wasn’t too cold when I got up.  We are moving north and rediscovering winter.

It was my intention to explore the Mississippi River and the old town of Natchez today.  But we flaked out.  It feels wonderful to be in a quiet wilderness area and I guess we are tired.  We took the dogs for a walk on a nature trail down to the lake.  They were so excited.  Their hair sticks out in all directions and they get all puffed up.  They try to go in all directions at once and their noses are going overtime.  Clearly, everything has fascinating smells — and I’m not talking that everyday, ho hum dog pee.  This is different!  They bury their noses in leaves.  What do they smell?  We were told there is a badger around.  There must be raccoons, possums, skunks, and squirrels.  We are worried about fleas and ticks but we gamble that it is too early in the season and too cold.  It was very nippy out but sunny and Dennis says this is the kind of weather the dogs like best.  He’s right.  They get very active in cool temperatures.

When we got back we decided to get out our camp chairs and sit outside in the sun.  By now it was 43° so that sounds nuts but there was no wind and with jackets we felt fine facing the sun.  There are almost no people here and we had a picnic table on a hill above the bus.  Sitting away from the street and with no traffic or people walking by (or dogs) we could sit outside peacefully and not have to put up with a lot of barking and agitation.

We stayed outdoors for hours and I really can’t remember when we were last in a wilderness area like this where the weather and circumstances allowed us to sit outside.  It was great.  Soon we were snacking on chips and salsa.

Oh, oh. Now both dogs want to get in. No! Too cold.

Oh, oh. Now both dogs want to get in. No! Too cold.

I spotted a black cat walking through a camp site below and walked down to investigate.  The cat showed himself but kept his distance and cast a watchful eye on me.  Clearly wild, I decided to help him out.  We had just thrown out some leftover fried catfish that was still good.  I dug it out, broke it into bits and left it on a concrete picnic table pad on a corner close to the woods where the cat disappeared.  There was too much for a cat but I checked half an hour later and half of it was gone.  Gosh, how does a cat survive in woods?  It’s cold out there and cats are not all that hardy.  I suspect he scouts for leftovers in the campground.

I feel very badly that we missed out on Natchez.  It is a historic city and there is much to see.  But we really enjoyed our camping day off.  We were going to BBQ but by four o’clock it was getting cold and we were indoors.  I did get ambitious and made a cake.  And we took a four-cheese frozen pizza and added fresh vegetables to it before we baked it in the convection oven.  Shades of my favorite vegetarian pizza, Round Table’s Guineviere’s Garden — it turned out great.

New Orleans: Garder un Œil Ouvert
January 26, 2009
New Orleans, LA, Pontchartrain Landing RV Park — 5 days
Monday, January 26, 2009 — Fulltimers 1 Year & 8 Months
Friday, January 23.  I get my hair done and we walk around the French Quarter.
My talented stylist, Agnes, at Rocket Science.

My talented stylist, Agnes, at Rocket Science.

This morning we drove to the southeast outskirts of the French Quarter and easily found 2 hr. residential parking on Chartres St. at 10:30 am.  Worried, we consulted with a guy sitting on his stoop reading a paper.  He assured us we were good for more than two hours.  He told us to have a good time and his parting words were “Garder un œil ouvert,” which he repeated English, “Keep one eye open.”  Later in the salon, the women talked about two recent rape attempts involving two of their girlfriends in separate incidents.  The crime rate is high in New Orleans.  I guess we need to be careful.

As I did in Albuquerque, NM, I chose a salon based on reviews on City Search.  I talked to the owner, Savannah Blue and made an appointment with Agnes at Rocket Science on Frenchman Rd.  Dennis found a nearby coffee shop where he waited for me while reading a paper and calling friends on his cell phone.  In a masonry block building painted bright blue, I rang a bell and Agnes came down a flight of dark stairs to admit me.  The salon is a tiny room upstairs painted in bright colors of lavender and geranium rose.  A row of windows looked down on the street.  It was a very creative and fun environment.

Agnes listened carefully, matched my hair color and highlights and did a careful cut.  I look human again and I am very pleased.  I had great fun talking to Agnes and Savannah and a client who needed her punk rose and black hair trimmed.  They were all lively and creative.   Savannah belongs to a dance group and talked about a performance tonight.  Later I saw a posted advertisement.  “The Camel Toe Lady Steppers Toe-Down Fundraiser with DJ Soul Sister The Free Agents Brass Band. Fri. Jan 23, doors at 8, One Eyed Jacks, 615 Toulouse St.”  Well, what fun — and what a clever name.  But don’t ask me why I didn’t go.  The door charge is $20 and I am too tired to deal with the French Quarter on a Friday night.  No one is more sorry than me.

I called Dennis to meet me when I was finished and saw him through the window standing across the street talking on his phone.  He seemed very cheerful when I emerged and I think he enjoyed his wait.  Frenchman Rd is known for it’s restaurants.  I was told to find Thirteen for lunch and Adolfo’s for dinner.  However we moved the car forward to gain two more hours and then walked  around the corner where we discovered The Marigny Brasserie on Frenchman at Royal.  (The G is silent so it is pronounced Mar-i-ny and there is a nearby park with this name.) This was a comfortable bar-restaurant with soft jazz in the background.  We had a delicious lunch and I would be a regular if I were local.

Another pretty home with a decorated balcony.

Another pretty home with a decorated balcony.

After lunch we finally had an opportunity to walk around the French Quarter to sightsee.  We walked west on Decatur St. and then cut south towards the French Market by the Mississippi River.  We took the “Moon Walk” by the river towards the Riverboat Docks.  At the St. Louis Cathedral at Jackson Square we walked north up to Bourbon St. where we turned east and made our way back to Barracks St. and cut south to find our car parked by Frenchman and Chartres Streets.

Saturday, January 24.  We take a Hurricane Katrina Tour.

There is a dog run at Pontchartrain Landing so we walked the dogs to it so they could run around. Pontchartrain is a very odd and unusual RV park but I like it. The owners are working hard to make it pretty and to keep everyone pleased.

By noon we were in public parking at Decatur and Toulouse near the river at the ticket tour booth called the Lighthouse.  We had reservations for a three-hour Gray Line tour so that we could learn what happened and why as a result of Hurricane Katrina.  Everyone speaks highly of this tour. While we waited we walked around looking down on Decatur St. and strolling along Moonwalk. (Moonwalk, the path on the levee above the river is named in honor of Moon Landrieu, “in recognition of his leadership and vision.” He was in public life from 1960 to 2000. In 1976 while he was Mayor of New Orleans he had the Moonwalk constructed. It replaced a cargo wharf and shed that occupied the site. It was the first step towards reclaiming the riverfront for the enjoyment of residents and visitors.

Our Gray Line Katrina Hurricane tour bus.

Our Gray Line Katrina Hurricane tour bus.

A former teacher, our Katrina Hurricane tour driver was charming and a born communicator.  A native, he tried to express the New Orleans way of life and it’s history as well as the specifics about Hurricane Katrina.  Sal said he would not be political, but that he would give us all the facts and we could draw our own conclusions.  He gave us so much material; I wish I’d taken notes!  He drove us through every parish so we got a good feel for the layout of the city and he told us what happened in each of these civil counties.

We tourists tend to concentrate on the romantic aspects of New Orleans — its image.  I’ve learned that this image attached to New Orleans from its very beginnings and for good reasons.  Surrounded by the waters of river, lake and swamps, the French referred to New Orleans as the “Isle d’Orleans.”  A swamp sanctuary, New Orleans quickly became a haven for travelers on the Mississippi.  The city became a cultural island of civilization in an ocean of wilderness.  A prize eagerly sought, New Orleans beamed a brilliant beacon through the surrounding darkness. Once New Orleans attained that image, no other city could hope to compete for command of the Mississippi Valley. New Orleans, then, began as a cultural as well as a physical island, an island poorly connected with the immediate hinterland, but with superb connections with the larger world. As an oasis of civilization in a hostile swamp, New Orleans came to feel itself a very special place. Having conquered the dismal swamp, New Orleans was confident of a brilliant future.

But Sal reminded us of the economic facts.  The Port of New Orleans has been at the epicenter of American history since the first French explorer set foot on the riverbank in 1718. Wars were fought over it. Louisiana was purchased for it.  Because of its proximity to the Mississippi River, New Orleans is America’s gateway to the global marketplace.  Sal’s point was that the hurricane disrupted the marketplace for the entire country and perhaps the world — not just the local area. http://www.neworleansonline.com/neworleans/business/port.html

Sal put things into perspective.  Ranked by annual tonnage, in the United States, the Port of South Louisiana is first and the Port of New Orleans is seventh.  (Second is Houston and third is New York and New Jersey combined.)  For world seaports South Louisiana is ranked as seventh.  (Shanghai, China is first.)  However, the Port of New Orleans handles about 84 million short tons of cargo a year and the Port of South Louisiana, based in the New Orleans suburb of LaPlace, handles 199 million short tons.  Combined, these two ports form the largest port system in the world by bulk tonnage, and the world’s fourth largest by annual volume handled.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Port_of_New_Orleans

Sal pointed out that like New York, New Orleans is a founding city of the country because of its age and it’s port.  Ships go up river as far as Baton Rouge and as Dennis and I saw, there are loading docks along the river all the way up to Baton Rouge.  Sal informed us that most great port cities are below sea level.  New York is 20’ below sea level.  Rotterdam is 15’ below sea level.  Sal asked us, “How many port cities below sea level can survive a class three or four hurricane?”

To understand how and why the city flooded, we needed to understand the geography and history of the area.  Therefore bear with me while I summarize some of the highlights.  I found much of my information from an online book, “A History of New Orleans” by Donald McNabb & Louis E Madere, Jr.  http://www.madere.com/history.html

Pierce Lewis described New Orleans as the “inevitable city on an impossible site.”  This was obvious to early explorers.  The North American continent is drained by a single river system — the Mississippi.  Clearly, there should be a city at the mouth of this splendid transportation system.  Strategically situated, that city could control the trade between the vast interior of North America and the rest of the world; it could even determine the political future of North America.  Thomas Jefferson understood this when he said, “There is one spot on the globe, the possessor of which is our natural and habitual enemy. It is New Orleans.”

By the mid-seventeenth century, the French controlled Canada, the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes.  In April of 1682, Cavalier and La Salle floated by the future site of the “inevitable city” and claimed the entire river basin for France.  They named it Louisiana in honor of Louis XIV and his Austrian bride Queen Anne.  The French knew that to gain control of the Mississippi they must control access to its mouth on the Gulf of Mexico.

However, there was a problem in finding a site for the “inevitable city” because the Mississippi has a large delta and is not embayed.  The sea does not enter and flood the river’s mouth.  Rivers that are embayed provide natural sites for cities with large ports such as London, New York, Hamburg, and Quebec City.  From the mouth of the Mississippi to a point about 200 miles upstream (Baton Rouge), there was no ground high enough to provide a natural site for a city. While the great river demanded a splendid port city, it seemed to provide no place for one.

In 1699, Choctaws showed Bienville and Iberville a two-mile portage from the headwaters of Bayou St. John to the Mississippi across the relatively well-drained land of the natural levee created by the river’s great crescent curve.  The brothers instantly perceived that the site was the shortest route to the Gulf and that it bore obvious geographical, military and commercial advantages. In 1718 Jean Baptiste La Moyne and Sieur de Bienville, established New Orleans as the capital of Louisiana and a fortress to control the wealth of the North American interior.

A site for a port city had been established but there were numerous problems.  Geologists Kolb and Van Topik describe it as “a land between earth and sea, belonging to neither and alternately claimed by both.” The Mississippi’s delta is noted for its swampy, geologic terrain and its difficult environment. The delta is a region prone to excessive heat, annual floods, heavy rain, hurricanes, mosquitoes and disease. The delta environment has squeezed New Orleans into a constricted site and forced the city into strange shapes and curious, even eccentric internal patterns of growth.

The back swamp in “Uptown” New Orleans (upriver) was an especially odious place, rounded on three sides by the great semicircular “Crescent Curve” of the Mississippi. The three banks, or natural levees, of the Mississippi together with the lower natural levees of the abandoned Bayou Metairie (Metairie Ridge) created an area like a shallow “bowl,” with the center below sea level and prone to filling up with water after heavy rains or flooding. Until ways were found in the twentieth century to pump water out, the center of much of modern Uptown and Mid-City was always wet. In pre-historic times, when water rose too high in the “bowl,” it would spill over the lowest spot in the Metairie Ridge, eventually forming a slow sluggish stream, Bayou St. John.

With each flood, the Mississippi has also raised its banks or natural levees higher. At New Orleans, the natural levees average ten to fifteen feet above sea level and one to two miles in width, sloping gently and almost imperceptibly into the back swamp. While building its levees higher, the Mississippi extends then further into the Gulf. As it does so, the river also raises its riverbed higher. To maintain its current, the river requires a gradient. Whenever the current slackens, material is deposited in the riverbed. So, as the river extends itself into the gulf, its upstream stretches rise higher and higher with each new flood and each addition to the natural levees.  In the New Orleans area, the Mississippi stands ten to fifteen feet above sea level, perched on a ridge above much of the modern city.

The French Quarter is located next to the Mississippi River along a curve or a bow that separated the city from itself.  That’s why New Orleans is called the Crescent City.  It is named after a crescent moon.  (The title, The Big Easy, after New York’s The Big Apple, came later in the eighties with an advertising campaign.)  This very old area of the city, located just inside the crescent, is 15 to 20’ above sea level.  That’s why the floods did not disturb the French Quarter.

Sal, our driver and tour guide, began to point out the floodwalls, levees, canals and bayous that cut up New Orleans into million puzzle pieces.  The floodwalls are gray cement and they blend into the streets so that we had not really noticed them before.  We hadn’t noticed the levees either.  Sal told us the levees didn’t fail.  Levees are wide dirt berms that must be twenty times wider than their height.  It was the more recent city invention, the cement walls that failed.  They look like neighborhood walls that are maybe six to eight feet on average.  These walls failed because the waters broke through them or went over the top.  And the rest of New Orleans is below sea level — about eight feet on average.

What happens when a hurricane is announced?  You have to board up your windows and remove all flying missiles from the yard.  You have to move valuables up to the second floor.  And you have to run errands — fuel for the car and supplies for the house.  Everyone is doing the same errands so there is a jam of people with heavy traffic and long lines.

Why didn’t citizens flee when the hurricane was announced?  In 2003 and 2004 they did but then the hurricanes changed course and nothing happened.  In 2005 Katrina was supposed to go to Florida.  People didn’t want to go through all the effort of leaving for no reason. At the last minute Katrina switched and went towards New Orleans.

Dennis and I have commented on the freeways in this city.  It is an excellent system with good signage and many entrances and exits.  But we’ve never seen so many bridges and elevated freeways.  You make your lane changes while flying through the air.  It is unnerving.  So on the good side, there are hundreds of ways to create an exit route.  If one path fails it is possible to try a second or third or fourth.

This is the first in a sequence of maps done by the Times-Picayune of Hurricane Katrina's flooding of New orleans. You can read the event hour-by-hour and see the water encroaching over the city. It is fascinating. I really recommend it.

This is the first in a sequence of maps done by the Times-Picayune of Hurricane Katrina’s flooding of New orleans. You can read the event hour-by-hour and see the water encroaching over the city. It is fascinating. I really recommend it.

BUT.  Sea walls broke — not levees but walls.  The water that covered the entire city except for the French Quarter came from Lake Pontchartrain (pronounced Pon-cha-train).  Actually, we are camped on France Road by a major waterway that passes from the lake to the river.  We are on Port Authority land and the France Road container facility on the Industrial Canal still remains closed.  A thirty-foot surge came down that canal from the lake towards the French Quarter.  Parish after parish, acre after acre, almost all of the entire city was covered in ten to twelve feet of water.  It wasn’t just some areas and it wasn’t just poor areas.  It was poor and wealthy alike that got flooded and lost their homes.

New Orleans, August 29, 2005: This is the sequence of events. Go watch the maps!

  1. The day before Katrina hit, high tides created by the storm’s outer bands already engulf low-lying wetlands and communities outside the levee system.
  2. 4:30 am.  Rising water in the Industrial Canal leaks through damaged gates into neighborhoods on both sides of the I-10 High Rise.  The flow is minor compared to what is in store for these areas.  (near Gentilly)
  3. 5:00 am.  Katrina’s storm surge begins pounding the MR-GO levee.  By dawn, levee sections crumble and Lake Borgne advances into wetlands toward St. Bernard Parish.
  4. 6:10 am.  Katrina makes landfall at Buras.  A wall of water 21 feet high crosses the Mississippi River and its levees, inundating most of Plaquemines Parish.
  5. 6:30 am.  Surge builds in the Intracoastal Waterway’s “funnel,” and levees protecting eastern New Orleans are overtopped and breached.  Soon, the area is under water.  To the west, witnesses report sections of the 17th Street Canal levee wall are leaning toward Lakeview.  Water leaks through cracks in the wall into the neighborhood.
  6. 6:50 am.  Storm surge from the “funnel” reaches the Industrial Canal.  Water overtops floodwalls and levees on both sides, but the worst is still ahead.
  7. 7:30 am.  Levee wall panels on the west side of the Industrial Canal breach, flooding the Upper 9th Ward, Bywater and Treme.
  8. 7:45 am.  Two floodwall sections on the east side of the Industrial Canal fall, releasing a wall of water into the Lower 9th Ward, tossing homes and cars around like toys.  The water also pours into Arabi and Chalmette.
  9. 8:30 am.  Lake Borgne advances to St. Bernard Parish’s second line of defense, easily topping the 7-foot to 9-foot 40-Arpent Canal levee and filling neighborhoods from Poydras to Chalmette.  To the north, a one-mile stretch of floodwall on the south side of Lakefront Airport is topped by surge from Lake Pontchartrain, adding to already severe flooding in eastern New Orleans.
  10.  9 am.  Surge rises to 10 feet in the London Avenue Canal and levee wall panels on both sides start bending.  Water leaks into yards, but the flow is still minor.  About two miles west, surge reaches an enbankment at the foot of the Orleans Avenue Canal that is 6 feet lower than the floodwalls.  Water tops the embankment and pours into City Park.
  11.  9:30 am.  I-wall panels on the east side of the London Avenue Canal fail, releasing a wall of water and sand into homes and expanding the flooding of Gentilly.
  12.  9:45 am.  Several 17th St. Canal levee wall panels fail, releasing a roaring torrent of water into Lakeview.  Water from this breach eventually fills much of midtown New Orleans and parts of Metairie.  On the north shore, Katrina makes landfall near Slidell.  Storm surge is 15 feet at the Lake Pontchartrain shoreline and reaches more that five miles inland at some points.  St. Tammany Parish neighborhoods from the Rigolets all the way to Madisonville are flooded.
  13. 10:30 am.  I-wall panels on the west side of the London Avenue Canal are pushed over, adding 8 feet of water to flooded Gentilly and contributing to rising water across the city.  Parts of Jefferson Parish also flood as rainwater leaks through an unstaffed pumping system.
  14.  Aug. 29-Sept 1, 2005.  With Katrina’s eye north of the city and moving away quickly, surge levels drop and levee overtopping ceases.  But Lake Pontchartrain remains swollen, and water continues bleeding into the city until the lake level equalizes with the floodwaters at midday on Sept 1.

As we rode in the bus, Sal said that most of time, we were under water.  He showed us a major Hurricane Exit Route.  At one point that highway route makes a dip under a bridge.  Naturally the dip was flooded and the escape route was cut off.  Sal also explained that at one time many natural areas were swamps covered with a forest of Cyprus trees.  He claimed that these trees are as tall as California redwoods.  They served the same purpose as the redwoods did in northern California.  They provided a wind buffer.  Development removed these trees and now wind and water can sweep in without any natural interference.

Sal brought us to City Park New Orleans located at 1 Palm Drive for a twenty-minute break.  At Parkview Café in the Timken Center (the Old Casino building) we were able to buy a drink and a snack.  With 1300 beautiful acres, City Park offers attractions that include the Carousel Gardens Amusement Park, Botanical Garden, Storyland, Museum of Art, Sculpture Garden, plus boating, golf, tennis, riding stables and many other activities.  Sal told us of his childhood memories about the park including the “whee” bridge that goes steeply up and down over a stream so that kids would say “whee” when their parents drove over it.  http://neworleanscitypark.com/index.html

As he drove, he told us about the parish where he lives and he gave us the socio-economic breakdown of each district we saw.  He also gave us tips on where to find delicious food in restaurants outside the Quarter that charge a fraction of what you would pay downtown.  This tour was definitely worthwhile.  It was a tremendous education and extremely interesting. You can learn more facts and see an excellent video about it on their web site.  http://www.graylineneworleans.com/katrina.shtml

Sunday, January 25.  We drive around the city and do some errands.

Inspired by Sal I found a recommended restaurant about six miles from our park and located near the lake on Lake Pontchartrain Blvd.  We had breakfast at Russell’s Marina Grill and it was delightful.  I would be happy to return for lunch or dinner.  

The X means a search took place.

The X means a search took place.

It was a cold, foggy day so we decided to knock off a bunch of errands.  The GPS got us from Best Buy in Metrarie to Petco and Office Depot in Kenner.  We finished near our park by getting car fuel and grocery shopping at Winn-Dixie.  As we drove, we saw the city with new eyes.  Everywhere, we saw the levees and sea walls and canals.  Everywhere we saw the empty lots that Sal told us were not originally empty.  And this time we saw the dreadful spray paint marks on the devastated houses.  These Katrina code marks were left on houses to ID the amount of dead or living.  Rescue workers and D_MOR, or disaster mortician teams sprayed identifying codes in brightly colored spray paint on doors and roofs in flood zones.  The “X” means a search took place.  Date and time of search were noted.  “LB” with a number indicated the number of living people in the house.  The “DB” with a number indicated the number of dead bodies.  The teams carried GPS devices to identify and note the locations they inspected.  The notations are faded now or somewhat scrubbed off but they are always a big X with marks in each quadrant.  Some Xs are painted on the second floor and some are high on the first floor.

We saw many new homes and houses being rebuilt.  We saw many that are still empty, partially destroyed husks.  But Sal taught us to also notice the infrastructure surrounding these homes — bad roads and empty shopping centers.  Many districts no longer have nearby hospitals.  There are no gas stations or grocery stores or other services.  Shopping centers are empty.  Big chain stores can choose to stay away until the city is rebuilt and it seems worthwhile to open a store again.  Winn-Dixie is a southern supermarket chain and they have returned.  Wal*Mart and Home Depot stores exist but they few and far between.  So the difficulties for citizens are not just confined to rebuilding their homes.  They must also wait for the infrastructure to return.

Monday, January 26.  We finally take the Swamp Bayou Tour.

Bayou Segnette is a Cajun fishing village.

Bayou Segnette is a Cajun fishing village.

It is still cold and foggy but we are out of time and we couldn’t wait for a warmer day.  Once again we returned to public parking near the Lighthouse and climbed onto a Gray Line tour bus.  Our driver entertained us with commentary about landmarks and history as he drove us over the Mississippi River on the Huey P. Long Bridge with two lanes of US 90 on each side of a two-track railroad line.  This brought us to Westwego in Jefferson Parish on the west side of the river.  (Our driver said that this town was so named because departing wagon drivers would say, “West, we go!”  I don’t know.  What do you think?)

Westwego Swamp Adventures was another three-hour tour, what with bus transportation and a two-hour boat ride.  We came to 501 Laroussini St. for a Westwego Swamp Boat Tour with tour owner, Capt. Tom Billiot.  His boat is docked in the heart of a working Cajun Fishing Village.  Bayou Segnette is the gateway to the Barataria-Terrebonne Estuary.  Here one can see an abundance of wildlife and native plants within a maze of quiet waterways.  Capt. Tom is native to the area and has a house and yard somewhere in this bayou.  He runs his swamp boat tour business and also hunts, fishes and traps for a living.  Capt. Tom and his wife have special exhibit permits to house and care for wild animals so first we were shown a raccoon, turtles and fish in aquariums, a swamp owl and a baby alligator.  Then he gave an eco-nature talk about the swamp environment and told us what we would see and what to look for.  http://www.westwegoswampadventures.com/experience.html

Because it was cold and there was no sun, cold-blooded creatures were not much in evidence.  However we did see an abundance of marsh birds like egrets, white herons and great blue herons.  We saw turtles and we did see some of the smaller alligators.  Capt. Tom did his level best to find alligators and other living creatures in the swamp for us to see.  Just hearing about the bayou from Capt. Tom and seeing the estuary with trees and plants was extremely interesting.  Wildlife is a plus.  But someday I would like to do this again when it is warmer and there is more wildlife to see.

A nutria, disturbed by our boat swims to his nest.

A nutria, disturbed by our boat swims to his nest.

We saw plenty of nutria.  Louisiana has a surplus of these 20-pound South American swamp rodents, which the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries euphemistically dubs “fur bearing herbivores.”  For years Louisiana has campaigned to try to cut down the nutria population by convincing people to eat these critters. Also known as coypu, they were originally imported for their fur but they escaped and have wreaked havoc on the local greenery.  Capt. Tom says they put him through school.  He caught and sold them for meat.  Supposedly, they taste like dark meat turkey.

Tomorrow is our last day in New Orleans. We plan to take a walking tour around the French Quarter. On Wednesday we must start north towards Red Bay. But we will take a few days along the way to see Nachez and the Natchez Trace Parkway.

We Tour Houmas House Plantation
January 22, 2009
New Orleans, LA, Pontchartrain Landing RV Park — 1 day
Thursday, January 22, 2009 — Fulltimers 1 Year & 8 Months
Monday afternoon, January 19. We tour Houmas House Plantation and Gardens.
The pond features two lively alligator sculptures.

The pond features two lively alligator sculptures.

In Convent, this was our big day for seeing the local sites.  After touring Pochê Plantation and St. Michael’s Catholic Church in the morning, we arrived at Houmas House before noon.  This time we bought our tickets and walked over to the restaurant first for lunch.  However, we had time to dawdle along the way to appreciate the beautiful garden.

We got a lovely corner table by windows in Café Burnside and I had a charming view of a corner of a vegetable garden surrounded by a primitive picket fence.  In front of the fence, shining in the sun was a tall ceramic pot with orange details.  It exactly matched the three orange pumpkins sitting on the ground around it.  It was such a pretty scene I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.

Our lunch was delicious!  I started with a soup, Bisque of Curried Pumpkin, Crawfish, and Corn.  They said I can get the recipe from the website and I hope I can!  Dennis chose Red Beans and Rice, served with a link of smoked Louisiana sausage.  I had Louisiana Seafood Pasta, Louisiana crawfish and gulf shrimp sautéed served with penne Pasta tossed in Creole tomato cream sauce.  It was marvelous.

We finished just in time to take the next tour.  A bell is rung in the garden and those with tickets meet their guide in front of a pavilion.  Our guide was a very charming and pretty woman wearing an antebellum gown.  A former teacher she entertained us with her proper southern manners while she gave us lots of information in a lively interactive manner.  I heard one man say to his wife, “You can tell she’s a teacher.  She does a really good job.”  As a former teacher myself, I had to laugh.  Later, I passed on the remark to her.

This oak is 600 years old!

This oak is 600 years old!

After we saw the ladies rooms, our guide explained that we ladies could not see the men’s side unless invited, as an exception, by a gentleman. She then turned to Dennis and asked him how we should proceed. He picked up the ball immediately and said he would like to invite her to join him in the library. She took his arm and we, very delighted, all followed.

The owners of Houmas House live in the house and occupy the second and third floors. Although, they keep the second floor open to tours they ask that we not take photographs.

In one of the bedrooms we learned that scenes from “Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte” were filmed here with Bette Davis in 1964.  It was a rather gothic bedroom that contained a bentwood woven casket and a case with curios regarding methods of controlling slaves.

Houmas House is actually three combined structures with three and two stories.  Back on the ground floor we left the big house through the back door, which exited into a passage that connects to the older two story house. We entered the old building and climbed stairs to the second floor that now serves as a very exclusive gourmet restaurant. Below, we walked through this ground floor room that was used at one point as the kitchen. There is a cooking fireplace and also bread baking ovens.

Our charming guide explains the the long hall divides the main floor rooms between those for ladies and those for gentlemen.

Our charming guide explains the the long hall divides the main floor rooms between those for ladies and those for gentlemen.

The tour lasted for more than an hour and all of it was fascinating.  Afterwards, we walked around the garden taking many photos.  The new owner purchased the property in May of 2003 and the gardens have all been developed since.  What existed before were the live oaks and lawns.  He is well on his way to building a premier garden that will be listed in garden tour books.  It is already beautiful and someday it will be quite extensive.  Also extensive is their website where you can see many photos and obtain lots of information about the grounds and history.  http://www.houmashouse.com/

Tuesday, January 20.  “On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.”

Today I put on my red sweater and my red, white and blue hat and together Dennis and I watched the Inauguration on TV.  We celebrated with all those who made the big effort to go to Washington DC and stand outside in the cold for all those hours.  We marveled at the excitement and pride and hope of those in that crowd.  We watched everything — before, during and after the Inauguration speech. 

We listened to President Obama’s words and some of them echoed in my heart — thoughts and feeling that have lived with me since the seventies.

(Continued: See Essay, The Inauguration of Barack Obama.)

I cheer as Pres. Obama is sworn in while we watch CNN and MSNBC.

I cheer as Pres. Obama is sworn in while we watch CNN and MSNBC.

Since Pres. Obama’s election and the Iraqi journalist shoe-throwing-at-Bush incident, my Mission friend, Theresa, and I have been kidding about throwing our shoes at the departing helicopter of former Pres. Bush. (Apparently we are not alone. The incident has provoked all kinds of online creativity with videos and a game where you can throw a shoe at Bush.) Theresa and I decided to throw our shoes even through we are separated, not only from Washington, DC but also from each other in time and space. As Bush’s helicopter took off, Theresa called me and we both ran outside. Amid mutual hilarity on each end, we both threw our shoes in the air. It was lots of fun. I am celebrating and I look forward to real ethical leadership that involves true concern for our children and our people.

Wednesday, January 21. We drive to Pontchartrain Landing in New Orleans, LA.

We had an easy drive to New Orleans.  When I looked at the intricate directions on MapQuest I said, “This is going to be bloody,” but it was easier than it looked and we navigated the freeways and streets without any mistakes.

Our RV Park, Pontchartrain Landing, is located on France Rd.  We are near the France Rd Terminal — Port of New Orleans.  In fact our park is located on Port Authority land.  It has plenty of land and space and it is quiet.  We were worried as we made our approach because at one point the road deteriorated into dirt as it passed a large industrial work area.  We didn’t want to get stuck in some weird dead-end.  A worker came over to speak to us and told us there was an RV park at the end of the road so we kept going.  We are near Lake Pontchartrain by a canal that leads from the Mississippi River to the lake by Lakefront Airport.

We arrive at Pontchartrain Landing, located near the lake on Port Authority land.

We arrive at Pontchartrain Landing, located near the lake on Port Authority land.

Our park provides a shuttle to the French Quarter three times a day but we felt it was too late to do that after we arrived.  So we piled in the car and drove west on I-10 and I-610 towards the Metairie district to find Best Buy.  In McAllen, I bought a backup disk with more memory to replace my LaCie backup.  I didn’t realize the difference between a USB port and a filewire port.  I bought a USB backup disk and it wouldn’t plug into the port where I had plugged in the LaCie.  So in New Orleans we returned to Best Buy and I traded a My Passport for a Time Machine.  Here’s the amazing thing (I think).  I forgot to put the receipt in my purse and couldn’t find it when we got to cashier.  No problem.  I gave her the same credit card I used in McAllen and told her the date when I made the purchase.  She looked it up on their database and made the exchange.  Wow!  I was amazed — and relieved.

Near Best Buy we saw Starbucks so we went in to buy a pound of French Roast whole bean.  Then we drove down the street and chose Jaeger’s Seafood for dinner.  Bad choice.  The food was just not good.

Thursday, January 22. I see a glaucoma specialist at Oschner Medical Center.

I have glaucoma in my left eye and I treat it with Azopt drops.  I saw a glaucoma doctor at Billings Medical Center in Montana last August.  I’m supposed to have the eye pressure tested every four months so I made an appointment at Oschner Medical Center in New Orleans.  This was my minimal goal but as in Billings I had greater concerns.  Although my glaucoma condition is holding even I continue to lose vision in that eye.  Testing in Billings showed a significant loss in the upper left quadrant.  Tests from this visit reveals continued significant loss throughout the entire upper quadrant.  I seem to be going blind in one eye.  I was given many tests in Billings to determine the cause.  A theory is that I had a mini stroke in the left eye and that killed an optic nerve.  Or possibly I have an eye disease.  We can find no symptoms for a disease so we cannot pin down the cause.  Without a cause there is cure.  So for the moment I am stuck.  Even with my corrective glasses my left eye can no longer read print on my monitor or on a printed page.  Fortunately, my right eye is still fine.

Dr. Mary Bryan at Oschner was very kind and concerned.  She suggests that next time I consult a neuro-ophthalmologist.  I think I will try to find one in Tampa, FL when we go there for Dennis’s medical appointments.

What with appointment delays and various tests we were at Oschner for five hours.  On the way home we saw a KFC so we stopped and picked up a 12 pc. bucket meal.  We were surprised to find the counter covered by a glass wall.  We made our order and paid through a slot, like a bank.