It is now early March, the coronavirus has been renamed the COVID-19 virus. Much of Europe is being overrun. The Seattle area is suffering. New York is about to get overrun. We are aware of what is going on, keeping an eye on things, learning best practices, watching little or nothing happen at the highest levels of government except ignoring it.
The Hop On/Hop Off bus took us around the parts of the city that never flooded. The French Quarter at Jackson Square was one stop. There was a walking tour as well. And carriage rides. And lots of traffic.
I am not sure what the French Quarter on Bourbon Street looks like today, in the evening in the early 80s to a young choirboy from Minnesota it was dirty, smelly, lined with music spots and carnival barkers trying to get to come in and see things your mama would not have approved of. Drinking in the streets, partially clad women, wanton behavior right here in the Crescent City.
We did not get to see that. In fact we didn’t even go down Bourbon Street. The street sweepers and water trucks were over there cleaning up from the night before. But at the intersections we got a peek and a whiff.
So the instructions were the same, don’t lean on the buildings and watch your step. There seems to be no inclination to fix the streets or sidewalks in this city.
The French Quarter is one of the original parts of the city. Lots of old buildings, some with street level shops and apartments above for those who could afford them. We learned the difference between a balcony
a self supported extension on the side of a building, generally less than half the width of the sidewalk below. And a gallery
a side of the building structure supported by columns generally the width of the sidewalk below. If it is raining look for a gallery. Many of these buildings had the lower levels converted from stables to car parking. Some had discrete entry alleys through the buildings side to a center courtyard and access to the apartments.
These were quite elegant looking.
We went by an old convent turned into a church turned into a museum of the Catholic Church.
The guide mentioned a museum dedicated to the effects of Hurricane Katrina on the city and the people that was not open that day. The Presbytere.
Jackson Square is quite lovely. Busy, noisy, lots of people.
The big church is the St Louis Cathedral. At the other end of the square was Artillery Park
which over looks the Mississippi River.
On either side were old buildings originally living quarters, one side for Catholics, one side for Protestants and every one else. Today they are luxury apartments with luxury rents, some as much as $7,000 per month we were told. They are also the oldest apartments in continuous use in the country.
We walked a block or so the Cafe duMonde for a cup of coffee and a beignet. It was packed, no lunch there just coffee and beignets. They look like little puffed up fried doughnuts except they were a bit hollow kind of like a sopapilla. And not just dusted with powdered sugar but buried in it.
Three to a plate.
We were sitting at a tiny round table wondering if anyone was ever going to come and take our order. There was another couple nearby looking for a table. We invited them to join us. And then the waiter came, cleared the table took our order for coffees and beignets. Our treat.
These folks were from England, here in America to see as much as they could while escaping the cold and winter dreariness of home. Gee, we were doing the same. They were fun to chat with. He had been to the USA a few times on business, she had not. A chance meeting, the best kind sometimes. Several beignets came home with us in a greasy bag.
Back on the hop on/hop off to the station, actually an old railroad station. Fun to look around, nice gift shop of course. Car park nearby and another successful navigation session back to Bayou Segnette.
Ravages of Katrina
Along the way we saw block after block of abandoned buildings, a huge VA center, a hospital, a hotel and more. All boarded up. No renovation, no tearing them down for something new just rotting away. All flooded during Katrina and deemed too hazardous to do anything with mostly because of massive asbestos contamination. They sit empty, too dangerous to fix, to dangerous to tear down.
Ravages of Progress
There was much talk on the tours about how New Orleans prided itself on restoring and rehabbing old buildings We saw many examples of nicely done old building being used in new ways. They were pretty proud that they had figured out how to sink footing hundreds of feet into the mud to now hold up modern buildings.
And then this …
what we thought was some new modern art building. But no it was a monument to sloppy construction and poor design.
An 18 story Hard Rock Cafe Hotel under construction collapsed killing several workers. A building that was cited for willful and serious safety violations by OSHA as well as serious design flaws apparently overlooked in the permitting process. It collapsed in October of 2019 and like the Katrina ravaged buildings it still stands as an unwanted monument.
World War II Museum
The hop on/hop off took us by the World War II Museum for a look. There was nearby parking so we decided to come back another day to check it out.
This is a big museum, five buildings, some very old repurposed buildings in the New Orleans tradition and some newer ones as well. We went through three buildings. One focused on the war in Europe. Like many newer museums these days it followed history in a timeline which helps understand how history unfolded. The road to Berlin down one path.
The second building had a more home front focus. Factories to build the war machines, the tanks, the air planes the bullets and bombs. And more at a human scale the uniforms and equipment each person needed to get by with every day. Food rations, boots, personal things. It is hard to imagine the scale-up to get ready and continue on in an endeavor of this scale. And at home, ration cards, limited gasoline, sugar, meat, flour… everything for the war effort. Grow a victory garden, make flour sack dresses, reuse and repair for as long as possible.
We hear these words again today in this COVID-19 pandemic, “we are all in this together.” Are we all today with the same commitment for the common good and the common welfare as these people were then? Nowhere near it seems now compared to then when we all believed in common goals, common goodness and common sense.
Somewhere in here we got a bite to eat at a 1950’s looking cafeteria sort of thing. I had a meat loaf sandwich, Susan had a BLT. And a shared chocolate malt. All better than we expected. Looking back, it was crowded, close, no concern for the coming pandemic.
The third building was an immense open building with airplanes hanging from the roof.
A giant workhorse in Europe, a B17. Thousands and thousands of bombing missions, 10 men to a crew, shocking losses. Each of these big bombers with four 1,000 hp engines could carry 4,000 pound of bombs per trip.
And the other personal favorite of mine, an F4U Corsair.
Built later in the war for the Navy and Marines mostly in the Pacific it had a single 2,500 hp engine and a single pilot. Each of these plane could carry 4,000 pounds of bombs.
Susan waited patiently for me as I crawled through the four levels of catwalks to see it all. She was nearing her museum limit.
On the way out heading for the car park we were pooped. We saw a bench with an older fellow … we asked if we could sit with him. He was the silent type so we did,
A decent sort, comforting, calm and solid, a steady gaze on the way ahead. We felt good and reassured stopping for a minute with him.
As Far As We Could Go
We have been to the very beginning of the Mississippi River, walked across its humble beginning flowing out of a small lake in northern Minnesota. As some of you may know we now live on a bluff along the left side of the Mississippi River (heading up stream) about three miles upstream from Lock and Dam #2 in Hastings, MN. Where does it all end? Off we went in search of the end of the river.
The Mississippi River turns into a huge network of channels as it spreads out through the delta. Any one could be the main channel which in a boat one might follow the correct one. In a car you can only follow the road.
For us it ended in a flooded road just south of Venice. At some other time of the year we might have gotten further but for today we are at the end of the river,
There was a ways to go but no road that day.
Lunch at a place that said EAT.
It was good, people were friendly. Definitely a working neighborhood. Fishing, boat repair, helicopter bases to shuttle people to off-shore oil rigs. Lots of mobile homes on stilts.
Most of the river was on the other side of the levee. Except at Fort Jackson built in 1822 to protect the river.
Ships were going by on one of Americas busiest waterways.
Just across from this place was Bayou Mardi Gras. The first known place named Mardi Gras. In this part of the river nothing is very permanent. It is there, somewhere, no one knows exactly where as the river changes as fast as time.
Heading for Baytown
Oh my, NOLA was a whirl wind. Just a week, so much to see. We would come back, stay at Bayou Segnette again. I would really like to see more of the city, more of the people, more of what Katrina took and people rebuilt. The visitor section of town is nice. The rest is where life happens. We are going to get back one day.
Now on to Houston, Baytown to be precise. Our plan was to see Rudy and Carolyn, see Scott and Carol, see Keith and Jo, probably eat more than we should. Best laid plans, you know how that goes. We got the word the day before we left Bayou Segnette that there were new plans.
More Later, Much Love
Roger and Susan