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Journeys : June July 2008
It was too much for the New Orleans levees, which disastrously failed, and put most of the city under water. Many people died in the floods, and many thousands more were evacuated. Nearly three years on, the population is seriously diminished, and, disturbingly, some areas are still uninhabitable. Fortunately, the lovely historic areas of New Orleans on higher ground escaped too much damage – and they’re the places you’ll want to visit. So, here’s a beginner’s guide to discovering the place that’s variously known as ‘Big Easy’, ‘Paris of the Americas’ and ‘Queen of the Mississippi’. Stroll Spend your first morning wandering the French Quarter. It’s an old and lovely precinct perched on the shoulder of the Mississippi River. You could take a guided walking tour, or just grab a map and find your own way. I loved the European-style terrace houses, with their balconies, wrought-iron railings and hidden courtyards. Taste After a morning’s walk, you’ll need some good Southern cooking. New Orleans’ French and Spanish heritage makes the local cuisine particularly good. Try the jambalaya, a fantastic Creole concoction with a spicy tomato base, rice, sausage, beans and shrimp. Really adventurous travellers could try an alligator sausage. There are gorgeous home-made chocolates on Magazine Street, or if you’re a fan of the Tom Hanks film Forrest Gump, you can check out The Bubba Gump Shrimp Company. Cruise I lunched on land – next time I’d take a lunch or dinner cruise on the Mississippi River. The Creole Queen is an elegant old paddle steamer that cruises up past New Orleans’ working port, some outer precincts of New Orleans, including those hardest-hit by the floods, and the site of the some of the old plantations. Look Of course, New Orleans has always been famous for its music. Even after the devastation of Katrina, the city still buzzes with the sounds of brass bands, gypsy violins and real down-home blues. To be there during the Mardi Gras or the Jazz Festival must be an awesome experience. When I visited in mid-January, the city was gearing up for Mardi Gras – ‘Fat Tuesday’ was still weeks away, but the first parade had already passed through the French Quarter, lolly- coloured Mardi Gras beads adorned nearly every post and statue and marching bands were competing in the jazz clubs of Frenchman Street. Listen I witnessed the world’s only all-female marching band in full swing; in the evenings I could hear the local youngsters rehearsing their own bands in the church hall down the road. Even if you aren’t in New Orleans at festival time, the local venues have great music all year round, and on Saturday and Sunday there are often local acts playing free outdoor shows in the French Quarter. So the old jazz men were right – whether it’s marching bands, magnolias, alligator sausage or just sitting by the Mississippi watching the river flow, there still are plenty of things to miss about New Orleans. June / July 08 45 French Quarter terrace house Colourful Creole concoction Jazz fills the air on every corner Bourbon Street balcony at Mardi Gras
April May 2009