Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Wednesday, December 22nd: More of the Big Easy

Things come to life slowly in New Orleans. The sun arises by 7:00 but the city does not awaken until much later. Sometime after 8:30, sidewalk cleaning begins. Each day men and women with hoses and brooms scrub the sidewalks clean in front of their business establishments. Fresh produce arrives at the French Market about 9:00 and vans with goods for sale back up to be unloaded. Large plastic tubs containing wares for sale are unpacked, and booths are carefully set up. It isn’t until 10:00 that the pace begins to pick up. Most shops open by then and you begin to see the streets return to their vibrancy. Around this time the artists, street vendors, fortunetellers, and performers set up around the perimeter of Jackson Square.

On my early morning jaunts, the only life I see is that of the odd workman moving very slowly. A few tourists amble about but no one seems in a hurry. This is the South, after all, and much of the year New Orleans is hot and humid; people learn to move slowly lest they become overheated. It is late December yet the temperature has been in the 70s since my arrival. Imagine, then, what it is like here in July and August when the days are hot and the humidity is high. There are many signs that we are in a warm climate, and the pictures below tell the story. Remember to click on a picture to enlarge it.

 Palm Trees only grow in warm places.

 Flowers are blooming in late December.

 Pelicans like warm climates.

 Eating at outside restaurants during Christmas week ... can you do this where you live?

More tropical foliage and outside eating
 Warm weather plants

Banana trees grow only where it is hot.
New Orleans is a city made for walking. Yesterday, I chatted with a man who told me he hadn’t owned a car in seventeen years. “Everything I need is within walking distance.” He’s right. I’m enjoying the many miles I’m strolling each day because it affords an in-depth sensory experience, and in New Orleans every step provides something to enjoy. Street performers are evident on every block, and the variety is captivating. Each one has a large bucket carefully placed in front of his or her performing area so that passersby can drop in tips. Of course, some performers are more engaging than others, but all of them add to the joie de vivre for which this city is famous.

A magician waiting for a customer

 Is this a statue or a man? In the five minutes I watched him, he never moved a muscle!

 Could this man really tell your fortune? I'll bet he would say you are a bit poorer. After all, you've just paid him.

 This street preacher used a bull horn to shout out his message.

 A real person ... or a statue?

 A carriage ride through the French Quarter costs $75 for a half-hour tour.

Lots of painters and artists set up around Jackson Square.

 Is this a real man or a dummy? I got it wrong!

 Another fortune teller ...

 See that big bucket? Most performers have them. Passersby throw tips into the bucket. It's a hard way to make a living.

This band plays for tips every day.

Some bands play right in the middle of the road!

 A man or a statue? It was hard to tell.
Does your city or town have well known symbols that represent it? In New Orleans I’ve found quite a few. The ones I’ve most often seen are the fleur de lis (French for lily), the LSU Tiger, anything related to the New Orleans Saints—2010 Super Bowl winners—and Mardi Gras masks and beads, especially in the vibrant hues of gold, green, and purple.

Most of New Orleans is below sea level and 1200 miles of levees stretch all the way to St. Louis in efforts to keep the land from flooding if the Mississippi River or Lake Ponchartrain overflow. During Hurricane Katrina, water breached more than one levee allowing water to pour through the city. The twelve city blocks of the French Quarter are bordered on one side by the Mississippi River, the third largest river in the world. Only the Nile and Amazon are bigger. Our mighty Mississippi drains two-thirds of all the water in the USA. In fact, the water of thirty-one states drains into the river. One million cubic feet of water per second from the Mississippi River dumps into the Gulf of Mexico. New Orleans lies 110 river miles from the Gulf of Mexico, but the last bridge over the river is here in New Orleans. So, you may be wondering how people get across the river once they are south of New Orleans. The answer is by ferry. These boats haul cars, trucks, buses, goods and people back and forth across the river. In addition to ferries, there are a multitude of other types of boats on the river--pilot boats, water taxis, oil tankers, barges, tugboats, and so on. Flags from many countries can readily be seen as you paddle by large ships.

If you are this close to the Mississippi River, it makes sense to take a boat tour of the water. The last steamboat on the entire Mississippi River is the Natchez, a large paddle wheel steamer with two 85-year-old steam engines. The captain of the Natchez provided a lot of interesting information as we headed south down the river. New Orleans is the number one port in the world meaning that more cargo tonnage comes into and goes out of New Orleans than any other port. Another interesting fact is that when foreign ships come to New Orleans, an American captain must pilot the ship up or down the river. And, unlike most other ports in the world, New Orleans does not charge an anchorage fee. Boats on the Mississippi can drop anchor for free.

 The last bridge on the Mississippi River

The Natchez steamship, the only one on the Mississippi
Because of the high water table, if you pick up a shovel and dig a hole in the ground here, you will quickly hit water. Early settlers discovered that it was difficult to bury the deceased because of this. So, New Orleans graves are above ground in vaults. Some vaults have space for a dozen caskets, and you can see where many generations of the same family have been interred in the same tomb. Often called “cities of the dead” these above-ground tombs in the cemeteries look almost like miniature villages. As you enter the gates of a New Orleans cemetery you will be greeted by decorative but often-rusty ironwork, crosses and statues, and white vaults with the names of the dead on plaques attached to the sides. Relatives and other visitors sometimes leave candles, coins, cloth bags of herbs, and other mementos to demonstrate their remembrance.

 This vault will hold sixteen caskets.

 Marie Laveau's grave--I'm not sure what all the Xs on the door mean.

A closeup of all the things people have left for Marie. Most of them are coins.

New Orleans is well known for its architecture. It is distinctive, particularly in the oldest and most famous neighborhood in the city, Vieux Carré  or French Quarter. But is it French or is it Spanish? Because both cultures had great influence here, it is a mixture of both. There are arches and courtyards and wrought iron balconies. Building are attached to one another, or very closely placed. Today I saw several advertisements for renting a balcony for a New Year’s Eve celebration. Can you imagine renting out your backyard or deck to someone else so that they could throw a party on your property? But this is New Orleans, and they do things very differently here. Below are examples of interesting architecture.

 This large Catholic church sits on the other side of Jackson Square.

Many balconies are decorated for the holidays.

 As you can see, many of the houses are painted interesting colors. Some are decorated for Christmas.

1 comment:

Rach said...

I don't think I would enjoy living someplace so hot and humid. I enjoy having four seasons and snow. Ahhhh, snow!

It was lovely to see your traveling companion looking well as he awaited his scran. :o)

I'm fascinated to see that you have taken photos of many of the same things Brien did when he was down there in November. (Fantastic photos, btw!)

So the guy in silver, human, right?

Did you see any signs that said "Geaux Tigers"? That is also quite common with LSU.

I can't wait to hear about your trip up the mighty Mississippi. I hope your morning beignets and cafe au lait were delightful. :o)