There's thunder and lightening tonight in the Big Easy. Fitting, given the serious and reflective nature of the day. Sorry ... not many laughs for you tonight.
Another carb-loading episode this morning for breakfast. Why do these hotel chains think offering you up a choice of waffles, bagels, cereal, English muffins, toast, oatmeal and danish is a good idea? It makes me want to go back upstairs and take a nap, even though I know housekeeping wants me out so they can make their rounds. At least this place adds greasy sausages and microwaved eggs to the options.
There's also another small problem. Why in the world don't these hotels have fans in the bathrooms? Do they think patrons don't poo on vacation? Three women trapped in Cajun country with red beans and rice on the menu ... is a recipe for disaster. I pat myself on the back for packing Febreeze.
On to our day. Our first stop is the World War Two Museum. I have a closet obsession with WWII history. That ... and documentaries. WWII documentaries are a particular bonus. Our visit to the museum is particularly special as my grandfather was at Pearl Harbor when it was bombed. He died a few years back, and this is something he would have really loved. Grandma regales us with stories about how they met during the war as pen pals, and about what it was like for him in the South Pacific, and her in nursing school. Her eyes get red as she relives memories I can only imagine.
I knew Grandpa was a company clerk during the war in the 25th Armory Division (he later moved to the 24th and became an MP). I knew he never fired a weapon. But today I learn something new. I learn HOW he got the office job that probably saved his life, while he and my grandmother's friends died. As they were assigning details, the guys were asked if anyone could type. My grandfather stepped forward. He couldn't even put paper in the machine, let alone type. I wonder if this makes him a coward. Or maybe it's genius. Then I recognize it's the same opportunistic nature his granddaughter inherited.
I also inherited his hunt-and-peck typing skills. This entire blog, and my life, really -- one key at a time.
The next step is a city tour with Javier Cuellar (our driver and GM of Dixie Tours) and Chris San Marco (our tour guide). I can't say enough about these guys -- they are hands-down THE company to tour with in New Orleans. Just lovely, lovely people. They really went out of their way to make sure we got a thorough tour and plenty of photo-ops. Chris teased us, but answered every question we threw at him.
We run through the French Quarter, looking at the infamous balconies jutting out over the streets and galleries jutting out over the banquette (that one's for you, Chris!) We see the balcony where Elvis sang in the movie King Creole (see pic).
We head to the 9th Ward, the area devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Chris was living in St. Bernard Parish when Katrina hit, in the home he and his wife raised their family in for forty years. On August 29th, a 23-foot wall of water washed their lives away.
It took a month for the water to recede enough for Chris and his wife to return. When they did, all they could do was sit in the car and cry. When they fled, they left behind everything. When they returned -- very little remained. Lost in muck a foot high on the floors of their family home ... were their memories. Their childhood pictures. Their wedding pictures. Photos of their kids growing up. The things that make life -- life -- gone.
And much of life in this place remains absent, save slabs of concrete where houses containing other people's pictures used to be. Can you imagine your neighborhood, full of life and vibrancy one day. Vacant the next. A sense of community, and then nothing. No friendly neighbors waving across the fence. No kids playing in the backyard. No smells from summer barbecues. Just silence. Like a graveyard. I find this point driven home by the photos I've taken today. Steps that lead to nowhere, looking sadly like a grave marker for a life that used to be.
Chris says he and Javier could do two tours a day seven days a week before Katrina, and still turn business away. Post-Katrina, this is the first tour he's done in 15 days. Most people think the French Quarter and other touristy areas of New Orleans were also ravaged by water, but it's a false assumption. These areas suffered storm damage, but nothing as devastating as the effects of the loss of tourism.
Come to New Orleans. Eat beignet. Drink bloody mary's. Drive around with Chris and Javier. It's the best thing you can do to help.
And a sneaky way to help yourself with a visit to this fabulous city.