A North American alternative to Québec in winter when seeking warmth is a visit to Louisiana, staying in New Orleans' French Quarter. The natives were friendly, Mardi Gras decorated streets at night were safe and Le Richelieu, an historic hotel on the eastern fringe of the Vieux Carré (old square) was quiet. With limited time, I opted for three Gray Line tours: a cemetery, plantation (Oak Alley) and the "Katrina Tour."
New Orleans was an historical all-time real estate bargain. Napoleon sold the entire Louisiana Territory for $15 million in 1803 which works out to four cents per acre or $7 for New Orleans. Donald Trump would be amused.
Street names echo the past: St. Louis named after King Louis XIV and the patron saint of the Bourbon kings (Bourbon St.), Toulouse after the duc de Toulouse, illegitimate son of Louis XIV, Dumaine, after the duc de Maine, another illegitimate son and the street where Tennessee Williams, the great U.S. writer lived and Ursulines, named after the religious order of nuns.
The St. Louis Cathedral rises above the centre of the French Quarter in Jackson Square.
Pope Jean Paul II worshipped here in 1987, the oldest continually active Catholic cathedral in America. Upon exit, you incongruously encounter tarot and palm readers, eclectic fortune tellers outside who take advantage of the large, inviting square. Also, there's a good chance you will hear street musicians in the city that invented jazz. Here, one encounters bronze sculptures paying homage to Louis Armstrong, Pete Fountain, Fats Domino, Al Hirt and Jelly Roll Morton, the first composer and arranger of jazz.
Appropriately, I drank a "hurricane" at K-Paul's Louisiana Kitchen, the restaurant made famous in 1979 by chef, Paul Prudhomme, with his cast-iron skillet producing delicious Cajun blackened redfish. In the French Market, I drank chicory coffee at Café du Monde in the oldest coffeehouse in New Orleans and I willingly sampled beignets (doughnuts) introduced by Acadians from Nova Scotia. At Antoines (circa 1840), I sampled my first delicious taste of crawfish. Yum! And at Harrah's Casino, there was an amazing array of grouper, mussels, crab, shrimp and gumbo, originally a traditional African okra soup. In the spirit of culinary investigation, I savoured a muffuletta, a huge sandwich made famous by Lupo Salvatore at his Central Grocery in 1910. It consists of olive salad, mortadella sausage, cappicola ham, Emmentaler cheese, Genoa salami, Provolone cheese and round Italian bread that could easily feed two. Expect to add a few pounds on any visit to New Orleans!
Because of the low water table, residents in New Orleans who insisted on traditional underground burial, after a storm, to their dismay, often discovered the remains of the deceased floating away. This might have constituted a kinky tourist attraction, but they soon opted for raised vaults, and "cities of the dead" were employed for most internments. With dry land a premium, this ingenious burial technique allows family after family to occupy the same tomb. A wooden coffin is placed in the top vault. After a year, the remains are shoveled to a vault below and pushed to the back. If another relative dies before a full year is up, there is a convenient "layaway" plan whereby the new remains are temporarily placed inside a nearby wall. At St. Louis Cemetery Number 1, I observed many unique family vaults, one containing the remains of Marie Laveau, the "Voodoo Queen."
The Katrina Tour should be taken by global warming naysayer's. The breadth of destruction was difficult to fathom, but indelible watermarks remaining well above garages in subdivisions, emergency escape holes cut in roofs by axes, countless abandoned, gutted homes and hundreds of pristine white FEMA trailers revealed what nature can ultimately fashion when man does not honour a sustainable relationship. Plucky natives are on the rebound, but the population has been halved and requires more support from federal politicians. In that regard, Senator Barak Obama was in town the day of my Katrina tour.
Mike Keenan writes for QMI Agency (Sun Media) Canada's largest newspaper publisher, printing 44 daily newspapers as well as a web portal, Canoe.ca. Besides regular columns for the St. Catharines Standard, Welland Tribune and Niagara Falls Review, Mike has been published in the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, National Geographic Traveler, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine.
Top 10 Sites in New Orleans, Louisiana
Welcome to The French Quarter
is a major United States port and the largest city and metropolitan area in the state of Louisiana. The population of the city was 343,829 as of the 2010 U.S. Census. The New Orleans metropolitan area (New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner Metropolitan Statistical Area) had a population of 1,167,764 in 2010 and was the 46th largest in the United States. The New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner Metropolitan Statistical Area, a larger trading area, had a 2010 population of 1,214,932.
The city is named after the Duke of Orleans, who reigned as Regent for Louis XV from 1715 to 1723, as it was established by French colonists and strongly influenced by their and African cultures. It is well known for its distinct French and Spanish Creole architecture, as well as its cross-cultural and multilingual heritage New Orleans is also famous for its cuisine, music (particularly as the birthplace of jazz), and its annual celebrations and festivals, most notably Mardi Gras, dating to French colonial times. The city is often referred to as the "most unique" in the United States.
New Orleans is located in southeastern Louisiana, straddling the Mississippi River. The city and Orleans Parish are coterminous. The city and parish are bounded by the parishes of St. Tammany to the north, St. Bernard to the east, Plaquemines to the south, and Jefferson to the south and west. Lake Pontchartrain, part of which is included in the city limits, lies to the north and Lake Borgne lies to the east.
New Orleans was catastrophically affected by what the University of California Berkeley's Dr. Raymond B. Seed called "the worst engineering disaster in the world since Chernobyl," when the Federal levee system failed during Hurricane Katrina in 2005. By the time the hurricane approached the city at the end of August 2005, most residents had evacuated. As the hurricane passed through the Gulf Coast region, the city's federal flood protection system failed, resulting in the worst civil engineering disaster in American history. Floodwalls and levees constructed by the United States Army Corps of Engineers failed below design specifications and 80% of the city flooded. Tens of thousands of residents who had remained in the city were rescued or otherwise made their way to shelters of last resort at the Louisiana Superdome or the New Orleans Morial Convention Center. More than 1,500 people were recorded as having died in Louisiana, most in New Orleans, and others are still unaccounted for. Before Hurricane Katrina, the city called for the first mandatory evacuation in its history, to be followed by another mandatory evacuation three years later with Hurricane Gustav.