Katrina and Ellis

To our readers…
We’re behind in our blogging because we’re having so much fun and the days are so full. We’ll get caught up soon.

One reason we chose the New Orleans RV Campground was its shuttle service to the French Quarter. It works so well, the shuttle drops us in N.O.LA about 10:30 and picks us up at 7:30 in the evening–no driving, no parking!

We took the shuttle for the first time yesterday, and what a day it was! We began our day in the French Quarter, at the famous Café DuMonde with fresh-squeezed OJ and their famous beignets, little square deep-fried pastries smothered in powdered sugar (N’awlins donuts). A jazz trio played just outside the patio awning, and in the distance we heard the calliope on the Natchez, the stern-wheeler steamboat on the Mississippi.

We wandered along Decatur St., popping in and out of tourist shops full of Mardi-Gras souvenirs and fleur de lys on everything. Then we stumbled upon yet another flea market. This one, in the French Market, was very ‘upscale’ compared to our earlier experiences in Florida.

Katrina permeates everything in the city. In an attempt to really grasp the enormity of the hurricane’s devastation without the Wolf Blitzer-Anderson Cooper hype, we decided to take the Katrina Tour offered by Gray Line Bus. It was a bit awkward; us Yankee tourists riding about in air-conditioned comfort staring out at a city in such pain.

We lucked out and got a guide with the Southern story-telling-on-the-front-porch gene; Sandy, a small blonde dynamo of a certain age. She’d been living in the French Quarter at the time Katrina hit and told us riveting personal stories of the approach, arrival, and aftermath of Katrina. Our driver, Glenda, skillfully tucked our small bus in and out of traffic while Sandy narrated. Together, they took us deeper and deeper into the awful reality of that day and the two+ years since. The scope of loss is impossible to comprehend and difficult to describe or even capture in a photograph. We shot furiously from the bus trying to get a couple of images that begin to show the reality. But how do you begin to comprehend the “bathtub rings” on the buildings, the now too familiar X icon spray painted on the buildings by the searchers summarizing the hell that went on inside, or the fact that they’re still, even today, finding bodies in the wreckage.

We saw the levees and floodwalls with their newly rebuilt sections, which probably would not have collapsed if they had been built right in the first place. New Orleans was being defended from the south and the Mississippi River. The 30’ high Katrina surge came in the back door via Lake Pontchartrain and the canals that permeate the city.

A fraction of the pre-Katrina population has returned; a large fraction will never be able to return, either because of financial circumstances, or by design. Some of the parishes hardest hit will be vibrant, vital places again someday, but for many of the people who lived in those communities, they’re gone forever. The fabric of family and community are as tattered to threads as the blue tarps over the ‘chop-outs’, the holes in the roofs people made to escape their flooded attics to wait for as long as ten days for rescue. Many of those who where unable to chop a hole in the roof, died from the incredible attic heat and humidity.

This moving experience, sans Wolf and Anderson, made us feel so much more emotionally involved with this incredible place. We really wish them well, hoping that the politicians finally turn honest and provide the promised assistance, that the insurance companies demonstrate compassion instead of greed, and many more travelers will ignore the bad press and come tour this wonderful city.

The second part of our day was quite different.

We’d become friendly with Rob and Annette, from Irchester, England, during the morning shuttle ride. They’d rented an RV in San Francisco and were on a 90 day tour of America. They’re on the last leg of a yearlong tour, which has included Hong-Kong and Australia.

Their plan was to take a taxi ‘home’ in the afternoon for a ‘kip’ and then ride our pickup shuttle in the evening, to take in the nightlife and taxi home late. When the shuttle arrived to return us to the RV Park, they were all excited, as they’d heard from their earlier cabby that Ellis Marsalis, (father of Winston and Bradford), would be playing that night at the Snug Harbor jazz club. Bruce and I looked at each other, then asked them if they’d mind us tagging along. They were delighted, and our shuttle dropped us all off on Frenchman St. Bourbon Street had been the jazz center of N’awlins, but it has become “Beer Street” and the real jazz has moved to Frenchman Street.

When we got to the club the first set was completely booked, but the lady said we could hang out for a possible cancellation. We had some locally brewed Abita beer, and such a lovely time talking about the serendipity of travel, that we almost forgot our disappointment, when the lady came and told us that there were four seats!

It was wonderful. Listening to really good jazz is like visiting a great city. There are so many unexpected turns, and possibilities, new personal discoveries and nostalgias awakened. Ellis Marsalis’s quartette gave a world-class performance. As we strolled out into the night, some amazing sax just down the street at the Spotted Cat lured us into another, less formal jazz experience of the Panorama Jazz Band, a group that prides itself on getting the feet dancing, from Cajun, Zydeco, klezmer and Dixieland traditions.

After having already spent the day in a great city, we felt truly, deeply blessed.

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