Friday, June 26, 2009

Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?


I do. I loved the city. And oddly the old settlement above the mouth of the Father of Waters is relatively wheelchair-accessible. We stayed downtown, a block off Canal Street about two blocks north of Canal's intersection with Bourbon. Looking east from our hotel balcony, we could see almost all of the French Quarter.

New Orleans is a big city, with all the good and bad that implies. There were street hustlers -- some with bargains like chilled bottled water for a dollar -- and some simply begging. There were the sad relics, homeless perhaps, many displaying signs of mental illness -- one spinning restlessly around a light pole; another squatting, mumbling and holding out a plastic cup. But the people were remarkably friendly and open, invariably polite and smiling.

It's a place I wouldn't mind living. There were apartments and condominiums for sale, although it would take a significant amount of money, no doubt, to add an elevator so that my wheelchair could bypass the stairways. I loved the Quarter. Residents strolled the streets, some walking dogs, some seemingly headed toward the business district across Canal Street.

One native told us that Canal Street was meant to be a canal, one to bring goods up from the river front. It was far wider than any other street, and according to our new friend, Canal became the dividing line between the French and the Anglos once it became a street.

A tourist favorite in the Quarter, of course, is Jackson Square, faced on its north side by St. Louis Cathedral. If it is, as history has it, an artists' venue, it seemed an amateur's one. I saw nothing I would buy, although we did do the obvious: sit at an outdoor table at Cafe Du Mond sample the legendary beignets. The plate seemed piled extra high with powdered sugar, but the beignets, crispy and golden on the outside and cloud-like within, made the digging out worthwhile.

And then there is the Garden District, so named we were told by the guide because the lots on which the mansions rested were so large as to require the employment of a gardener.

Most of the French Quarter was undamaged by Hurricane Katrina, and the Garden District showed little effects either. The area west of Canal Street, mostly filled with businesses, hotels, and a large architectually jarring Harrah's Casino, if damaged, has recovered; in fact, many structures there were being modernized. Further west is the Warehouse District, an art and performance center, which runs until walled off by Interstate 10.
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