Sunday, May 17, 2009

A Day on the Town

Today, as promised, was architecture day, with several forays into other areas. Our mid-morning stroll ended at the Court of the Two Sisters, where brunch was a lively outdoor experience. Hank had a crawfish, much to his own consternation and the amusement of nearby diners. One couple were sort of helpful, admitting that they'd been similarly balked by the crustaceans the night before. Our Hero finally wrestled the tail loose, and announced that it did, in fact, taste like lobster. And the entrails? "I guess they taste like entrails," was his astute assessment. He decided that the best part of the crawfish was the tail, and he'd stick with that. I applauded.

The brunch is a serious foodie affair, with a number of delicious things that just have no Appalachian equivalent. House-made andouille sausage, brioche, crawfish salad . . . it's awesome. The other awesome thing was that, in honor of the occasion, Hank had the jazz trio serenade me with "Where or When," a tune made famous in our personal history by Judy Collins.

We finished brunch in the outdoor court just as the rain started, and so we fled across the street to an art gallery and talked about jewelry making with the owner until the downpour turned drizzle. From there, we've spent much of the day wandering the French Quarter in a desultory way, looking for interesting buildings, taking pictures, and generally being tourists.

The French Quarter is FULL of tourists, and this makes people here happy. Part of our afternoon was spent on a mule-drawn-wagon tour, where our guide told us, rather plaintively, how happy New Orleans is to have the tourists back. You cannot go far in this city, or talk to many people, without coming smack against Katrina and the aftermath. Coming in on the train, for instance, you notice that every block has houses that are boarded up, ruined, abandoned. Even here, downtown, the building across from us -- and we're on the 19th floor, looking into the side of it, so it's not small -- has boarded windows and broken glass.

It's the elephant in the living room. New Orleans is not the city it used to be -- much of that old city has yet to be rebuilt, and maybe it won't be. The people here now are the ones who believe that the place can come back. The others left. Tony, the attendant in our sleeping car, used to live here. He and his wife lost their house in the storm, and he moved to Georgia. He's from New Orleans, but he said he couldn't live here anymore, couldn't take the risk, didn't want to keep starting over.

On the other hand, Jeff, our waiter this morning, couldn't wait to come back. He loves this city, hurricanes be damned. (He's from Minnesota, where crawfish are bait and palm trees are postcards. This probably has something to do with it.) I'm just a tourist, and I don't have a right to an opinion, but I stood on the bank of the Mississippi River this afternoon, having walked UP to get to it, and looked at a continent's worth of water roiling past. The river is 210 feet deep here, miles wide, and the city settles at the rate of three inches a century. "We just have to hope we never get another storm like Katrina," our tour guide said. Me, I really don't like the odds.

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