Friday, January 22, 2010

Love at first sight... chere!

Hold on tight. Lots of pictures.

So... Is it possible to fall in love at first sight with a city? or should I say a section of a city?

Be careful mon cher! Falling in love with the French Quarter might be like falling in love with a Rock Star or a Movie star. Real nice sounding on the surface... a whole lot of fun at first... but probably a baaaaad idea in the long run.

We saw the French Quarter in nearly all her phases. We arrived in the city of New Orleans on a Saturday afternoon. The day of the playoff game and so we decided not to brave the streets that evening after the Saints (Who dat!?!) won a playoff game... so we waited until Sunday morning.

(Just so you get the reference... ‘Who dat?’ and ‘The Who Dat Nation?’ is a saying for the New Orleans Saints & fans... we heard it a lot and then we joined in, hollered it, and danced to it even more. Turns out ‘Who Dat’ is a very old jazz term... according to wikipedia anyway and they are always right. Heh. Anyway, EVERYONE was chanting it down here. The whole chant is "Who dat? Who dat? Who dat say dey gonna beat dem Saints? Who dat? Who dat?" and sometimes is played to a NOLA jazzy mambo-type tune.)

This is a secret tip...
It works in a lot of cities actually... parking on a Sunday morning is easy in the French Quarter. Shhhh. Don’t tell. You see the street signs only cover until Saturday and so we parked for free all day right by Arnaud’s on Bienville Street.

Of course in some cities you will miss a lot if you try to visit on a sunday.
Not this city.

Everything was so clean and fresh...

Probably because we arrived just after the streets were being hosed off.

Don’t ask what was being hosed away... just ignore it... think about that another time... la la la. Along with the wash down, the clean up crews were just finishing so there was no litter to be seen anywhere and the first on the scene were the street artists staking out their spots.

However, the homes and business were still sleeping... shuttered off from the world. It was fantastic. I kept saying... "Man I love this place! I could totally live here!"

We got to watch the French Quarter bloom from her sparkling morning glory into the wild flashing revelry of the night... and a Sunday night at that.

I was surprised to see that much of the French Quarter actually contains residences. Many people live there, their “front yards” are the hidden interior courtyards away from the street.

If you were lucky or brave enough to peek through a grate now and then that was squeezed between the buildings you would be granted a glimpse of a garden tucked away.

The street entrances or back doors are opened in the morning to soak in the day. Then they are closed, locked, and shuttered again to the streets as evening starts to fall.

These are great buildings.

Some needed a little attention. I loved the idea of the interior courtyard and the shuttered doors... in particular the 3/4 shutters.

The houses are surprisingly secure I think. Not only are the doors and windows closed but then they are also shuttered to the streets. You will have no luck trying to hop any gates, or climb any poles... folks took care of that.

We started the day off right. We zigzagged up and down the awakening neighborhood just to get our bearings. Don't be confused by these signs... they were on nearly every corner. You see the French Quarter spent a long time being Spanish.

Anyway... once we got the 'floor plan' of the quarter semi-figured out, we then went to Cafe Du Monde to get coffee and beignets that includes a pound or two of powdered sugar.

Then we zig zagged back through town and .. I will be darned!
Jean Laffitte’s Blacksmith Shop was open!

Well, heck. We might as well see what this Hurricane business is all about. We were the only ones in the bar and the barkeep was having his breakfast so we chatted with him for awhile. He took a liking to us and we saw him periodically throughout the day... for a wink, a smile, a quick chat... and a hurricane. In fact, we ended our evening with a visit to him and he reached out and shook both our hands as we told him thanks, good night, and good luck to him in his life ahead. (He is getting married soon.)

Just in case you are unfamiliar... a Hurricane is a rum, rum, and rum drink with splash of rum for color and a drop of some kinda juice.. oh yeah and ice. Halfway through this drink and you are just as happy as everyone else is walking down the street.

Then we had THE best lunch/brunch at Green Goddess in the world.

No seriously. The BEST. It is in Exchange Alley, seats maybe 10 people inside, and we found reviews on the internet. We also found the menu and studied up before we got there we were ready when the waitress arrived. We both ordered Grits and Grillades.

More precisely:
Organic Painted Hills Beef tri-trip, seared and served with a rich comforting red wine sauce over creamy grits. We also had an order of sweet potato biscuits with red pepper jelly and some kinda irish hippy organic butter. Good grief.

After we ate, we wandered back out into the streets to find the musicians had arrived.

Music was everywhere... in the bars, in the restaurants,

and of course in the streets...

You could not get away from the sounds, and for criminy sakes why would you want to?

It all blended together in the most magnificent symphony that only New Orleans could compose. People laughing, talking, dancing, singing... truly enjoying themselves... and every once in awhile someone shouted out to someone else across the street... "who dat!?"

A little music history.... here is Preservation Hall. Tag line is that it is the birthplace of jazz:

We returned to wandering and went back through the streets and starting going into the shops.

The voodoo shops were fun, but upon exiting one both the proprietor and myself were driven back into the doorway by a kamikaze dove/pigeon who just about nailed us when we were coming out the doorway. Hmmmm....... I decided to take that as a good omen and not wonder what happened to the previous dove/pigeon creature that had flown this way... I just hope it made for a good reading.

Anyway... speaking of little bit spooky even before we had gone to lunch or to Lafitte’s we were on one of the side streets of the French Quarter that contained mostly residences. There was only one other person with us in that section of street and he was walking on the same side as us coming in our direction. He seemed to have been making his way home from the celebratory evening before. We crossed paths and then after he had gone 20-30 feet past us we hear him behind us yell... “David!” We rounded the corner and then wondered the rest of the day about it. Well, at least I did. David did not recognize him at all. Perhaps a ghost of one kind or another.

We walked on to see how the neighborhood was changing ... oh... and another tip about the French Quarter? Leave the kids at home. This is a grown up section of town and there is nothing for them to do. The only possible thing they would enjoy is the left over powdered sugar on the beignets... other than that they get underfoot and make you spill your drinks. heh.

Umm... curious about that sign?
Here is a better view:

Anyway, suddenly it was happy hour!

We were already pretty happy as was EVERYONE around us and had not realized the hour was upon us until the bars started touting their special 2 for 1 or even 3 for 1 deals. Still, we had not noticed all of this until we were at a bar listening to an absolutely rockin’ cajun rock blues zydeco band and David ordered a beer.

The bartender reached into the ice and pulled out literally a handful of beers and went pop pop pop with the opener. “Dere ya go, tree for one. How you like dat chere?” I laughed and told him he "better drink ‘em quick or they would get cold! DANG that’d be a bummer!"

Get this... during those special times when you order a cocktail you only get one drink but as they mix them they pour in the shots and instead of the usual 1 shot they pour pour pour.. 3 shots in one drink. Heck, what a bargain! And you can carry it right on down the street to the next bar to see what kinda specials they are having! A person could save a lot of money here! It's downright frugal!

This gal was really going the REAL frugal route. She decided to do the BYOW thing:

(This photo just for reference was taken around lunch time.) She came out of the store with her bottle, dug out her corkscrew out of the bottom of her purse, yanked out the cork, took a big swig, and wandered off down the street with her friends.

Well, I ran out of batteries in my camera before nightfall which might be a good thing. No photographic evidence. We took the truck and Delta back to the KOA West RV park in New Orleans and tucked her in and rode the free shuttle back into the French Quarter. We had to end the evening right! We did... and then took the longest taxi ride in the world back home.

The next day we also drove through the Garden District. Beautiful homes and of course... we saw the trolley. Here it is, a great way to get around apparently... and check out the bead trees. When beads go flying during times of celebration here in New Orleans, they leave them lie where they fall. Limbs, wires, houses, cars sparkle with beads. It's just like Christmas!

Man oh man I loved this place!!!
We gotta get outa here!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

A second glance in Mississippi

While in Mississippi we stayed at Shepard State Park in Gautier. As a side note... please excuse the font sizes and changes. I have been trying new things and it is not working so well. Anyway... back to Mississippi....

We were not right on the gulf coast beach but the park is a stones throw from the Gulf of Mexico and it was very affordable even though a tad... rustic. Truly it was on the edge of needing quite a bit of work... but I am sure that will come one day when the great state of Mississippi finds it has idle time on it’s hands... it's been very busy.

As one of our excursions we traveled the 20 minutes or so to Biloxi. Biloxi is an old city that’s edge sits along a strip of land right on the gulf shore. On our first trip into Biloxi we noted the handful of casinos on the beach strip and did not really see much else.

We were disappointed as there did not seem to be a historic district in what appeared to be the down town area. In fact... there was not much along the beach strip other than a few casinos, some newer houses, a new museum that is being built, and a lot of construction. As I said we were hoping for a quaint little old town area to visit but were disappointed.

Back at the camp we ran into another snowbird couple from Michigan. (Trolls) They said they have been coming down to the area we just passed through for years... and they went on and on about the destruction of the bigger hurricanes that passed through both the Alabama and Mississippi gulf shore areas and then the rebuilding that they have seen since then. A dim light was starting to glow.

Then on one of David and Delta’s walks along the swamp shore next to the park he noticed.. material. Housing material. He saw a twisted metal front door to a house, and what looked like construction type wood strewn about in the swamp... not just stuff people were dumping into the edge of the swamp on purpose but instead just laying out there amongst the grass, water, and mud. He did not notice at first this stuff is starting to be over taken by the swamp.

So... I got on the computer and did a little more research... much to my embarrassment. There is not really any old historic districts in the gulf shore towns we have been to lately and there are no little cute quaint shops... or businesses.. or homes... because hurricanes Ivan and Katrina wiped them off the face of the earth and they have not returned... yet.

As you may or may not remember, hurricane Ivan, a category 5 hurricane, hit the gulf coast in 2004. Then Katrina, a category 3, hit the very next year in 2005. Did you know that hurricanes generate tornadoes? I don’t think I knew that... Ivan generated 177 tornadoes that touched down just to add insult to injury in the gulf area that he was already battering. Some of those tornadoes wandered off into neighboring state which I am sure was much appreciated. Katrina had a total of 62 touch down... even though it was centered in Louisiana she thought she would also share her tornadoes and so 11 of those tornadoes touched down in Mississippi.

Sure we saw pictures of Ivan and Katrina on the news... and every once in awhile a news story resurfaces. But honestly... we have no friggen’ idea. When Ivan was still centered in the Gulf before is landed in Gulf Shores Alabama it was as big as the state of Texas. It has been 5-ish years and these areas are just now starting to rebound and to get past rebuilding the infrastructure.

So... to remedy this ignorance... we pulled up some pictures of the hurricane damage of the places where we have been (Gulf Shores, Alabama), where we are (Gautier and Biloxi Mississippi), and where we are going (New Orleans, LA). Then we went back to Biloxi and drove the beach strip again (all the way down to Pass Christian) with new eyes.

We saw on this trip what we did not notice the first time. We were so busy looking “up" for buildings and houses that our eyes skimmed over the fact that there along the road in the grasses were driveways to nothing. Foundations and pipes still sticking twisted out of the earth, walkways to and from nothing, fire hydrants in the middle of what we thought was a park but now we see was once a street on a block.

What I found poignant was that there were many porch stairs to nowhere.

Look up the drive in the center of the trees. Green steps and a landing with no home.
There were many steps left like this.

Stores or offices might have been gone but there were still parking lots. These lots contained light poles where you could see they were either torn off their bases and missing... or the poles were still standing but twisted and bent... pointing in the last direction of the hurricane’s deadly breath as it screamed by like a banshee.

How did we miss this?

We drove a little further towards Gulfport and Long Beach and saw buildings... brick and cement buildings with walls missing. Entire corners or walls gone... or maybe just all the windows blow out. These are the empty skeletons of homes... homes that have been empty now for years. One can still see the spray paint on the sides of the bricks saying “stay out!”, “no trespassing”, and “for sale not rebuilding”.

This picture below was of the Long Beach area. You can see what I mean by entire blocks suddenly being gone. The sandy muddy water either covered roads or the roads were just lifted up and broken apart from the force of the water.

This house, the "Castle House", still stands down near Pass Christian. Just a little more spray paint but it still sits and waits with plywood windows.

We noticed none of this during our first drive partially because we were not thinking about looking for hurricane damage. To us... that happened so long ago. We were not living this destruction and recovery. This below is a photo of semi-truck trailer rigs, with what I assume is partially a lumber yard and partially flotsam from houses washes away and gathered here. A little like the stuff David saw in the swamp.

Another reason we did not notice was because of all the work that HAS and IS being done. There might not be many, but there are new buildings and new houses. There are also crews planting new landscaping plants along the streets, rebuilding miles of beaches, pouring new sidewalks, completing the more cosmetic but less important parts of a town. It is a busy place.

As far as rebuilding a beach... you see the storms stripped the sand completely off the beach. That is kind of hard to grasp actually.

A stripped beach is not like low tide.. which is what I thought it would look like at first. That is not it though... instead the sand is completely wiped clean and what is left is dirt-like stuff.

Here is a section being rebuilt:

First, I imagine all these same work crews must have worked on bringing back fresh water, sewer, and electric lines, and rebuilding highway bridges. Yes... rebuilding highway bridges. On our way into the city we noted that Highway 90 has a nice new bridge into Biloxi from Ocean Springs. Quite a view going over the top of it actually. However, the reason they have a new bridge because the old one was destroyed.

You can still see parts of the old highway across the water. The hurricane ripped the roadway right off the pilings set down in the water. Many of the pilings still stand, with the occasional section of freeway leaning into the water. I am sure when push comes to shove and resources are limited it is more important to get an operating bridge built so that people and goods can move in and out of the area than to clean up the old destroyed one. That will come soon I am sure. Someone somewhere has a ordered list.

Even the palms that were torn out of the earth have been replanted and now stand supported along the completed sections of rebuilt beach. It is looking pretty good and again... the sand is like sugar.

What did stand through the storms and after water receded were the oaks.

Blocks that used to contain yards and houses... now only contain the oaks.

A few of the oaks fought hard right along the beach shore but did not make it. Instead of cutting them down, perhaps in homage to their strength, someone in Biloxi had the idea to have artists carve the remaining stumps. So... down the long center beach strip along Biloxi into Gulfport, Long Beach etc every once in awhile amongst the living oaks you see a trunk that has been carved into a beautiful bird (note the Mardi Gras beads around the eagle necks),

or a handful of dolphins swimming.

or some egrets:

As far as the historic downtown area that we were hoping to find?
The Biloxi Downtown Green was under 12 feet of water during the storms.

There is really not much of a “historic” area left near the beach... and we should all be sorry for that loss. However, we should also be proud of what the people in this area have done for the new Biloxi / gulf shores area.

People said Biloxi would be abandoned, it would remain in ruins. They said that it would not be rebuilt. The casinos would not return... business and tourism would never come back. Well... they were wrong. All wrong. Hurricanes are pretty tough but so are these southern folks.


Related Posts Widget for Blogs by LinkWithin