When we told our friends we were going to stay in New Orleans proper, some of them displayed concern for our safety. When we ended up on Chef Menteur Dr. on the east side of the city, even those living in New Orleans shuddered. Such is the reputation of this historic city. Crime, and violence take precedence over the beauty and history which the city so handsomely displays day after day. Granted, we were usually the only white face at the local Shoneys, and the ambiance is not quite up to expectations in the east end, but this is where the trailer parks are located. If you want to stay in the Big Easy this is where you have to stay. Not withstanding, there is a park on the outskirts of the city to the west, but we wanted to be IN the city and so here we were, and none the worst for wear. No incidents, no problems, no troubles.
Getting around can be exciting. The streets are laid out fairly straight and even, with expressways running east and west. The roads are terrible, broken with potholes at every turn. Maintenance is very poor. Many of the major inner streets are divided with no left turns allowed. The trick is to pull through the intersection to a turn-around just on the other side and there make a U-turn so that you will be in position to make a right turn from the other direction. It was confusing at first, but after a few days of driving, Laura got the hang of it and we were able to go where we wanted without too much trouble.
There are two main attractions to this city. The famous "French Quarter" and the "Garden District". The French quarter has been written about in books and articles, too numerous to count. In 1718, a Canadian born Frenchman, Sieur De Bienville, and a Scottish Minister of Finance for France, John Law, together located the French city in the bend of the Mississippi River and named it in honor of the new Regent of France, the Duc d'Orleans.
The Mardi Gras has brought a degree of recognition unprecedented in most other cities. The celebration, which was first instituted in Mobile, Alabama, is now celebrated in many southern cities and towns. Although Mardi Gras is actually on Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, the massive blow-out parties start several weeks before the start of Lent. It is often the only knowledge tourists have of the city at the end of the Mississippi. This festive atmosphere of visitors drinking and partying has become a permanent part of the French Quarter.
The feeling of fear is not lost on the residents and businesses of New Orleans. The inside cover of "Tourist News" carries a message from Chief Richard J. Pennington, Chief of Police of New Orleans proclaiming the city a safe and friendly town for visitors. The message may be getting out as last year saw over 11 million visitors.
Although the bus schedules were adequate, we decided to take the truck to the French Quarter. We drove down Canal Street and parked in a private lot off Decatur St. across from Jackson Square. For the next several hours we walked the Quarter, taking in the sights and sounds. The heaviest concentration of performers, artists, tourists, and beggars (street scum is the local name for them) is around Jackson Square. I must note that for some reason, either the weather or a concerted effort by the local law, most of the beggars were gone. We saw only two. This was quite a contrast from years back when we had to literally push our way through them.
Jackson Square is a large park at the south end of the Quarter. One side is formed by the Mississippi River. Across the park on the North side is the Cathedral of St. Louis, named in honor of the canonized King of France, founded in 1718 and established as a parish in 1720. The Pope conferred the honorary title "basilica" upon the cathedral in 1964. The church was built in 1850. It is still the oldest cathedral-basilica still in use in the US. The inside is magnificent with well preserved frescos on the ceiling.
Outside on the street, performers, were in full force. There were kids tap dancing with bottle caps on their shoes, guitar players and those with horns. Every kind of horn, playing every kind of music you could imagine. Then there were the mimes. We watched one particularly good one. We first caught sight of him/her as he was walking up to a place he intended to work. The southwest corner of Jackson Square. An angel, complete with wings, all in white. The material on his face gave a remarkable appearance of stone. While perched on a stone pedestal, even a close examination failed to reveal the human part. Visitors would stop to have their pictures taken in front of the statue, then jump back after dropping a dollar in the bucket, as the statute slowly and mechanically folded his arms and bowed to the donor. Other then that, there was no motion. No blink of the eye, no twitch, no scratch. Nothing. The psychology was fascinating. The crowd could only stand so long waiting for movement then someone would throw in a dollar just to see the movement again. I could almost time it. It had to be hard work, but it was apparently profitable.
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