Friday, September 29, 2006

Brother Can You Spare A Dime?

I took a trip to the French Quarter in New Orleans back in July. It was something my wife said she had always wanted to do. I really never ever thought about going there but I would go wherever the love of my life wants to go. Some things you just have to go see for yourself. I had seen the Hurricane Katrina news coverage. Terrible enough.....yet as we all sit at our own comfortable place on the planet we cannot even comprehend the magnitude of destruction. From a distance everything can seem small.

We stayed at the Maison Dupuy hotel a few blocks from Bourbon Street. On the way to the hotel from the airport, we couldn't help but notice that 90% of what we could see looked as if it was relocated from some Third World country. As I think about it, there are probably places in Third World countries that are in better condition. Its almost impossible to go into details about what we could see from the shuttle bus. I couldn't help but wonder just what it was we were getting into. Its not a very comforting sight. We arrived at the hotel and immediately went to our room. Very nice it was. At the hotel, I saw no indication, on the surface, of problems from Katrina. It took little while to understand since we had not been there before and if we had, we would have been able to compare our experience with something.

After unpacking our suitcases, the love of my life wanted some of those beignets. Everyone says you can't go the New Orleans and miss out on those. We started out the door of the hotel and headed down Toulouse Street and it hits you.........the stench. Stagnant putrid stench. This may be a normal thing for the French Quarter, I figured that since this section was supposedly only flooded
about two foot or less, the stench is something that is the result of years of visitors and locals vomiting up their gumbo and jumbalaya into the gutters after participating in what can only be described as a five or six block long open-air binge drinker heaven. I still didn't quite understand the magnitude of the effects of Katrina at this point until it dawned on us that it just didn't seem very busy. Sure there were people passing by, deliverymen stocking up the restaurants and bars, but THIS is supposed to be a busy place. It wasn't. There was more activity at White Marsh Mall at home, than here.

Lot's of businesses were still closed up. Some for repairs, some for lack of business, and yet some for lack of employees. We were just a few blocks away from Jackson Square, which was where the beignets were. I had read about the various street vendors, artists, entertainers, that you would normally encounter in Jackson Square. We got there and I only saw ONE guy camped out under an umbrella selling caricature drawings. It hit me again. The locals were gone. They had to leave. While they worked in the French Quarter, they lived in the surrounding areas. No home to go to. No place to stay. What good is working here when business is no longer good. The one artist said he would be doing good if he had three people a day buy his stuff. That day, I didn't see anyone even stop at his umbrella. On a normal pre-Katrina day, he would probably have a crowd waiting for him to draw them.

We crossed the street and got our beignets at the Cafe Du Monde. Excellent stuff! While eating, there were all of these pigeons roaming around all of the tables in the outdoor cafe. No harm there, they obviously enjoy beignets as much as tourists do. They patiently wait for you to either drop some crumbs on the ground or get up and leave behind some leftovers. I have seen many pigeons before. I used to feed the pigeons in Patterson Park, and walk through crowds of them in downtown Baltimore. But something seemed different about these pigeons. They were ugly. Cancerous looking growths, unhealthy looking wings and disfigured feet. I don't know if this was due to all of the years of eating the powdered sugar from the beignets or perhaps New Orleans was toxic. As I think about it, during the Katrina coverage the reporters often referred to the flood waters as a "toxic soup". This area obviously had alot of problems building up over the years before the levees breaking.

We crossed the street and headed back through Jackson Square towards our hotel so we could get out of the excrutiating heat and humidity. There was this mime standing there like a statue, never moving an inch yet sweating from the heat. His donation pail was on the sidewalk in front of him. I glanced down into it and put a couple of dollars on top of the handful of change. I looked up at the mime and he reached his hand up from its stiff position to tip his hat in appreciation. I doubt he made very much money that day. The impact of Katrina is huge. You have no idea. I bet if the mime would speak, he would say far more than "brother, can you spare a dime?"

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