lelak (lelak) wrote,

New Orleans

We were woken in the wee small hours by one of our neighbours back home, letting us know about their small beagle visitor.

At a more reasonable hour we were picked up by a shuttle to take us out to the Honey Island Swamp. The swamp is out northeast of New Orleans, about 30 minutes away, past Slidell.

The bus took us through parts of New Orleans worse hit than the French Quarter. There were sections that were two thirds deserted, houses with painted Xs denoting that the building had been inspected and recording how many dead had been found in each. (Mercifully all the buildings I saw were zeroes.)

There was a McDonalds with a broken M, and an entire shopping mall lying empty. So many people fled New Orleans after Katrina, so few have returned. And yet, there's construction work going on all over: building and rebuilding. Houses that are reoccupied have been repainted, covering over the X and the tide line.

The road takes a route directly over Lake Pontchartrain, a long bridge over a shallow lake.

The office of the Cajun Encounters swamp tour was supervised by a grey cat, affectionate for scritchies but languid in the heat and humidity.

We went out on the West Pearl River in a shallow-keeled (or was it flat-bottomed?) boat, captained by Bishop Keller. He had a degree in Environmental Management, a job in fishing, and a silvering goatee. We travelled upstream, took a side route through an oxbow, saw gators and turtles, woodpeckers and skinks. A startled little tree frog jumped onto my leg, then across the boat to the other side before fleeing entirely.

We paused at one of the few trees in the swamp that's older than eighty years: most of the cypress trees were felled, since it's apparently an excellent timber. This tree, known as the Whiskey Tree or Moonshine Tree, was the meeting place for folks in the region to meet and compare their distilling efforts.

Back in town we were directed by the hotel's doorman, Randy, to the best burgers in the French Quarter: Yo Mama's Bar and Grill. It was so classic an American bar - neon signs, lemon ice box pie, seating booths, tattooed rockabilly barmaid - I was tempted to look around for the set dressers.

My burger - half a pound of medium rare beef, bacon pieces, peanut butter - was delicious. The accompanying beer, an Abita Purple Haze, was good but not flavoursome enough to go with the burger.

In the afternoon, it rained. Big, heavy, intermittent raindrops like the tail end of a shower after you've turned the taps off. It wasn't enough to budge the heat at all - the rain just mingled with the existing humidity, and this is only September.

Dave had told us, when we'd asked about the chance of bad weather, that it would only rain for half an hour and he was pretty much dead on. No point wearing a raincoat in these conditions.

While it was raining we were walking through the St Louis Cemetery, the grey sky suited to the squat brick and marble shapes of the crypts. Some were neatly maintained, freshly painted, marble polished, flowers set in memoriam. Others were broken: jumbled bricks, the plaques of names cracked in half and left leaning up against the tomb. There seemed to be no correlation between the dates on the gravestone and the condition of the crypt.

St Louis Cemetery had none of the austere stillness of Arlington: it was old and tired and functional.

I went back to the hotel and ran three miles on a treadmill overlooking the Mississippi River.

Dinner was a tuna salad at the Crescent City Brewhouse. I'm not sure the name of the dish gives it proper credit: the tuna was thin-sliced like sashimi, seared and pepper-coated on the outside, rare and melting tender on the inside. The wasabi buttermilk dressing could have used more of a kick to it, but the tuna couldn't be faulted.
Tags: holiday

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