A Travellerspoint blog

October 2008

I moved from Canada to get away from this!

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According to Sky News, who I have no reason not to believe, "Snow fell in London last night for the first time in October since 1934." I can attest to the snow falling, but have to take their word on the first time since 1934.

I thought when I moved away from Canada, I wouldn't have to put up with this stuff anymore!

Posted by GregW 02:07 Archived in United Kingdom Comments (2)

A £ of Flesh (Part 02): Mental Exchange

Why things have stopped seeming expensive in London

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Back in June I wrote an entry in my blog entitled A £ of Flesh (Part 01): The Price of Clean about how much it cost to do laundry. As you can guess from both the fancy title with a colon and the use of Part 01 in the title, I was expecting that entry to be the first in series. In addition, given that I used 01 instead of just 1, apparently I was expecting it to be the first in at least 10 entries.

In fact, I was expecting to write a bunch about how much stuff cost here, and I thought the whole "pound of flesh" thing was a clever way to group them together.

Here we are at the end of October, 4 months later, and I haven't written about the subject again (until now). It is not because things in London have gotten cheaper. They haven't, other than housing prices, but thanks to having no job, no credit and no banks in London lending money to anyone, lower housing prices don't do anything for me.

No, it happens that I stumbled on the secret of not being bothered about prices. I stopped converting.

When I travel as a tourist, I tend to be constantly exchanging money. Not physically exchanging it, just in my head. Every time I walk up to a shop, talk to a taxi driver, walk up to an ATM or pull out a bunch of Canadian dollars at a exchange booth, I am figuring out how much the local currency being requested is equal to in Canadian dollars.

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I think most people probably do this. "Let's see, 34,000 pesos, at about 500 peso per dollar, that works out to... ummm.... 34 times 2 is... sixty-something... 2 times 4 is 8. So, 68 Canadian. Hmmm, that seems like a lot for a cheese sandwich."

(An aside, as you can see my basic math skills are not that great. However, this tends to work in my favour, as all this mental work is usually accompanied by a frown and a furrowed brow. This is mistaken by shopkeepers as a sign of displeasure at the price, some sort of non-verbal haggling tactic, so usually they counter offer. "Okay, okay, Mr. Big-Man. 30,000 pesos, but you are taking food out of my family's mouth at that price!")

Anyway, sometime shortly after I posted the first £ of Flesh entry, I stopped doing that mental exchange rate shuffle in my head. I just started looking at prices in pounds and pence.

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That's not to say that I just buy anything thrust in front of me. I am still unemployed and thus on a tight budget (international jet-setter trips to France, Belgium, Canada and the USA notwithstanding), and thus am careful with my money. I do still compare prices, but now it is between shops in London, and not between Canadian and UK prices.

I didn't even realize that this shift happened until I recently was re-doing my budget and made note that I will soon need to move some more money into my UK bank account ("Jeeves, can you get my Swiss banker on the phone, I think we will need to move some Franks from off-shore to here in London. Oh, and have James pull the Bentley around, I need to go to Asda. They have chicken breasts on for 50p!")

In figuring out how much money to transfer to the UK, I had to convert my monthly UK budget from pounds to Canadian dollars. "Damn, that's a lot of money," I thought. "How come I haven't realized that before?"

That's when the light came on. I hadn't realized it because I never bothered to convert it.

I am living cheaply by London standards. It's just that London standards aren't cheap.

Posted by GregW 14:49 Archived in United Kingdom Tagged living_abroad Comments (0)

Giving Thanks

Crisp fall days and giving thanks on Thanksgiving

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After the heat and humidity of New Orleans, I returned to Toronto to a chilly but sunny autumn day. I love this time of year, the crispness in the air providing a nice counterpoint to the heat of the summer we just passed through, the smell of fires wafting out of chimneys.

I especially love the crisp fall days that are sunny, because they are excellent days to put on your shoes and go for a walk.

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In Toronto, the leaves were just starting to change colours, some already on the ground, some bright colours of red, yellow and orange, and some leaves still green.

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The next day, Sunday, Toronto got an "Indian summer," another sunny day but the temperature jumped up from 16 on Saturday to 27 on Sunday. Indian summer, for those that don't know, is a period of unseasonably warm, dry and calm weather during the fall.

After a quick walk in the morning, on Sunday afternoon, I went to my sister's place for Thanksgiving dinner. Thanksgiving is an annual holiday held in Canada on the second Monday in October. The day is a harvest festival, a time to give thanks for the bounty we have brought in from the field. Of course, I am not a farmer, so I have no bounty from the field to be thankful for. Instead, I need to find other things to be thankful for.

As such, here are the things that I am thankful for this year.

  • I am thankful to Her Majesty The Queen of England and her Government for allowing me into their country
  • I am thankful for my family and friends being so supportive and understanding of my decision to move abroad
  • I am thankful to job hunting during the "credit crunch" for teaching me some humility and reminding me to not be arrogant and proud
  • I am thankful to Vasque for making really comfortable shoes
  • I am thankful to the new friends I have made here in London, and also for the old friends I have reconnected with
  • Finally, I am thankful for cold beer and chicken and dressing sandwiches

Happy belated Thanksgiving to my Canadian friends, happy upcoming Thanksgiving to my American friends, and ... well, I guess happy autumn to everyone else.

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Posted by GregW 02:43 Archived in Canada Tagged events Comments (0)

The Ruin of Many a Poor Boy

Rich food, strong drink and late, late nights along Bourbon Street are enough to drive any poor boy to ruin.

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There is a house in New Orleans
They call the Rising Sun
And it's been the ruin of many a poor boy
And God I know I'm one

New Orleans will kill you.

Anne Rice would have you believe that it is because of all the ghosts, witches and vampires ready to snatch you from the street, but that’s not what will kill you.

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No, it will be a combination of clogged arteries from the rich food, sclerosis of the liver from all the strong alcoholic drinks on offer and exhaustion from lack of sleep.

In fact, given the amount of deep fried and heavily sauced food on offer, I would be surprised if Ms. Rice’s creations Louis, Lestat and Claudia would be able to suck any blood out of what must be thin streams of blood trying to pump helplessly through the residents’ cholesterol lined vessels.

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This is my third entry on New Orleans. The first one dealt with the history and architecture of the city. The second entry was on Katrina’s impact and the rebuilding efforts. This entry is about what you can eat, what you can drink and where you can party in New Orleans.

It is probably a little known fact that New Orleans boasts a very large medical research community. The New Orleans Medical District, anchored by researching and teaching programs from Tulane University and Louisiana State University covers a 40 block area close to the Central Business District.

Why is New Orleans such a hotbed of medical research, you might ask? Here is how the tour guide on my Katrina tour explained it.

“We like to eat, drink and stay out late having fun here in New Orleans. It’s a hard lifestyle and we die young, so if you can make improvements to the health of New Orleans citizens, it’ll work anywhere,” she said, with a touch of a wink in her voice. Myself and the rest of the tour participants laughed, though the laughter became a little more strained and nervous after the tour guide also added seriously that as one of the biggest areas of oil refining in the United States, folks along the Mississippi between Baton Rouge and New Orleans also suffer some of the highest cancer rates in the USA.

Setting aside that rather depressing news, let us concentrate on the ways to die that are much more fun - those being food, drink and partying.

The poor (in terms of health) but rich (in terms of calories and sweetness) diet starts early, as both local and tourists make their way to Cafe Du Monde on Decatur Street.

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Dating back to 1862, Cafe Du Monde is famous for its cafe au lait and Beignets. A beignet is a deep fried pastry covered with powered sugar. The beignets are served threes, and as a solo traveller I was forced to eat all three myself.

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Actually, forced probably isn’t really the right word there. Hot beignets covered in sugar are not hard to eat at all. In fact, they go down a bit too easy. They somehow manage to be both gooey and fluffy on the inside at the same time with a buttery without being greasy crust.

Cafe Du Monde is also famous for its coffee mixed with chicory, so much so that I had requests to bring back cans of the coffee for friends and family. Personally, trying to choke down the cafe au lait just reminded me why I never drink coffee, I hate the stuff. If you are the sort of person that likes coffee, though, apparently cutting it with chicory, originally a move implemented during a naval blockade during the civil war to preserve the rare coffee that could be sourced by serving customers less coffee beans in their cups, gives the coffee “mellow caramel undertones and smooth texture,” according to Ian McNulty at French Quarter Dining.

So a hit on the doughnuts, a miss on the coffee, but one more thing puts Cafe Du Monde in the plus column - location. It is right at the end of a French Market, just across the street from Jackson Square. With a covered patio, it is a nice place to relax and watch tourists and locals stream by as the artists, fortune tellers and human statues set up for the day on the sidewalks surrounding the square.

Those human statues confuse me. I don’t understand why someone would think that painting their face grey, wearing grey clothes and standing still is a skill that should be rewarded with some of my loose change.

Luckily New Orleans is a good city for walking, so you can spend a few hours wandering around the city working off the beignets before settling in for lunch.

Lunch options are numerous, wonderful, often deep fried and about as healthy as the deep-fried doughy breakfast.

In 1929, New Orleans’ streetcar drivers went on strike. Sympathetic to their cause, restauranteurs Clovis and Benjamin Martin created an inexpensive sandwich to serve the striking workers. They put roast beef and gravy on a piece of French bread, and served them out the back of the restaurant to the streetcar drivers. When one of them would approach the back door, the kitchen workers would call for a sandwich by saying, “here comes another poor boy!” Soon enough, the sandwiches gained the nickname po’ boys.

Today, many places serve po’ boys with all sorts of fillings, the most popular now being fried seafood po’ boys. They come dressed with lettuce, tomatoes and mayo with a pickle spear, or sometimes with slice pickles on the sandwich.

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If the po’ boy isn’t enough for you, head over to the Central Grocery. In 1906 the grocery’s Sicilian owner started serving the sandwiches with capicola, salami, mortadella, emmenthal, and provolone on a muffuletta bread, which gave the sandwich its name. A “full” sandwich is made with the entire loaf of bread. I got a half muffuletta (the smallest serving size at Central Grocery), and found it hard to complete.

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After lunch and another long walk (admittedly a somewhat slow walk while clutching a distended stomach), an afternoon cocktail is called for.

One day I headed over to the Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone.

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As you can see form the picture, the Carousel Bar looks like a merry-go-round. More than that, though, it also rotates slowly, doing a full cycle in about 15 minutes. I pulled up a stool and while I moved slowly to my right, I ordered a Sazerac.

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In the 1830s, Antoine Amadie Peychaud, a New Orleans pharmacist started dispensing a combination of cognac and bitters in an egg cup, known in French as a “coquetier.” It is a corruption of that word that gave the world the name cocktail, and as such the Sazerac is considered the first cocktail.

Over the years the recipes for the Sazerac have changed, and nowadays Rye Whisky has replaced Cognac as the base. So famous is the cocktail that on June 23, 2008, The Louisiana House of Representatives proclaimed the Sazerac as New Orleans' official cocktail.

The Sazerac is a good sipping cocktail, with nice scent and a balance of heat and sweetness.

Another afternoon drink option can be found at Pat O’Briens. Pat O’Briens bar was opened in 1933 on St. Peter Street, and was successful enough, even during prohibition, to move to a larger space in 1942. The current location has multiple bars, including a large outdoor patio replete with a fountain that shots flames.

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Due to rationing in the 1940s due to the war, scotch and whiskey were hard to come by, however rum from the Caribbean was plentiful. To obtain the valuable whiskey bottles, bar owners were forced by liquor companies to purchase many cases of rum.

In an attempt to sell some of the massive stocks of rum now on hand, Pat O’Brien started experimenting with potential drinks to drive sales. They eventually came across a successful recipe of rum, lime juice and passion fruit syrup that was served over ice in a glass shaped like a hurricane lamp. The shape of the glass ended up giving the drink its name.

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When complete, you can keep the glass for an extra 3 dollars, if you so choose, as a memento of your drinking. Personally, I drink to forget, not to remember, so I passed on the glass.

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Pat O’Briens is a busy place chock-o-block full of tourists, so for something a little quieter, Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop Bar.

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As I stated in a previous entry, the building dates back the early 1700s, and rumour has it that it was used by pirate Jean Lafitte as a place to fence his plundered goods. With all the shutters thrown open the bar gets a nice breeze blowing through, and as it is down at the quieter end of Bourbon Street, it is blissfully tourist free. Well, other than me. Perhaps just tourist-lite, then.

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I tried not too drink too much in the afternoons, as New Orleans definitely ramps it up at night, and I wanted to pace myself. Besides, given what is about to come with dinner, you want your taste buds sharp and your senses keen.

Given that the USA gets 30% of their seafood from the coastal wetlands in Southern Louisiana, it is not surprising that many restaurants in New Orleans feature seafood.

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The Brennan family, immigrants from Ireland, first opened a restaurant in New Orleans in 1946. The various members of the family now own 10 restaurants in New Orleans, including the recently opened Dickie Brennan's Bourbon House. Along with a quite extensive collection of bourbons, the Bourbon House features lots of good seafood, including fresh Louisiana oysters on the half shell, and BBQ shrimp.

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Fuelled up from dinner, Bourbon Street’s nightly party awaits.

Beginning at Canal Street, the next eight blocks of Bourbon Street (named after the French royalty by the way, not the drink) feature bars with live music, restaurants, strip clubs and souvenir shops.

The Cat’s Meow features nightly karaoke, and to give you the courage to try, three beers for the price of one.

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I went to the Cat’s Meow on Sunday night. The New Orleans Saints were playing the Minnesota Vikings in an American Football (NFL) match the next day, and the bar was filled with Minnesota fans who had come in to town for the game.

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In honour of the Minnesota fans, who had a very popular quarterback named Warren Moon, I decided to sing Bad Moon Rising by Creedence Clearwater Revival, replacing the words “There is a bad moon on the rise” with “Warren Moon is on the rise.” I am nothing if not clever after three-for-one beers.

I must admit that I didn’t think too much about my song choice, and felt a little guilty singing the lyrics...

I hear hurricanes ablowing.
I know the end is coming soon.
I fear rivers over flowing.
I hear the voice of rage and ruin.

...given the recent history of New Orleans. The locals seem to took it all in stride, though, and I get some compliments on my rendering of the song.

One of the great thing about New Orleans is that there are no laws against consuming alcohol in public, as long as it isn’t in a glass container. Every bar provides you with plastic cups to carry your drink with you when you are ready to leave, and sometimes if you order a special drink, you get a special plastic container. One of those special drinks is the hand grenade.

Created specifically to compete with the Hurricane on the strength scale, the Hand Grenade comes with 5 ounces of alcohol, making it the “most powerful drink” in New Orleans, as the Hurricane only has 4 ounces of alcohol. The 5 ounces of booze is mixed with a secret mix, and is served at the Tropical Isle on Bourbon Street.

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I was just going to take a picture of the glass with the sign in the background, but as I was about to a drunk guy came along and said, “no, no, let me take the picture of you.” He grabbed my camera before I could object, and started to aim the camera. I decided to go with it, and posed.

“Try and get the sign in the background,” I said.

He smiled and nodded, and then proceed to sway back and forth as he tried to frame the photo. “The camera seems to be having trouble focusing,” he slurred, and I wanted to reply that perhaps he was the one having trouble focusing, but held my tongue. Despite the swaying, the photo actually turned out okay.

Not so for the drink. The Hand Grenade may be powerful, but it is really bad. To overcome the alcohol taste, the drink is powerfully sweet. I could only drink half of the drink before wanting to wretch from the sweetness, so I poured the rest down the sink. That’s also the first time I saw the colour of the drink, which previously had been hidden by the retroactive green container. Turns out the drink is a day-glo yellow-green, a colour I have never seen in nature, and frankly rarely on anything other than Ocean Pacific hats from the 1980s.

The best thing about Bourbon Street, though, is the choice of music. Many bars have live music, including jazz, zydeco, blues, country and rock. There are lots of choices. On Sunday night, after the karaoke, I wound up listening to a band at the Krazy Korner, and recorded them playing the last verse of Take It Easy (originally by The Eagles).

And that’s really the best advice for New Orleans, especially if you are spending multiple days there. There is tons of great food, drink and nightlife, but take it easy. You don’t want to burn out too quickly.

Posted by GregW 07:51 Archived in USA Tagged tourist_sites Comments (1)

Spray Painted Crosses: Katrina and New Orleans’ Rebuild

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This is the second of three entries on my recent trip to New Orleans. The first one dealt with the history of the city and toured some of the local sights and neighbourhoods. This entry is about Hurricane Katrina, the damage that the hurricane and storm surge did and the recovery efforts two years on. The third and final entry will deal with food, booze and the general debauchery of Bourbon Street.

Walking up Esplande Avenue on my second day in town was the first time I saw one. There, on a house still abandoned was a spray painted cross. At the top of the cross was the 9-12, signifying that the house was searching on September 12th. To the left, the team that searched the house, in this case “3 SOS.” To the right, the letters “BD” and “NE.” NE, for no entry. The house wasn’t entered.

It’s the number at the bottom that catches my eye. “0.” No dead.

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Hurricane Katrina started out as a tropical depression over southeastern Bahamas on August 23, 2005. As it moved it’s way west, it picked up strength, getting upgraded to a tropical storm and then eventually a hurricane.

On August 25 the eye of the storm passed over Florida, though the storm stretched as far south as Cuba. At that point, it was a category 3 storm, and Florida saw 14 dead and over $2 billion in damages due to high winds and overturned trees.

The path of a tropical storm is hard to predict. It wasn’t until the afternoon on August 26 that Louisiana was considered a target, and not until late in the evening that it was clear that New Orleans was in danger.

The next day, New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin declared a state of emergency and called for a voluntary evacuation, also indicating he would open up the Superdome as a shelter of last resort for those that had no where else to evacuate.

Sunday, August 28th, out in the Gulf of Mexico Katrina jumped to a category 5 strength storm, with winds over 280 km/h and a intensive low pressure area. At 10:00 AM, the mayor declared a mandatory evacuation of New Orleans, telling all residents to leave the city. The National Weather Service predicted “devastating” damage to New Orleans.

Most residents left the city, with some estimates putting the number at 80% of the population. However, that left 20% still in town. Some chose not to leave, some couldn’t afford to leave, some had no place to go. Some of the poor chose to stay behind because at the time the evacuation buses wouldn’t allow them to take their pets with them. Between 20,000 and 25,000 people were residing in the Louisiana Superdome, usually home to NFL football.

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Early on the morning on August 29, 2005, Katrina made landfall again. The storm had weakened and was only a category 3 storm with winds of 205 km/h. At first it seemed that New Orleans had dodged a bullet, as the worst rain and wind damage missed the city, and most buildings had little structural damage from the storm.

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As the storm moved inland however, about 2 hours behind it was the storm surge, the rising tide of waters that follows in the wake of the low pressure of the storm. While the storm had weakened in wind speed, it was still a very powerful storm measured both by the diameter of the storm and the intense low pressure. The storm surge travelled up the Mississippi River, following the storm. At its peak, the surge was 28 feet above the river level.

New Orleans is protected from flooding by a series of levees. A levee, also known as a dyke or a floodbank, is any obstruction to keep a body of water on one side of it. In New Orleans, originally the levees were built of earth. Prior to the 1940s, most of New Orleans was above the level of the water in the nearby Mississippi and Lake Pontchartrain. However, in 1940 the Industrial Canal was built, which closed a number of smaller canals in the city. This changed the underlying water table, which caused New Orleans to sink, in some places by as much as 8 feet.

Hurricane Betsy in 1965 caused serious flooding. Betsy was a category 3 hurricane, like Katrina. To ensure preparedness for future hurricanes, the Army Corp of Engineers came in and built a levee system that was meant to protect against a category 3 hurricane like Betsy.

The surge hit New Orleans between 8 and 9 in the morning. The levee system, designed to protect against just such a storm as Katrina, failed. Over 50 failures around the New Orleans area occurred, with major breeches within the city at the 17th street canal, London Avenue canal, Industrial Canal and the Intracoastal waterway.

Flooding was extensive. There was over 8 feet of water in the Lower Ninth Ward, and 10 feet of water in St. Bernard Parish. The pumping stations that were supposed to remove the water did not work. Water kept coming in, and by Wednesday, 2 days after the initial levee breaks, 85% of the city was underwater.

As it became apparent that there was no stopping the water, a full evacuation of the city was ordered. It would take weeks for the city to be searched. There were concerns of a potential cholera outbreak. Even still, some people refused to leave, afraid of their properties being looted.

In a review of the levee system, it was found that the levee system had serious design flaws and was not even built up to those specifications in some places. The American Society of Civil Engineers called the flooding of New Orleans "the worst engineering catastrophe in US History" as the damage would have been much less if the levee system and pumping stations operated as they were supposed to be designed to do.

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Some of the hardest hit areas in greater New Orleans were Lakeview, the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish.

Saint Bernard Parish is located just south-west of New Orleans, closer to the mouth of the Mississippi River. Prior to Katrina, the population of the parish was over 67,000 people, originally descended from Canary Islanders who settled in the area.

Katrina covered the parish with up to 12 feet of water, impacting almost every building in the Saint Bernard. The Parish President declared all the homes unliveable. The population post-Katrina was 0. It took two months for power and water to be restored, and only then did a slim trickle of people move back into the area. For the next year, only 7,000 to 8,000 people lived in Saint Bernard, with another 20,000 coming in every day to work on rebuilding their homes and properties. In October 2006, it was estimated that perhaps 25,000 people had moved back.

Three years have passed since Katrina, but the city and surrounding area is still recovering. The population of the city has dropped in half, from close to 500,000 before the storm to just under 240,000 now.

The French Quarter, the Esplande and the Garden District, which I walked through in my previous entry, are coming back nicely. There was the occasional abandoned house along the Esplande, but mostly the place is rebuilt, or with rebuilding underway.

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Though there was little flood damage to the French Quarter, Katrina, and Rita (a Hurricane in September of 2005 that followed quickly on the heels of Katrina) did do rain, wind and pressure damage.

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The Hyatt Regency Hotel featured quite extensively in the coverage of the hurricane. Due to the intense low pressure of the storm, the windows popped out of their frames and falling to the street below. The hotel has not reopened, and has changed hands a number of times since Hurricane Katrina. At present, no opening date is known for the hotel, or if it will reopen at all.

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With the drop in population, some places have had trouble finding workers to repair the damage and carry out necessary repairs.

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However, most of the bars, restaurants, galleries and museums are open for business and there is a lot to draw tourists to the area.

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In the harder hit areas, however, recovery is slow. First home owners are faced with trying to get insurance and federal payouts to rebuild, both of which take time and patience. With a smaller population, contractors and construction crews are hard to come by, and anyone who has ever tried to have work done on your house will know that contractors can be a little shifty at the best of times. Those that do choose to rebuild are then forced to answer the question - how high should I build my house?

I took a tour of the destruction and the rebuilding with Gray Line tours. I know that there has been debate on these types of “disaster tours,” and some of you probably would question my decision to take the tour. However, it felt important for me to do.

It is impossible to think of New Orleans today without thinking of Katrina, and my decision to come and visit New Orleans as a tourist was partially influenced by the fact that I wanted to support the city with my tourism dollars. I wanted to see what Katrina had done, and understand how far along the city had come, and how far it had to go. To do that, I needed to get out of the French Quarter and see the parts of town that were most effected.

The tour took us through Lakeview, Saint Bernard and the Ninth Ward, some of the hardest hit areas during the flooding. It was conducted by a woman who lives in New Orleans in a house that was flooded, and during Katrina was driving evacuees out of the city in a bus.

This house in Lakeview is still abandoned, though the one to the left of it is rebuilt and occupied. The vacant lot to the right is were a home was demolished due to the flood damage.

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Another house in Lakeview, still boarded up. Beside it, another vacant lot where a house once stood.

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However, Lakeview is rebuilding. You can buy a nice modular home, prebuilt and dropped on your lot, though the tour guide said these weren't very popular as people from New Orleans "like their historic homes."

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Moving into Saint Bernard Parish and the Ninth Ward, we came across more extensive damage. As I said above, in Saint Bernard Parish all the homes were deemed uninhabitable, so the amount of work required to rebuild them is extensive. Mostly in Saint Bernard and in a lot of cases in the Ninth Ward, they tear down the homes...

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...and just build them new, as these homes built by Mike Holmes, Canadian handyman and star of "Holmes on Homes" on TV.

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Some folks, however, are still living in FEMA supplied trailers in their front yards as they try and get their houses back in order.

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Because of the large amount of people that have not returned yet to both Saint Bernard Parish and the Ninth Ward, many businesses have not reopened.

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However, as more and more people move back in, more business owners are lured back to reopen. And the signs of rebuilding are everywhere.

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In the picture above, you see a house being raised up to above the water line. It used to look just like the house on the right. Now there will be 10 feet of space beneath the house, in the event that the area every floods again.

The Lower Ninth Ward was very hard hit, and many homes didn't survive. This got a significant amount of press coverage, however the tour guide was unhappy with something she saw as a slant in the coverage. In the coverage the Lower Ninth Ward was generally described as being very poverty stricken, however the truth was that the residents were working class people, mostly African American. They might not have been rolling in cash, however 60% of the residents in the area owned their homes, meaning that they might not have been cash rich, but at least had equity in their homes.

Unfortunately for many, a lot of that equity has disappeared, along with the homes. However, many are starting to rebuild, and there are a few really nice neighbourhoods popping up.

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I had to admit that it wasn't exactly the image of the poor neighbourhood that the media coverage brought to mind.

The picture below is of Fats Domino's house in the Ninth Ward. He stayed in town during Katrina, and had to be rescued from his house from the rising waters. He has returned though, as has his wife, who lives in a purple house next door.

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On the tour, the guide explained the painted crosses on the houses. The house in the picture below was visited multiple times. The first was on September 8th (10 days after the levees initially broke). This is the orange cross at the top of the house. NE means that no entry was made. Given the position of the cross, it is probably because the house was still under deep water at the time.

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The house was visited again, at least twice. On September 24th, the house was visited again. At this point, a notation is made that the house was given an interior search (INT), however they thought there were 2 bodies in the attic (the H2 and HOLE painted on the window), so a further search should be made.

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Painting on houses became a means of communications during these times. The tour guide explained how she went to her brother-in-law's house and painted a message on the wall to see if they were OK, and let them know she was OK. We saw this message on the tour, letting folks know that the residents of this house were good.

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There were also messages left by the search and rescue crews to the SPCA, telling them they left food and water (F/W) for an animal inside the house. The SPCA rescued thousands of pets that were left behind. Some have been adopted, though this has led to a few custody cases and original owners have wanted to claim back their pets.

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As we drove back into town, we passed a house with a spray-painted cross on it. In the lower quadrant, where the number of dead taken from the home is listed, was the number 6. Six people died in that one house, probably in the attic trying to escape the rising water. Even thinking about it now brings a tear to my eye.

As I walked around the city for the rest of the trip, I couldn’t help but noticed whenever I saw one of those spray-painted crosses. I ran in to them in Faubourg Marigny and Bywater, sometimes just a very faint shadow on a house, sometimes bright as the day they were first painted.

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All of them were heartbreaking, for even those that had 0s, the fact that the crosses were still on the houses were a reminder that the city is still rebounding, that many people are still not home. They may never come home. New Orleans is still a city with a long way to go.

At one house in the Faubourg Marigny, however, someone had turned the cross into art, a permanent reminder of Katrina and how this city survived. From that, I took hope. Hope for a full recovery.

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I’m glad I went, both on the Katrina tour and to New Orleans. Like I said, it felt like I was doing something important - supporting a city that depends on tourism. It is a $5.5 billion industry in New Orleans, and tourist dollars coming in account for 40 percent of New Orleans' tax revenues. For a city that relies so heavily on tourist revenue, it was sad to think about the first signs of Katrina damage I saw when I arrived at Louis Armstrong International Airport. It wasn't the airport wasn't in working order, because it is. It was empty gates. The airport just seemed too big for the amount of planes there.

The number of flight seats (number of potential arriving passengers) coming to New Orleans is only at 80% of it's pre-Katrina capacity. Without tourists coming in, the 85,000 people who were employed in the tourism industry pre-Katrina might not have reason to return.

Much of what a tourist would want to see, in the French Quarter and the Garden District is rebuilt. Hotel rooms are back, with the completion recently of the Harrah's Casino Hotel adding new hotel rooms to the mix, and hopefully replacing some of those that have disappeared with the still shuttered hotels.

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So if you were thinking of going, Go. I promise you that the food is outstanding, the drinks are plentiful and the party never seems to stop (or at least, it goes on past my bed-time, which is still pretty late).

Next up, a look at the food, drink and party that you can find in the mostly rebuilt but fully party ready French Quarter.

Remember, after the rain, the colours come out.

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Posted by GregW 03:00 Archived in USA Tagged events Comments (1)

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