The calm be­fore the storm

The Sunday Mail (Queensland) - Escape - - FRONT PAGE -

Robin Rocque, the APT tour guide on our New Or­leans tour. Rocque grew up in the Lower 9th Ward, one of the most dev­as­tated ar­eas. “When peo­ple think of Katrina, they usu­ally think of prop­erty dam­age ... the images on the tele­vi­sion, shells of homes, rusted cars and so on,” Robin says, be­fore tak­ing a deep breath. “The real dam­age was psy­cho­log­i­cally and spir­i­tu­ally: the men hav­ing strokes and heart at­tacks due to stress, not know­ing what was go­ing to hap­pen to their fam­i­lies; the ab­nor­mal amount of sui­cides and those miss­ing peo­ple; too many to count.

“A decade later, it still pains me to see the (now) empty lot where I spent much of my child­hood. The house that my grand­fa­ther built is gone. So is the fig tree that I climbed ev­ery day, even though it was for­bid­den to do so. My grand­par­ents’ veg­etable gar­den and yard where I played is but a mem­ory. The church where I was bap­tised and had my first com­mu­nion has been com­pletely re­built, but holds none of the old familiar mem­o­ries of the old struc­ture. The Catholic school play­ground where I waved to Fats Domino when he lived across the street, also is gone.”

Later in the day, the peace and quiet evap­o­rates and the noise be­gins to in­crease. Be­fore long the streets are alive again with buskers, lo­cals, tourists. Grubby, sexy Bour­bon St beck­ons. The siz­zle of bar­be­cue masks less pleas­ant odours. Pan­han­dlers abound and small chil­dren be­witch with a tap dance “for a dollar”, only to break your heart as they sneak around a cor­ner to hand their earn­ings to a mod­ern-day Fa­gin.

At the Bour­bon Cow­boy, a coun­try act per­forms while pun­ters ride a me­chan­i­cal bull; at Fat Tues­day the iced ba­nana ban­shee daiquiris take the edge off the hu­mid­ity; at The Krazy Korner lis­ten to zy­deco and R&B.

A group tour like this makes life easy, but New Or­leans is a grid-like city and so all you re­ally need to do if ex­plor­ing the French Quar­ter on your own is keep be­tween Canal St and the Mis­sis­sippi River.

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