The calm before the storm
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.