Sunday Mail - Travel/Escape - - PHIL HOFFMANN TRAVEL -

Book an APT 20-day The Big Easy to The Big Ap­ple tour, tak­ing in New Or­leans, Mem­phis, Nashville, Wash­ing­ton DC and New York, and your com­pan­ion flies to the US for free. The tour in­cludes a 12-night luxury land jour­ney and seven-night Mis­sis­sippi River cruise. Priced from $13,995 a per­son. Limited seats are avail­able in April and June 2015 and must be booked be­fore Fe­bru­ary 28. Or pre­reg­is­ter now for 2016 de­par­tures (Ph 1300 196 420, see ap­tour­ing.com.au).

Dis­cov­er­Amer­ica.com N Sun­day morn­ing, the streets of New Or­leans’ French Quar­ter are freshly scrubbed. Un­like Roy, a home­less man who clutches his head with both hands while slumped on a doorstep in Char­ters St. Roy is di­shev­elled and dusty.

“Hello, my friend, wel­come to Nawl­ins,” Roy says with a whisky-soaked croak that Satchmo would be proud of as he shakes my hand and ac­cepts a fiver.

The French Quar­ter is peace­ful at 10am, some­thing Roy points out isn’t un­usual. “They’re all at church, repenting for what they did lastt night,” he says with a cheeky grin. “Y’all come back later to­day and the sin­ners will turn it all on its head again.”

Roy says tourists’ “spare dol­lars” make life that lit­tle bit eas­ier in New Or­leans. But his rea­son for re­main­ing a lo­cal runs deeper than that. With big, blood­shot eyes and raised brow, he al­most seems of­fended that I’m sur­prised he didn’t leave af­ter Hur­ri­cane Katrina 10 years ago. “It’s like a mar­riage, brother, in death do we part, in sick­ness and good health,” he says with one hand on my shoul­der. “God bless Nawl­ins’, man, I ain’t never leavin’. It’s my home.”

Nawl­ins has al­ways done things the hard way, Katrina was just an­other hur­dle in a long line: civil war, fire, floods and dis­ease. This is im­por­tant for trav­ellers to know, says 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’s 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. Peo­ple are laugh­ing, hug­ging and smil­ing. 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. A glo­ri­ously mul­ti­coloured, self-pro­claimed “Queen of New Or­leans” sashays in front of me, only be­fore hard­en­ing her smile the mo­ment af­ter I take a photo as she pops out her hand for “some green to help pay for the Queen’s rent, sweet­heart”.

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 of 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.

SWEET SOUNDS: (clock­wise from above) New Or­leans is a city with a pas­sion for mu­sic and en­ter­tain­ment; a fu­neral pa­rade; sign in the French Quar­ter; Mardi Gras masks are com­mon in city stores and mar­kets; and win­dow shop­ping in the French Quar­ter....

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