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Opinion And World View: Fond Memories Of New Orleans

Rodney Gascoyne recalls a visit to a great city with a cultured past.

I visited Louisiana by car from Florida back in the mid 90s, driving along the coastal interstate I 10. The final approaches were made over a lot of water and numerous bridges before finding dry land. I was trying out a new idea, using the Youth Hostels in the US. In New Orleans this was a magnificent big old house in the Garden district with full verandas, large windows and a wide whitewashed, wooden exterior. It was just one block away from Charles Street and the great old green trams that run down that street all the way to the edge of downtown.

When visiting the centre during the day I liked to hop on those lumbering trams as they showed you other historic homes, riding down the central grassed divide. On arrival I preferred to walk the streets of the French Quarter to visit all the sites. Right by the river, behind the levee, is the main square with General Jackson’s equestrian statue in the middle, overlooked by St. Louis Cathedral and many old styled, wrought iron trimmed houses and buildings. Standing on that levee you appreciated how much below the water level that square was, with the quayside and paddle wheel steamers on the outside, loading their passengers. I also drove the district at night, taking in the atmosphere of the Quarter, windows wound down.

Two other great experiences were also in the French Quarter. One, a museum where I learned the history, and that the French leased the area and city to Spain for many decades before finally reclaiming it, only for Napoleon to immediately sell it to the US for $15million in gold, for much needed cash to continue fighting his European wars, after having given an assurance to Spain that he would not do this. There was also a large two centuries old town house that was open to the public, and fully staged in the mode of the years of its heyday. It was a wonderful sight and the volunteer ladies really gave it an historic air, including their cooking on the old fireplace and ranges.

Later, I drove out of town along the river to the north and visited many great plantation houses, hiding behind their own levees. It was a reminder of a gentler and richer past of the area. When going along the river south of the city, I visited the site of the Battle of New Orleans, the last confrontation of the War of 1812 and the final conflict between the US, England and Canada. Because of the communications delays of those days, the battle took place some weeks after the peace treaty had been signed in Paris, officially ending the War.

After my three day visit, I returned eastwards along I 10, taking with me many memories of a great city and a cultured past, so evident in the buildings and sites remaining. I just hope that all this can be restored eventually, from the ravages of Katrina, as otherwise it would be a great loss to civilisation and history.


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