Day 31        

My longest tour. De Ridder to Eunice (77miles).

Over the last few days, the distance between stops (for example between breakfast and elevenses, and between elevenses and lunch) have been getting longer and longer. As a consequence I’ve been experiencing a number of mini “bonks” and so I’ve decided to try and reduce the mileage between food stops.

This morning’s breakfast was the best ever, fresh fruit salad, fruit bread, orange juice, coffee, muffins and croissant which, combined with all other aspects of this motel, makes the Stagecoach Inn the best accommodation so far. At 8am, it is also my earliest start for a long-time, but necessary to avoid the rain for as long as possible which is due this afternoon.

Leaving the motel, my route this morning is along State Road 26, which has a very bumpy shoulder. Logging is still very evident in this area although the trees are beginning to thin out. Tourism is an altogether different industry which has become apparent, with a large number of canoe centres taking advantage of the numerous rivers and their tributaries in the area.

I stopped for elevenses in Oberlin but despite my intentions to eat, I could only find a café selling crawfish products and didn’t fancy that. So I made do with coffee instead.

In the car park I hooked up with a marine and his girl. They were driving a white pick up which was filthy dirty, covered in mud having been out on ‘manoeuvres’, his word. I think he meant that they had been playing off-road. The girlfriend was fascinated by my accent and, unlike many of the people that I had met yesterday, I could actually understand her.

It will take a little patience and some active listening on my part to breakdown the accent barrier here in Louisiana but with such a limited stay in this State I’m not sure if I will achieve it in the time available to me.

After leaving Oberlin I continued on the SR26, flying along a newly laid and exceptionally smooth road surface with the wind on my back. I was enjoying myself too much and thinking that I was in for an early finish that I forgot to check my route sheet and missed a turning. I only stopped five miles later because I got caught up in the road works behind the team who were carrying out the re-surfacing. I complimented them on the good job that they had made of the new road surface, before retracing my route. If I had known then what I later found out, I would have continued on this road and taken an altogether different route into Eunice. On the return journey as I retraced my route however, the wind was against me and by the time I reached the missed turning, I had wasted an hour. So much for an early day!

It got worse. Riding along the SR104, I encountered another road working team. Although I was allowed through by the supervisor, the road surface was still tacky and it was almost like pedalling in treacle as the warm asphalt gripped my tyres. After a couple of miles of this, I reached a section of road which had been prepared for re-surfacing, with the top layer removed and an ugly bumpy gravely surface exposed. Fortunately I met a helpful road worker who gave me alternative directions to Eunice which, although longer, he said would avoid the worst of the lumps and bumps.

This revised route took me through dyked roads alongside rice fields and crawfish ponds and then five miles out from Eunice it started to rain. Had I stayed on the SR26 instead of re-tracing my route, it would have brought me to a junction with US190, albeit a lot further away, but I would have avoided the worst of today’s grit, gravel and stickiness and I would have avoided this detour.

Arriving at Eunice, the rain was coming down in sheets and I was nearly wiped up by a logging truck on the US190 which runs through the town. I had to lean my bike dangerously low and to my right to prevent being knocked off by a driver who clearly hadn’t seen me. With only a couple of inches between me and the tons of metal which made up the truck, this was the closest I have ever come to being hit, without being hit! Fortunately I soon found a motel and was able to get off this busy arterial road. I didn’t even bother to ask the price before checking in, I was just grateful to be alive and to be out of the rain.

So much for my plan to eat more often. Since breakfast I had gone all day without food. Fortunately, despite the rain, I was able to get a pizza delivered to the hotel. I was unwilling to leave the hotel and get wet again so I occupied myself by washing all of my clothes and watching television. Meanwhile outside the rain continued to lash down, matching the intensity of the rain in Navasota and once again it lasted all night.

This is now officially the longest (mileage) bicycle tour that I have undertaken, surpassing my 1996 trip from London to Barcelona and return via Andorra. As it stands at the moment my plans for the next few days are to have three short rides each of which is less than sixty miles long and which will take me into New Orleans.
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Day 32        

Morganza Spillway. Eunice to Livonia (53miles).

The rain and wind of the last few days appears to have gone straight to my chest but I also don’t think that I ever fully recovered from the illness that I suffered in the first three weeks; I woke up feeling a little “chesty” this morning.

I can only assume it was last night’s torrential rain that brought them out, but as I cycled away from Eunice I noticed a number of small alligators on the roadside. Fortunately for me (but not for them) they appear to have been the victims of road traffic accidents, because they were all dead.

All day today was spent cycling along the busy US190, through the St Landry Parish which is one of the oldest European settlements in Louisiana and the home of the Opelousas Indians. The Parish began as an obscure military outpost governed by the French and Spanish but was soon settled in by English, Scots, Irish and Germans who introduced agriculture and cattle to the area. It later grew into a commercial centre servicing the neighbouring farms and plantations.

For the first nine miles along the very busy road to Opelousas there is an extremely rough shoulder, almost shingle like in texture, then it gets even worse and at one point there is no shoulder at all for three miles. This is not very reassuring given that I was still shaken up by my extremely near miss of the previous day.

Opelousas, the ‘spice capital of the world’ and best known for the Cajun and Creole cooking has the worst roads that I have ever encountered. Pot holes abound together with a broken road surface. I stopped here for elevenses at a gas station and took advantage of a chance meeting with a local sheriff to confirm that I was permitted to carry my ‘dog dazzler’ spray that I had purchased in Texas. I was aware that each State has its own laws and wanted to ensure that I wasn’t breaking any laws now that I had left Texas. Not only did I learn that it was allowed, but the sheriff suggested that I could carry a knife for personal protection too. He particularly advised it when he heard that I was intending to ride into New Orleans.

Now I am getting very concerned about going to New Orleans. This isn’t the first time (and it wasn’t going to be the last time) that people would advise me of the dangers of that city.

I stayed a while longer to use the internet in the library and to send a few e-mails back home before continuing my journey. Fortunately for me, after leaving Opelousas the road surface improved and remained good for the rest of the day. I know statistically that Louisiana is the US’s poorest State, but my experience yesterday showed that they could maintain their County & State roads and I was very disappointed that a city with so much history should suffer from a severe lack of investment.

Port Barre, is the next small town along the US190 and sits at the point where Bayou Courtableau flows into Bayou Teche and which, over 250 years ago, was first established as a French trading centre and a busy steamboat port.

In the 1760’s France surrendered Louisiana to Spain and Great Britain following the French and Indian War. Spain acquired that part of Louisiana lying west of the Mississippi River and a smaller area east of the Mississippi including New Orleans.

A decade later when Spain learned that the British were planning to invade Louisiana and set up a base from which they could attack Mexico, the Spanish granted land to thousands of immigrants from Malaga and the Canaries, as well as French Acadian refugees in an attempt to build a barrier between Mexico and the British. ‘Les Gens de Couleur Libres’ (Free People of Colour) who were largely French or French Caribbean in origin also arrived to take advantage of these land grants and to increase food production, populate the province and defend it against the anticipated British invasion.

After Port Barre it is thirteen miles before reaching the AtchafalayaRiver at Krotz Springs. In the early 1900’s an Ohio resident, C.W.Krotz bought 20,000 acres of woodland here and set up a saw mill.

Thinking that he was sitting on an untapped pool of oil, he sunk an oil well. Unfortunately all he struck was water. Ever the entrepreneur, he used the artesian well to supply the growing sawmill town and even bottled and sold the water throughout the Country. The story reminded me of an episode of ‘Only fools and horses’ in which Del Boy and Rodney bottle tap water and sell it as ‘Peckham Springs’. You plonker, CW Krotz! This time next year we’ll be millionaires!

It is lunchtime when I arrive in Krotz Springs and there is no better place than the Cajun Corner Café to fortify myself for the ride over the bridge which traverses the Atchafalaya River. Not only is there a high bridge which crosses the river, but it also transpires that I had been mistaken back in Leakey when John had mentioned this crossing to me. I was going to have to ride it.

Bridge over the Atchafalaya River at Krotz Springs, Louisiana

Bridge over the Atchafalaya River at Krotz Springs, Louisiana

About a mile after the bridge, my route took me directly onto the Morganza Spillway. The Morganza Spillway is an area that is set aside for the Mississippi River to overflow into should the water level get too high. Levees can be opened manually to let the river flow into the spillway. Any road that is built over the spillway has to be raised high enough so that the road does not flood.

At this particular location the US190 rises about 30 feet above the Atchafalaya River on a 4 mile long concrete bridge. The bridge has two lanes in each direction; no shoulder and a concrete divide between the west and east bound traffic. Running the entire length of the bridge is a concrete balustrade about three feet high and so there is nowhere to go except over the side in an emergency! It is for these reasons apparently that local cyclists often refer to this stretch of road as the Morganza “thrillway”.

Fortunately, the road surface is made of concrete slab, separated by metal expansion strips and so it is possible to hear vehicles approaching from behind. Even so it was head down and pedal like stink for fifteen minutes to get across this potentially dangerous strip of road. I really don’t want to think what would have happened if I had punctured.

Morganza 'Thrillway' - A four mile bridge spanning the Morganza Spillway, Louisiana

Morganza ‘Thrillway’ – A four mile bridge spanning the Morganza Spillway, Louisiana

Livonia (pronounced ‘Le Von Ya’) is just eleven miles from Krotz Springs and has a choice of two accommodations. My preferred option was the Dreyfus House bed and breakfast, a colonial looking clapboard building with wood panelling and chandeliers. Unfortunately it was closed, so I had to settle for the remaining option, Oak Tree Inn, a typical but independent roadside motel.

Once again I was allocated the room set aside for disabled customers but on this occasion the room did not lock and so I had to wedge the door shut with a pencil. My concerns after the incident in Coldspring were beginning to fade and I wasn’t particularly worried about security. It isn’t a busy location, situated on the outskirts of a small town. Livonia only has about 1500 residents, a couple of small restaurants, a gas station, a café and a 1950’s style diner, but it also has two casinos.

The Oak Tree Inn doesn’t have particularly good reviews on the internet website ‘Trip Advisor’ (that is why I had wanted to stay at the Dreyfus House) but I found the receptionist to be extremely helpful. “How are you doing, baby” she asked, “What can I get for you, baby.” She even telephoned to her sister who lives in Baton Rouge to enquire on my behalf about the road conditions and accessibility into the Red Stick town. The terms of endearment and Southern hospitality that I had experienced across Arizona, New Mexico and Texas continued.

Tomorrow I will be riding into Baton Rouge and need to change both tyres. It shouldn’t prove a problem as there are at least five cycle shops in the city. Just to be on the safe side and because I was riding on non-standard sized tyres I decided to phone around a few shops to make sure they could meet my requirements.

I’m glad that I did. Dave of ‘Dave’s Bicycle Repairs’ sold his last pair four days ago to a lady cyclist from London who was riding across country with a prosthetic leg. The ‘Bicycle Shop’ in Highland Road said they were out of stock.

Fortunately ‘Capitol Cyclery’ (the largest chain of bicycle shops in Louisiana) has three stores in Baton Rouge and said that they had some in stock at their Jones Creek Road store which is in the east of the town. It is just four and a half miles off my intended route. Perfect. minlogoJPEG

Day 33        

What else can go wrong? Livonia to La Place (84miles).

Leaving Livonia after breakfast at Penny’s, the 1950’s style diner, it was a bright blue sky, windless and forecast to be warm and dry for the next three or four days.

Penny's Diner, Oak Tree Inn, Livonia, Loisiana

Penny’s Diner, Oak Tree Inn, Livonia, Loisiana

Today I will be crossing the mighty Mississippi River before heading into Baton Rouge. I’ve read that the bridge over the river is elevated 200 feet, which is causing me some concern. Firstly I’m not good with heights and secondly I don’t like cycling over bridges, especially not metal ones. Something else was niggling me this morning as I left; my left ankle and my left shin. I was experiencing a dull pain. Hopefully I can ride it off.

The twenty two mile ride to the Mississippi River is uneventful and the bridge over the river is definitely higher than the one over the Atchafalaya, but I don’t think it is 200 feet high, probably nearer to 150 feet. Whatever, it is more than high enough!

There is a small gathering of motels, gas stations and a Circle K just to the west of the bridge, so I stopped here for elevenses. A bear claw and coffee.

The road over the ‘Huey P Long’ metal span bridge is not as steep as it first appears. There is a wide shoulder but it is full of gritty debris. However, the real problem for me was the metal side railing, it is not solid. So as I was cycling up and over the bridge I could see the muddy waters of the Mississippi far below. I could feel myself hyperventilating as I fought to control the panic and tried to focus on the road ahead, but too often I found my attention drawn to the gaps in the railing. I told you I’m no good with heights! Finally I reached the other side and descended like crazy, skidding to a halt in a car park on the east side of the bridge. Phew!

'Huey P Long' bridge over the Mississippi River, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

‘Huey P Long’ bridge over the Mississippi River, Baton Rouge, Louisiana

As I fought to get my heart rate and breathing back to normal, I was approached by Terry Kennedy. Terry used to be a touring cyclist and has very fond memories of a trip to Ireland. He listened intently about my ride and offered an alternative scenic route from Baton Rouge to New Orleans.

Unfortunately I had no option but to stick to my plans so that I could purchase some new tyres. On another occasion and with the one day that I had in credit, I would have liked to have ridden along the Mississippi and seen some of the plantations and houses that line it. Before we parted company, Terry gave me his mobile phone number and said that I should call him if I needed anything whilst in the New Orleans area.

I continued my journey leaving the US190 to join the US61 and then taking the additional 4½ mile detour to Capitol Cyclery. When I arrived I found that despite their assurances on the telephone the previous evening, they didn’t have the correct size tyres in stock. How very galling. If there is one thing I cannot abide it is incompetence.

I then spent the rest of the morning and early afternoon crossing and criss-crossing this busy city looking for a bike shop with the correct tyres before deciding that I would have to make do with a pair that was narrower than I wanted. I knew that the ‘Bicycle Shop’ on Highland Road had some in stock and that they were even my preferred brand and being located next to the Louisiana State University I figured the shop would be well stocked to service the students’ bikes and as good a place as any to get some.

As it happens when I arrived not only did they have the brand that I wanted, but they also had a pair of them in the correct width. “I was saving these for a member of staff” the manager said, “but I can see that your needs are greater than his.” So I got the tyres I wanted and the manager threw in a couple of free energy bars when he heard that I had ridden an extra 27 miles across and around town and that I hadn’t eaten since breakfast.

And so it was in this small shop that I first heard about another cyclist whose exploits were to fill my mind for several months afterwards – Mark Beaumont. Mark was on a round-the-world record attempt and had been in this shop one week ago buying a pair of the same tyres.  As it transpired Mark went on to complete his trip and set a new world record of 194 days, taking an impressive 81 days off the previous record.

A few days before Mark had encountered what he called his “hardest day”, during which he was run over by an elderly lady driver in Mamou and then later robbed whilst recuperating in a drugs den motel in Opelousas.

His trouble started when he was cycling through a crossroads in the town of Mamou. The light was green but he was hit by a woman who had apparently jumped the red light. The outcome of that was that he was pretty shaken up and bruised. His bike’s front wheel had completely buckled and his front rack was seriously damaged after taking the worst of the blow. The son of the woman who knocked him down drove him to Opelousas where he could get the bike fixed and stay in a motel. Mark said: “Unbeknown to us, that was the roughest part of town and that was the worst place to stay, it was a bit of a crack house where gangs hired rooms and basically got high smoking crack.” That night while he was distracted by a fight going on outside the motel, his wallet and the camera he was using to film a documentary were stolen from his room. Mark then had to manoeuvre through groups of addicts as he tried to leave the motel. Things were so bad that the police offered him an escort. “They came and just got me out of there. They turned up with a couple of cars and put the bike in the back and took me to the bike shop”.

As I left the ‘Bicycle Shop’ with two new tyres tied diagonally around my chest one of the shop assistants warned me to be careful cycling along Highland Road. “The people living here have big houses, big cars and even bigger attitudes. They think they own the road”

Highland Road is an historic drive through the oldest part of Baton Rouge. Its name is derived from the original inhabitants who were known as the Dutch Highlanders, a group of German immigrant farmers whose cotton and herb plantations still border the twisty narrow two-lane road. This road took me twelve miles from the LSU campus back to the US61. The gardens, like the houses are huge and are exceptionally well maintained. I guess that the gardeners who have secured contracts to work along this road must be able to command seriously large contracts and must be almost as prosperous as the homeowners.

After stopping for a very belated lunch, I set off towards Prairieville and then to Gonzales which was my intended stopping point for today. Gonzales has three motels, all of which were full. Not that I actually liked the look of any of them because they all appeared to be occupied by semi-permanent residents and the motel car parks were full of dilapidated vehicles, most of which appeared to be under repair.

So, on I rode for another eighteen miles to Gramery, but there was no accommodation for me here either. I then developed a slow puncture in my rear wheel and I kept stopping every couple of miles to re-inflate the tyre. With hindsight I should have changed the tyres in Baton Rouge rather than wearing them like a necklace. I hadn’t done so at the time because I was frustrated at all the extra mileage that I had covered and I just wanted to get to a motel. Now it was too late. It was too dark to see adequately to replace or repair the tyre so I rode aimlessly south towards New Orleans and I began to consider roadside camping options. I even tried telephoning Terry Kennedy but, not knowing whether or not I needed a dialling code in addition to the number that he had given me this morning, I failed miserably in my attempt.

Eventually I found myself in La Place and my first $100 a night motel. The owners assured me the price was justified by the fact that their establishment had recently been completely refurbished. It was 9.45pm and far too late to be looking elsewhere. So reluctantly, as well as being hot and tired, I booked in.

The weatherman had been right; today had been a lot warmer than the last few days.

I had only intended riding 49 miles to Gonzales today, but I had travelled an extra 35 miles along the US61 making a point to point distance of 84 miles added to which was all the criss-crossing through Baton Rouge and the total mileage for today was 111 miles. No wonder I was tired. At least with all the extra mileage I knew that the ride into New Orleans tomorrow was now substantially shorter and I should be there before lunchtime.

I replaced both tyres and inner tubes and then as I stood in the bathroom washing my sweaty clothes by hand in the basin, the toilet suddenly exploded with a loud bang!

Completely stunned and very fortunate not to be cut by the flying porcelain I staggered out into the corridor where other guests were congregating trying to find out what the noise was. It turned out I was the first guest to stay in this particular room since the refurbishment and there appears to have been a faulty water connection. It seems that as I turned on the taps to wash my clothes the water pressure inside the toilet cistern built up and caused it to explode.

After being given a different room and relocating all of my equipment I finally got to bed at about 1am.

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Day 34        

Crescent City, the Big Easy. La Place to New Orleans (30miles).

What else can go wrong? I’ll tell you what else can go wrong.

I must have fallen asleep whilst wearing my glasses last night, because when I awoke they were in my bed. As I put them on to go to the bathroom one of the lenses dropped out. One of the tiny retaining screw had become loose and fallen out. Despite carefully and systematically searching my bedclothes, the floor and the rest of the room I couldn’t find it. Fortunately I had my prescription sunglasses with me, so at least I had those as a back up pair, but I did feel ridiculous going to breakfast in the hotel whilst wearing sunglasses.

I remembered passing a CVS pharmacy in La Place, so after breakfast I made my way back there and was fortunate enough to be able to buy an emergency spectacle repair kit.

New Orleans, the Big Easy is so called because of the easy-going laid back attitude to life that the residents and numerous jazz musicians who live in and around the city have. Actually the Big Easy is a relatively recent nickname and was not commonly in use until about 1970 when a book by the same name was published. Prior to that time New Orleans had been known as the Crescent City because of its geographical location on a sharp crescent shaped bend on the Mississippi River.

One of my reasons for wanting to go to New Orleans stems from the James Bond film, ‘Live and Let Die’. It is sad, but true. In particular, the opening sequence of the jazz funeral and the underlying ‘voodoo’ theme throughout the film. Incidentally voodoo as portrayed in films (hocus pocus, witch doctors and sticking pins in dolls) doesn’t really exist. That is a Hollywood version of the African-Caribbean religion called Vodun, which in all likelihood was first introduced into Louisiana by Haitians immigrants. Another reason I had for visiting this city is because my favourite hotel in Las Vegas is named after it.

Swamp like conditions alongside the busy US61 between Baton Rouge and New Orleans

Swamp like conditions alongside the busy US61 between Baton Rouge and New Orleans

But first I had to finish my ride along the busy airline Road 61. It might be the shortest and quickest route from Baton Rouge but it is not at all picturesque. Red, green, blue, gold and silver Mardi Gras beads all added to the detritus at the side of the road which got worse the closer that I got to the city.

Leaving the 61 on the outskirts of N’Awlins (as it is pronounced by the locals), the rest of my route into the city took me through the 3rd Ward a particularly poor and run down area in which I felt distinctly uneasy.

It was my own fault really because I didn’t think to research ‘dangerous’ areas of the town. I say ‘dangerous’ because I later found out that since Hurricane Katrina the 3rd Ward had been suffering from a huge increase in violent crime. A turf war was raging. Beatings and shootings were taking place on a daily basis. In fact, the 3rd Ward is now considered to be the most violent area of the city. And to think that I had stopped here to ask directions before finally arriving in the Garden District. Gulp!

When I did reach the Garden District I was immediately surprised at how close the Garden District’s relative opulence of large colonial house, hotels, bars and street cars is from the slum-like conditions of the 3rd Ward, separated by just two city blocks.

I was planning on staying in a hostel on the outskirts of the Garden District but as it was only midday I was far too early; the hostel did not open until 5pm. Instead I found a small hotel on St Charles Avenue and I sweet talked the receptionist into giving me a room at a corporate rate. I hope that she didn’t get into trouble.

St Charles Avenue, New Orleans. Katrina left this road under several feet of water. The street cars were unable to run for months.

St Charles Avenue, New Orleans. Katrina left this road under several feet of water. The street cars were unable to run for months.

New Orleans is the most European of American cities and apart from the Spanish, French and British that have at one time or another owned or lived here, there is one other particular group of people who have contributed to the unique personality of this city. This group of people is known as ‘Les Gens de Couleur Libres’ (the Free People of Colour). Today they are more commonly known as Creoles. Thousands of Free People of Colour arrived in New Orleans from Haiti after the Slave revolts in the late 1700′s and the early 1800′s. Many also came from Cuba.

Since the earliest days of New Orleans’ history, Free Persons of Colour have co-existed with those of European extraction. Perhaps therefore it shouldn’t have come as any surprise to me that the modern day wealthy of New Orleans (which tend to be the white community) could live cheek by jowl with the poor (which tend to be the black and other minority groups).

Some of the significant contributions that ‘Les Gens de Couleur Libres’ have made to the development of New Orleans include: The beautiful iron work which appears on the balconies of the houses created by African artisans. Coffee, which was first introduced by an enterprising Femme de Couleur who sold it to market shoppers and the blending of spices, local produce, seafood and meat which is cooked in a typical African method to produce Creole dishes.

When the United States discovered that ownership of Louisiana had transferred from Spain to France it tried to buy New Orleans so that it could guarantee to sail its ships down the Mississippi River where they could unload goods for transport to Europe. Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte initially refused to sell New Orleans but eventually parted with it in 1803 for the sum of $15m. Unfortunately the Americans that arrived in the city brought with them an aversion for all things Creole and very soon the social status of the ‘Gens de Couleur Libres’ was not recognised.

The Louisiana State Supreme Court heard several important cases that went on appeal to the United States Supreme Court and which became landmark cases in American history. One such case was Plessy v. Ferguson.

Louisiana legislation permitted separate railroad carriages for whites and blacks. In March 1892, Homer Adolph Plessy a light-skinned New Orleans black man purchased a ticket on the East Louisiana Railroad and sat in a whites-only carriage. He refused to move. In the criminal case that followed the Judge upheld Louisiana’s segregation law. In 1896 Plessy appealed to the Supreme Court, which also ruled against him. In doing so the United States Supreme Court sanctioned the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ and effectively legalised segregation within the United States: legislation which lasted for more than fifty years.

After settling into my hotel room, unpacking and taking a telephone call from a friend back in England I set out to explore the French Quarter and to try and capture some of that ‘Live and Let Die’ atmosphere.

Although it is called the French Quarter, most of the older buildings are actually Spanish. Following a fire in 1788, the Spanish government rebuilt much of New Orleans in their native architectural style. Despite all the warnings that I had received I felt perfectly safe to wander around the back streets. As I walked along Canal Street and Bourbon Street with their cobbled streets, street cars, sex shops and art galleries I couldn’t help but thinking how much like Amsterdam this part of the city was.

Canal Street, New Orleans

Canal Street, New Orleans

I never did capture that ‘Live and Let Die’ atmosphere but as I waited on Canal Street for a street car back to my hotel a street saxophonist treated me to a medley of jazz inspired  Stevie Wonder hits. I also managed to find a pharmacy and purchased a self-adhesive elasticated bandage for my injured left ankle which had been getting more painful by the day.

Later in the evening I wandered a few yards along St Charles Avenue from my hotel to a 24hr bar and met up with a male nurse from Alabama. He was in New Orleans as part of the ongoing Hurricane Katrina relief operation. I wasn’t entirely convinced by his altruistic intentions as he complained that the relief workers only get tax breaks for one year. Thereafter they become classified as ‘residents’ and are taxed as such.

He told me some interesting stories of a conspiracy theory. Tales about the flooding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. It was suggested that city officials had deliberately blown a levee to prevent the French Quarter from being flooded. Residents allegedly reported hearing the levee being blasted.

The French Quarter is the biggest tourist attraction in New Orleans and without it the city would suffer a huge financial decline. Perversely the theory makes economic sense and actually it isn’t without precedence.

In the summer and winter of 1926/27 torrential rains caused the Mississippi River to break its levees and to flood twenty seven thousand square miles of Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri and Tennessee. By April 1927 the water level in the river downstream from New Orleans threatened to engulf the city. At that time the U.S. Federal government had left it in the hands of the local officials and private people to deal with the relief from such natural disasters. The City’s (unelected) leaders hatched plan to save the wealthier part of New Orleans by blowing a levee in the poor St Bernard Parish. Ten thousand of the poorest residents were disenfranchised. Worse was to come, the compensation that they had been promised was either not paid or if it was, it was only a tiny percentage of what they had been pledged.

My room at the Avenue Garden Hotel was comfortable and very well appointed and I treated myself to a bath before retiring to bed to fall asleep whilst listening to jazz that was permeating through the wall from the neighbouring restaurant.
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