I started this blog Monday, intending to finish it later that night or Tuesday. However, a combination of late dinners and early morning starts to my conference meetings, plus faulty wireless service at my hotel, has delayed completion.
After arriving at my hotel in the French Quarter about 2 p.m. Monday, I went up to my room to unwind a bit from being cooped up in two different airplanes. There was only one seminar — on a type of software my employer has been using but is ready to ditch in favor of a competitor that's better and cheaper.
So I took the opportunity to go out and walk around, soaking up the sights and sounds of old New Orleans, and taking a few pictures.
The French Quarter is a lot bigger than I ever dreamed. I've heard so much about Bourbon Street, I pictured this neighborhood as mainly being one long street of tawdry shops, massage parlors, saloons and tattoo parlors. But in actuality, it's about an 80-block area. Seven east-west streets including Bourbon St., and 10 north-south streets. I wish I had time to check it all out and take copious photos.
"The Quarter," as some locals call it, is everything I imagined it to be, and then some. Incredible architecture, talented street musicians of all stripes, a stunning variety of great restaurants, colorful characters milling about... I can only imagine how wild Mardi Gras must be.
New Orleans has something in common with Las Vegas: Both are over-the-top. But New Orleans is authentic and culturally rich. Las Vegas is artificial, superficial, and devoid of New Orleans' history. And besides, I'm no fan of the Rat Pack (I've long found it incredible that anyone likes Frank Sinatra, whom I consider to be one of the most bland singers ever).
As a lover of history, I enjoy staying in a hotel with a Beauregard Room and finding streets named after other legendary generals such as Robert E. Lee and Napoleon Bonaparte. It is fascinating seeing buildings that are two centuries old and walking down the old and narrow streets, which often are traveled on by horse-drawn carriages. Observing the ornate structures with their terracotta exteriors, wrought iron railings and fronts that crowd onto the narrow sidewalks, it is easy to be transformed to another era.
The Doobie Brothers' second album was called "Toulouse Street," and Sting had a song called "Moon Over Bourbon Street." And then there's "Born on the Bayou" by Creedence Clearwater Revival. The great jazz trumpeter Louie Armstrong was from the BIg Easy (the city's airport is named after him). And then there's the irrepressible New Orleans native Dr. John. Lots of imagery here, that's for sure.
On Thursday I will have the opportunity to tour flood prevention infrastructure that was added and/or upgraded since the disastrous Hurricane Katrina in 2005. I am really looking forward to it, and plan to take many pictures. I hope to get a close-up look at some of the neighborhoods devastated by the flooding in the aftermath of Katrina, and see how they are doing today.
In a few past blogs I have chastised the news media for idiotic reporting in the wake of Katrina. Blame Bush was the mantra, and they beat it to death. While the Bush administration could have done better (certainly there was someone better qualified than Michael Brown to head FEMA), much of the blame lies at the local and state level.
Emergency management starts at the local level; the second tier is the state. FEMA is not designed to be a first-responder agency. The inept Mayor Ray Nagin and Gov. Kathleen Blanco dropped the ball, big time. But it goes beyond that. Locally-controlled levee boards (in effect, good-ol-boy clubs consisting of know-nothing Billy Bobs), misused and abused the money that was supposed to go toward levee maintenance and upgrades. New Orleans may have its charms, but it also has a bad reputation as one of the most corrupt cities in the nation.
The good new is, an engineer with whom I spoke told me the Louisiana legislature passed a law after Katrina mandating that levee board members must have certain technical qualifications.
At any rate, my sense is that the bitterness and finger pointing have subsided, and many New Orleans residents have an attitude of let's consider the lessons learned, and work hard to ensure something like Katrina never happens again. Experience is a great teacher, albeit a cruel one at times.