Archive for the '7. Charleston to New Orleans' Category

Days 63-65 – Enjoying Charleston

Wednesday October 8 (Muriel)

We walked across the street to the Charleston Visitor Center.  We waited in a long line with lots of fellow tourists and eventually we purchased tickets for a historical tour of Charleston.  As on several recent occasions, we were surprised to find so many tourists on a weekday in October.  The 90-minute tour was excellent.  We learned much about the history and architecture of the area.  The only negative was that we couldn’t see very far upwards because of the window design of the small bus.

We opted to leave the tour at the covered market place rather than returning to the visitor center.  We thought we would buy some sweet grass baskets from their weavers decided they were way too pricey.  After exploring the market we picked a nearby restaurant that looked particularly nice.  It was.  We enjoyed she-crab soup with parsnip foam, followed by small but oh-so-rich servings of pork belly with maple sugar beans, topped with fried leek.  It was a good thing that we had a fairly long walk back to our hotel after the feast.

We drove around much of the area we had seen on tour, getting better views of some of the buildings.  We walked through a waterfront park along the Ashley River, seeing diving Brown Pelicans and Common Grackles flying over the river.  A second-winter Laughing Gull posed for us, which identification we figured out back at our hotel.

It began to rain, so we scurried back to the car and drove back to our hotel.  By the time we freshened up for dinner, the rain had stopped.   We walked a few blocks to an interesting restaurant that specializes in unusual Asian-influenced modern cuisine.  By the time we left the restaurant it was raining again.

Thursday October 9 (Muriel)

We began the day with a drive to Magnolia Plantation, driving through a lovely alee of ancient Virginia live oaks, magnolias and other trees, beautifully festooned with Spanish moss.  We took a tram ride with a naturalist driver, largely on former rice fields that had reverted to swamps and ponds coated green by duckweed.  We saw alligators, ranging from foot long babies to oldsters the size of blown monstrous truck tires.  Birds included Common Moorhens, egrets, a Great Blue Heron, Wood Ducks, and an Anhinga.

WILDLIFE SEEN AT MAGNOLIA PLANTATION  (The middle photo is NOT a log)

Then it was time for a tour of the plantation house which was smaller and less fancy than we had expected.  The columns and piazza (porch) were painted white, the outside walls were rough mud-colored stucco.  The guide was informative.  We learned that this was a working plantation house.  In its heyday the owners also had an elaborate home in Charleston and a summer home in the mountains of South Carolina.

The tour finished, we took a walk through the gardens on the Ashley River side of the house.  We spied many Northern Mockingbirds, as well as a Carolina Wren and a Northern Cardinal.  We bought lunch at the outdoor café, which we ate at a picnic table in a covered area.  We practically had to fight off hungry peacocks and peahens during lunch, and watched horses and a donkey in the adjacent field.  It began to rain, soon very hard.  We watched Guinea Fowl scurry for cover under trees, and the bolder peafowl were joined by their shyer friends under the roof of our eating area.   The less tame peafowl were careful to stand under the shelter of picnic tables, while the bolder ones seemed to know the roof of the entire enclosure would protect them from the rain.

Grateful for bringing umbrellas, we headed back to our car.  The drenching rain continued.  We decided to leave and head for town.  As we drove, the rain stopped altogether.  I felt like an idiot for chickening out so quickly, but wasn’t willing to drive back.  We returned to our hotel, parked, regrouped, and walked less than a block to the Charleston Museum.  By the time we got there, it started to rain again.

We explored the historical section of the museum, learning about rice farming in the Carolinas, the role of Charleston in the American Revolution and Civil War, the geology, geography, and Native American tribes of the area.  When the museum closed at 5 PM, we walked back to our hotel, through puddles but not needing our umbrellas.

We walked to a restaurant specializing in South Carolina dishes.  We dined happily on specialties like fried green tomatoes and shrimp on grits.  We packed our suitcases as thoroughly as possible so we would be able to leave early the next morning.

Days 66-68 – The Sea Islands of Georgia

Friday October 10 (Muriel)

We left Charleston right after breakfast and headed south, beyond Savannah, for Jekyll Island, GA.  We needed to register for the Colonial Coast Birding and Nature Festival at the Jekyll Island Convention Center in time to take our boat cruise of the Altamaha River Delta.  We registered, got directions, and drove about one-third of the way back toward Charleston to the dock at the delta.

After a quick lunch next to the dock, we boarded the JP Morgan with about 30 other birders for a cruise of this huge delta and its islands.  While we waited for the boat to leave the dock, a Great Blue Heron stood atop a post, the long skinny tail of a fish sticking out of its mouth.  Every now and then it would unsuccessfully try to swallow its catch the rest of the way, eventually flying off with the tail still protruding.

We learned that the Altamaha River System, which we had never heard of, has the largest flow of any river system east of the Mississippi.  This is flat, flat, low country.

We could see whitecaps on the open Atlantic, but even where we saw no land between us and the Atlantic, there were sandbars, separating the delta from the turbulence of the open ocean.  For long stretches we saw no birds, but there were large numbers at some of the undisturbed beaches.  Some beaches that were undisturbed by humans were bare of shorebirds because Peregrine Falcons lurked.  Highlights were a single Wood Stork standing in shallows before flying off, large flocks of Black-bellied Plovers, Red Knots, Marbled Godwits (rare in the east), Ruddy Turnstones, Royal and Caspian Terns, and a look at a resting Peregrine.  There were some smaller terns, but we did not see them well and could not hear the leader’s identification of which were Common and which were Forster’s.  On a tall tree on the mainland, a pair of Bald Eagles posed, already preparing their nest for December nesting.

BIRD PHOTOS FROM THE J.P.MORGAN  (Wood Stork, 2 Flocks of Oystercatchers, one larger than the other)

Other Sitings

We drove back to Jekyll Is., pleased that the forecast thunderstorms didn’t happen during our outing.  Thunderstorms and showers were forecast for the entire birding festival.

Saturday October 11 (Muriel)

We wandered the grounds of our motel, finding Mourning Doves and a Collared Dove, as well as Red-bellied Woodpeckers and Blue Jays.  Then we set off to tour Jekyll Is. on our own.  It is one of Georgia’s Golden Isles, one of the four that are accessible by car.  Jekyll Island is green and flat, attached to the mainland by a long causeway and bridges.  In the late 19th century, the island belonged to a group of millionaires, including ones named Goodyear, Gould, J.P. Morgan, Pulitzer and Rockefeller.  After World War II, the millionaires sold the island to the State of Georgia for use as a state park.

In addition to a convention center, there are quite a few hotels, a small mall or two, perhaps 1,000 homes clustered into small neighborhoods, and a historic district of old millionaires’ “cottages” – all on land leased from the state.  There is a parking/entry fee of $3 per day.  Apparently the funds from the fee are used to provide an outstanding level of maintenance of the open space.  There are open grassy areas, forests of mixed broadleaf and pine trees, all heavily draped in Spanish moss.

We drove to the north end of the island where we parked and wandered out onto a fantastic beach of white powdery sand that we could walk on without our feet sinking into it.  A family used a along net to catch shrimp and mullet, standing in the water to hold the net.  They filled several coolers with their catch, apparently replacing bottles of beer with fish in one.  Brown pelicans dove.  Laughing and Ring-billed gulls and terns fished in the water and grabbed tiny fish from the family’s net when it was pulled onto the beach.  We enjoyed watching a gull try to swallow a small flounder that was not cooperating.

Toward the interior was dense woodland, with areas of dead wood between open beach and the woodland.

Small crabs scurried, almost invisible on pieces of dead wood.  A small Blue Crab on the white sand stared at us.  The white sand extended to the calm water.  Beyond the blue water we could see more low land, tall bridges, and a few industrial looking installations.  Beyond all of that was an edging of thunderclouds.

After exploring the beach as far as we could go before being blocked by a stream crossing the sand, we tried birding along the adjacent wooded bike path.  We saw a few Carolina Chickadees, lots of Northern Mockingbirds, grackles, a Baltimore Oriole – and fled to the car for bug goop when mosquitoes began to feed on us.

We drove to the south end of the island, looking at the huge Victorian “cottages” of the millionaires in the historic district, and on to a picnic area.  We parked and again walked out onto a white sand beach.  We walked beyond a point to an area with large numbers of Pelicans, Royal Terns and Black Skimmers.

We watched fiddler crabs with one small claw and one huge one scurry over the sand.  We spied other small crabs, perhaps female fiddlers, scurry into holes centered in volcano shaped mini hills of sand.  Eventually we drove toward the convention center, finding lunch at a restaurant on the way.

IMAGES FROM THE SOUTH END OF THE ISLANDS (Mixed flock, Skimmers, Blue Crab)

At the convention center we visited some of the displays and watched a between show demonstration by a bird rehabilitator with an un-releasable Bald Eagle.  We attended a seminar on Birds, Tides, and Marshes.  The focus of the seminar was on the tremendous habitat changes that will occur in this very ecologically rich area if the mean sea level rises the predicted 12 – 14 inches over the next 100 years.

We cleaned up for the banquet dinner.  We found ourselves at a table with friendly, interesting people.  Pete Dunne was the keynote speaker, talking about the 24 most important changes to birding.  I found his presentation on Alexander Wilson at SFVAS’s centennial banquet much more appealing.

We left the convention center, stepping into a very wet world.  There was water at least an inch deep everywhere, although the rain was tapering off.  The rain stopped altogether before we were back at our motel, but we needed to run the windshield wipers because the outsides of the windows kept steaming up.  We sloshed from our car to our motel room through around two inches of water.

Sunday October 12 (Muriel)

We were back at the convention center at 8:15 to travel with the group participating in the field trip to the Altamaha Waterfowl Management Area.  We caravanned about a half hour to the location.  Through the morning the weather kept changing.  At one point we endured a drenching rain that soaked through our pants.  Fortunately the weather was warm, so we were not chilled, and our nylon pants dried quickly.  For our pains we saw female Indigo Buntings, a Yellow Warbler, Red-winged Blackbirds, Boat-tailed Grackles, Tree Swallows and had excellent views of Palm Warblers.  There were some coots and Pied-billed Grebes, and a greater number of Common Moorhens on the ponds.  We saw Bald Eagles, an Osprey, a Merlin and a Northern Harrier.  We saw one Sora and heard many more of them.  We heard what was identified as the call of a Clapper Rail.  We got decent looks at a couple of mature Little Blue Herons and a Tri-colored Heron.

Much of the time we were surrounded by swarms of gnats.  Slathered with bug goop, Allan and I each received only one mosquito bite.  However our legs itched with largely imaginary bug bites.  Our itches increased after one of the guys in the group stepped into one of the many ant hills along the dikes.  The ants swarmed up his legs.  Fortunately they were small black ants, not the fire ants that also have their hills here.  He only got a few bites that weren’t too nasty.  We decided to leave the group when we got back to the cars.  It was well after 1:00 by that time.  We were tired and hungry, as well as itchy.

We headed a short distance to the town of Darien for an enjoyable seafood lunch with typical old south trimmin’s.   My crispy flounder was delicious and Allan was delighted with his fried blue crabs.  Afterwards we drove back to our hotel, rested and caught up with computer stuff.  We decided to nibble on nuts and apples from the car rather than going out for dinner.

Days 69-71 – The Joys of Savannah

Monday October 13 (Muriel)

We drove north, intending to stop at a former plantation, now nature preserve.  A drenching rain and the place being closed on Mondays meant we drove straight to Savannah.  By the time we got there the skies were blue and clear.  We checked into our hotel, had lunch, and took a trolley tour of Historic Savannah.  The driver-guide was dramatically entertaining – and informative.  We learned that the weather had been dreadful here for the past week, but it was now lovely:  warm, clear, and humid.

After tidying up at our hotel, we walked down the 40 foot elevation change to the nearby riverfront and wandered past shops selling tourist stuff.  It was pretty boring, so we took an elevator up to a restaurant a bit before our reservation time.

Tuesday October 14 (Muriel)

We set off on foot to explore Historic Savannah.  As we learned on yesterday’s tour, the old city was laid out with 24 squares/parks.  Twenty of them still exist and one is being rebuilt.  Most have been resurrected beautifully from run-down condition since 1955 and the historical restoration movement.  There are beautiful old trees, most trailing long beards of Spanish moss.  The restored squares also feature monumental statues, along with an occasional fountain or the grave of the Native American Chief Toma-Chi-Chi.  A few squares have not been fully restored but are still pleasant.

SQUARES OF SAVANNAH

We toured the Mercer-Williams House, the setting of “Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.”  It was fascinating, both for its architecture and its history.  I am enjoying the copy of book that I bought in the gift shop after the tour.  The book is not only a good read, but it’s full of good historical stuff about Savannah.

Afterwards we walked to Mrs. Wilke’s Boardinghouse Restaurant, a Savannah “must.”  We stood in line for about 45 minutes with many other tourists and a few locals until we and the rest of a table-full of hungry folk were allowed in.  Once we were settled at a table with about a dozen others, about 20 dishes of various foods were placed on the table.  We were instructed to pass the dishes clockwise.  The platters and bowls were passed around, we filled our plates, and we emptied our plates.  We briefly met fellow tourists from Ohio and wherever, a local and almost local.  A tray of banana pudding was passed around with instructions that when we finished desert, we were to take our plate in one hand, our iced tea glass in the other, and then deliver them to the sink on our way out.  It was a very different, social and tasty dining experience, with some of the tastiest cooked vegetables I have ever eaten.

We walked to the city market but found only a few restaurants (in which we had zero interest at this time) and fewer stores.  We walked back to our hotel and rested our tired feet before walking to a nearby restaurant for dinner.

Wednesday October 15 (Muriel)

We took a tour of the Owens-Thomas house, a lovely home built in 1818.  It was a beautiful home in the regency style, which Allan and I now know something about.  Very unusual for its time, this home was built with two water closets (indoor toilets and sinks), as well as a bathroom (with two tubs and a shower) in the basement.  Even before planning to visit this house, we had taken pictures of the outside of it during our wanderings yesterday.

Being gluttons for historical home tours, we then took a tour of the Davenport house, a substantial but more modest home that the Mercer-Williams and Owens-Thomas houses.  The Davenport house was the first house to be saved by then budding historic preservation movement in 1955 from the wrecking ball.  We enjoyed the history more than we admired the building itself.  Perhaps the fact that it was built by a builder who designed it without the services of an architect was telling.

We headed to an attractive restaurant with Tiffany glass lighting for lunch.  We decided touring two historic houses in a day was all we could take.  We walked to the waterfront for a boat tour of the port of Savannah.

SAVANNAH WATERFRONT AND PADDLE WHEEL FROM ABOVE

It was pleasant but unexciting.  Afterwards we wandered the waterfront some more, returned to our hotel, and headed to dinner at a restaurant a few blocks away from our hotel.

Days 72-75 – Visiting Family in New Digs and Seeing a Different South

Thursday October 16 (Muriel)

We left now fairly familiar Savannah.  What we had seen of the Low Country of South Carolina and Georgia was more delightful than we expected.  We now headed east toward Birmingham, Alabama, where our daughter and son-in-law settled almost two years ago.  About half way, we stopped in Atlanta at a Trader Joe’s, to replenish our car supply of almonds and to get some goodies to take to Rhandie and Richard’s home.  We found a Zaggat’s-rated take out place in the shopping center for lunch there.

We continued to Rhandie and Richard’s home in Trussville, AL, one of Birmingham’s many suburbs.  Leaving the Interstate, we drove through several suburbs.  The area was very green, featuring homes on very large lots, with lots of grass and wooded areas.  There were several commercial areas and occasional small industrial developments.  After reaching Rhandie and Richard’s home, we settled in for several days of catching up.

Friday October 17 (Muriel)

We spent a quiet day visiting, doing laundry, shopping, and refilling prescriptions at a Costco.

Saturday October 18 (Muriel)

Allan and I seem to be bringers of rain on this trip.  When we woke up, it was raining.  The night had been cold and wet.  Whereas the trees had been mostly green with just a few hints of fall color, now some of the trees were quite colorful.  Trees that had been entirely green were now showing tinges of color.

The rain stopped by midmorning.  The air was crisp and clear, the sky blue.  The four of us drove to Vulcan Park in downtown Birmingham.  There an enormous statue of Vulcan, god of the forge, stands on a tower at the top of Red Mountain.

Before taking an elevator to the top of the tower, we visited the adjacent museum.  It had fascinating displays about the history of Birmingham and the production of steel.  The displays brought out the poverty of rural Alabama before World War II and the hardships of working in coal and iron mining and the iron industry.

It was heartening to see that the displays discussed racial issues and history in an evenhanded and positive manner.  Likewise, the visitors to the museum, like the staffs of restaurants and stores and their customers, were integrated.  There was also an inlaid geology map of the area showing the coal and iron that created the city.  I photographed the group standing on that map.

We tried to visit the Birmingham Art Museum, but there was no parking available because of Homecoming at the adjacent UAB (University of Alabama at Birmingham).  Instead Rhandie and Richard took us on a tour of the woods on their almost 4-acre property.  It was almost a bushwhacking.  Vines clung on many of the large trees and to each other.  Way too many of the vines resembled barbwire for our comfort.  We got trapped by the “barbwire” vines a few times but emerged from the walk without injury.   Allan took a photo in the woods.

Richard and Rhandie took us out to dinner at a wine restaurant in a large upscale shopping center.  Again, we were pleased to note that the restaurant staff was integrated, as well as the customers.  Other than varying degrees of Southern drawls heard, you wouldn’t notice we were in the Deep South.

Sunday October 19 (Muriel)

We said goodbye to Rhandie and Richard and headed to New Orleans.  We drove southwest through Alabama, stopping – with some trepidation – for lunch in Meridian, Mississippi.  Our only knowledge of this city of some 39,000 was the 1964 murder of three civil rights workers — other than the recommendation in the AAA guide of a buffet restaurant.  The food was good, with outstanding vegetable dishes, and again we found an integrated restaurant staff and customers.  Since this was early on a Sunday afternoon, many of the customers were dressed up in church going attire.

Short of reaching the gulf coast, our route turned west and took us into Louisiana.  Soon we were crossing the eastern side of Lake Ponchartrain on a very long causeway and bridge.  For the first time on our trip we saw smokestacks (from oil refineries?) belching brown smoke and soon spotted New Orleans ahead of us.  We saw only a couple dirty smokestacks, but suspected they were responsible for the smog visible in the city.

We checked into our hotel in downtown, a couple of blocks from the French Quarter, relaxed a while, and walked to the French Quarter in the dark.  We had to cross the street several times because the sidewalks were closed for construction in many places.  (We were to learn later they were closed for repair of Hurricane Katrina damage.)  As soon as we crossed Canal Street, we were in the French Quarter on Bourbon Street.  The blast of sound almost knocked us back to our hotel.  Amplified music bellowed from every doorway.  Crowds of people filled the sidewalks.  A crowd of young adults stood around admiring the wildest jazzed up car I have ever seen.  Its most memorable feature was a lovely neon sign in the open trunk that announced, “Bar Open.”  There were restaurants, bars, costume shops, and lots of people.

We found our way to one of the restaurants recommended by our hotel, where we chatted with a few tourists and a waiter who had not been in New Orleans much longer than we had.  He was from Michigan, attracted by the warmer winter weather and opportunities to do volunteer work.  I enjoyed crayfish etoufee , and Allan a combination of typical crayfish dishes.

Days 75-78 New Orleans – The Big Easy after Katrina

Evening of Sunday, October 19 (Allan)

Arriving in New Orleans after a long drive was the beginning of a strange experience for me because of my prior trips to New Orleans. I had actually been to New Orleans on three prior occasions, the first of which was in the early 1970s for a single day at a business meeting and has largely faded from memory. The second was at a business conference in the late 1990s which was really quite pleasurable but which I attended without Muriel. The third and clearly the most traumatic was a visit in April of 2004, just six months after Hurricane Katrina. I served as a volunteer on a recovery consulting team. I spent a week in the city, accomplished very little other than to be traumatized by what I saw. At that time I concluded that the problems created by Katrina were almost insurmountable, not because of the damage of the Hurricane but because of the gross failure of both the political and physical infrastructure of New Orleans that Katrina revealed. It was therefore with some trepidation that I came back to the city but I knew I wanted Muriel to see it and to visit the bayous and swamps around it which are alive with interesting wildlife.

We arrived almost to dark and after checking in to a hotel asked for a nearby inexpensive restaurant and made our first of several forays into the French Quarter. Our hotel was about three blocks away. We walked down Bourbon Street and were almost overwhelmed by the noise and color and raucousness. Clearly, New Orleans had fully recovered in this part of the French Quarter. We were bombarded with sensations ranging from strip clubs to jazz joints to restaurants and souvenir shops of all sorts. We went to a fairly plain restaurant in which we had had our first of several forays into New Orleans cooking including gumbo, jambalaya, dirty rice, crawfish, shrimps and other items.

Monday, October 20 (Allan)

As we have done in many cities in the past, we elected to take a bus tour of the city as a starter to a three day visit. In this instance, we consciously chose a tour labeled City and Katrina Tour since it not only covered several interesting parts of the city but also went out to the areas damaged by Katrina.

While we saw many charming areas, some of which were photographed and labeled below, the most traumatic but interesting part of the trip was to visit the Ninth Ward which was the most heavily damaged area. -s

SOME SCENES OUTSIDE THE NINTH WARD (The third shot is for movie-stage fans)

The contrast between this and my prior visit in 2004 was very dramatic in the sense that all the debris have been cleaned up. There were many occupied houses but they were still only a small minority of the total number of houses. What was particularly depressing, however, was the fact that the vast majority of houses were still unoccupied and still showed major damage from Katrina, as is also shown in the photos below.

SCENES OF KATRINA – A House Unrepaired, Where a House Was,  A  Cityscape Contrast

All in all, the comments by our tour guide and our visual experience suggested that my initial impression that New Orleans was a dysfunctional city remained largely correct. The repairs to the city had been physical and only in some cases quite recent. For example, only within the last year has the aquarium opened and all of the major hospitals in downtown New Orleans remained closed. One of the Catholic orders has in fact created a rather large urgent care facility to attend to the poor who are injured or ill. This facility opened about two weeks ago.

It is manifest that except for the real work done by the Corps of Engineers in repairing the dikes and levies, much of the infrastructure repair has yet to be accomplished.

At the same time, the high ground that was not terribly flooded by the hurricane—know locally as “the sliver by the river” which consists of most of the Garden District, the French Quarter, the City Center and a few other areas has now been largely restored and remains vital and quite beautiful.

After our tour, Muriel was exhausted and we basically rested for the afternoon and went out for dinner to a restaurant on Bourbon Street called the Red Fish. I mentioned this because we did in fact had red fish at Red Fish Café as well as had some crawfish delicacies and were thoroughly enjoying the cuisine of New Orleans. Amazingly the restaurant was even noisier than Bourbon Street.

Tuesday, October 21 (Allan)

We spent of much of the morning walking around. We walked through the French Quarter all the way to Jackson Square which is the central park of the French Quarter, then to the shore of the Mississippi River.

New Orleans French Quarter is amazingly photogenic with many beautiful houses, streetscapes and the heavily photographed but still quite remarkable Jackson Square which is kind of the hub or downtown of the French Quarter. In the center of the square is a statue of President Andrew Jackson. It was erected in honor of his commanding the U.S. troops that saved New Orleans from British attack.

Some of what we saw can be seen in the photos below.

One interesting side light was the fact that Muriel was sufficiently taken with the flowers and plantings hanging from the wrought iron balconies that she thought we might want to do that on the balcony of our deck at our condo in Malibu. I totally endorse this not only because I like the look but because it will create more space on the deck which is now heavily occupied by potted plants.

We had coffee at Café du Monde which is the original prototype of Starbucks of all time. Since we were going on swamp tour in the afternoon we elected to have beignets with our coffee and skip lunch.

Our swamp tour was remarkable as much for the fact that we drove to it on our own without stress or incident than for the tour itself. After really stressful navigations of Boston, New York and DC, we were able to drive easily to the suburb of Westwego for a swamp tour.

We saw again many alligators and some lovely birds, some of which are shown below. Unlike our experience in South Carolina, these alligators were truly in the wild and it was more gratifying to see them on logs in the swamp than on platforms in local pond-like areas as we had on the earlier plantation tour

The pilot/narrator was a local Cajun who was less of a naturalist than he thought he was. When he saw a family of Common Moorhens swimming in the bayou, he told us they were Purple Gallinules and how fond he was of eating them. (This was a minor gaffe probably meaningful only to our birdwatcher readers, but we thought he should have been able to properly identify one of his favorite foods.) The trip was fun but not inspiring. We saw many egrets and herons, but few other birds. The only songbirds were crows. At the birding festival on Jekyll Island, we heard birders from coastal Georgia remarking about the many unusual birds they had been seeing in their yards, apparently because this year’s hurricanes Gustav and Ike had moved them from the Gulf Coast. We assume these hurricanes were the cause of the dearth of songbirds in the bayou.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect was his commentary on the ongoing and modestly recovering small scale shrimping and fishing in his community. He actually checked some of his lines on the trip. This trip highlighted the damage wreaked by Katrina but also the resilience of the natural environment and the Cajun community that lives and works within it.

SCENES FROM OUR SWAMP TOUR

That evening, at the recommendation of the sales lady in a shop at which we bought some costume jewelry, we ate at a locally popular restaurant called Muriel’s. Muriel had never eaten at a restaurant called Muriel’s and I am sure we had never seen one. In this instance, we did ask about the origin of the name Muriel’s. After several inquiries, we finally found out that the silent money partner who financed the restaurant some eight years ago had at one point in his life a woman of whom he was deeply fond named Muriel and he named the restaurant after her. More information was requested but not available, although the hostess gave us a copy of the menu and a write up of the restaurant’s mischievous ghosts.

We saved and have reproduced below a copy of the menu proving that there really was a Muriel’s restaurant.

By the way, the food at Muriel’s was quite good. We walked there in the dark and my navigation left something to be desired because we were walking on a street to the north of the one that Muriel’s was on and we overshot by several blocks. We were aided by a local artist type (I infer that from the fact that he was carrying a painting) who saw us trying to puzzle out our map under a street light and gave us excellent directions.

All in all, it was a thoroughly delightful day with beautiful weather in two very different parts of the city.

Wednesday, October 22 (Allan)

On this occasion, we spent the day visiting the Aquarium and later walking around the city. The Audubon Aquarium of the Americas (named after the Audubon Nature Institute, which is a nature preservation association in New Orleans) is a remarkably good instructional aquarium.

I had recalled a prior visit very fondly with a sense of discovery and wonder at the interior recreation of outdoor habitats. It was destroyed by Katrina, although its staff managed to save its penguins and other creatures. On this occasion, the aquarium had just reopened about eight months ago and clearly had reopened somewhat “on the cheap”.

While the educational and child oriented exhibits were superb, the quality of finish was still a little bedraggled in some spaces. The dining facilities were limited to say the least. I could not find anything I wanted to eat and Muriel had a grilled chicken sandwich which she assures me was somewhat better than well flavored cardboard. It is clear that the aquarium is still on its way back, Muriel got many pointers about how to explain things to children in her nature walks.

We also took a few photos including a close up of a very genial looking manta ray

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We also visited the IMAX theater where we saw a wonderful but alarming and saddening production entitled “Hurricane on the Bayou”. It included some beautiful footage of the wetlands and the bayous as well as key message on loss of wetlands and their importance. In a hurricane, every three miles of intervening wetlands lowers the storm surge by one foot. When you apply that formula to the thousands of wetlands removed by reclamation and channeling, you begin to see how Katrina could wreak such havoc. We acquired the DVD of the film and hope to show it to our Audubon and RCD friends.

Following our visit, we walked back to the hotel and ate at another gourmet restaurant near Jackson Square that evening.

In retrospect, New Orleans was a delightful city to visit, holding aside the very real issues raised in my mind by Katrina. Muriel was also somewhat shocked by the remaining damage. My sense of New Orleans as a city still trying to find itself at the core levels of redevelopment and strategic planning did not change even from my visit four years earlier.

The Big Easy remains a wonderful place for a tourist in an uncertain city in terms of its viability for the full range of its citizens.

Muriel’s New Orleans Comments

It’s no wonder that so many people want to remain in or return to New Orleans! It is so charming, beautiful, artistic, diverse and tolerant. There is a great sense of fun and joy, with an undercurrent of poverty, danger and decay. But it seems so vulnerable to repeat destruction on the scale of Katrina’s.

Maybe the traffic situation is revealing of New Orleans today. There is much less traffic than you would expect in such a dense city, probably because many people have not returned. Certainly the tourists are a small fraction of what the many hotels can handle. Except for a few drivers of muscle cars, drivers are polite. Pedestrians ignore the traffic signals and often step in front of moving traffic. Drivers stop politely for them, probably because they realize they would kill someone otherwise.

Even in downtown and other areas above the flooding, many buildings were badly damaged. For example we saw a skyscraper whose top stories had been blown off and are still missing. Some of the damaged buildings are being repaired now, five years after Katrina. Others continue to rot away. In the low-lying 9th Ward, there is so much desolation, but significant rebuilding. Does it make any sense to rebuild here where future flooding seems so inevitable? Probably not, but how can people not rebuild?