Wednesday, 13 August 2008


New Orleans feels like a city where the dead are very much alive - it's mythical, melancholic and unlike anywhere else I've ever been.

The final approach over the 28 mile Lake Pontchartian causeway bridge sets you up for a change of tone. We came at in in half sleep, after a night on the road, and for many miles just seemed to be driving further and further away from land until slowly, through the mists, the sky scrapers and high rises of the new town gain shape on the horizon. A modern river Styx. There's a ferryman's distance between N'Awlins and the rest of the States.

Everything here is pre or post Katrina and the effect of the hurricane three years on is still devastating. Over half the population of just over half a million still have not returned and having settled now in other places the feel of a ghostown hangs heavy. This is all hard to imagine in the tourist saturated, upbeat French Quarter, where we took up lodging at Mme Olivier's 1836 townhouse, but a short trolleybus ride away up Canal Street and you're in the aftermath of an apocalypse of biblical proportion.

However, there's also genuine anger at the State's ineffectual response and the lack of support to help put storyville back on the map. Perhaps the corruption, the spontaneity, the garishness of the city has made benefactors think twice about regeneration. Perhaps they're put off because it is, as it appears, unreal and a dream, unable to cope with anything but the most romantic of infrastructures.

On our first evening, as the temperature cooled, we took a walking tour through the Quarter with Mary, whose lived here for forty years. She told great stories over murder, mayhem, funeral dirges, followed by joyous second lines once the body is interned and the spirits of the ladies of the night who turn themselves at dusk into stray cats and hang out in Jackson Square.

'We live short lives,' she said wiping the condensation off her glasses 'short, but happy lives.'

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