New Orleans, Tabasco, and Flooding

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It just so happens that I was in the state of Louisiana during one of the biggest floods in recorded history. Well, almost. I was a few days early to see peak river levels as the water was slowly working its way down the Mississippi River from Memphis. I suppose I should be grateful that the flooding didn't prevent me from spending time in New Orleans and other parts of the state, but I've always wanted to be right in the middle of a giant flood, cars floating down the street, rooftops poking out of the water, etc. Not that I wish that kind of destruction on anyone, but I'm fascinated by extreme weather conditions and seeing what Mother Nature can do when she puts her mind to it. We're truly at her mercy.

Luckily the Army Corps is on the ball (most of the time) when it comes to containing water issues in the area. They made an executive decision to blow a hole in an upstream levy so that any flooding would take place in rural areas rather than potentially taking out heavily populated areas like New Orleans — we know they've seen enough in the past few years. On my way west out of Louisiana I decided to stop to see if I could get some photos of the pregnant river. I stopped at a visitors center near Henderson and talked to one of the women working at the information desk. "Where can I go to get a picture of the river?" I asked. She said, "Oh you can't, the National Guard won't let anyone near it." Then she looked around and got closer and said, "Follow me," as she lead me outside. "If you walk over there you might be able to walk up on the levy, but I didn't tell you that." She then showed me on a map where I could go to see the pontoon bridge near Butte La Rose and I'd definitely be able to take some pictures there. It was pretty cool to see the water level slowly rising before my eyes, just small little puddles forming in the grass. I talked to a state trooper who was preventing people from crossing the bridge and he said that on Thursday, two days later, there was a mandatory evacuation of the town. The water was expected to rise another 11 feet by the weekend and the town would definitely be flooded out.

But let's back up a bit to New Orleans. I'd heard so many good things about this town that it worried me a bit. Sometimes when people build up a city, a movie, a book, well you can be let down and disappointed. That happened to me last year when I visited Berlin. I had a lot of people say, "Oh my God you're going to absolutely love it," but I was kind of disappointed and missed what others saw in it (guess I'll have to go back one day). But New Orleans...it didn't disappoint me. It was awesome.

I stayed at a guest house right on Bourbon Street called Bon Maison. The central location was perfect for seeing the city as I could wake up, go get some coffee and beignets from Cafe Du Monde, walk around a little, go back to my room, wash the sweat off of me, go back out for lunch, walk around some more, go back to my room to take a nap, head back out for dinner and more sightseeing, and then stumble back to my room to crash for the night.

Luckily I had lots of good recommendations from my friends as to what to see, do, and eat in New Orleans. I didn't take many pictures while I was there as I just tried to enjoy myself and soak it all in. I met up with my friend Jessica and her husband for dinner one night and had the best food of my visit at Café Amelie on Royal Street — the gumbo was out of this world, as was the ambiance and the company! It was great to see a familiar face and to hear about the town from a local's perspective. As for the rest of the food I had in New Orleans, I have to say that I wasn't overly impressed. It wasn't bad, but it wasn't as good as people said it would be. Everyone said, "Get a po-boy at ____ or at ____ or at _____!!!!" Well, to me a po-boy is just a piece of bread with some fried stuff in the middle. I will say that the "surf and turf" po-boy at Parkman's Deli was pretty tasty, but the other ones I tried were pretty bland.

I can only imagine what Bourbon Street is like during Mardi Gras. When I was there it was only a day or two after Jazz Fest and the whole town was pretty burnt out, so the action on Bourbon Street was pretty tame. There are lots of cheesy bars, bright neon signs, people dressed up expecting money from you if their picture gets taken, and drunk tourists. I only saw one beads-for-tits exchange and it was pretty lame. Most bars have a guy (sometimes two) trying to persuade you to come inside but they're more annoying than inviting. Despite all of this, Bourbon Street is a must see when you visit New Orleans.

One afternoon I checked out a photography gallery called "A Fine Art Gallery" — clever name. It was more of a dream for me than a gallery, as they have prints for sale from Sebastiao Salgado, Ansell Adams, Diane Arbus, Eadweard Muybridge, Edward Steichen, Brassai, Helmut Newton, Cartier-Bresson, Elliot Erwitt, Annie Leibovitz....I mean seriously? If you're into photography, this is a definite stop for you in New Orleans.

Most cities that I visit on my trip I think to myself, "Could I live here?" At first my reaction to New Orleans was "definitely". But as time went on I started to see it as a town I'd rather visit every now and then rather than live there. I love that people are down to earth and friendly, and the town has a lot of character. But I think it's a bit too slow paced for me and a bit too small, not to mention the oppressive heat in the summertime. Oh, and not this this is a deal breaker, but the roads there are absolutely terrible. I thought DC had bad roads, but some towns I've driven through in the south are like driving on the moon.

After I left New Orleans I made a quick stop at the Oak Alley Plantation which is something I've always wanted to see. I arrived there right as the sun was setting and was the only one on the grounds. It was great having the whole place to myself but a bit creepy too, thinking about all of the bad things that took place there back in the days of slavery. Regardless, the rows of oak trees that lead up to the mansion are absolutely gorgeous and I'm glad I didn't have a million tourists getting in my shot. My photo turned out OK, but I think this is a place I'd have to visit several times to get "the shot", you know, the type that you've seen on calendars.

The next day I drove on to Avery Island to tour the Tabasco Factory which was really cool. I had no idea they made so many different types of sauces. On the free tour (well it costs you $1 to drive onto the island) they show you a cheesy video that gives you the history of the island and the founders of the Tabasco brand as well as show you how it's made. You can then walk through the plant to see thousands of bottles whizzing by you (my Dad would have loved to see this) and then sample all of the different flavors in the gift shop. I discovered that they sell Tabasco soy sauce (my favorite condiment) and it absolutely blew my mind. They also had jalapeno flavored ice cream which sounds gross but it was fantastic.

After my stay on Avery Island I drove to a nearby town where my friend Henry grew up. He gave me directions to where his old house was but warned me that it's pretty dangerous there now. Eh, I wasn't afraid. So I punched in the street name on my GPS and started to get deep into the small town of Abbeville and soon I was getting strange looks from people as if to say, "What are you doing here?" I asked myself the same question and left immediately. I'd seen enough of Abbeville and of Louisiana, so I got on I-10 again destined for Houston.

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5/22/2011 1:11:49 PM #

Glad you liked New Orleans. I have a habit of telling people how much I love a place and then am concerned that I've set their expectations too high and they will end up being disappointed.

Funny you mention the fascination with extreme weather. Ever since I was a kid I've had this rather unrealistic goal to experience every natural disaster. I'm not sure how I would survive all of them and as you said, I feel bad for the people who have to suffer through it, but I like that we get these little ego-check reminders that no, we are not all powerful on this planet.

Nice that you were able to see the Tabasco Factory in action. I went on the tour on a Saturday or Sunday but nothing was running.

Looking forward to more!

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