Thursday March 23, 2006, Baton Rouge, Louisiana
After the rush to get here in time for the St Patrick's Day parade, we've had a really relaxing week. Thanks to Lisa and Rich for opening their home to us and making us feel at home. Juergen has spent a considerable amount of time working on the website, in order to make it easier and more functional as we go along. I've been doing a lot of relaxing and reading and checking out the neighbourhood.
On Tuesday we went to downtown Baton Rouge and walked a bit along the levee bank of the Mississippi. We can't really get over the fact that the city centres here don't seem to have much happening - there seem to be a lot of cars in the parking lots, but no people on the footpaths (sidewalks). It appears to be just a place that people go to work during the week, and no other activity seems to occur there. We did have a look through the old State Capitol building, which looks a bit like a castle! It houses a government museum which gives an interesting view into the political history of the state.
Yesterday we decided to take a drive to New Orleans, and set out along the 'River Road'. This road winds alongside the levee banks of the Mississippi. The guide book suggests that plantation homes line the banks of the river between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, but we didn't see that many - I think it would be truer to say that factories (mostly chemical) line the banks of the river. The first plantation house was close to Burnside on the east side of the river, not far from where we crossed over to the west side in order to visit Donaldsonville.
This is a very pretty town with a lot of old wooden houses, and is also the home of the African American Museum & Gallery. The museum chronicles the life and times of the slaves of Louisiana and is overflowing with information. Lisa told me she had been there 3 times, and after our visit I understood. It is a small and historic house and it is crammed full with documents, pictures and artefacts. The proprietor was very friendly and asked with great concern about the cyclone in Queensland. After the devastation of Hurricane Katrina here, which affected the lives of everyone in the area, I was truly touched by her concern.
We continued on to New Orleans, at first along the river road and then along Route 61 directly into the city. I'd had the idea that the destruction from the hurricane was more localised. I was therefore very surprised to be faced with it as soon as we reached the outskirts - damaged buildings, hugh piles of rubble and rubbish piled up on the footpath.
We drove first to the French Quarter, which seems to be fairly well intact - it didn't look much different to when I spent New Year here just over a year ago. It seems that the original settlers knew the best place to build their town!!! We ate beignets and drank café au lait at the Café du Monde as all good tourists do - and quite a few locals also, it seems. And then we walked a little around the streets. We plan to return with Lisa and Rich on Saturday night, so didn't spend very long wandering. It had also taken us considerably longer to drive to New Orleans than we had expected, and we had a dinner date to be back in Baton Rouge for.
We also wanted to drive more around the streets of the city, to take in the devastation. It has been said by some that the city looks like it was hit by the hurricane in the last few days! In some places it does almost look like it. But people are trying to get it cleaned up - there are piles of rubbish in front of a lot of buildings. I have since heard that there is no trash collection in the city at this time. I guess a big part of that problem is where to put such a large amount of refuse. Every now and then, as we drove down a street, we would see a house that had been renovated to some degree, but they were definitely in the minority. I also heard that they are still finding bodies in houses down there. It is a very sad aftermath to a catastrophic event - and I find that words fail to express the feelings evoked by witnessing it first hand rather than on the 6 o'clock news!!! I hope you find that our pictures tell the story.
As we were leaving the city on the I-10 we saw a parking lot full of cars that had obviously been under water - they are still sitting there because nobody knows what to do with them. We had read in the newspaper that there were over 50 000 flood-wrecked cars in and around New Orleans waiting to be removed, and at least 40 000 of them remain. There seem to be an unending number of problems to solve in that city.