Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Welcome to New Orleans (Throwback post)

New Orleans
From Montgomery we took an overnight bus to New Orleans, Louisiana, where we were staying in an Airbnb home with a woman and her large friendly dog.

We had arrived in time to take in the last week of the Mardi Gras parades, and because it is an expensive time to visit New Orleans, we were taking advantage of the lower monthly rental to spend another three weeks there afterwards.  In fact the home we were in was just outside of New Orleans, in Jefferson, because the city itself was just too pricey for our budget.

Whichever of its many names that you call it by - New Orleans, NOLA, Nawlins, The Big Easy, The Crescent City, or even The City that Care Forgot - it is a city worth visiting.

Founded in 1718, it spent the first 45 years under French rule before passing to the Spanish.  Despite the name, it was the Spanish that built most of the lovely buildings in the French Quarter.  The city reverted to the French for just two years, before being sold to the US by Napoleon in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803.
By 1809, the population had swelled to around twelve thousand, of which a huge 63 percent were black.  Unusually though, almost half of the black population were 'free people of color', many of them having arrived in New Orleans following the Haitian Revolution.  This didn't mean that slavery wasn't an issue though, as the city was also home to the biggest African slave market.
Site of Battle of New Orleans
On 8 January 1815, during the War of Independence, the city was the site of the Battle of New Orleans, which was Andrew Jackson's impressive victory over the British. Looking at being hopelessly outnumbered, he saved the day for the US by gathering together a group of soldiers, militia, locals and -  temporarily putting aside their differences - the local pirates.  The especially sad thing about this though, was that unknown to both sides, the Treaty of Ghent was signed a fortnight earlier on 24 December 1814, ending the war.
Moving on to the Civil War, after the defeat of the Confederacy, Louisiana was readmitted to the Union in 1868.  It's constitution included 'universal manhood sufferage' which meant that every adult male had a right to vote.  And with black men exercising that right, Louisiana elected the USA's first (and for the next 117 years, the last) black Governor, P B S Pinchback, in 1872. 

This Reconstruction era was the one good time in the US history of racial equality, with racial integration taking place in schools and elsewhere.  But sadly it was not to last.  Within less than a decade, white supremacy backlash had risen up in the southern states in particular.  The emergence of the Klu Klux Klan was officially suppressed by President Grant, but we all know that they still committed terrible acts of racial violence.

But the more powerful group was the Redeemers, whose violent and fraudulent methods suppressed the black vote and forced in white leaders.  From here on the state relegated black people to a lower status, introduced the Jim Crow segregation laws, and effectively ended any hope of racial equality for nearly a century.
New Orleans wasn't doing too well as a city either.  It was still a major port, but otherwise it gradually slipped down the rankings of the US cities.  Without being able to attract new people or new business, the city stagnated, only really picking back up again in the second half of the twentieth century.
Katrina damaged building, NOLA
Then of course it was struck by disaster when Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.  Of course Katrina didn't just hit New Orleans, but of the just over eighteen thousand people who died, nearly sixteen thousand were from Louisiana, largely New Orleans and its surrounding parishes.

The hurricane itself was not the main problem though, as the city is used to them.  The real issue was that the levees had been badly built, so didn't give the city adequate protection.  And in a place that has a substantial part of it below sea level, and is surrounded by the mighty Mississippi River on one side, and the huge (1600 square kilometer) Lake Ponchartrain on the other, having good levees is vital.  The huge floodwaters caused by the hurricane breached the levees and flooded eighty percent of the city and nearby parishes.  
We didn't do a floods tour - somehow it didn't seem right to be enabling tour companies to make a profit from taking us to gawp at the devastation that represents the destruction of someone's home, and possibly the death of the occupier, with none of that profit going to those who are still living in poverty as a result.  But just driving past the ninth ward towards Lake Ponchartrain, we could see numerous empty plots and the remains of homes that have simply been abandoned to rot completely.
New Orleans
The rebuilding effort continues and the city still hasn't reached the population level it had pre-Katrina, but it is moving on.  This year it hosted the Superbowl the week before we arrived, and of course the annual Mardi Gras parades and Jazz Festival draw huge crowds.  It is also has a blooming film industry.  Many big budget movies are being filmed here now, including one with Brad Pitt, who has now become an important contributor to the rebuilding of NOLA.
Even with its ongoing difficulties, New Orleans is a vibrant place, which seems much more integrated racially than most of the south, and the people that we met were friendly and welcoming.

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