Wednesday, May 03, 2017

Back in New Orleans

I was back in The Big Easy, this time with my family! We had travelled by Southwest across the United States and it was early evening when we got in. After that long flight were were looking forward to our room at the Roosevelt Hotel. This was another imposing and historic hotel we had the pleasure of staying at during this visit to the USA.  Some rest and a shower took care of our travel weariness and we were soon headed down Bourbon Street. The city’s ‘party street' was getting ready for the evening, welcoming the usual mix of eager tourists and raucous conference attendees.  We were more interested in taking in the sights of the French Quarters before heading to a good gumbo place nearby.

The Gumbo Shop is one of the iconic restaurants in the French Quarter.  The steaming hot and spicy gumbo and jambalaya was just what the doctor ordered on a rather cold and rainy day.  The courtyard seating and the smells and flavour made for a lovely dinner.

We had booked a plantation tour for the next day. We got up early and after a quick breakfast at a neighbouring iHop walked down to the river’s edge to hop onto the bus which would take us on a trip down New Orleans history. The day was chilly and there was a little drizzle, but we were glad we made this trip.  The journey to the plantations took us through small villages on the outskirts of the city and alongside the mighty Mississippi river. Our guide explained the history of the lands, its people and its central role during the period of slavery in the United States. This continued through the tours in the Laura and Oak Alley Plantation where we saw both the opulence of the French-American families who owned and ran these plantations so many years ago, as well as the tragic stories of Africans who were brought to this distant land to slave in sub-human conditions.

One of the things I have always admired about Americans (and probably the Germans) is their willingness to look back at their history, honestly critique parts of it and learn from their mistakes. As Indians, we tend to whitewash our own history and rarely have the appetite to admit to the less-than-stellar aspects of it (unless it is to bring down a political rival). During the New Orleans tour too, the guides did a very balanced job of explaining the views of the French families who came to make a fortune here, investors in Europe who funded them, and the forces that led to most of Europe and America turning a blind eye to slavery for so long.  At the same time, we were given the raw and tragic stories of the slaves who were ripped off a distant land, separated from family, possessed no rights over their minds and bodies, even sold for less money than animals.

The next day was bright and warm, a sudden change from the day before.  We made the most of it by strolling the streets of the French Quarter, lounging on the banks of the river, and stopping by the many delightful cafes and eateries in the area.  We checked off the city’s most famous beignets at Cafe du Monde, amazing po-boys and muffalettas at Johnny’s and another great seafood dinner at Red Fish Grill.

We rode a street-car during the afternoon to Lafayette Cemetery No.1 with its iconic over-the-ground graves and the many stories contained within. Finally, it was time to head back, and we drove back to the airport on a sunny afternoon bidding good-bye to a city we had came to love for its distinct sights, sounds and tastes.

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