Thursday, March 1, 2012

Bus tour of New Orleans

Before leaving we just had to see parts of N’Awlins other than the French Quarter so off we went to take a Grayline tour. 

The tour started by taking us through Parishes which were devastated by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  Even today one can see the utter destruction and it’s pretty obvious that some homes will never be rebuilt while others have been nicely restored.  Worst hit was the 9th parish - the roofs of the houses are quite a bit below the level of Lake Pontchartrain, so much so that one could drown standing on the roof if the lake were to spill over. As it did in 2005 as the result of the failure of the big pumps that should have pumped out the excess water from the city – no backup generators - what incompetence!
The population of N’Awlins today is roughly half of the pre-Katrina time; lots of people moved elsewhere in Louisiana but mostly they went to Texas where they got much better paying jobs and so stayed there. As rental accommodation made up 45% of all housing in N’Awlins a combination of factors – people not returning, higher insurance rates and the cost of rebuilding with much more stringent building code requirements – landlords are not willing to rebuild.

On to the other side of the coin is the Garden District where there are beautiful large houses with huge lawned gardens which originally belonged to WASP’s from the East Coast who moved to add to their wealth and tried to change the locals’ way of life. Cajuns and Creoles who are Catholic lived, and still live, in the French Quarter in houses built close together with no lawns and call their voting areas Parishes; they also celebrate all the Catholic Holy Days and have a good time. We experienced that on Mardi Gras. It must have been like trying to mix oil and water!
There are many large cemeteries (City of the Dead) in the South where the deceased are buried above ground because the water table is so close to the surface, heavy rain was known to “raise the dead” who had been interred in-ground. Consequently, there are numerous family vaults or above-ground tombs, also there are wall crypts (approximately 9’ x 2’ x 2’) or as a local wit called them "ovens."  These wall crypts provided the best story of the tour, first of all, the Catholic Church owns and runs mostly all the cemeteries and rent out these wall crypts under a 5 years lease rental. There were many epidemics of yellow fever in the South in the 18th and 19th centuries, so when a family member died of yellow fever they were laid to rest in the family vault/tomb but regulations dictated that the vault could not then be opened for a year and a day as it was not known how yellow fever spread and they were being cautious. When the next member of a family died within the year the family faced the dilemma of where to bury their loved one; this was when a very clever priest came up with the solution of wall crypt rental. Remember the lease was for 5 years and after a year and a day the family could reinter. However, if at the end of five years no one paid the rent the facing stone with all the decedents details was pushed to the back (yes everything behind it too) so it becomes available for rent once more. What a business and idea? Many crypts have no facing stones – does this mean they’re empty or that no one paid the rent?

We are so glad we had the opportunity to visit N’Awlins at this time of the year - it was great fun!

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