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New Orleans

Tuesday 28 February, 2006

I went to New Orleans only a week after Hurricane Katrina. Many streets were still under water and the city was a sad and lonely place. There was no music to be heard, only the sound of helicopters as rescuers searched for survivors. More than a thousand people had died. Tens of thousands had lost their homes. Perhaps four hundred thousand had fled.

The devastation was terrible: street after street of ruined houses and wrecked cars, dirty refrigerators under rotting trees. The city that many considered to be the most beautiful in North America looked as though it had been hit by a neutron bomb.

Six months later and it's Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday and it's the culmination of twelve days of parties and parades. A celebration of life, food and fun. The city is full of people in masks and costumes, spectacular floats drive along the streets, jazz bands play outside grocery stores. Music has returned to New Orleans.

There are not as many people as usual but that's hardly surprising. Less than half the population has returned home since Katrina and much of the city is still a disaster zone. What might seem surprising is that there is anyone celebrating at all. Samuel Spears, a refugee in Houston, is angry, 'I can't go home, but they can have a parade? That's ridiculous!' However, Rob Clemenz, a lawyer wearing a clown costume believes that the festivities will help the city to recover. 'We have to laugh. We need joy' Katrina has not been forgotten in the parades. There are people with hats that look like storm-damaged roofs, and others with dirty lines on their trousers like the flood lines on the sides of their homes and a group dressed as blind men with walking sticks and dark glasses. On their T-shirts are the words 'levee inspector'.

But there is more to New Orleans than Mardi Gras. Songwriter Bob Dylan once said that New Orleans is a poem. It's a city of culture, a city of art and music is at its heart. This is the birthplace of jazz and home to a wonderful mix of funk, R'n'B, country, reggae and hip hop.

The French Quarter is alive with music again. On one side of the street a rock group plays a concert, on the other a blues singer gives a performance to make you cry and on stage in the Maple Leaf venue a jazz guitarist has his audience in the palm of his hand. Artists sell drawings and portraits without frames on the streets. A sculptor has collected bits of broken buildings and used them to make fantastic sculptures in a park. A dozen art galleries in the Warehouse District recently held a four-day exhibition to show they are back in business.

And it won't stop with Mardi Gras. At the end of March there is the annual festival in honour of playwright Tennessee Williams, who set his play A Streetcar Named Desire in the French Quarter. And at the end of April the Jazz and Heritage festival will take place as usual. It's all summed up by a slogan on a T-shirt. It reads, 'Katrina didn't wash away our spirit.' And it's true. The spirit of this amazing city, the joy of music and the strength of life have survived the hurricane.




Date: 2015-12-11; view: 3134

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