The Mississippi River is why New Orleans is here. It starts 2,340 miles away in Minnesota and drains the middle of the United States. Only the Amazon and the Nile are longer. The river has wrecked havoc on people’s plans ever since they started to live on its banks. The French planters were responsible for maintaining leveés along their strips of property and eventually the Army Corps of Engineers built them all the way north to St. Louis. They did such a good job, the rich soil that flowed down here from the north and overflowed in spring floods, no longer does so and the whole bottom of the state of Louisiana is eroding away and not being replaced. At the moment the city is 110 miles from the Gulf of Mexico, but at the rate things are going, it may truly be a seaport some day. Although there are many ways to measure what it means to be #1, New Orleans is the largest port in the US in cargo tonnage. We took a tour on the steamship Natchez and it didn’t really look all that busy, but it must be mentioned that the things that move through here are heavy - oil, coal, grain, etc. The views from the Natchez were not very attractive. This is an industrial area and Katrina didn’t do it any favors. Nevertheless, we enjoyed having a look at the city from the water. It was disconcerting to look over the levees and peer down on the houses - a reminder that much of the city is below sea level.
We were a bit surprised to be taken to an excellent World War II museum here; it’s part of the Smithsonian network. It didn’t seem that New Orleans had a major role in the war, but it did have something special to contribute - water landing craft. If there’s one thing people know how to do around here, it is entering and leaving the water. A local boat builder Andrew Higgins petitioned the military to consider the amphibious landing craft he was building for local use and it was so much better than what the navy had, factories here worked 24/7 to crank our Higgins craft for the D Day landing as well as landings in the Pacific. The museum is new and very hands on. We pushed buttons to hear clips from local folks and their war time experiences. The Higgins factories went a long way in integrating the women and African Americans into the work force - at least until the war was over. We also enjoyed a 4D film narrated by Tom Hanks showing what was going on in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters at the same time. Our seats shook as the tanks rolled by and snow fell on our heads in the winter - very Disney.
In the evening we headed back to St. Charles Avenue with our lawn chairs to enjoy three more Mardi Gras parades. It was much more crowded than it was last weekend and the street was lined from one end to the other with ladders for the children to sit on. We wanted the kids to see, but where could we go to see as well? We set up our chairs on the street car track hopping up when the final street car of the day went by. As night fell and there was little illumination, trying to see the parade grew frustrating. From the ones we had already seen, I could imagine what the marching bands looked like and the floats had lights on them, but I could only see the tops. Finally a young mother pushed me in front of her child's ladder and said, "That's how we do things here." Then I could see just fine, but I was so close to the marching bands, their swinging arms would swing into me. Every so often other people stood in front of me until the police cars came by with sirens blaring herding people off the street. And of course the beads were flying. Every float that went by, people raised their hands and screamed, "Throw me something mister!" One thrower neglected to take the beads out of the plastic bag and he beaned me in the head. Even from my perch in the front, it was hard to see the beads as they flew through the air. Nevertheless, we came home with a few more pounds to add to our collection.
The clean up crew followed immediately after the last float. The street sweeper swirled water on the pavement and a convict crew raked the paper refuse into plastic bags. It would have been easy for them to disappear into the crowds in the darkness. But the city government has learned over the years, that it is important to keep the streets clean between each parade and as we drove home past the route, the streets looked about as good as they had before the parade began. Quite a feat.