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Reader writes by Robert E. Trethewey: A hot time in New Orleans

June 03, 2002

My wife and I recently visited the Crescent City. I had an insurance seminar and she was the "tag-along" tourist, as I was during her seminar to Boston in 1995.

Upon deplaning at the Louis Armstrong International Airport, we immediately noticed the "tropics" were upon us in the form of high humidity.

Our jitney driver to the French Quarter mumbled in a combination of French, Spanish and Cajun. We understood "Super Dome," "Tulane University" and "cemetery." Other than those words, the rest of his spiel into town was a jumble of words that could be put together in many ways, some of which we did not want to attempt to use any rational thinking to figure out what was really said.

Super Dome, $100 million over budget. We understood that, especially after reading about San Diego's money problem with Jack Murphy Stadium and the new Padres ballpark.

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Tulane University. Great school, not well-identified as a sports school, which is just as well as I think too many universities dwell on sports and not graduation.

Cemetery. Wow! Above ground planting. New Orleans has a water table problem. If you dig a grave site to its normal depth, it will fill in with four feet of water. Even if you weight the "box" down, in a good rainstorm it will float out and move along the streets with the rest of the rainwater. It has happened many times before, so the conventional wisdom is to still "deposit" above the high water mark!

We arrived at the Sheraton Hotel on Canal Street, just across from the French Quarter. Touring in N.O. is not like staying at your local Motel 6. We had the "preferred seminar rate" at $200 per plus 13 percent hotel occupancy tax. We overheard one lady speaking to her husband and stating, "This is more expensive than NYC." Amen.

Hurricanes. No, not the storm but the drink. It seems to be the favorite in town. On the streets, tourists are walking around with them like drinking a sno-cone. If your drink runs dry, you do not have to go to a liquor store or bar to get a refill. Just seek one of the rolling on-street booze-cart vendors and request a refill. Everyone drinks on the street. We were told that Jazz Fest week had no bearing on the walk-around habits of the tourists. That's just the regular M.O. for we out-of-towners.

The food was great!

How long before I lose my seven days of Cajun/Creole dining? Who knows …

We dined at the court of two sisters, the Palace Café (a five-star Café) and Café Giovanni, again, not a café. Giovanni had a concert piano in the dining room, complete with a baritone, alto soprano and a soprano to sing the classics whilst we ate.

The St. Charles Street Car still runs to Carrollton Avenue. We tested that run. Many Victorian homes along the way. It remains a marvel how New Orleans has kept their light rail systems while we in the more modern West tore them up to build freeways, then have gone back to rebuilding light rail at a horrendous price.

The paddle-wheeler Natchez was a delightful cruise on the Mississippi (did I put enough ‘S's and ‘P's in that one?). The port is huge. The river pilots average $320,000 per year. No formal education required. They have a tremendous responsibility. If the puppy runs aground, they are in "deep mud."

One of the highlights was a Grayline Tour of the old plantation homes up the river. We visited Oak Alley and Nottoway. Nottoway has been occupied since its completion in 1859, just before the Civil War. (Why was that war called "civil"?) The Nottoway home initially had 11 children, six boys and five girls. Each child had his or her own bedroom, not the tiny cracker boxes we see today, but big rooms. The plantation home was three stories tall and had 45,000 square feet. There were 143 slaves to run the house and the sugar cane fields. Some of the original China place settings were still intact. The original China had 200 pieces, but about 60 pieces remain, with an individual romantic setting painted on each piece. The girls were required to fit into an 18- inch corset. If they could not fit into that size when they reached the "courting age," then papa would send them off to a doctor in New Orleans to have their two lower ribs surgically removed. Ouch!

We had a wonderful time.

Oh, by the way, the temperature seemed to be consistent with our last day of departure: Temperature 90 degrees, humidity 84 percent.

We'll go back, but between November and March …

>> ROBERT E. TRETHEWEY is an El Centro resident.

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