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Our Magnificent Journey
Chapter 7
New Orleans


Henry Swanson  
Day 2

I drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was gone...

Our night's sleep in the tall four-poster bed was restful, comfortable, cool and breezy, thanks to the ceiling fan mounted in the sixteen-foot high ceiling. It was humorous watching Carol use the special ladder/stairs to get in and out of the high bed.
This Colonial Revival style home was built in 1896 and is named after its original owner, Dominick O'Malley. Mr. O'Malley, a local newspaper owner, was known for discovering and exposing corruption among the City and police officials at the time. Paul Broyard, a free man of color, was a well-known architect and builder. Mr. Broyard built the 1896 O'Malley House, and has been credited with building many distinctive homes of the era.
The House was purchased in 1998 and renovations started immediately. With the original architectural details still intact, including all cypress woodwork, marble and cypress wood-carved mantels, coved ceilings, nine-foot pocket doors, brass hardware, magnificent stairways, pine flooring and more, the work began. Phase One of the renovation included all new wiring, plumbing, sheetrock and baths to bring this home up to today's codes. All of the cypress millwork was stripped by hand and clear-sealed for protection. Phase Two included the same as the previous with the addition of converting the home from a double to a single residence. Brad Smith and Larry Watts purchased the 1896 O'Malley House in April of 2004.
Carol and Larry
In August 2005, Hurricane Katrina swept 1 ½ feet of water into the first floor, ruining most of the furniture. To give you an idea of the height of the water, the house sits about four feet above the street, so there was around 5 ½ to 6 feet of water inundating the neighborhood. You can still see the high-water mark on the marble of the first floor fireplaces.
We joined Ms. Greta for breakfast in the dining room. Ms. Greta owns a “single shotgun” house next door, and it has been in her family for generations and is around the same age as the 1896 O'Malley House. Greta is still waiting for work to finish on her lovely home so that she can move back in. Like so many thousands of other New Orleanians, Greta depends on the generosity of others for shelter. She stays some nights at the 1896 O'Malley House and at her brother's house which is farther north. Greta is a lovely, charming, gracious woman with an infectious smile and a knack for calling you “Darlin.” We will miss her tremendously. The breakfast that Angela conjured up (I swear this woman knows kitchen voodoo secrets; everything she made was incredible) was egg soufflé, fresh fruit with whipped cream, biscuits, fresh orange juice and coffee. Not to mention the melt-in-your-mouth sweet rolls. Angela owns a wealth of knowledge about most topics relating to New Orleans and life in general. She has an incredible sense of humor and a sharp wit, and loves to banter with her dear friend Michael. Angela truly went far beyond the call of duty to make us feel at home. Also joining us at breakfast was Larry, one of the owners of this wonderful B&B, who, like Angela, is a walking encyclopedia of all things NOLA-related.
Ms. Greta, David and Angela
After breakfast we met Larry's friends Thomas and Prudence, who came to pick up Larry for a day at a beach in Mississippi thirty miles away. Thomas hails from Germany and Prudence is from Australia . They have decided to settle into New Orleans . We can see why.
Prudence, Larry, Carol, Angela and Thomas
Carol and I visited for a while with Angela, then walked a block to the Canal Street streetcar stop. The weather is cool, breezy and sunny without a cloud in the sky.
All around us are memories of the storm. Trees and buildings still show the high-water marks. Countless buildings are still sitting abandoned, dilapidated; many are under re-construction. Some fortunate business owners have already gone through the painful and costly renovations and now display “we are back” signs. We are anxious to get to work with Habitat for Humanity and we'll dig in on Tuesday.
As we ride the streetcar ($1.25 one way,) we are shocked to see how much damage is still evident and how much trash is still piled up in high heaps. The delightful breezes wafting in through the open windows of this ancient wooden streetcar as it slowly ambles toward the Mississippi River, the French Quarter and the CBD (the Central Business District) belie the terrible anger of Nature those few days in late August 2005, less than fourteen months ago. The waterline is actually several feet above our heads in many places.
Canal Street Streetcar
Carol on the Canal Street Streetcar
We jumped off the streetcar at Canal and Decatur, and walked along Decatur, window-shopping and people-watching. When we walked the short block to the mighty Mississippi, we were awestruck by its huge expanse over to Algiers. Due to its higher elevation, Algiers was spared the horror that befell New Orleans. We have both seen the Mississippi River several times but its grand and solemn brown water never ceases to impress us.
David along the banks of the mighty Mississippi
On our way to the French Market, we passed the old wooden and brick Lafitte House. In the men's bathroom some of the original wooden beams are still seen. We decided to sit in the shade of famous Café du Monde, where we rested, people-watched, and enjoyed iced coffee/chicory and beignets, French doughnuts that Café du Monde is famous for.
Carol in the garden of the Lafitte House
Old wooden beam in the men's room at the Lafitte House
David relaxing at Cafe du Monde
Carol enjoying beignets at Cafe du Monde
We spied a local character named Hack Bartholomew who wore a t-shirt that caught my eye, so appropriate for the Big Easy – “I drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was gone.” That one sentence says so much about what happened here. Hack was entertaining the crowd with his trumpet and gospel music, and we snapped a few photos and bought a CD.
Hack Bartholomew
We made a quick tour of the French Market, then spent the next couple of hours wandering through the French Quarter. On Bourbon Street, Carol and I caught strings of Mardis Gras beads being thrown from a balcony by some revelers.
The French Market
Revelers throwing Mardi Gras beads
Tired, we stopped at Desire Oyster Bar on Bourbon Street, recommended by the all-knowing Angela, and feasted on freshly-shucked oysters, boiled shrimp, crawfish bisque and two different types of cold Abita beer. Lunch was very delicious and we highly recommend Desire. Ask for Anne Marie for your server if possible. We enjoyed chatting with her.
Anne Marie and David at Desire Oyster Bar
We then wandered more through the French Quarter, window shopping and enjoying the cool breezes, then headed west to Canal Street where we caught the streetcar north. This is the locale of Streetcar Named Desire. We jumped off at Carrolton, walked the block to the B&B and rested from 4PM until 6PM.
After our afternoon snooze and refreshing shower, we went downstairs to the ornately decorated living room and enjoyed an hour of conversation with Larry, co-owner of this magnificent B&B. Larry, from Mississippi by way of Dallas, regaled us with fascinating stories of life in The Big Easy. One of his neighbors is Harold Brown, an original member of the band War, and it is not unusual to find Bonnie Raitt or other musical notables visiting in this same living room.
At 7:30 we were all hungry so Larry joined us for a delicious dinner at Ralph's On The Park – 900 City Park Avenue. City Park is one of the largest municipal parks anywhere in the U.S. and was devastated by Katrina. Countless trees were lost.
Lagoon at City Park
Our dinner began with a “lagniappe” (“something for nothing,”) tuna with seaweed which was very different and very tasty. Carol had a salad and we split an order of sweet/spicy fried oysters, which truly were incredible. Larry enjoyed escargot and filet mignon and Carol and I also split a whole fried soft-shell crab and a bottle of chilled sauvignon blanc. Dinner and service was superb, as was the company. Larry's Golden Retriever, Cody, is “on vacation” at his parent's home in Mississippi and he misses his Cody as much as we miss our Cody. Larry entertained us with stories of growing up in the South as well as what it is like to be a member of a Mardi Gras “krewe.”
Too soon dinner was over and we drove the few blocks back to the B&B where Larry continued to rivet us with anecdotes from Katrina. He knows first-hand what those nightmarish days were like – evacuation, then uncertainty, then returning to find horrible devastation nearly everywhere in the city. Eighty percent of New Orleans had been under water. The B&B sat in water into the first floor for many days. It took four months to get rid of mold, replace sheetrock, furniture, rugs, and get the “old girl” back on her feet. And back on her feet she certainly is. So many other people still have not been able to get to that point yet, as we found out in the days to come. Countless people probably will never find their way back, sadly.
We could have listened to Larry's stories forever, but at 10:30 it was time to end a spectacular day, so we said goodnight, climbed the stairs to Number 7, and fell in bed already dreaming of tomorrow's adventures.

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