Monday, June 6, 2011
This will have to be the first of three posts regarding our trip to New Orleans last month. It was a nice enough town, but I think I saw all I wanted to see of it for a while. Maybe if I hadn't smelled sewage the first morning I woke up there and then gotten food poisoning at one of the nicest restaurants in town, I might have had a better impression of the place. I'm sure plenty of people have worse opinions of Denver.
So...the houses in the French Quarter. Amazing. I don't know what the insides look like, but the outsides are pretty cool. Evidently, New Orleans' soil is so sandy and geologically young that structures sink and settle constantly (more on that when I show you the graveyards). There are entire businesses in NOLA that do nothing but help you replumb your house when it settles so much (and so unevenly) that a door you shut yesterday suddenly gets stuck against the floor, four inches away from its frame. You might be able to see some of those uneven window and door frames in these images. Also interesting was how close everyone's front door/windows are to the street--they're always closed with blinds. What gives? Guy and I wondered. A tour we took later on in the weekend provided the explanation: back in the 1700s, the streets on which we (and the early settlers) walked were the "back" of the house. Your real front door was the courtyard in the inside of the city block. Many of these houses had little gates and paths that you used to access the real "front door" of the house. What is now the street was a muddy path wide enough for a couple of horses to slop down, lined on each side with a narrow raised wood walkway, much like you can see in photos (and movies) of the Old West. Today, occasionally a homeowner has acknowledged the shift between front and back, public and private, but many have chosen to leave their homes' access and arrangement as it was nearly 250 years ago. (And the fact that any of this is standing is a bit of a surprise to me, between the humidity and the hurricanes, but we also learned that the French Quarter was built on the highest land in NOLA, which allowed it to survive floods better than any other part of the city.)