Two Innkeepers Give First-hand Accounts of What Visitors Can Expect as the City Gears-up for post-Katrina Mardi Gras.
By Mary White
BnBFinder.com recently spoke with two Bed and Breakfast owners in New Orleans about their experiences and impressions of their city in the aftermath of September's hurricane disaster. Hopes are high and nearly all city-center businesses are up and running. In fact, all but two of the 15 New Orleans Bed and Breakfast Inns listed on BnBFinder.com are open for business. According to Innkeeper Al Hyman, the city's bittersweet Jazz Funeral tradition epitomizes local sentiment best of all.
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Guy Fournier and his wife Nancy, only recently purchased and took-over operations at the Sully Mansion in the Garden district near to St. Charles Avenue, the French Quarter and Magazine Street. They are long-time New Orleans enthusiasts, deeply involved in the city's fascinating particularities from Creole food to jazz. They had already been considering buying a Bed and Breakfast in New Orleans as their semi-retirement business for several years when Katrina hit. They had narrowed their search down to three existing licensed Inns and just after the hurricane; their estate agent urged them to consider purchasing Sully Mansion. After many sleepless nights in deliberation, the couple decided to invest in the city they love and become an active part of the reconstruction process. Now, just a month into full operation, they couldn't be happier with their decision.
Guy immediately dispelled all the concerns about visiting New Orleans. Downtown businesses, restaurants and shops are in full operation. The airport and roads are open. Gas and groceries are plentiful. There is plenty of fresh water, the electricity is on, and there are no foul odors or epidemic illnesses whatsoever. So long as you stay in the oldest, well-known tourist areas of the city, you would not even be aware that a disaster of the magnitude of Katrina struck less than six months ago. Some areas such as boutique-and-gallery-lined Magazine Street are more lively and pristine than ever. The Sully Mansion is already fully booked for Mardi Gras (end of February) and looks forward to receiving first-time visitors and long-time New Orleans lovers for all occasions for years and years to come.
Al Hyman of Hotel St. Pierre in the French Quarter put the present situation in a poignant, historical context. The oldest parts of the city (founded in 1718 by French settlers) were built on the natural levees along the banks of the Mississippi. Because they are elevated the damage was of the 3 or 4 grade hurricane variety, but nothing close to the decimation by the floods in the outlying suburbs. The general look of these renowned neighborhoods is about the same as pre-Katrina except for a few restaurants yet to open, and parts of the streetcar route along St. Charles Avenue still closed for wire and road repairs. At last count there were about 150,000 of the original 500,000 residents back in the crescent shaped downtown, which includes the Central Business District, French Quarter, Uptown and Garden District. Al likened the more intimate feeling to that of the mid 1800's when the population was about the same as it is today. He added that restaurants, bars and coffee houses are not only open but truly bustling with business. Reservations are required further in advance than before and lines in caf's are longer than ever (but are never too long). The most contagious thing by far is the buzz of optimism in the air.
Al expects Mardi Gras (weekend before through Feb 27) to be scaled down from previous years, but possibly even better for the sense of solidarity and renewal fostered by those who weathered the storm or have recently returned. He in no way diminishes the scope of the horrible tragedy and losses in the lowland wards cutting across all demographic and socio-economic lines, but emphasized how New Orleanians have a long-established tradition of mourning in a celebrative spirit, hence his reference to Jazz Funerals. Sorrow is expressed in beauty, especially beautiful music.
Also, the New Orleans that was rife with crime, poor schools, and a badly neglected infrastructure has a chance to redeem itself and continue in its long history of transforming tragedy into a rich culture of celebration rites created by the city's unique blend of peoples, flavors and languages, open for all to enjoy.
It's still easy to find a steaming plate of red beans and rice, genuine southern hospitality and all the comforts and charms offered by the most distinct city in America. Come on down!
About The Author
Mary White is Founder of BnBFinder a bed & breakfast directory that lists numerous Bed & Breakfast Inns in New Orleans.
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