Shantybellum found itself with a beautiful room way up high on the 7th floor of the Royal Sonesta Hotel in the New Orleans French Quarter for Halloween. For a city that's gotten such bad press since Katrina, I was pleasantly surprised. The New Orleans joie de vivre is as rampant now as it ever was with people laughing, dancing in the streets, and enjoying that good old voodoo magic of the Crescent City.
Everyone seemed happy to be alive and happier still to be in New Orleans, smiling at one another and acting like old friends. I met a man outside the hotel who told me he'd worked on the Golden Gate bridge in San Francisco. Next thing I knew, he'd run inside and come back out to give me a rivet from the bridge. Okay....I know it sounds like something only a guy would love, but hey...sometimes I'm a little weird. I loved it.
In its wake, Katrina seems to have left a kinder, gentler mark on New Orleans. This was probably most evident as we were walking in the French Quarter on Saturday afternoon. We turned a corner to find a man crawling on the sidewalk on all fours with two policemen standing over him. Rather than hauling him up and dragging him off to jail, the two were showing real concern.
"Sir, are you okay?"
"Is there a medical problem you can tell us about?"
Honestly. I know it sounds as though I might be speaking tongue in cheek, but I'm not. They were going out of their way to handle it well. (Note to self -- write the New Orleans police and tell them thank you.) Is there still crime in New Orleans? Indubitably. But if Halloween is any indication, then I think things will work out.
We met another of New Orleans's finest later that night when the biggest, blackest, most beautiful warmblood horse I've ever seen stood sentry in the Quarter with his rider.
"How tall is he?" I asked.
"Eighteen hands," the policeman replied, smiling and clearly enjoying the Mississippi-sized river of masked revelers pouring down Bourbon Street like flotsam from a sunken paddlewheel.
"What's his name?"
"Willie," he replied.
"What's your name?"
"Willie," he replied.
We had a willy, willy good time.