A Rainy Day in New Orleans

Umbrellas in New Orleans

After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck New Orleans in August of 2005, I was as anxious as anyone to see what I could do to help. I contacted the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau and staff at the makeshift City Hall to find out how I could help get the word out about what individuals and groups could do to help. At the time, when I told them I would be writing about “voluntourism” as opposed to volunteers, they had never heard the term (Now the New Orleans CVB has a page dedicated to Voluntourism on their website.). There were so many people on the ground trying to help, but with the limited resources available and the City officials working on cell phones from temporary quarters, it was a challenge gathering information long distance.

In the spring of 2006, I traveled to New Orleans with the support of the Monteleone and Sheraton hotels to put together a story on how volunteers and voluntourists could help rebuild New Orleans, and the difference between the two. I spent time with the traditional disaster volunteer organizations like the Red Cross and the entire team from Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD) including representatives from FEMA, and I went out and tracked down the grassroots organizations that sprang up from people’s desire to get out and help without the bureaucracy. Some of those organizations have since disbanded or moved to other disaster zones, others are still going strong in New Orleans.

New Orleans has made significant progress in recovering from Katrina and Rita, but has since been affected by other weather events and the BP oil spill. My story on Voluntourism in New Orleans is still relevant, and the New Orleans Voluntourism Contacts List is updated annually.

Visiting New Orleans today, if you don’t take a disaster tour, you won’t see much evidence of the damage. I’ve been back twice since my first post-Katrina trip and have written up lots of things to do in New Orleans on a rainy day. So if you’re visiting, consider these options to keep you out of the rain or the summer heat.

Features

Audubon Aquarium of the Americas

National WWII Museum

Harrah’s Casino

Mardi Gras World

Voluntourism in New Orleans

New Orleans: Open for Business

Kid Stuff

Louisiana Children’s Museum

Going Solo

Frenchman Street

Jean Lafitte Visitor Center

If You Go

New Orleans Hotels & Restaurants

Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World

story by Kayte Deioma
photos courtesy of Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World

UPDATE: Mardi Gras World relocated across the river. The new address is
1380 Port of New Orleans Place, New Orleans, LA 70130 USA.

June 2006 – The Algiers section of New Orleans, on what is known as the “west bank” of the Mississippi (although it is actually south at this point), was unaffected by the floodwaters that deluged everything for miles on the other side of the river

The miles of devastation in New Orleans and surrounding parishes all lie east of the Mississippi River, between the high ground near the river and Lakes Pontchartrain and Borgne. Everything on the west bank was spared, including the community of Algiers, home of Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World, where it’s Mardi Gras all year long.

Courtesy of Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras WorldEverything at Mardi Gras World is larger than life. You feel a bit like Alice in Wonderland after eating the cake that makes you smaller and smaller. To enhance the fantasy, you may adorn yourself in Mardi Gras finery to explore the giant floats created over the years by Blaine Kern and a staff of talented artists. Since the 1950′s Blaine Kern has been redefining the Mardi Gras experience with bigger and grander floats designed to last more that one Mardi Gras season. In addition to Mardi Gras, Blaine Kern Studios provide floats, statues and props for theme parks, parades, movie sets and events around the world.

Courtesy of Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras WorldThe tour is introduced by a guide and includes a brief film about the history of Mardi Gras and of Blaine Kern studios. You can choose your Mardi Gras regalia – will it be pink feathers and a glittery crown or an armored cloak? Then explore on your own the warehouses full of fiberglass floats including the massive animatronic dragon, Leviathan, that was the largest float in Carnival history when it was created in 1998, or the even larger 5-tandem superfloat, the SS Captain Eddie which took over the record for longest float in the 1999 season.

Courtesy of Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras WorldYou will also have the opportunity to visit the studios where designers, painters and sculptors are hard at work repairing and creating characters of all sizes for various purposes. Yellow arrows lead you to the float-building warehouses where carpenters and painters are hard at work constructing floats.

Each tour ends with coffee and a piece of King Cake. Careful where you bite! By tradition each cake contains a tiny plastic doll, the recipient of which buys the next cake.

 

Courtesy of Blaine Kern's Mardi Gras WorldLocated directly across from the French Quarter, Algiers can be reached by driving across the New Orleans Bridge or taking the free ferry from Canal Street. On a rainy day, you might want to drive if you have wheels. The bridge takes you close to Mardi Gras World, but you can also take your car on the ferry for $1. The ferry runs from 6 am to 8:45 pm daily, departing every 15 or 20 minutes, depending on how long it takes to load and unload on each side of the river. The crossing itself only takes about 5 minutes. A shuttle from Mardi Gras World picks up visitors every 15 minutes at the Algiers ferry station. On the return trip, the shuttle makes an optional stop at HooDoo Town.

Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World
233 Newton St.
New Orleans, LA 70114
Phone: (504) 361-7821
Website: www.mardigrasworld.com


Jazz Solo on Frenchmen Street

story and photos by Kayte Deioma

When it comes to exploring a city’s nightlife, as a woman traveling alone I am more likely to choose a seat at the theatre than the bar or nightclub scene. I love to go out dancing with friends or a date, but if I go to a nightclub alone I usually feel, well, alone. But when a friend said that Frenchmen Street was a good place to go out on your own at night in New Orleans, I decided to check it out.

Patrons sit outside Cafe Brasil on Frenchmen Street in the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood of New Orleans, LAUnlike Bourbon Street, where you’ll find good music, but a great number of people are set on getting blitzed and there’s a certain sleaze factor, Frenchmen Street, located just outside the French Quarter in Faubourg Marigny, is all about the music. Although popular with locals, it has become a nightly haven for volunteers and relief workers to relax and unwind to good music after a hard day of gutting houses and trying to solve big problems. The half a dozen jazz clubs in a two block area, have a laid back bohemian feel.

Rebecca Barry and the FEMA No Checks, with  Sugar Bear on bass at the Apple Barrel on Frenchmen Street in the Faubourg Marigny neighborhood of New Orleans, LA At small storefront establishments you can hear the music as well from the street out front as inside. With no cover charge, it’s easy to grab a seat or a corner of the bar to enjoy a solo drink and blend into the musical groove. At theApple Barrel I found Rebecca Barry and the FEMA No Checks, with Greg Madison on guitar and Sugar Bear on bass accompanying Rebecca’s vocals and sax. I recognized Sugar Bear from the Market Café that same morning where he had been playing with two other musicians. A couple doors down I found Sugar Bear’s morning compatriots, Pierre Pichon and Rafael Bas, playing with Java Swing at the Spotted Cat.

Fredy Omar con su Banda perform at Cafe Brasil on Frenchmen Street in Faubourg Marigny, just outside the French Quarter in New Orleans, LA. Brent Rose on Sax and Fredy Omar.At Café Brasil on this Wednesday night, Fredy Omar con Su Banda were playing Latin jazz for fans spinning around the lightly crowded dance floor. I had met Omar a couple days before working at the Habitat for Humanity Musician’s Village building site. Omar was the first musician approved for a house at the site and he was putting in his sweat equity hours. Hanging out listening to the music, I recognized Habitat site supervisor Eli Grove. Some of the volunteers from Common Ground Relief were out on the dance floor. While New Orleans has always had a small town feel, the sparseness of the current population makes it that much more common to run into familiar faces when you’ve been in town a week.

Native New Orleanian Harold Toussaint delivers award-winning fried chicken and roasted chicken at the Praline Connection Southern Creole Soulfood Restaurant on Frenchmen Street in New Orleans, LA“Café Brasil is the incubator,” says Harold Toussant, a New Orleans native who waits tables at the Praline Connection, a New Orleans soul food restaurant across the street. “We know that every musician has a gift. Even if it is a little rough, people will be patient for them to develop the gift.” According to Toussant, those that have already polished their gift graduate to playing Snug Harbor, a block down and across the street. Snug Harboris known as the city’s premiere jazz club for up and coming artists as well as established names.

Frenchmen Street is located in Faubourg Marigny across Esplanade Avenue from the French Quarter. It meets Esplanade just below Decatur Street.