The french quarter and all that Jazz

  Although Siggraph was great by itself, it also was a unique chance to see a unique city. As you will recall, New Orleans was flooded in 2005 by the hurricane Katrina. The city received an evacuation order but at least 100.000 people refused to do so for several reasons. The delay and sometimes inefficiency of the rescue operations caused many tragedies. One of them was the disorganisation in the evacuation of the Louisiana Superdome, that brought about the overcrowding of the very same Convention Centre where Siggraph Took place. The small contingent of the national guard were not able to control the 20 thousand people crowd and since the transport failed to arrive,  many people died and reports of murders and rapes started to emerge. These events later became a symbol, at least for the subsequent Democrat campaign, of the ineptitude of the Bush/Cheney administration.

 In 2009, those same areas show little sign of destruction. At least to those, such as me, who had never been there before. The only significant issue I found was the deficiency of the public transport. The city, however, still looked very beautiful. Unfortunately I had a very short time to spend as a tourist so I opted to see a small portion, but to do it properly.

 I had spent a few nights in and near the French Quarter during that week, catching up with my ex colleagues from London, Madrid or Sydney, or just getting to know better my new colleagues. The night life of that area rivals that of any city I have visited. Unlike San Francisco, bars do not close at 1am, and several things are legal that are not in California.

 One of the touristy highlights of the Quarter is Bourbon Street, the very same street that Sting wrote a song about. I have not seen it before the hurricane, but I have to say it gave me the same vibe as Pier 39 in Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco. Few locals, many tourists, pseudo authentic things to see. But very much more for adults. Strip clubs and alike are a common sight, as well as rivers of beer - and of very drunk people crawling on the street. There are casinos too around the city. But if you venture further along the Bourbon Street, in the darker and quieter area, you will find some of the oldest bars in the city, as well as some amazing Jazz concerts.
 Jazz, that is right. Not just in Bourbon's street, but all over Frenchman's street and further out of the French Quarter, this is the city of Jazz. The bars are built for it. Pianos are used as tables, the musicians mix with the public having drinks and celebrating another night of intense life. Be it Dixieland, blues or modern fusion, every band here seems to be so talented. The rhythm dragged us so easily into it, and made us one with the night.

 That is, until we realised it was 5am and we had to get up early for that day's conference. It was even harder for me since I was staying at a youth hostel, where the people kept partying even after sunrise - hard to resist the temptation to join them into the swimming pool and into the vibe that always surrounds young travellers.
 On Friday, after the conference, I had the luck of being hosted right inside the French Quarter, by a fantastic Couchsurfer named Daniel. During the last two days I got to live the life of the area as a local, surrounded by locals. I discovered some interesting things. It turns out the architecture of the French Quarter was actually lost a long time ago in a fire. What we can see today is the result of the reconstruction that the then Spanish authorities performed. That perhaps explains the remarkable similarities with the architecture in Andalucia and the frequent tiles with the names of the streets in Castellano.

Yet another great discovery was for me the food. I certainly had heard of the delicious Cajun food. Therefore I did my best to try out as many local recipes as I could. And I have to say, I was not disappointed at all. Very spicy, very tasty. I should say quite unhealthy too, given the amount of oil and fried things. But hey, so delicious. It is not easy to describe, the combination of herbs that characterise these dishes is not too rare elsewhere, yet it is so distinctive here. I had Cajun food before but having it here was a whole different experience - just like it would be to have an authentic Brasato in Monferrato regions of Piedmont. Since I cannot describe it properly, I will leave you with this: a picture of a blackened catfish. Now you have to go there and try.

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