Day 12 - New Orleans  
   
    New Orleans seen from downriver on the 'Creole Queen'    
Minolta X-570 with 24mm f/2.8 MC VFC Rokkor Film: Fuji Superia Reala
 

On Wednesday I decided that the time had finally come. The lovely and supple (and very expensive) leather shoes that I had purchased at home to be my walking shoes had to go! After getting my first blisters on that very first day in New York, my feet had not recovered, and I had finally acknowledged that I needed some different walking shoes.

Additionally, I had realised that when purchasing my light meter and film in New York I had overlooked getting the graduated neutral density filters that I would need later in the journey. This was critical to some photography objectives I had, and accordingly, it was time to go shopping!

David and I left the hotel on our morning journey, not realising that stores in New Orleans opened a little later than I expected. To use some time, we treated ourselves to a great cooked breakfast in a large cafe that obviously catered to the football crowd given its extensive display of helmets (there must have been about 60!) before continuing on our hunt.

One thing that is very interesting about the USA is the level of customer service that you experience in most restaurants. It is certainly very different to Australia. In Australia there is quite a high minimum wage, and so it is quite abnormal for people to tip waiters. It is not that we aren't generous, it is simply part of our culture that people are not reuired to tip. Some tip is common when say, eating in a fine dining restaurant, but it would seldom be an amount of more than a few dollars. Certainly, you would very seldom tip someone working in a cafe.

In the USA however, the minimum wage is very low, and a waiter's main source of income will be tips. The most obvious impact of this is the number of staff that most establishments will have. Obviously, if it costs a business owner very little to employ staff, he is going to be more inclined to add extra staff to improve customer service. Sometimes, however, this can go a bit too far, given that at this restaurant there were three customers, and 8 staffmembers!

Suitably fueled for our day ahead, we set out to locate first a photography store that could provide me with the filters I would need for the trip. Unfortunately, it seemed no one was able to assist me. After fruitless trips to three different stores I gave up on that idea, and we hunted for shoes instead. I have very broad feet, and what I discovered was that the only shoes that were stocked anywhere in New Orleans that were wide enough for comfort when walking long distances were New Balance white running shoes. After much deliberation I faced facts - my feet hurt, and I needed these ugly shoes. Every effort I had made to look good was accordingly thrown out the window in the name of comfort. I must be getting old.

We headed back to the hotel and I rang all of the photo stores I could find in the directory, to no avail. It seemed no-one had the filters I needed. Finally, I had a blinding flash of inspiration. I rang Adorama in New York and purchased them over the phone, and they guaranteed that they would be in New Orleans by Friday. Problem solved!

Now that was finalised, we met Hudson and Barba at the riverfront - we were planning on taking a luncheon cruise on a paddlesteamer.

 
 
 
 

Giant buckets are used to empty this huge vessel of its cargo of raw sugar.

 
 

Minolta X-570 with 85mm f/2 MD Rokkor-X Film: Fuji Superia Reala

 
 

We boarded the Creole Queen and settled in for our cruise down the Mississippi to Chalmette Battlefield, site of the Famous Battle of New Orleans that effectively ended the war of 1812, and ultimately catapulted Andrew Jackson into the White House. The Creole Queen is a genuine stern wheeler, but surprisingly, she is not an old vessel. In fact, she was built in 1983 by Halter Marine for the 1984 New Orleans World's Fair, and was simply designed to look like she was from the 1880's.

Halter Marine have gone on to produce enormous paddlewheelers to supply the riverboat gambling industry, most a lot bigger than the Creole Queen, however with a capacity for day cruises of 800, she is still a large vessel. Surprisingly given her very realistic appearance, she is not powered by steam. Instead, a modern, fuel-efficient GE diesel-electric system is installed to drive her 24 foot diameter paddlewheel.

On the way down river we listened to the captain talk about the history of New Orleans, and its relation to the river. We passed by several huge oceangoing vessels, one being emptied of its cargo of imported raw sugar, and another steaming upriver with its cargo. These were the size of container ships, massive ships, and the knowledge that they could safely navigate the river and in fact be turned around for the trip downstream really brought home to me the magnitude of the Mississippi. In Australia we have several long rivers, such as the Murray River, which is 1,600 miles long. However, the Murray is barely 50 metres wide for much of its length, just no comparison to the Mississippi.

After a very pleasant cruise we reached the Chalmette Battlefield, and after leaving the Creole Queen and climbing the Levee the first thing we saw was a very attractive house, the Malus-Beauregard House. Built in 1833, 18 years after the Battle of New Orleans, it is a beautiful example of French-Louisiana architecture. It actually was never associated with a plantation, and was instead a country residence for a succession of wealthy people in the 19th century.

The amazing thing about this house is its size. From the river it appears to be a large mansion, however it is in fact only one room wide! It's not even a particularly wide room!

 
 
 
 

The Malus-Beauregard House, seen from the river levee.

 
 

Minolta X-570 with 50mm f/1.2 MD Rokkor-X Film: Fuji Superia Reala

 
 

The Chalmette Battlefield, site of the Battle of New Orleans is now run by the National Parks Service, and is part of Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. The Battle of New Orleans was the last battle of the War of 1812, and victory for the United States preserved America's claim to the Louisiana Purchase, and helped restore American pride and unity.

The War of 1812 was fought to retain America's shipping rights, and secure the western frontier from British influence with the Native Americans. Until 1814 the war was fought half-heartedly by both sides, but after the defeat of Napoleon in Europe, the British sent experienced battle hardened troops to America to lead invasions in the north and south.

The northern force was turned around at Baltimore's Fort Henry, but not before burning the White House and the Capitol Building when they occupied Washington DC. The southern invasion force was led overland from Lake Borgne towards New Orleans, with the objective of capturing the city, and throttling the river trade on the Mississippi. By doing this they hoped to extract a favourable peace settlement with the USA.

To reach New Orleans, the British troops were forced to march up the riverside, in the dry areas of land, between the river and the swamp. While this is quite wide in some places, General Jackson selected the narrowest stretch of land to place his defence, at a point approximately 9 miles downriver from the city. At this point there was a canal running between the Chalmette and Macarty plantations, that formed a natural barrier from the river to the impassable cypress swamp.

The men defending the city were approximately 5000 militia and other volunteers, including famously a contingent of Jean Lafitte's Baratarian pirates. Jackson had his men widen the canal, and build a mud wall on the defenders' side, big enough to withstand a cannon shot. They then waited for the British to attack.

 
 
 
 

Some cannon in the positions they were at the time of the battlefield, facing out over a reconstructed section of the earth barrier built by the American troops..

 
 
Minolta X-570 with 35mm f/1.8 MD W.Rokkor-X Film: Fuji Superia Reala
 
 

When the 10,000 British troops reached the defensive line set up by the Americans on December 28, 1814, they made a preliminary infantry attack, which was turned away by the defences. The British then withdrew, and on January 1st they tried again, attempting to break the defenses with artillery fire. This effort failed, and the British commander, Major General Sir Edward Pakenham was faced with a tough decision. He could withdraw, tempting an American counter attack and the demoralisation of his troops, or he could attack the fortifications, trusting in the battlehardened British troops to achieve the breakthrough required.

The British chose to attack, and on January 8, Pakenham sent a force of 5400 men, supported by artillery, against the American lines. The main attack, led by General Samuel Gibbs, was against the right end of the lines, near the swamp. A second, smaller force led by Colonel Robert Rennie attempted to breach the defenses at the riverbank.

The main attack was met by terrible cannon and small arms fire that tore through the ranks, and killed many of the officers. Seeing the attack was faltering, General John Keane, in command of a portion of the British reserves, ordered his 93rd Highlanders to march diagonally across the battlefield to its aid, exposing them to raking fire from the American positions that inflicted severe casualties. Major General Pakenham, seeing the attack start to fail, rode down to rally his troops, only to be mortally wounded by an American bullet.

Less than two hours after it commenced, the battle was over. The only point where the American lines had been breached was at the riverbank, where Colonel Rennie's troops had briefly crossed the rampart, only to be repulsed. At the end of the battle the British had suffered over 2,000 casulaties, and the Americans only 13. The British retreated to Lake Borgne, and the War of 1812 was essentially over.

Andrew Jackson became a national hero for his role in defending the city, and eventually went on to become the seventh President of the United States, between 1829 and 1837.

 
 
 
 
The Natchez heading upriver to New Orleans
 
 
Minolta X-570 with 85mm f/2 MD Rokkor-X. Film: Fuji Superia Reala (significant crop)
 
 

A tour of the battlefield is provided by a National Parks Officer, which is extremely informative and well worth having, if arriving at the battlefield by car or by paddleboat. Unfortunately, our time at the battleground was limited due to the schedule of the paddleboat, and accordingly I would recommend that real military history buffs actually make the visit down by car, so that they have time to fully explore the site, and walk the full battlefield.

 
 
 
 
One of my favourite shots from the boat.
 
 
Minolta X-570 with 50mm f/1.2 MD Rokkor-X. Film: Fuji Superia Reala
 
 

After arriving back in New Orleans we said goodbye to Barba, as Hudson, David and I set out on a bit of a boy's afternoon. The first thing I wanted was a nice cold beer and a bite to eat, and we got that at the New Orleans branch of that inestimable franchise, "Hooters". I was expecting the prices there to be relatively high, but in fact the bar snacks and food seemed quite reasonably priced, and the atmosphere was certainly pleasant.

After a quick snack and a cold ale we continued on our way along Decatur St, visiting many of the tourist stores. I needed to buy some souvenir t-shirts for some of my family and friends at home, and this seemed like a great time to do it.

 
 
 
 
The sales assistant at this store had a lovely wide smile!
 
 
Minolta X-570 with 50mm f/1.2 MD Rokkor-X. Film: Fuji Superia Reala
 
 

The souvenir stores in New Orleans are pretty much all the same, with the exception of a few really big stores that have gone all out to create a fun environment. One such store had created the display above to advertise it's many Cajun cooking products. Now that's a chef to whom you don't want to complain about the food!

To see the rest of Day 12, as David, Hudson and I continue our afternoon on the town, please click on the link below.

 
 
 
 
Next: Day 12 Continued
 
 
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