31 May 2010

New Orleans: Winding down

My three exciting days in Big Easy are already over. I'll relax for the evening and fly home tomorrow.

My itinerary had me visit Uptown - taking me to Audubon Park and Magazine Street.

After a breakfast at the Krystal's location at Canal and Bourbon, I came out to Audubon Park, via the St. Charles (Morwen refers to the street as St. Chuck) streetcar.

I have a glimpse of Loyola University campus as I am about to head into the park. A reminder of the region's French Catholic roots - though the current reactionary Catholicism does NOT seem to enjoy much support within New Orleans, thankfully.

The park has a tree-lined circular jogging/cycling trail which cuts through a public golf course. Quite a sight, though the humidity gets in the way, even in the shade.

I ended up at the zoo. Because of my Audubon Experience ticket from my first day, which paid for the aquarium, the insectarium, the IMAX movie, AND the zoo, I simply walked in without paying for admissions again. And this zoo is as much about the presentation as it is about the animals.

I love this replica of a Mayan temple. I am warned not to trespass, otherwise I will have to be sacrificed to the gods. This Mayan themed area features a pair of jaguars as the star attraction, alongside a few other select animals of the Maya territory.

Since I am in Louisiana, a sizable portion of the zoo is dedicated to local animals. And here is an example of a human adaptation to the area as well - a floating house that is anchored most of the time, but towed by a fishing boat to different locations whenever the fisherman feels a need to move to more fertile fishing grounds. This type of dwelling was typical of the wetlands to the south of New Orleans for a long time.

The interior has three equal-sized partitions - one bedroom, one living room, and one kitchen. The left deck has a toilet, and the right deck is open-air balcony.

White alligators have been found only twice in the wild - in 1987 and 1994, both in Louisiana. The 1987 find consisted of over a dozen hatchlings, and they were kept in captivity for study and exhibit purposes. White alligators have gone on to become new "wonder of the world" for Louisiana, and even traveled on temporary exhibitions to other zoos around the world.

These alligators are not albinos, though their condition is similar to albinism. Nevertheless, their eyes do have blue pigmentation, and they do not suffer from health problems that normally afflict albinos. White alligators are vulnerable in the wild, however, when young, because of their higher visibility.

I am now entering a rattlesnake area - and the yellow "Don't Tread on Me" flag announces the rattlesnake exhibit.

Of course, this flag is now one of my least favorites, because it has represented American neoliberalism ("libertarianism") and now represents the teabaggers.

Upon leaving the zoo, a very heavy shower moved in, and I was drenched - with my socks becoming completely soaked. Miserable, I hopped on the No. 11 bus, which returns to Canal Street by taking Magazine Street, the main shopping drag of Uptown.

I am walking the portion of Magazine Street between Louisiana and Washington Avenues.

Magazine is narrow, and lined with unique shops run by locals or smaller chains, rather than big chains. There is a lot of personality here. I would consider this to be the New Orleans equivalent to San Francisco's Haight Street or Los Angeles's Melrose Avenue. In addition to clothing boutiques and stores for daily necessities, I can also find restaurants at all price levels.

I checked out Francesca's Collections, right behind me. Lovely collection of clothing and accessories, though I wasn't exactly in a shopping mood. I will return to one of its locations closer to my home before long, however.

Walking up Washington Avenue to return to St. Charles. And here is a peek into a typical Louisiana cemetery.

Because of the moist ground close to sea level in this part of the world, it makes no sense to bury the deceased in underground graves; too often, the wooden coffin may rot and collapse (along with the tombstone above it) as it fills with water, or if the coffin is watertight, it will simply float up and away in a flood. As a result, graves are above the ground. New Orleans grave tours are actually popular, though I'll have to save that for a future return visit.

I especially love the grave that has a Virgin Mary standing in front.

I took the streetcar back to the nearest stop to my hotel - at Robert E. Lee memorial at the foot of the bridge. And returning to my hotel takes me in front of the official National World War II Memorial (official by an Act of US Congress) - so I made sure to stop by, especially fitting since it's Memorial Day. The exhibits covered civilian sacrifices and a ramp-up of the war effort, as well as political developments in Allied and Axis nations and the logistics of the warfighting both in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. All in excruciating detail, just so that I have a faint idea of what it would feel like to try to land in Normandy, carrying 75 pounds of gear, with bullets flying all around. I ended up spending over two hours in the museum.

The reason for locating the World War II Memorial in New Orleans is due to the amphibious landing boats used in Normandy and elsewhere in the war being designed and built in New Orleans. General Eisenhower is quoted as saying that had it not been for the boats, a whole different strategy would have been required to retake Europe from the Nazis. The designer/builder of the boats, Andrew Jackson Higgins, is remembered with a street named after him - the street that runs from my hotel via the Memorial to the Robert E. Lee Memorial and its streetcar stops.

Sometimes it's the propaganda that is the most memorable about wars. And American propaganda posters depicting the Japanese as savage beasts, rats, or other despicable subhuman beings, are well known. But what really stuck to my mind is this Japanese propaganda poster.

The poster uses a young woman to symbolize Japan. She is washing her hair - and as she does so, corrupting Western barbarian influences - such as individualism, liberalism, and materialism - are being washed away. Japan framed its fight against the US and the Allies, as a "noble struggle to protect the people of Asia from the Western barbarians, under the benevolence of the almighty superior, pure Yamato race." The reason why this poster stuck out in my mind is because it pits the communal, authoritarian mindset of Asian cultures against the more individual mindset of the West - a culture clash that continues to play out in Asian-American communities, and in my own life as well.

Indeed, Japan was one formidable enemy. Trained under bushido, Japanese soldiers valued honor more than life, and would rather take their own lives (or launch a suicidal attack, like banzai or kamikaze) than peacefully surrender. Japan's navy was also formidable, and the Pacific theater of WWII indeed saw the largest naval battle and the largest air carrier battle ever fought. And it bears remembering Japan's outright barbaric treatment of the people it had conquered, between surrendered American troops in Bataan, Philippines to the civilians of Nanjing and other Chinese cities. This may have precipitated the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, rather than risking a huge amphibious assault on Kyushu, codenamed Olympic, that had originally been planned.

I do hope to go to Japan later this year (just like New Orleans before this weekend, a glaring gap in my travels), for a look at this past and culture, though under a more peaceful context of course. And this wraps up my New Orleans experience as well - I am glad to have come, and hope to come back before too long. Though next time, I hope to come in my car, as part of a longer road trip - and as I see numerous cars around New Orleans sporting California or Atlantic seaboard license plates, I hope to be driving one of them myself in the future.