National Geographic : 1971 Feb
as rafts of ducks scattered out of our way. On the horizon, stee ples and towers sprang into view. We pounded on past miles of docks to the foot of Canal Street. There the last of the overnight steamboats gave its deep-throated landing whistle. Below decks, a voice rose above the din: "New Aaa-leens!" And so I came last spring, as men and boats have come for 250 years, to renew a fond friendship with this dowager queen of cities. "When Houston was a speck on Buffalo Bayou and Miami was an Indian trail," businessman Lloyd J. Cobb told me, "New Orleans had been a sophisticated, civilized port for more than a century. She knew opera and great cuisine and fashions and blooded horses and fine art and education and sin, and she was old enough and wise enough to understand all of them." She still is. I found New Orleans the least changed of any great American city, with the least reason to change. Her stature has nothing to do with size (the metropolitan area population of 1,035,000 ranks only 28th in the country); it has to do, rather, with a state of mind. Consider: When a famous restaurant, which looked like a barbershop, burned a few years ago, it was rebuilt to look like a barbershop. "That," remarked a satisfied customer, "is civilization." Social Gumbo-Mele Blends Juleps and Jazz I lived in several places, but my favorite was a small inn on Toulouse Street, in the heart of the French Quarter, the Vieux Carre, or Old Square, that was the original city (lower map, page 158). It is still a hundred blocks of Europe in America, a grid of narrow streets in the lacy shade of ironwork balconies. The day began with steaming chicory coffee, served in the sunlight beside a splashing patio fountain, and ended to the wail of a jazz trum pet resounding from nearby Bourbon Street. I soon discovered again all those things that create the city's unique ambience-warm air so soft it might have been washed in a rainbow; the rich odor of the wharves, seasoned with sugar, coffee, and bananas; the closeness of the blue sky, on which a majestic fleet of cumulus clouds runs before the gulf breeze; the worn look of weathered white clapboard houses, shaded by palm fronds, that stand on long avenues vanishing toward the horizon; terrain as flat as a figure in plane geometry. I hunted up old friends and made new ones in the gumbo-mele that is New Orleans society, from the essential southern gentle man in the linen suit, cooling himself with a julep on a Garden District lawn, to the black jazzman with the hot lip eating red beans and Chaurice sausage at a restaurant called Buster's. Piecing together the story of how New Orleans began, I con sidered the views of municipal engineer Herbert Swan: "This city stands where no city ought to be. Still, when those early Frenchmen came up the river, this was the first almost-dry spot they found." When Pierre le Moyne, Sieur d'Iberville, led a small scouting party up the Mississippi in 1699, he paused long enough at the future site of New Orleans to kill a buffalo. It was 19 years before his younger brother, Jean Baptiste le Moyne, Sieur de Bienville, started to build a town near the Indian portage that ran from the river north to vast Lake Pontchartrain. Mr. Swan showed me the whirring pumps at Pumping Station No. 6, one of 21 stations that constantly shove rain water out of First black in 71 years to be elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives, Ernest "Dutch" Morial re cently advanced another step: He became a juvenile court judge, appointed by Governor John J. McKeith en. Here he holds an in formal seminar at his alma mater, Xavier University. Famed heart specialists, Dr. Alton Ochsner, fore ground, and his son John head a clinic bearing their name, which treats some 88,000 patients annually. Dr. John specializes in open heart surgery.