National Geographic : 1953 Feb
the city stands barely at or below sea level or river level, in a saucer protected by levees. A native sums it up with a grin: "The only direction this ground can go is down." A single heavy rain could drown much of New Orleans in a matter of hours; the fact that it doesn't is a tribute to one of the world's great drainage systems, fantas tic coils and monsters of pumps that suck out the water in a marvel of en gineering. This feat was not al ways so easily managed, of course. An older Or leanian with a sense of humor lifts his eyebrow as he denies the charge made by a northern friend that he has webbed feet. "But," he concedes, "I'd never swear that Grandma didn't!" Floods, Fevers, and Imported China At various points occurs the phenomenon that may astonish and alarm the uninitiated. Along the levees ships float high above the streets, espe cially in the Mississippi's spring rise. Riding the water, the vessels lie in reality at a higher level than the people's heads. As long as they do, the people will not forget their master, the Mississippi. Restrained by the mounds of earth, the river through the centuries has brought the city its share of the world's wealth and ac cepted from it the prod ucts it sends to the nations. New Orleans was mak ing history when most of the rest of the continent had only four-legged life. Spain first made vague claim to all the lower Mis sissippi, but it was France which began settlement on the Gulf in 1699. About two decades later a French party picked the city's 145 A Sidewalk Artist Offers Water Colors While You Wait William Collins makes the gate to Jackson Square his outdoor studio. "New Orleans," he says, "is the American Paris and the French Quarter is its Montmartre." Background shows St. Louis Cathedral (page 151).