Wednesday, August 01, 2007

New Orleans, part deux

I have so many incredible memories of my week in New Orleans. Not just the historic buildings, but the people, many who willingly shared their Katrina stories. (On a side note, wouldn't it be great if these stories were preserved in a digital format for future generations?)

I also took a Gray Line Katrina tour to see first hand the devastation from the hurricane. The premise of the tour is that Katrina was a huge natural disaster, but an even bigger man-made disaster. If you're ever in New Orleans, I highly recommend you take this tour. Unbelievable.
A fellow tourist noted that the good people of New Orleans seem "exhausted" from all they've had to deal with in the past 2 years, and I totally agree with that observation.

The French Quarter, near the Mississippi River, sits on the highest ground, and is almost back to normal. I observed only a few stores and restaurants that are either closed, or on reduced hours, and the merchants I talked to say business is much better in 2007 than in 2006. The streets were much more crowded on Thursday, Friday and Saturday than they were earlier in the week, but I can't say if this was typical pre-Katrina.

I got to thinking (and thinking and thinking) about all I had observed, and I wondered how many lessons could be devoted to New Orleans. Obviously the incredibly rich history, but now, post-Katrina, the many lessons to be learned about Geography, human adaptation, and some of the other major "themes" in Social Studies. Also Science: the weather, animals and their habitat, the Mississippi river, global warming... well, you get the idea.

Luckily for me, the August 2007 issue of the National Geographic hit the newsstands while I was there, so I had some interesting reading for the plane ride home. You can see the online version of an excellent article entitled New Orleans: A Perilous Future with photos and videos on the National Geographic website.

And now for one of my "epiphanies." Many of the remaining houses are being raised up onto a first floor basement (click on the 3rd picture). Because of the high water table a "typical" basement isn't doable. Ironically, the French settlers had this figured out in the 18th century. Without getting into a lot of the city's history (which I'd probably get wrong anyway), after getting hit with a couple of hurricanes, the residents of the French Quarter figured out that having a living space on the first floor was not very practical. I saw and photographed one of the few remaining examples of a typical French style home in the French Quarter, and once I get my camera back from my wife, I'll upload it here so that you can see it for yourself.

This example got me to thinking that in spite of our many technological advances, we still can't fool Mother Nature. And now, some 200 years or so later, the residents of New Orleans have reverted back to an older architectural design for their homes. I wonder if at some point we might be doing the same thing in our classrooms with technology, deciding, perhaps, that the "old" ways are better or more dependable???

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