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  New Orleans Travel Tale

by Lorry Patton ...

new_orleans_building_corner2.jpg If the whole world's a stage, then New Orleans must be front and center. And forgetting that it's standing room only during the Mardi Gras, the Jazz Festival and the Sugar Bowl Classic, the actors play to a full house every night.

The most adored set is the French Quarter -- circa late 1700's -- 90 square blocks of brick walls and slanted iron- wrought galleries, strings of plastic beads and pots of flowers, fruits and vegetables, garbage, 24-hour beer stands, jazz bars, sex shops, traffic, the St. Louis Cathedral, antique treasures, cheap junk, Jackson Square, sidewalk art, Voodoo dolls ( complete with recipe for love or revenge ), and T-shirts.

new_orleans_photoshop2.jpg Extras are hot dog vendors with a I've-been-standing-on-this-corner-all-my-life-look, clip-clopping horses with a I- could-do-this-route-with-my-eyes-closed-look; busloads, boatloads and wagon loads of tourists with a I've-never-seen- anything-like-this-before-look; hawkers with a oo-la-la-come-and-see-what-we-have-inside-our-parlour-look; and cats and dogs with blank stares.

new_orleans_band_girll2.jpg The stars are the street performers: Musical trios singing to the rhythm of a washboard, clever mimes twisting and turning to the clap of a hand, and gangs of boys tap-dancing to the beat of a dishpan -- a few blowing soul-stirring, toe- tapping, dixieland jazz. One lad, about eight years old, blew his horn with such confidence and pizzazz, the dollars literally flew into the cardboard box resting at his feet.

Costumes are bizarre from head to toe -- feathered caps, dunce caps, cutoffs, bell bottoms, construction boots, slippers and ratty Adidas soled with taps.

Makeup is bizarre, too.

new_orleans_cathedral_stlouis3b.jpg " Are you a real statue? " asked the freckle-faced tot of a cement Adonis poised on a pedestal. Adonis winked in response.

Food holds a solid supporting role in New Orleans. An aromatic smell of gumbos, Creoles, jambalayas, praline, and those famous sugar-dipped French beignets, tickles and teases your nostrils constantly.

Forget the diets! I ate a heaping plateful of beignets -- the small puffy square doughnuts without the hole -- at the equally famous ( serving them since 1860 ) Cafe du Monde, not once but twice. Of course, it's ... ah ... it's part of my job, right?

Background music floats through the air like a wispy cloud or clashes of thunder. Sweet gospel, raunchy sing-a-longs, and soulful blues, pierce your ear drums and your heart. True, many jazz joints in the French Quarter have gone the way of the more profitable T-shirt shops; however, a few diehards remain, like Lulu White's Mahogany Hall. Once part of infamous red light district, today's respectable Mahogany Hall is on Bourbon Street and its turn-of-the-century setting of brick walls, molded tin ceiling and rich mahogany wood makes it 'the place' with the film industry. All they need is the smoke and it's 1897.

Backdrop is different at every angle. On one side skyscrapers of a modern city and one of America's largest ports, with opulent hotels, modern shopping malls, the SuperDome and an expansive marina complex. On another side, centuries- old Greek and Italian homes of today's politicians and affluent New Orleanians. Still another side, 200-year old plantations, the bayou, and alligators lurking in the swamps awaiting Captain Jim and his bag of marshmallows.

On the sidelines, the mighty Mississippi -- its tremendous current churning up the river bottom giving it a muddy look - - carries the paddle wheelers, Cotton Blossom, Natchez and Bayou Jean Lafitte, much like it did in the era of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

Back on center stage the scene is one of pure madness. Everybody's wearing masks. Everybody's dancing and singing and plain acting silly. Fancy double-decker floats carrying trinket-tossing costumed revelers weave through the throngs all day. Even the horses are strutting their stuff. Prancing to beat the band. This must be Mardi Gras! The wildest and craziest parade in the world. The audience loves it. They scoop up the showering baubles, put on masks and join in the fun.

By the time the curtain rolls down, it's hard to distinguish who is who.

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