We got in New Orleans Monday evening. This is my first trip here. For all the Mardi Gras associations, it looks to me much less like a party city than an old port city that was once a colony of the French and Spanish. The streets are narrow, and the buildings (particularly in the downtown area where we are staying) and no taller than four stories, and very close together. It also looks less French than I expected; the French Quarter, where we're sleeping and eating dinners, has a lot of distinctively Spanish architecture. (I did not make that last observation, one of my colleagues did but Wikipedia confimed it for me.) It's hard to tell whether its filthy look derives from it being an exceptionally old city, or the hurricane last August.
My professor/boss drove me through east New Orleans and Bay St. Louis, Missisipi yesterday. We saw some water and wind damage Monday on our way in, but what we saw on the east part of town was astonishing. There are entire, miles-long stretches that look like post-apocalyptic wastelands. There are huge apartment complexes that are virtually destroyed and totally abandoned, and there are piles of debris everywhere. Nobody we have spoken with here has expressed that they thought it would be less than a decade before things are cleaned up.
A photographer here could produce a grim series of juxtapositions. The dead are buried in above-ground cemetaries (the water table is just inches beneath the ground), and in at least one part of town a field of white, stone sarcophagi sit across the street from a field of white FEMA trailers, similarly laid out (the trailers aren't much bigger); vacant apartment complexes, left with windows left open or smashed, with piles of debris, and absent walls and ceilings sit with surprisingly fresh looking banners proclaiming, "New Recreation Room." It's a mess here.