Arising early in the morning to catch photographic trails of the rising sun is, in my books, well worth the efforts. With last nights sunset, I couldn’t help but think that today’s sunrise would be just as magical on digital ‘film’. Disappointed, I was not! Beyond the manicured short stretch of beach near the casino lay a fenced off area that hid the remnants of previous storms and strewn out garbage. Shells of all shapes and sizes littered the sand as did residual garbage washed or cast ashore … plastic and glass bottles, old tires, plastic bags, PVC piping encrusted with barnacles, weathered rope, a tattered blanket, an old fan blade and metal shards of pipe et al.
With 45 minutes to explore the area around the casino, we chose to tour the St. Michael Parish Catholic Church, otherwise known as the Fisherman’s Church. In my opinion, this Church is the most beautiful and inspiring architectural masterpiece in a cathedral with such incredible stained glass. Reflections of grandeur indeed. “St. Michael’s has served the people of Biloxi’s Point since it was established as a mission in 1907. Ravaged by the two most powerful hurricanes to ever hit the Gulf of Mexico, Camille in August of 1969, and Katrina in August of 2005, St. Michael Church has stood 200 mile per hour winds and a 28 foot tidal surge.” Today this unique cylindrical church with it’s clam-like shell roof still stands, celebrating Biloxi’s once thriving fishing industry (which post-Katrina is now pretty much non-existent) whilst also symbolizing the strength, resiliency, dedication, faithfulness and struggle of this parish’s devout Catholic families. With the storms came devastation to the Church’s structure. The bottom two panels of stained glass were wiped out with Katrina’s 30-foot storm surge that washed through the bottom third of the round church, and only in the last year have they been replaced, on a pulley system, which allows for the windows to be raised if another storm surge were to come through and knock out the windows. A volunteer worker from Ohio was telling me that the force of the tsunami busted up the pews and sucked them out. The pews disappeared … there was no sign of them whatsoever. The restoration of St. Michael Catholic Church in East Biloxi is nearly complete, from the repair of its 36 columns of distinctive scalloped roof to the replacement of the bottom portion of the Church’s stained glass windows. The stained glass panels carry a recurring theme: that of the sea, depicting both men and women gathering their catch in nets.
With New Orleans being only an 85 mile drive away from Biloxi, we packed up quick and made route for our next destination. New Orleans |ˈôrlinz; ôrˈlēnz|:a city and port in southeastern Louisiana, on the Mississippi River; pop. 484,674. Founded by the French in 1718, it was named after the Duc d’Orléans, regent of France. It is known for its annual Mardi Gras celebrations and for its association with the development of blues and jazz.
Check-in time for the French Quarter RV Resort was 12 noon, and we wanted to make the most of our available time touring the city. With the success we had in cycling around Savannah Georgia and discovering the heart of the city with limited daylight hours, we wanted to experience New Orleans in the same way. So after setting up shop in our beautifully groomed RV slot in the French Quarter, we hopped on our bicycles and headed for the action and music. Within 6 blocks, we discovered a plethora of unique and colourful street performers …. musicians, statuesque live mannequins (literally, human statues standing perfectly still, mid-motion beside a bucket for tips of any sort), singers and dancers, magicians, psychics, palm and tarot card readers. Horse drawn carriages, souvenir shops, ‘gentlemen’ bars, genre-wide music clubs and ‘3 for 1’ discos lined the streets of downtown New Orleans, vying for the tourist dollars which seemingly help to keep this city afloat after Hurricane Katrina. A sense of quiet despondency seemingly filled the musical air at times, while at other moments, a sense of hope and strength flourished with the colour and vibrancy of this legendary city. Alcohol and music is the main theme of this 24-7 party town: 3 for 1 drink specials abound alongside frozen daiquiris dispensary bars — think 7-11 alcoholic slushy dispensers of a gazillion different flavours. About 15 years ago, I was lucky enough to experience the New Orleans Jazz Festival with a crew of skydiving friends. It was an amazing cultural experience, but very different from what I imagine Mardi Gras to be — if it’s anything like the experience of Bourbon Street :). I can’t imagine the craziness of Mardi Gras after experiencing how important alcohol is in creating the dynamism of the ‘Big Easy’.
Trying to absorb as much as possible, we weaved and surged through the streets (so many one way roadways), stopping to listen, watch and photograph. I was in heaven with the canvas before me. Impossible to recreate such beauty and dynamic energy, so I snapped away as if this were the last moment to live on earth. Fire stoked my peddle strokes as we skirted the Garden District, circling through Audubon Park and wobbling back through the narrow busy pot-holed streets of Magazine Street. Darkness had fallen quickly, and without our headlights or reflective vests, we opted to head back to the RV Resort before exploring the nightly music scene. It was on Charles Street that we literally bumped in to a marching band (numbering maybe 50 musicians?) in full regalia. What was most surprising was the sound and their sole sudden appearance, seemingly with no apparent reason. They were their own parade, with numerous followers gathering suit to line the streets of the ‘Vieux Carré’. The hip hop / big band music magnified off the narrow streets of the French Quarter like a ping-pong ball on steroids, and my earbuds felt alive with the giant reverberation of their colourful performance. A different sensation of aliveness fell true and centre. The experience was earth-shaking in its intensity and happiness.
After relieving ourselves of some belongings, trading for the requisite safety garb, we headed towards Frenchmen Street — this is the ‘it’ scene for locals and music supreme. We wandered from club to club, catching the luxury of guaranteed quality music of a varietal assortment of genres. We stayed for a while at the ‘Spotted Cat Music Club’ savouring the earthy and light jazzy blues tones of Miss Sophie Lee. It so happens that a large Canadian contingency packed the bar as we enjoyed a few drinks while absorbing the scene and musical greatness. Truly lovely.
Before heading home, we made one last loop down the length of Bourbon Street, captivated by the alcohol frenzied happiness which bounced off the vibrating fluorescent lights. New Orleans is one happy cat city on the surface when the tourists are out in full force.
P.S. For those curious about staying at the French Quarter RV Resort during Mardi Gras, these are the prices for 2011 (and they are usually booked almost up to a year in advance for this time period):
- 2 night minimum stay: 2 days = $199 per day; 3 days = $179 per day; 4 days = $159 per day; 5 days = $139 per day