Greetings from one of my favorite places in the world, the beautiful city of New Orleans.
Over the next few days I’ll be posting stories about my trip, stories about New Orleans, and stories about my novel, The Whisper Garden.
I’ll start by talking some about the city.
If I were going to write a tour guide of New Orleans, I might title it ‘Bodies everywhere: a lurid history of New Orleans.’ I know this because I started to write that guide. The introduction to it, seems like a good place to start here, so here it is.
Before you know anything else about New Orleans, you need to know why it is where it is.
History is full of people doing stupid things, and on the surface founding a coastal city below sea level and in the middle of a swamp certainly sounds like one of them. So does rebuilding it after the first time it burned to the ground. So does rebuilding it the second time after it burned to the ground. But Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville was far from stupid– when he chose the location for New Orleans he put it the only place it could be.
The Mississippi river is the most obvious shipping channel through the north American continent. But, from the standpoint of commerce with the rest of the world it has a problem: the delta. The Mississippi is a nice, deep wide river until it reaches its end, where it spreads out, and turns into a shifting maze of waterways that are basically unnavigable by any ship large enough to transport a significant amount of goods. Bienville’s challenge was to find a place where the river was still navigable, but also accessible by seafaring ships.
The answer lay in lake Pontchartrain, which has easy access to the Gulf of Mexico (and thus the world) and is also just a stone’s throw from the mighty Mississippi. Bienville put New Orleans at the sweet spot where the river was still navigable and portage to the lake was possible. New Orleans is where it is because there needs to be a port on the Mississippi, and that port can’t really be anyplace else.
New Orleans is where it is because it has to be where it is.