THE DIARY: Mosquitoes, alligators, murders, heat, oh yes and hurricanes

New Orleans

A FEW months ago the city government printed up bumper stickers designed to make the residents feel better about where they live: ", Proud to Call it Home". They should have known better. No one could possibly take it seriously. Within weeks, a far more popular and accurate knock-off hit the streets: ", Proud to Call it Hell".

Calling home means living in a place that has more murders than days of the year and such high humidity that it is often impossible to distinguish the air from the water. The mosquitoes are so bad there is a 24-member Mosquito Control Board in charge of them, and last year people spent $38m trying to control the flying Formosan termites who are literally eating up the city.

There is also an infestation of spine-covered buckmoth caterpillars which eat the foliage off the trees with such gusto that it is possible to hear them chewing it all, and whose spines are toxic even when they're dead, so that their bodies are like landmines in the streets. Living here is not unlike living back in the Old Testament.

This summer was the hottest in 90 years. On the first day of June it was 98 degrees Fahrenheit. In July an electrical transformer blew up on Bourbon Street and the French Quarter was without electricity for two days. In August it rained so hard there was a flood. So it was inevitable last week that Hurricane Georges appeared to be heading right at us.

As the world now knows, at the last minute the storm moved a few miles east and hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast instead, but we aren't out of danger yet. For one thing, 10,000 alligators are coming our way. Until a week ago, Pascagoula, Mississippi, which is about an hour and a half down the road from here, was the home of the world's largest alligator farm. Georges gave the gators their freedom, and so far none have been caught. At this point, frogs in my kneading bowl would be the good news.

LIVING in the land of pestilence and plagues gives everyone an excuse to drink heavily. I was not actually here for the Georges scare but I wish I had been. My lifelong friend McGee called me in New York about every 20 minutes to tell me what a great time she was having and that she could not believe I wasn't in town. "Girl, you are really missing it." She had holed up in her third floor apartment with a 28-year-old Australian sailor, a gallon of Bourbon, and a case of Cokes. My landlady bought a case of wine and a quart of gin. Terranova's grocery store opened up for a few hours so that people could stock up on supplies, and the first thing they ran out of was vermouth.

Every place in town ultimately closed except the Red Door bar, whose customers drank their whisky wearing hardhats, and the Richelieu Hotel, which is conveniently located across the street from McGee.

The staff didn't show up so McGee and assorted other regulars helped out, serving bacon and eggs and brandy milk punches all day. Had I been there I would have made everyone pitchers of hurricanes, an excellent native concoction made of dark rum, light rum, lime, orange, and pineapple juice, and mango syrup.

Most people in their right mind, of course, left town. The last hurricane that actually hit , Betsy, in 1965, killed more than a hundred people. But, as my landlady pointed out, her house was built in 1836 and it is still standing. I think she was disappointed that she didn't get to crack open the gin. "It was only a two-bottle-of-wine hurricane," she told me glumly.

A wine shop was in fact the first commercial establishment in the city and it is no wonder. A year after Bienville established as the capital of Louisiana in 1718, a hurricane wiped out the handful of palmetto huts that had been erected after they cleared what remains essentially a swamp. An engineer named Le Blond de la Tour told Bienville to move to a place that was not, for example, five inches below sea level, between the world's widest river and a pretty big lake, but he refused. Two years later four city blocks had been built when another hurricane came and knocked them out. Finally, they figured out that things might last longer if they were made out of bricks, which is why, despite, many subsequent hurricanes, we are stuck here today.

McGEE and my landlady may be crazy, but they are not nearly as nuts as the thousands of people who piled inside the Superdome, the enormous enclosed stadium where the Saints football team play when they are home, and which served as the city's official shelter during the storm. It wasn't much of a shelter since you had to bring your own bedding and they ran out of food and water. People stood in line with their lawnchairs and coolers and boomboxes, thinking they might actually have some fun, until they got inside and discovered even fresher hell than usual. As you might expect in a city with our crime rate, there were all kinds of thefts and fights, and at one point a full-blown riot broke out.

Also, once you got in, you couldn't get out. National Guardsmen stood at every exit with rifles blocking the many people who decided they would rather take their chances with Georges than stay inside an airless dome with a large segment of the city's criminal population. After two days, on Sunday, when it became clear that we were not having a hurricane after all, everybody got to go home. It had barely rained. Still, half the city's electricity was out for two more days, and schools, banks and city offices remained closed until Wednesday. There is a reason why we have another bumper sticker that is also extremely popular in these parts: "Louisiana, Third World and Proud of It".

Suggested Topics
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
love + sex A new study has revealed the average size - but does that leave men outside the 'normal' range being thought of as 'abnormal'?
UK Border Control
Arts and Entertainment
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Automotive

    £18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ex...

    Recruitment Genius: Renewals Sales Executive - Automotive

    £20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity exists for an ou...

    Recruitment Genius: Membership Sales Advisor

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Recruitment Genius: Operations Administrator

    £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of Teleradiology s...

    Day In a Page

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn