Guy Adams: Drink and disaster go hand in hand, it seems

New Orleans Notebook
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The Independent Online

In this ramshackle city, perched on a fragile delta where the Mississippi ends its journey down the spine of America, people reacted to this week's approaching hurricane in one of two ways.

The vast majority heeded fear-mongering politicians and got the hell out. But 20,000-odd diehards stuck two fingers up at common sense, stockpiled a decent supply of alcohol and tobacco, and stayed behind to get horrifically drunk.

By the time Gustav had passed, the city was in an advanced state of inebriation; parts of the French Quarter, the tatty-but-historic bit where jazz was created, resembled Sodom and Gomorrah.

At Johnny White's, a 24-hour joint which stayed open throughout Katrina and wasn't going to let a poxy little category two storm close it, people queued three deep at the bar. Round the corner at Finnegan's, staff handed out "Irish Car-bomb" cocktails. They turned out to be half a pint of Guinness, into which you drop a shot glass of Baileys. The trick is to drink the mixture before it curdles.

It all served as a reminder that – as history demonstrates – times of crisis bring out heavy drinking. When the Titanic went down, passengers knocked back brandy; at the Somme, soldiers going over the top received a rum ration. The last days of the Reich, by all accounts, were a monumental piss-up.

Now we know that, even in America (the most censorious western nation with regard to alcohol) drink and disaster go hand in hand. It goes to show that, as Chekhov said, any idiot can face a crisis; it's day-to-day living that wears you out.

Racing to retirement

A factual footnote regarding other hurricanes now stacking up across the Atlantic: it turns out that the reason they're called Hanna, Ike and Josephine is that the World Meteorological Organisation names storms using an alphabetical sequence.

Usually, this means the names are recycled every six years. But if a storm's a biggie (and Gustav surely deserves this accolade), it gets "retired". Interestingly, a similar system is used by Weatherbys, the UK firm responsible for naming racehorses.

Rest easy, Brangelina

I hazard Brad Pitt kept a beady eye on the rolling news channels this weekend. After Katrina, he and Angelina Jolie ponied up $3.5m (£2m) for a 1830s house near the French Market. Yesterday, I visited the street his property stands on, and can report that it looks tatty but intact – which is no less than the couple deserve for helping New Orleans through its first, but certainly not last, modern crisis.

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