New Orleans and the SIGGRAPH conference would seem a natural pairing. Take a bunch of people who make their living from creating spectacular sensory experiences and put them down in a place that revels in overloading the senses in a more direct fashion. This was my introduction to New Orleans, home to SIGGRAPH '96.
What little I knew of New Orleans
centered around the French Quarter and the Mississippi River. That
was just as well, since I never got more than a few blocks from
either. The convention center (the focus of life at any trade show)
is right along the river, with this quaint little trolley running
between the two. The river is broad and muddy, still home to a few of
the riverboats that Mark Twain considered the height of civilization.
I wonder what he would have thought of the height of our civilization...
The French Quarter is the original
settlement, with much of the architecture dating to the early to
middle 1800s. It's a surprisingly small area of perhaps ten blocks
on a side. The streets are narrow and the two storey buildings are
in an iffy state of repair. It's all reasonably attractive and
picturesque by day, but nothing to get excited about. Walking down
Bourbon Street in daylight isn't much different than walking in any
other old, slightly down at the heels urban neighborhood. One part of
the Quarter that does impress by daylight is Jackson Square,
its statue of Andrew Jackson in the middle and St. Louis Cathedral
behind. It's across the street from the Cafe du
Monde, which claims to be the world's first coffee stand. (By
night the square is locked behind gates, the better to keep the
tourists from the muggers.)
The Quarter changes at night. Cars are banished from Bourbon Street,
which becomes filled with convention attendees and other assorted
tourists. The streets are lined with restaurants, clubs and bars. One
local innovation is takeout bar service. Just step up to the counter,
buy your favorite potion and continue down the street. No open
container laws here. It's enough to make you dizzy. (I was
perfectly sober when I took the picture on the right. I can only
assume that all the alcohol in the vicinity was having an effect on my
camera. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.)
Parties are an important component of SIGGRAPH. Combine that with the local fixation on food and drink and a "we never close" attitude and you get a fine evening and a mighty tough morning after. These were taken just after midnight, when it seemed even hotter and more humid than at noon. How the band survived the heat in those heavy costumes is beyond me. I guess that's their way of suffering for their art.
My guidebook advised against trying to do too much in a single
trip, especially as regards food, drink and entertainment. Save
something for your next visit, it said. Because you can be sure that
there will be a next visit. Of that I'm sure.
Comments to: Hank Shiffman, Mountain View, California