The BBC News website's Richard Greene discovers how the heart of tourist New Orleans, largely untouched by Hurricane Katrina, is looking to the future, despite the mayor's order to evacuate the city.
Finis Shelnutt is enjoying a beautiful September
day. The sun is blazing hot, the sky perfectly clear, and he has a table with a tidy white tablecloth all to
himself in front of Alex Patout's Louisiana
Finis Shelnutt is ready to open his restaurant again post-Katrina
His moustache is perfectly trimmed. Not a hair is out
of place. His collarless striped shirt hangs
comfortably open at the neck. And he gazes serenely
out at the world through tinted glasses.
"Beautiful day," he nods in greeting as two people
What's wrong with this picture?
The restaurant where Mr Shelnutt is sitting is in the
centre of the French Quarter of
storm-and-flood-ravaged New Orleans.
He proudly points out local gastronomic landmarks;
Antoine's, where Oysters Rockefeller was invented;
Brennan's, which developed Eggs Benedict; Paul
Prudhomme's, which popularised the cooking of
Sitting on high ground, the Big Easy's main tourist
destination was almost entirely untouched by the
And now, with the city evacuated and shut down, it is
entirely untouched by tourists. The streets are empty.
Mr Shelnutt doesn't expect that to last long.
"We're ready to open up," he says confidently, as two restaurant employees haul containers of rotting meat out of the building.
Mr Shelnutt puts a positive spin even on that, smiling
through the stench lingering in the air.
"Good to be doing that now. When the other guys come
back to open up their restaurants in a month, they're
going to have a hell of a job cleaning up."
And he is entirely certain they will come back and
"You have to be an optimist, not a pessimist," he
He is also, under his practiced bonhomie, a
practical-minded and shrewd observer of human
Will tourists come back to the city after watching the
floods and fires on television?
Of course they will, Mr Shelnutt says. Morbid
curiosity will drive them. Next year's Mardi Gras will
be among the biggest ever, he is sure.
Around the corner, Frank, who says he never gives out
his last name, agrees.
Sweeping up in front of Evelyn's Place, he shrugs off the
damage the hurricane caused.
"We clean up more after Mardi Gras," he says.
The word has been badly overused, but it is simply
surreal to stroll around the French Quarter
Like a film set after the cast and crew have gone home
for the night, the district is utterly charming,
entirely peaceful and largely silent.
Survivor: Mildred Bates says she is enjoying being free
Even the pay phones are working, as I discovered to my
shock when I idly picked one up and heard a familiar
buzz as I passed The Centuries, an antique shop at
The coin slot was jammed, so I used my mobile phone to
ring my brother and asked him to call me on the pay phone's number. A moment later, the phone rang.
Vibrantly coloured buildings stand proudly intact,
their wrought-iron balconies having weathered the
storm. Even the flowers in the window boxes look
Mildred E Bates looks healthy as well, despite a
bandaged finger. She sits on a step looking out at the
world, her grey dreadlocks pulled back from her
smiling, gold-toothed face.
What has she been doing since the storm?
"Enjoying being free."