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Silver Threads: Bugs ’n gators turn little tourists on

Bettye Anding

I don’t usually think of New Orleans as a kid-friendly tourist town. Oh, I know, I know — there is the zoo, the aquarium; there are riverboat and streetcar rides and lots of things the sprouts would enjoy. But who travels here with children in tow from California, the Midwest or New England, bound for our biggest attractions: Jazzfest and Mardi Gras and just Bourbon Street?

Locals grow up on the tops of ladders along St. Charles, ride in strollers in front of the stages on the Fairgrounds (or used to when navigating the fest crowds permitted it). And — if like my offspring they had a granddad who lived on Chartres Street — have romped around Jackson Square while being babysat at night and peeked into the open doors of clubs along Bourbon.
And perhaps the under-12s are a tourist group I hadn’t particularly noticed until the California Andings arrived here last week for a visit. My husband’s nephew, his wife and their two young sons came in for last Sunday’s Jazzfest, and the little boys didn’t have to wait long for excitement.
The family — which at least in my swamp-dweller’s opinion lives in one of the desert towns near San Diego — was treated to a big rainstorm on Sunday and news of at least three alligators in the canal behind our West Bank home. The boys began watching for them immediately, and then the skies kind of cleared and the muddy trek around Jazzfest was on the agenda.
Since then the boys have taken the ferry — sans car — from Algiers to Canal Street, visited the Quarter which included sampling beignets and watching their dad cavort with some knife-throwers at Jackson Square. But the piece de resistance was, I believe, a tour of the Audubon Insectarium on Canal Street.
Now, I’ve not been there, having a deeply rooted dislike of crawly creepy things and never having seen any I could love. My own children were grown before it opened, sparing me the necessity to visit. But the Anding kids — and their parents — loved it, and you might too. (Check out Audubon Insectarium and find out everything before you go.)
Yesterday morning, West and Marlow woke up to the excitement of a swamp tour planned for noon out of Lafitte, but before leaving our house for that, they managed to spot one of the alligators living in our canal. I’m sure they’ll see another, and perhaps another and another on their afternoon trip through the one-time lair of the pirates.
Today, maybe they’ll be taking a streetcar ride alongside and under the oaks on St. Charles Avenue, surprised by the big trees we have in our town. But perhaps I’m expecting too much from these little southern California cousins; only if a gator or a big spider greeted them on their exit from the streetcar would they be impressed.
Tomorrow will bring another trip to the fest for them; hopefully under sunny skies and with relatively sparse Thursday crowds. If it rains too hard, they can always head back to the insectarium, which I really believe they’d prefer.


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