Two men in a pirogue in a bayou David Bates: Grassy Lake

We almost didn't find our way into the New Orleans Museum of Art. The building occupies an imposing piece of land in City Park, near a municipal golf course and duck pond, and is prominently listed in various tourist guides, so when we arrived and found the front door solidly closed, we were perplexed.

The other tourists near us were perplexed also. Three ticket booths at the foot of the steps were closed. Workmen were busily engaged in Portrait of a fair-skinned woman, her head tilted to one side, French provincial dress French school constructing something on one side of the building. Some people returned to their cars and drove away. We persevered and saw a tiny sign, about 150 feet to the left of the front door, reading "Museum Entrance." Dodging the construction gang, we came to a side door, normally the exit by the gift shop, but converted into a temporary entry because the staff were busy taking down the Louisiana Purchase bicentennial exhibit.

We're very happy that we persevered. The museum's collections are broad and rich. The third floor contained art, including costumes and masks and Abstract pattern of shapes that look like fruits, with a geometric background Robert Gordy carvings, from Africa, Asia and Oceania. This was followed by other decorative arts, including a good collection of Roman period art glass, French porcelain, Faberge, etc. But we were more interested in the paintings.

The paintings include works of art from many periods, by French and American artists (the museum apparently also owns Dutch and Italian works, but they are in storage while travelling exhibits occupy the first floor.) We were most captivated by the contemporary art. We were kind of buffaloed by our A painting of a man's jacket, standing upright, but with no man wearing it. Rene Magritte reaction, because we have seen many museums and galleries full of perfectly detestable contemporary art. But this was different. We were treated to an exciting collection, many of the works done by Louisiana artists. A wide variety of styles was represented, and there were more representational or impressionistic works and less of the incomprehensible and often ill-executed abstractions we have seen elsewhere. W'e be happy to share our pictures on request. Lovely jade carving representing three figures, a man, woman, and child Jade carving

There were probably as many Cubist and Surrealist French paintings here as we saw at Le Centre Pompidou in Paris. Louisiana has historically been home to artists - paintings from the 19th century offer historic as well as artistic interest.

If the remainder of the museum's European art had been on display, one could correctly state that the purpose -- successfully achieved -- of this large museum, is to educate the visitor on the wide variety of styles of art all over the world through history. Its collection, housed in about 50 A typical Picasso abstract, in black, beige, olive and white Pablo Picasso galleries on three floors, is that broad and comprehensive. But without the permanent exhibits on the first floor, the balance was upset; European art was underrepresented.

The special travelling exhibitions no doubt bring in much needed money. The Louisiana Purchase exhibit is to be followed by another travelling exhibition of Egyptian art. But the first floor collection has been in storage for months, and will remain in storage until February. The solution, of course, would be a new wing, to house the widely available, exciting, and profitable travelling exhibits, while the old museum continues to show its broad survey collection of excellent world art. A representation of the crucifixion in typical Roualt style Edouard Roualt

We seemed to see a lot more construction than usual in New Orleans. Roadwork, building demolition, building renovation, new projects seemed to be everywhere, blocking the narrow streets and spreading construction materials all over the place. But our impression, unfortunately, was that New Orleans is getting beat up faster than it is being repaired. We saw boarded-up buildings everywhere we drove; others were in such terrible disrepair that their moment of demise must be imminent. One thinks of "genteel poverty" in connection with this city; its buildings and infrastructure would appear to confirm Robert Warren's 'The Command Ship of the Toxic Flotilla,' representing a boat with a fox, orange and yellow flags, a duck, birdhouse, etc. Robert Warren the stereotype. We don't have the statistics to prove it, but it appears that suburban flight is the cause, leaving the streets of the city more and more in the hands of the underclasses. There are sufficient high-rises downtown to provide an adequate tax base, and the waterfront activity is impressive and no doubt of great economic significance, but not enough money is finding its way to city maintenance and improvement. No doubt traditional Louisiana pork politics, as initiated by the Longs, are also part of the problem!

However, the oysters, crab, and shrimp are fresh and wonderful, local strawberries still taste sweetest of all to us, and the chefs at Arnaud's in the Vieux Carre still know their stuff. First you make a roux...