Monday, August 30, 2010

A Visit to New Orleans after Katrina

I visited New Orleans for a conference two years after Katrina. When I arrived in the city, I felt a little star-struck at first. My friends and I shared a room at the Monteleone hotel, an old stately hotel in the French Quarter with a carousel bar that turns round and round. There is a smell and feel and energy to New Orleans that you have to experience, it can’t quite be explained, even by the most brilliant of writers who have tried—writers can only hint of it, tease you on.



When evening came and my friend and I walked the Quarter, including Bourbon Street, I then experienced the seedy loud drunken debauched side of New Orleans. From living in So Louisiana many years, and visiting New Orleans often in my adult years, I know there is much more to N.O. than the French Quarter, but that is what most people think of the City – Mardi Gras, French Quarter, Debauchery.


And there it all was, coming at me in a locomotion roar of people, lights, sound, smells. You haven’t lived until you have smelled Bourbon street—an odor that repels and fascinates—parts horse or mule excrement, parts human piss and sweat and vomit, parts old city mold, parts spicy food wafting, parts spilled beer fermenting on the heated streets, parts body odor, rotting garbage. The noise is In Your Face—drunken calls, men shouting lewd comments, scantily-clad women (or men who look like women) enticing tourists inside their lair, clip-clop of horse/mule-drawn carriages and the carriage masters' tales, music that is jazz blues rock stripper-sleaze country. The sights—half-dressed women and men, faces slack with drunken stupors and lust and greed for the City’s offerings, neon lights buzzing, restaurant waiters standing in the doorways hoping to lure you in, derelicts wandering with vacant eyes or hungry eyes or desperate eyes, people with no good in their irises who stare with malcontented ill intention, and the huge-eyed tourists who can’t snap it all up in one eye-bulging gulp. This energy, this feel, this New Orleans, how can I tell you in such a short post that is ever-growing? I can’t! I need more time and space! For it will ever remain a mystery, unless you go there yourself.


And know this: if you do go, the New Orleanians will be appreciative. I’ve never seen a peoples so damned happy to have you eat at their restaurants, drink coffee in their cafes, buy trinkets at their shops, stay in their hotels—more than any time I’ve been in the Great Madam City of New Orleans, I felt that energy, that want, that hope on that visit: they want You to come, or to come back.


With any tourist city, and I know this from living in the Smokies, there is a Love-Hate relationship with tourists—we need your money; we hate how you change our towns into something anamorphically weird and monstrous. But New Orleans had a taste of what it felt like to lose the tourists, the people who make New Orleans bulge like that crawfish sack. The Love-Hate now has turned to Love—visit visit and spend your money…the appreciation is in their eyes, their smiles, the way they say, “Thank you for coming, thank you,” and you know they mean it. Folks, respect this Grand City, for though, like her people, she is strong and capable and prideful, she is also wary and a little weakened, but make no mistake, she will never give up.


Yet, there is a New Orleans in the early morning. The New Orleans before tourists and hawkers and traffic and horse/mule carriages are about. When the street sweepers are sweeping, when the owners of establishments have washed the tourists vomit and urine and spills away, when the morning sun is peeking over the city’s history…that is when I loved New Orleans the best. That is the New Orleans that stays nestled in my memory, quiet and lovely.

image
 
(this post was written right after the trip and posted to my former blog)

18 comments:

Travis Erwin said...

I spent many a day in and around New Orleans in my youth. My favorite uncle lived in Slidell and I often went to stay with him and his wife. After his wife i did not make the trip for ten years but then took my wife every year until we had kids. i am and will always be a diehard saints fan so we went to games in the Dome, but sadly we have not been since katrina. I badly have the urge and this post only increased that yearning.

Angie Ledbetter said...

Yes! Downtown, the streetcars, the black & white clad waiters, the FOOD, the architecture, the street dancers & venders, Lucky Dogs, Pat O's, Cafe' du Monde, the music, the artists/artisans, the street still wet from the sweepers in the still-dark morning...

t i m said...

Enticingly portrayed – “I want to go to there” when I eventually get over my fear of flying some day.

PS: finished reading SG the other day & it was honestly a splendid read and I want to know what happened next with Gary; Micah and Jade(???) in the big apple etc, etc. I think I recall you hinting I probably wasn’t quite the target audience at some point [there’s some truth in that]. What does that say about me? No, don’t answer that, he-he! ;) Now I’m ready for VK III.

There was one occasion when somebody asked me “whatchu reading” & I read out loud to them an excerpt which sounded a touch Mills & Boon-esque on page 215 “Higher & higher I took him, the moisture from my face gathering like the mountains mist around the trees. I urged him to the top, but he reared beneath me...” & so forth, tee-hee ;)

Marisa Birns said...

Have never visited New Orleans, though your post has enticed me to go and see for myself, though you have brought it to life in this post. All my senses were engaged here!

I want a beignet.

Diane said...

Thanks for the vivid description of the smells, sounds and sights. I hope to someday get there to witness it all myself! :O)

Anonymous said...

Yes, there's a lot of humanity to that city. Lots of humans and a lot of what makes us what we are, is what makes that city what it is. From the love and lust and wild creativity to the sweaty guck. N.O. is a hot city and from what I understand it's a hard place to survive in, for many. But the folks of Louisiana are full of other positive attributes of homo sapiens too - hospitality is in their blood; good and heart and fun is too - even when fun spills over into too much to drink and all what happens next. Just more humanity, in different forms, gets generated and ends up on the streets of "n'worlens".

Jinksy said...

I think any place has a certain magic in the early morning, before the brashness of the day disturbs the quiet...

K.M. Weiland said...

Has it really been that long since Katrina? My gosh. Sounds like quite a memorable visit though!

Suldog said...

For all of my traveling, which has been extensive, I've never visited New Orleans. My brother-in-law loves the place (despite having had his eye socket fractured during an attempted robbery one late night/early morning) and has said that I should visit there. One day, maybe...

Terri Tiffany said...

we spent a week there once --before the flood--and your descriptions are so accurate. there were parts I didn't care to see again but then other parts wrapped themselves around my heart.

demery bader-saye said...

I took a group of teens there two summers after Katrina to help with the rebuilding. It was an amazing trip. We stayed pretty far from the Bourbon street chaos. But you're so right about the depth of gratitude folks there feel and express. The knew why we were there and everywhere we went folks called out kind words and well wishes to the group. And so many of them asked us to tell folks back home not ever to forget them.

Marguerite said...

Love N'awlins and The Monteleone, grew up staying there with my parents. Love Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest, too, but my favorite thing is THE FOOD! Oh the food, so sinfully delicious, sha!

Karen said...

Ahhh, but you left out the good smells, rich coffee, seafood.... and all the quaint stores. Enjoy these in the daytime, right? :)

Deanna said...

My body lives in Oklahoma but my soul resides in New Orleans. We were there just before Katrina (one of the last flights out!) and have returned numerous times since. I just wrote a post about it myself which I do every year on the anniversary of Katrina. You can read it here:
http://teawithdee.blogspot.com/2010/08/memory-lane-monday-new-orleans.html

john bord said...

The Big Easy... at the end of the river, travelin from shy town, saint louie an memphis, always looking for a gig. The river it keeps on a rollin and deposits the flash on bourbon street. Newh Orleans, has a rhythm that is not duplicated any other place.

The accents, the mingling, noise, gawking and looking for attention.

Then there is, "A Streetcar Named Desire," or a "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof." The little man, Truman Capote, the jazz, funeral processions and not to forget, "Easy Rider."

The seedy side of life to the majestic mansions. There was a defective show based in NO, I liked to watch for the background.

Spent more then a year at Ft Puke there, seen about every thing possible down there. A GI sees things, and walks paths one can only imagine.

Loved your perspective of the "Big Easy," thanks.

Debra said...

By the time I was twelve years old, I had seen all I ever wanted to see of Bourbon St. So I avoid it like the plague when we visit these days.

The Monteleon: As kids we used to take the bus to Canal Street and head over to Royal to this beautiful hotel. Go straight into the lobby and take the elevator up to the roof top. There we would splash into the pool just like we were paying visitors. I still don't know how we got away with this.

On Saturday and Sunday mornings, my cousins and I would go down to the bar (yes, they lived on top of the bar) and scrounge around the floor and pick up money that the drunks the night before had dropped. We usually found enough that would buy us a ticket to see a movie.

Odd but fond childhood memories, I know.

I don't know that I've ever read anyone that captured the essence of this ciy as correctly as you have in this post. I enjoyed it very much.

Sheila Deeth said...

I've never been there, but reading this must be close to the next best thing. You certainly brought a place to life for me.

Manzanita said...

Hello,
I'm a new follower. Good picture of New Orleans. Nice trip but I bet you were happy to get back to your mountain. Have you read the "Confederacy of Dunces" by O'Toole? Written in the 50's --60's. One of my all time favorites but it might seem a trifle dated today.
Manzanita
wanna buy a duck