ExTreme Makeover: New Orleans

Its [New Orleans) frauds and farces represent some of American’s worst excesses and affronts. But, day by day, year by year, New Orleans also conjures moments of artistic clarity and urban transcendence that are the best that Americans as a people can hope for. That is, if we who bare witness to them are not too jaded, too spent, too stupid to recognize them for what they are.

— Creighton Bernette (John Goodman), Treme.

I’d hardly think to offer a thoughtful analysis of the city of New Orleans after a quick jaunt there that left me less full of insight than it did life threatening fatty foods and rum induced bleary-eyed incoherence. But its future fate is something anyone interested in urban affairs should watch with keen interest. The dynamics that once made the city a cultural touchstone – race, economics, an international port of call – are currently undergoing highly charged changes that are either necessary for its survival as a vital, forward looking city or nothing short of an ethno-class cleansing. Or do such divisions have to be so starkly drawn?

The worry to some is that, post-Katrina, New Orleans simply becomes a gentrified tourist destination. A Cajun Orlando where the world comes to party like they’re all still college undergrads and watch the inhabitants perform nothing but past glories. Play When the Saints Go Marching In again while I eat a bag of beignets, will you? Museum New Orleans, monument to past glories.

There’s little room for innovation or adaptation within that framework. New Orleans as it was not how it could be. If you’re not part of that (re)vision then there’s no place for you in the new New Orleans. Play music. Wait tables. Deal blackjack. Hail taxicabs. If you don’t want to be part of that, well, there are other cities in other parts of the country that you can move to. Here, the past is the future. Minus, of course, the unsavoury, unpleasant bits.

That’s all too harsh and in no way so black and white. But it is a struggle that we should all be aware of, not just in New Orleans, but wherever we live. How do we embrace those things that made our homes, neighbourhoods, communities livable, vital and, in some cases, great without smothering them or not allowing for new ideas and approaches to help bring about necessary improvements to all our lives? Building on the past instead of plaster casting it and elevating it on a pedestal to be gazed upon but not touched.

Or maybe that’s just the whisky sours talking.

almost soberly submitted by Cityslikr

… We Took A Little Trip…

Sure. Like it’s never happened to you.

Sitting in your favourite Cajun watering hole eating establishment, knocking back a few whisky sours hush puppies and blackened chicken livers, talking about how long it’s been since you visited New Orleans.

Fired our guns but the British kep' a-comin'...

Way before Katrina. Maybe even as long as 10 years ago. Quite possibly longer. 1998 rings a bell…

A few more whisky sours piquant shrimp and some corn bread, and the next thing you know, two days have passed and you’re still drinking whisky sours but now at the Maple Leaf Tavern on Oak Street, listening to the regular Tuesday sound of the Rebirth Brass Band. Bourbon makes folks do strange, sometimes fantastical things. Teleportation is not even out of the question.

It is hopping on a Tuesday night here in New Orleans, at least in this particular bar, out near what they call the Riverbend district of town. The same can not be said for the rest of the city. To these very inexpert Big Easy eyes, the place feels quiet. Maybe it’s a pre-Thanksgiving lull with everyone hunkering down for a final work push before the holiday kicks in. But the guy I share a cab back to Canal Street with who went to college here back in the day and is in town visiting for a conference, tells me he’s never seen the city this dead. It’s kind of spooky, he says. And not the good kind of spooky New Orleans is notorious (and loved) for.

The place has been hit hard during the course of the past five years. Hurricane Katrina and governments’ woeful response might’ve been a mortal blow to lesser cities. BP’s gulf oil spill (and another tepid reaction on governments’ part) further sullied the entire region’s reputation. Not to mention the vicious global economic downturn over the past 2 years, as was pointed out to me yesterday on a sunny a.m. in Jackson Square by a really, really drunk local while I stuffed my face full of beinets, oj and coffee. Tourist destinations take it especially hard on the chin when a country’s wallets tighten.

So New Orleans endures. Its inhabitants hang on (Louisiana like much of the Dixie south is not known for having much of a social safety net) and hope that the worst is over. What else can nature or man throw at it? Besides, it is 23-degrees Celsius on this mid-November day. I’m heading over to see if I can find Brennan’s, a restaurant that gives wine suggestions with your choice of breakfast entrées. How could any day that starts out like that turn out badly?

Eventually, however, I will have to figure out if I ever got around to checking myself into a hotel and, if so, where. So far I’ve found nothing on my person that resembles a room key or card. Without that and a corresponding checkout date, I’ll be hard pressed to know when it was I planned on returning home. Despite all the recent adversity visited upon it, there are worse places than New Orleans to be stranded and discombobulated.

gumboly submitted by Cityslikr