Why on earth I was surprised to have liked New Orleans so much I really don’t know. Perhaps it comes from becoming jaded by the homogenisation of North American cities, a phenomenon that is both rapid and sad, or the fact that I have travelled so much in the past year, nothing was ready to surprise me.
But surprise me it did, and I just loved it. It is the sort of place that I would like to rent an apartment for a couple of months one time and see how much of the goodwill, music, love and strength of the Crescent City that I can.
And strength is probably the most vital component. Behind every façade of every local working with tourists, driving, cleaning, serving or simply being there is a story of rebirth, and a struggle with building new lives after the devastating hurricane Katrina. Hurricane damage is now a tourist attraction, at least in wards that have not politely told the government to advise gawking sightseers to “Go Away”; probably in some fruitier vernacular.
It is a tale of broken promises, profiteering banks and builders, of a nine-year struggle between those who had and those who needed; nearly a decade of living in difficult, hot and struggling neighbourhoods by day and looking perky by night for the conventioneers and tourists whose money has been so important in the commercial regeneration of New Orleans.
And I take my hat off to all of the people who make New Orleans the hospitable, imaginative, creative, delightful, loose, friendly, musical delight that the city is.
If you haven’t been there yet, go, and double what you would normally tip!
New Orleans is far more French than I had thought; while I was aware of the history (I thought) of the region, I was completely overwhelmed by the Cabildo State Museum; it was worth several hours of exploration to come to a grip with the intricacies of Louisiana’s history. Suffice it to say that this history involved a great deal of perseverance, eating, singing, fortune, deception and much pillage; it is a history of peoples working together to create some sort of life in the inhospitable south lands before either penicillin or air-conditioning. And what a culture they formed; one of celebration of many different ancestries, evident in the food, the art, the buildings and of course, the music.
Today the French influence is obvious in the look and feel of the city, the decor and the patois, and the feel of this distinct culture is New Orleans’ trump card. To travel here is to feel that one has actually visited a new and exciting destination, and one that is worthy of exploration.
Music seeps through every paving stone in the city, and it is fine! Classical, traditional jazz, contemporary jazz and virtually every genre one might want is in the air, and everyone is welcomed with open arms (and a hint that tipping is not an alien habit).
The massive and delightful New Orleans City Park houses, among other terrific features the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden exhibiting a wonderful collection of contemporary pieces; adjacent to the Museum of Art, the collection is a must for any visitor to the city.
There are terrific local tours of every possible interest! From Plantation Tours to exploration of the local Voodoo scene, there is always somebody with a smile ready to explain yet another local eccentricity. And it is worth taking them all, I think, but to do so, I will need a couple of months, and that will be next year, I hope.
New Orleans is a city that lets you know in no uncertain terms that she is unique, fascinating and to be respected and enjoyed; not a city whose affections should be toyed with lightly.