Buggy And Muggy
Just outside New Orleans, Nellie’s windshield was already plastered in bug guts when an insect with a six-inch wingspan hit the glass with a thud. I was hurtling down I-10 at 65 miles per hour. My uninvited hitchhiker turned, swiveled both eyes in my direction, then slid slowly down the glass to the side, flying off to buzz another day. They grow ’em bigger and tougher down here.
It was the end of April in NOLA, but somebody had already cranked the “Huma-Ditty” dial to ten. Inside the rig, suction cups and Museum Putty began failing, artwork sliding slowly down the walls and towels and clothes falling unceremoniously to the floor. The refrigerator was sweating, inside.
Soda goes flat almost as soon as you open it. Don’t wait too long to re-plug that bottle of wine, or the cork will swell up to twice its size and you’ll regret tossing that cute bottle stopper when you resort to a wad of paper towel.
Everywhere Else Is Cleveland (Tennessee Williams)
While South-adjacent, NOLA boils over with staunch individuality – a history and culture and style and flavor all its own, which is not replicated anywhere else in the southern states. I won’t recite a history lesson of French and Spanish and Cajun and Creole and African and Native American and Irish and Italian and African-American. There’s plenty out there to read if you’d like.
New Orleans inspires. It’s no surprise that all nine Muses from Greek Mythology have streets named for them in New Orleans. Professor Longhair’s house is on Terpsichore, which is just so perfect because his music makes ya wanna dance. But watch the pronunciations; Calliope, the Muse of Poetry, is now known as “Cally-ope.” Clio, the Muse of History, is most mangled; her street is known as the “See I 10.” After all, you can see Interstate 10 from there.
New Orleans has some of the oldest bars and restaurants in the United States:
Vistas along the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain:
“Go Cups” and no last call:
Amazing music (especially on Frenchmen Street):
And a long line of “firsts” in food and culture:
It is a town where “Haunted” is a real estate selling point, not a reason to flee:
and cemeteries are hauntingly beautiful:
New Orleans also frustrates. It is a city of extremes, from ornate ironwork balconies:
to the poverty in New Orleans East.
From a rich musical history tracing the roots of syncopated music, Jazz, Blues, and Rock and Roll,
to derelict storefronts and crumbling buildings which housed that history. Take the J and M Recording Studio: The early Rock and Roll greats recorded there, but it is now laundromat. At least it still stands.
And while buildings of historical significance are long gone, a high-rise in the Central Business District which leaked like a sieve has been sitting empty since before Katrina:
We all have heard about New Orleans corruption. Ray Nagin, Jr., probably not the most complicit but probably the most Black, is serving a 15-year sentence in a federal penitentiary. It’s hard to get anything done when there’s little money, and what little money there is, is siphoned away.
With poverty comes need, and with need comes desperation. A local friend sat me down with a map, marking the streets on the perimeter of the French Quarter where it is unsafe to walk alone. Personal injury attorneys advertise incessantly on television and billboards, with slogans like, “In a wreck? Get a check!” Or “Put the Womack on ’em!” In the Ninth Ward, empty houses remain, familiar spray-painted slashes on their facades, still visible after 11 years.
And yet, there is that New Orleans resilience. The attitude – no, the knowledge – that, no matter what, we’re all gonna be alright. In New Orleans your name is “Baby,” pronounced with an accent that sounds more Brooklyn than Bayou. Dancing is appropriate for every occasion, from immense joy to bottomless grief. Music is around every corner. Hell, it’s ON the corner. There’s a parade in honor of there’s about to be a parade. You are free to do what you want, when you want, as you please, with no judgment from anyone. This is the land of Day Drinking and Second Lines and Flambeaus and Mardis Gras Indians. It is a beautiful, aggravating, magical, maddening place. I was ready to leave, and I can’t wait to return.