New Orleans, a Great American City
23 March 2011
Katrina, the Hurricane, with all its devastating power, brought New Orleans onto many peoples minds. Myself included. I’ve been interested in this city, which over time resisted social/political injustice and weathered natures wreath. In the last years, especially HBO’s Treme) made me want to go there and finally see for myself what is with this place, that has a cultural impact on music, food and so many other things. And it was’t hard to convince Daniel, Adrian & Chantal to come along, since we all met in Austin for SXSW anyway.
First of, March is a great time to visit NOLA. If you are into carnival, Marti Gras is a must for you. It might be though to approach it, if you don’t know any locals, but it is supposedly one of its kind. Yes, we missed it, but I’m not a costume guy anyhow. But weather wise is March just perfect, it’s basically summer for us Europeans.
But New Orleans is not just a city you go to. It’s not the brutally pacified New York where it’s hard to feel unsafe unless you go above 160 St. in Manhattan or wonder around in Jamaica. It’s not only that you have to avoid some parts of the city, it’s more like you have to avoid most of them. Which is, for my city exploration ambitions, a significant downer. I’m not trying to scare anybody of the city, nor am I somebody who is easily scared. But if locals keep telling you to mind certain parts, you start to get anxious about going to some places. And than there is the problem, that you can be in a supposedly safe area and just walk into the part that can abruptly transform itself to something completely different.
This is, of course, not only Katrina’s fault, but the Hurricane made whatever bad there was only worse. And New Orleans seems to exist outside of this usual bubble of the American Dream. In the history of this nation, it’s the city that got most disappointments of expecting something from the others and Katrina only emphasized that. The complete inability of the Bush administration to provide help for their citizens, the racist remarks, the pure helplessness … it was hard to watch.
I had a couple of cab drives during my visit to New York, Austin and New Orleans. But two stood out. The first one was in New York, where the cabbie talked to us about the USA. “This is America!”. Yes, sure. But the same phrase was used in a completely different way by the cabbie who drove us at 4 in the morning to the airport in New Orleans. He took us on a small tour through some of the worst districts of New Orleans, those who have been hit the hardest by Katrina and those who still look like it has been only a couple of days since nature decided to rain its rage upon NOLA. His disappointment almost sounded like embarrassment about the fact, that this indeed is America and nothing happens to really help those people.
In a way, New Orleans drains its magic from exactly the situation it is in. It was always the city that found its own way, its own culture. If you walk through the French Quarter, you will see people drinking on the street and without those stupid brown paper bags which don’t fool anybody anyhow. People still smoke in bars and a pack of cigarrettes doesn’t cost 13 bucks like in New York. This city is full of life, because it doesn’t know any other way. It’s being beaten, but it always stands up and goes forward.
This of course is always resonated in the music. It’s everywhere. Sometimes it felt like everybody in New Orleans can actually handle a musical instrument or at least dance to Jazz as if they have been training for all their life. It will suck you into this and won’t let go. In NOLA, you just feel more alive. Somehow.
For me, as a foodie, it’s also a dream come true. One doesn’t get too much cajun food in Europe and I was seriously curious about it. Rightfully so. We’ve been fortunate enough to get some really amazing tips from the lady who rented us a house (in Uptown). Equipped with infos by a local, we wondered a lot around Frenchman Street, which takes of a lot of the touristy pressure one gets in the French Quarter and especially on Bourbon Street. On Frenchman, there is The Spotted Cat, one of the more famous Jazz Clubs and also my absolute favorite restaurant, Adolofo’s (try anything that comes with the Ocean sauce, it will blow your mind). But not only there you will get great food and drink, it’s basically everywhere. One specialty of Louisiana and NOLA especially is the Po’ Boy. Yes, it’s a sandwich but in the right places, you will get an uncanny experience from something as simpel as a sandwich. Amazing stuff.
I’m not twisted and torn about New Orleans, even if I sound so a bit. It’s indeed a Great American city. One with all its flaws, problems and all that makes it great. It’s an experience that I didn’t get from any other city in the US and I can fully and totally recommend a visit. I’ll be back for sure.
(Took some photos while there, you will find them here.)