Monday, November 5, 2007

themes and variations

There should be signs at the New Orleans city limits saying “Abandon Expectations, All Ye Who Enter Here.” To function here requires a certain suspension of disbelief. At first it seems that you can never know what you’ll find around the next corner, or what you’ll hear when the next person opens his or her mouth. But we’ve started to notice some recurring themes:

I’ve always heard that New Orleans has great live music—it’s what the city is most famous for. However, I suspect that it’s impossible to understand what that means without experiencing it. Obviously the jazz bands are incredible, but the excellence is not confined to this local specialty. Strolling down Bourbon Street on Wednesday night, we stumbled upon the best bagpipe player I’ve ever heard—in or out of the British Isles! After listening for several minutes in a state of delighted incredulity, we continued down the street, pausing to appreciate the fantastic 12-piece jazz band that had set up a few blocks down. The fact that none of these musicians looked older than 20 years old made their performance all the more impressive. Later that night, we stopped by the weekly open mike in the bar around the corner from our bunk house. (The bar is called the Buddha Belly, and is a combination watering hole and laundromat.) Every act was good, and our favorite was a crusty old man singing sweet gravely blues. We’ve been trying to figure out what accounts for this phenomenon. It’s not just that the musicians know how to play, it’s also that everyone knows how to listen. The good music has an appreciative audience and lots of community support. Furthermore, people’s tolerance for bad music is very low. Since coming down here, we’ve hardly heard any of the manufactured top 40 insipidness of the week that peppers the radio back home. This is more refreshing than we could have anticipated. We hadn’t realized how much canned poor music had poisoned our souls.

New Orleans is also famed as a welcoming and friendly city. We have found this to be overwhelmingly true. In passing encounters, people are genuinely nicer, warmer, and more polite than we ever are up north, even with our dearest acquaintances. The city also seems much more racially integrated than New England cities, though people tell me that racial tensions here have increased in the wake of the storm. We have certainly felt much more comfortable being in the racial minority down here than we ever do in similar circumstances at home. This is really good, since most of the time here we are the only white people around. We will sorely miss this relaxed camaraderie when we come back up north.

Live Oaks grow throughout the city, arching their branches over the boulevards. They are a favorite feature of our morning jogs. We wonder if there were other trees around before the storm that didn’t weather it, or if Live Oaks have always reigned supreme.

One strange thing we’ve notice is an absence of scent. Boston is always smelly in one way or another, whether you’re smelling the sea air, the nearest garbage bin, or a passing urbanite’s expensive cologne. Mostly New Orleans smells like nothing, even to Erika’s perceptive nose. It’s disconcerting—we feel deprived of a sense. Even scrabbling around face-first in rotten houses produces no smells. Our recent trip to the city dump was delightful for many reasons, one of which was the slight sulphurus scent that reminded us that we have noses.

Perhaps the saddest thing about New Orleans (at least in our stomachs’ opinions) is the diet’s remarkable lack of vegetables. Not even a collard green or brussel sprout in sight. It’s all chicken, sugar, seafood, sugar, rice, sugar, and beans (with sugar!). And some rum. All very tasty, mind you, but not conducive to digestive comfort or nutrition.

Tomorrow, I’m back at the library. I hope to have the new shelving system in place by Wednesday. The kids are adorable, and I’d love to gush on proudly about them for hours, but won’t now. Maybe next post.

1 comment:

Athene Numphe said...

what i miss most are the Live Oaks. There used to be many many more of them before the storm. My mother's street had a canopy. Now it has almost nothing. It was the first thing I noticed when I returned home Post-K.