On August 5-9th, 2021, I found myself on a plane traveling to the heart of Louisiana...New Orleans, the big easy. This city, like most cities, spoke to me and made me feel alive. There was a definite degree of grit in this city that clung to me like the humidity that accompanies a trip to Bayou Country in the dead of summer. The city is riddled with history, intrigue, passion, art, life, destruction and ruin, despair and rebirth. I have figured I will try to put down into words everything that I felt about the city and my experiences in the city.
New Orleans is considered to be one of the gates of slavery in the United States. Many slaves were brought to the USA through the port of New Orleans and it is because of this that New Orleans has a lot of the culture, traditions, and art that exist today. Today you go around and eat at places like Broussards, Brennan's, the Commander's Palace or the Court of Two Sisters and you do it because it is the touristy thing to do, but it was not so long ago that these places were frequented everyday by the aristocracy of New Orleans. Sipping on their fancy sazeracs or being the first to try the new table side dessert of Banana's Foster at Brennan's while slaves worked their buts off to help this aristocratic society line their pockets and celebrate in lavish and lush environments where true decadence was on display. While dining at the Jazz Brunch at the Court of Two Sister's, I looked to my friend and said, this is eerily similar to what life would have been like in New Orleans, mostly white-americas dining in a fancy setting while mostly POC served the food and wore tux's to serve the patrons in the heat of summer. Close to this location is "Congo Square" a part in Louis Armstrong Park where African Slaves were allowed to dance when they were given Sunday's off to go socialize. It is in this location where the dancing (one of the few places dancing was allowed) became infectious, causing the white-women of the time to want to get up and feel the beat of the African music. (This is where a lot of the traditions that African Voodooist's were able to possess white women to shake their hips and dance inappropriately).
Debauchery on Bourbon Street
As if Debauchery wasn't a founding stable in New Orleans history, it certainly is today. Bourbon Street is a non-stop party at all hours of the day and well into the night. Hundreds of thousands of people flock to Bourbon Street to take advantage of the dancing, drinking, eating, and general craziness. The heart of Mardi Gras exists year round as people stand on second story balconies throwing beads down for anyone who flashes their genitals to the rowdy onlookers from above. The street is filled with trash, piss, shit, and vomit, especially by the end of each night that the city public workers have to clean up every night (by street sweeping, emptying all the garbage cans, and then washing the streets down every night). Most major restaurants and shops close down around 5pm leaving the pizza by the slice, frozen daquiri stands, Willie's Famous Chicken Shacks and countless clubs, bars, cabaret clubs, and night clubs serve the population well into the morning. The amount of money that is spent protecting Bourbon street and cleaning it up every night must be astronomical. While I was visiting, a 17 year old entered Bourbon Street and shot 5 random people. This happened the weekend priory as well. Busker's take to the street, peddling their necklaces, dance moves and even their 3 year old children playing the drums on 5-gallon plastic pickle tubs. Homeless people pass out, sound asleep on the sidewalks, as every bar and night club blast their music so loud it could be heard in outer space.
Excess and Exuberance
New Orleans is definitely the definition of excess. The aristocracy of the area always seeking new things, wanting the best. Brennan's hosts a table side dessert of Banana's Foster, founded at this restaurant and now served al over the world. Pat O'Brien's became the founding bar to serve the "Hurricane." The Commander's Palace serves $.25 martini's every day of the week. Broussard's has a menu with the most popular drink of each decade, and the Hotel Monteleone has a bar that is shaped like a Carousel and travels around as patrons sit and drink their sazeracs, another popular New Orleans staple. All these restaurants used to have strict dress codes of suit or coat jackets and ties, and as things are starting to become more laced, the city still maintains a high level of excess. Lots of eating, drinking, dancing and jazz clubs, where you can find a party until 5am in the city that never sleeps, New Orleans knows how to go above and beyond.
In 2005, Category 5 Hurricane Katrina demolished the city of New Orleans. New Orleans is built under sea level (therefore if you dig 2 to 3 feet you will end up hitting water, this is why the cemeteries are all set up where the dead are buried in tombs above ground). Because of this, the city has always been prone to flooding, however the Army Corps of Engineers built a series of levee's and canals to help diminish the effects of flooding on the town. New Orleans is actually pretty far from the ocean, but Lake Pontchartrain is an outlet to the Gulf of Mexico. The way the levees and canals work is that when the waterways and drains fill up, they drain into the levees and canals all along New Orleans. This water is filtered for debris and pollutants and drained into Lake Pontchartrain. During Katrina, the storm surge rose greatly causing Lake Pontchartrain to fill up with more water than it could hold, therefore the levees and canals could not drain properly. All evidence shows that the levees and canals actually held up and were not breeched from above, but that the levee's were built on peat soil and that the water escaped from underneath the concrete causing the flooding. The flooding was damning for the city as water about 20 to 30 feet high sat in the city for 20 - 50 days before it started to recede and be pumped out of the city. 1000's of people lost their lives, and Katrina left $125,000,000,000 in damages. The state of Louisiana offered residents to either purchase their property and tear it down and turn it into green space until it could be redeveloped, or a grant so they could rebuild on the condition they wouldn't sell for 20 years. Many people left New Orleans and green space started to pop up everywhere. Fishing Villages were flooded, mold started to overtake the city, and some places like Charity Hospital, a 10 story teaching hospital, still lays abandoned eerily sitting at the edge of the French Quarter as a reminder to the destruction that was caused from Katrina on August 29th, 2005.
At one point, a famous businessman had sought out a good chunk of Bayou territory called Bayou Savage and wanted to develop it into a destination spot. The politics in New Orleans at the time was very sketchy and the politicians kept raising the price on the land to see if they could get premium value out of the land and they were on the fence about letting this businessman purchase the property and build it out. Eventually, the politicians won and turned the land into a nature preserve and the area did not manage to become Disney World. The reason I write about this is because New Orleans is so rich with history, culture, art, and pride, I wonder what the area would have been like if Walt Disney had settled on the area to build Disney Land. When you think about Orlando, Orlando completely caters to Walt Disney World and competing theme parks, so I wonder what would have come up the area if it had become so commercialized towards Disney over the history of New Orleans and the French Quarter.