Of excess in poverty

Oh, New Orleans, what do I say about you? 

I’ve been exposed to several vastly different places over the past few weeks (NYC, DC, NOLA) — with more to come soon (Alaska-bound via Canada tomorrow!). Touching so much variety in such rapid succession lends life a surreal quality. NYC is mass humanity. DC is intimate anonymity. NOLA is …excess in poverty. 

NOLA (New Orleans for the acronym-savvy) from my tourist-bubble was a party of excesses in what seemed to be really quite a poor city. 

Jazzfest, Bourbon Street, the French Quarter, the Bayou. Delicious gumbo, jambalaya, beignets, chicory coffee, fried everything. Excesses galore. All balanced by crumbling buildings, barred windows, disastrously broken roads, graffiti and vandalism, no open container law (read: mass drunkenness), overflowing homelessness. I’ve never been anywhere else quite like it. 


For me, it was a Yosemite reunion set to jazz. Paul and I met up with my Yosemite girlfriends and several other folks to attend Jazzfest. Talk about stepping back into another realm! We had a blast, catching up, creating new memories, and generally exhausting ourselves trying to squeeze every moment out of the days (and nights).  

We also took a day to drive as far down the Mississippi River delta as the road allowed. NOLA is a little deceptive; since the city itself is below sea level the river is actually above the city and held in place by levees (reinforced incarnations of the same ones that failed during Hurricane Katrina in 2005). Since you can’t see it, it’s easy to forget the river is there. But once you really get into the delta, where it’s more brackish water than land, you step into a different world. A world of oil industry and backwater towns and remarkable wading birds. Yup, the birds really the big draw to make the long drive south. That and bringing the Mississippi River experience full circle after having visited the headwaters at Itasca this past fall. 

All-in-all, NOLA isn’t a place I foresee a repeat trip to, though I didn’t make it to the Garden District or into the voodoo cemetery. It was a unique experience but the city didn’t resonate with me. Maybe it was the humidity. Maybe it was all the rough edges. Whatever the cause, it’s just not my town. But that’s okay because it is for a lot of other people and it’s a big, wide world with plenty of places yet to discover and love.

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Of excess in poverty

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