When I think of New Orleans, I think: Mardi Gras; French Quarter; Who Dat Nation; Fleur de lis; Hurricane Katrina. “New Orleans is on its way to being a gentrified Disneyland” said one person in my present company. “Katrina was one big refresh button on the video game that is the South” added another. I almost never call it so straight from the hip, but these, after all, were my brother’s friends and they have a low tolerance for bullshit (which I suspect has something to do with the fact that they’re vegans), so I’ll run with their truth for a bit.
While my trip to New Orleans had some definite highlights– Magazine Street, visiting with Ian Tapscott of Uxbridge fame, seeing live music, striking up conversations with folks confused by my desire to walk– it was marred by my perceptions that New Orleans has two identities, one for tourists and one for everyone else. Much of the French Quarter feels as if its catering to people who want to visit Bubba Gump Shrimp Company in every Southern city of note. (Only a little judgment if this is you!) Yes, I ate beignets and po’ boys, and rode the St. Charles and Canal street cars, but I also got away from the swarms of tourists scurrying from one location suggested by Foder’s to the next listed in Lonely Planet.
I’m not trying to privilege one way of traveling over another, I’m simply questioning what feels like an overcomodification/eclipsing of the things that should be the hallmarks of what makes New Orleans such an incredible place.
While I think New Orleans is still far from the aforementioned plastic dystopia, in the aftermath of Hurrican Katrina it is important to question the motives of certain interests that are yearning to repopulate and “beautify” certain spaces.
A highlight of my trip to NOLA was hearing Kermit Ruffins play at Vaughn’s, which is a block from Ian’s house in the Bywater neighborhood. I have never seen Treme, the show by the makers of The Wire (big fan!) but apparently Vaughn’s occasionally makes an appearance. How did I know this even if I haven’t seen the show? Vaughn’s was packed with white people wielding fancy cameras who looked confused about why they were there…and Ian and his fabulous sweetie Laura told me. For the record, I didn’t bring my camera, but I did catch a cutie bike tour passing through the next day which was my kind of photo op. Say cheese!