I love/hate New Orleans
Katrina pushed many folks
out of New
Orleans, but I left willingly years earlier without ever honestly
missing the place. It wasn't until I started dating Dani (who was
in New Jersey, but grew up in El Paso until college, but has been in
Texas for all of that anyway) that I began to see what was unique about
the area. When I came back, I saw it with new eyes and hear it
new ears. When you're with someone for whom it is all new, you
experience it vicariously in a way. I found myself having to
the language and references that were commonplace to me and the locals
but stumbling blocks for anyone new in town.
Some things that jumped
out at me:
*Local network news people are celebrities. Not only do they get
noticed out and about on the street, people keep up with every detail
of their lives. My mom could tell you how many kids most of the
anchors have, where they go to school, what a given personality's
parents do for a living, and so on.
*We have real celebrities too. In addition to guys who grew up
here and keep coming back like Harry Connick, Jr. and John Larroquette,
other folks adopted the city for a while as well like John
Goodman. Anne Rice and Trent Reznor lived down there when I was
in college, although they moved on well before Katrina. My
college roommate Craig was a Marilyn Manson fan around '95 or
thereabouts before "Sweet Dreams" came out and the band went
big-time. They were around New Orleans recording at Reznor's
place during that period, and Craig used to run into him in various
clubs watching other bands. Manson always had the crazy contact
lens in, so he stood out even among people trying to do that
scene. Craig talked to him a bit at one show and complimented him
on his performance at an early show where he saw him.
*You can run into a lot of famous folks out that way since many are
either from the region originally or have a second (or third, fourth,
etc.) home in the Quarter. The film industry is picking up a
bunch lately on account of the post-Katrina interest in the area.
My cousin makes a little money as an extra, so we always hear about who
she's working with six months to a year before the movie opens.
*All the chefs are from here. Justin Wilson and Paul Prudhomme
come to mind. I don't watch the Food Network (and I don't even
understand the appeal of watching food that you can't smell or eat), so
I don't know who else is prominent at the moment.
*Everyone else thinks they're a chef as well. When my dad
retired, it was really my mom who retired. My dad took over
almost all the cooking, and he thinks he's amazing. Everyone's
like that. They all imagine their recipe is the best, and they're
not going to tell you what their secret recipe is.
On the other hand, this gets at a lot of the things I hate about the
place. Even though the city is famous for its food, I can't stand
spicy food, so I moved to Texas... where I still hate spicy food.
I'm not much on seafood either, or at least I wasn't until I discovered
sushi. Up until then I would have been happy to never eat another
piece of fish. In fact, when my mom first learned I had taken to
sushi, her first comment was, "But you hate seafood!" My reply:
"Yeah, when you ruin it!"
For all the talk of Southern hospitality, I find a lot of people rude
and territorial. In spite of the fact that the racial mix is more
or less equal if you cast a broad enough net, you'd be hard-pressed to
find a more racist population (in both directions) than New
Orleans. Love thy neighbor? Hardly.
This speaks to the fact that you're dealing with one of the stupidest
places on earth, one perpetually in a race with Mississippi to see who
is going to bottom out this year in all the measures you don't want to
(e.g., infant mortality, education, unemployment, etc.). And New
Orleans always ranks among the highest for all the stats you don't want
to rank in like murder rates and other violent crimes.
Katrina threw some light on it at its visible worst, but it has always
been bad, just in ways that weren't always immediately evident.
The place is a mess, has always been a mess, and will continue to be a
mess long after I'm dead, hence my usual description that it's a "nice
place to visit." That mess makes it interesting, but you wouldn't
want to live there.