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way too funky to die

March 9, 2011

It was a great Mardi Gras yesterday because it simply couldn’t be otherwises.  Not

even Hurrican Katrina’s aftermath could stop the party.  The Big Blow wasn’t even

able to stop a Bourbon Street bar from closing.  And that’s the grit of New Orleans:

it’s way too funky to die.

If you pay attention, you can feel the funk ooze into your bones when you’re there.

It hides in the humidity, which is sometimes thick enough to sit on.  It sneaks into

the rain that can fall so hard it looks like it’s exploding from the pavement.  If you

dare look at the searing sun, you’ll see it poised to land.

This funk is water-based.  Most of the year you’ll bust a sweat as soon as you go

outside.  In cooler months you’re likely to get drenched in a downp0ur.  Sweat

and rain are the great equalizers in the Crescent City.  Sooner or later, even the

richest folks there have to venture out and risk it.

You can ignore it at your peril.  But if you stay there long enough — for purposes

of mental health — you have to give the city its due.  There is no other place in the

planet like it.  Not even Amsterdam is as funky.  I think that’s because the Dutch

have that bizarre belief that sex and moderate use of psychedelics is healthy.

I can prove my point for $2.50.  Go to the corner of Canal Street and St. Charles

Avenue in downtown New Orleans.  Have $1.25 in exact change for the streetcar.

It goes from the commercial district past Audubon Park, Tulane University and

stunning mansions in the Garden District.  It turns around in a residential area

and starts its 5-mile trek back.  Exact change again, please.

It’s great fun to go faster than the cars beside you, and the conductor can change

the lights to keep going.  But it’s leisurely, too.  On one of my rides, the conductor

stopped in the median and said to the passengers, “I’ll be right back.  I have to make

a phone call.”

St. Charles Avenue is a main cross strand of the city’s spider web street design.  It

symbolizes the grand extremes of the Big Easy.  Some of the most grinding poverty

in town is just a few blocks from the mansions.  I had a delivery route in the area

that kept me interweaving through the two worlds all day.  One day I saw a wedding

party and a funeral procession to accentuate the contradicti0n.

New Orleans is a Tennessee Williams character.  Like the women in “A Streetcar

Named Desire”, it’s resilient like Stella and fragile like Blanche.  It’s like your aunt

Gwen, who drinks too much but has the best stories of all your relatives.  This city

has more secrets than any other city I know.

Watching Katrina’s fatal sweep through town was like losing a member of the family

to me.  Watching the contortions of BP’s Tony Heyward to avoid responsibility for

the oil spill was just as painful.  But yesterday, watching the streets jammed with

frolickers renewed my faith in the old girl.  Stella/Blanche/Gwen, keep the good

times rolling.

  1. Fletcher Sanders permalink
    March 10, 2011 6:27 am

    You now Knew Awelins, city of contradiction. There, you can eat red beans and rice at a diner where you can see a homeless man sitting next to a man in a $1500 suit. It’s the red beans and rice. The great equalizer. Good story.

    • March 10, 2011 11:15 am

      Ah. Fletcher. Remember when you, Dennis B. and I went out to drink beer and break hearts? We ended up just drinking beer, but at least we discovered the strip in Bossier. Thanks for checking in, and you’re right. Red beans and rice is another great equalizer. It never tastes quite as good outside of Knew Awelins.

  2. Charlotte Wales permalink
    March 10, 2011 6:29 am

    Just got your contact info from Sue Gilley’s Fair Park blog – I lived in New Orleans for several years – loved every minute of it; had many wild and wonderful adventures! I’m living in Arkansas – been here 30 years, most of which was spent in the lovely mountains in the north part of the state; the last 7 in the SE Delta region, where my youngest son lives. I noted with interest you are farming; what sort of education center are you wanting to start? I’m very active with community development, a large part of which is sustainable agri (non-chemical, of course!). I even received the Sustainable Agri Activist award last year from the Arkansas Public Policy Panel, a very active policy group here in AR. I don’t envy you the 5 feet of snow – much prefer the heat, thank you – ha! Sounds like your life is happy and content, which is good. Let me hear from you when you have time (not digging out from the snow, etc.!) My email is

    • March 10, 2011 11:24 am

      Mary Charlotte! How kind of you to stop by. It’s great to hear that you’re involved with sustainability and being honored for your efforts. We need every warrior we can get. I’ll e-mail very soon with some details about the centre.

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