New Orleans—No Fate But What We Make

It is fitting that the New Orleanian who tagged this wall a few blocks north of St. Charles chose to quote John Connor. The Big Easy has been falling on hard times for decades, emerging from several Judgment Days of its own with stays of execution if not blanket absolution. Somehow, like the Weebles of my childhood, the city wobbles but it won’t fall down.

The world in which The  Terminator franchise’s John Connor grows up is already doomed, it just doesn’t know it. Decisions have been made, courses of action charted, that will inevitably lead to its destruction. Greed plays a role, as it always does, but the Achilles heel of John Connor’s human society is the relentless pursuit of progress, of technological development, of high-octane evolution. New Orleans does not now and has never to my knowledge exhibited such an insatiable drive for success or corporate conquest. Its sins, whatever they are, do not include avarice.

Life moves slowly here. It drips with humidity, wilts in the sun. It sips sweet tea. Or beer or whatever else can be poured in a cup. New Orleans is fecund, a wellspring of music and literature and art, and often fetid, like the bayous that surround it and from which parts of it rose. New Orleans is never in a rush. It doesn’t care if it is late for your meeting. It’s not trying to be rude, but on its way to work it was called by a beat older than time and truer than language and when it heard that pure tone wail its hips started to buck, its feet to rise and fall, and in the music it saw God, eyes closed, shoulders swinging in time, as slick with sweat as the dancing city, and in the sonic ecstasy all suits and offices and meetings and mergers were forgotten.

New Orleans, as the last paragraph can attest, lends itself to hyperbole. It is the most corrupt city in America, or so they say: the most impoverished, the most dangerous, the least educated, the most original, the most musical, the most resilient, the most stuck in the past. Such rhetoric would suggest soaring peaks and chasmic valleys, but on the ground in New Orleans all these things seem to interweave. More than anything, it is an integrated city—culturally, architecturally, programmatically—especially by American standards.

I recently spent five weeks in the Crescent City, a city I had never spent time in before, a city about which I intended to blog throughout my stay. But New Orleans overtook me. I was unable to wrap my head around the place while experiencing it. Living in New Orleans, even so briefly, felt a bit like swimming underwater. Now that I’m a couple weeks removed I will attempt to share my observations in a series of posts. Hopefully, it won’t be as long between posts as this last lull.

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