Monday, March 30, 2009

Day 754

Day 754
New Orleans, La.

Dear Family and Friends,

Daylight savings time provides an emotional boon across the City. People play later, leave work earlier and enjoy the everythings and want-to-bes of spring time life. The local parks are always full.

In a few more weeks, nearly everyone will be wearing linen.

When I first moved here 754 days ago, our newspapers and televisions led and ended with Katrina stories. Every day. I gauge the passage of time now by the amount of with "Katrina" in the newspaper. Now, there are coffee and paper mornings--I swear it--where the K-word can't be found.

I like these mornings.

When year two turned to three, our public figures and friendly tableside rhetoric shifted slightly: "Now three years later..."

And as the months progress, we are saying, "Now three and a half-years later..."

Soon it will be, "Now four years later..."

That moment in time, the day the New Orleans calendar reset, will be with this community for a long-long time. It guides the people here, provides a measuring stick of sorts. What's more than interesting for an outsider like me are the experiences that make New Orleans what it is, even if Hurricane Katrina had never happened.

Crawfish boils, annual festivals, irreverent dress-up days, and second lines come to mind.

The messy stuff is what people elsewhere see about New Orleans. I paraded from 6am to 3pm on Mardi Gras day with a blue sky and a slight breeze the whole way. When we finished, my friends and I played football in our street.

But my friend outside the City texted, "Were you near the shootings?"

Six people were shot along parade routes on Mardi Gras day. There were a few others earlier in the week as well.

New Orleans according to everyone else is a dangerous outpost where people here on business are timid about walking after dark. New Orleans according to those living here is a cultural outpost where people laugh harder, cry longer and eat better than most.

Now, if only the spring weather stayed could stay longer than May.



Saturday, March 21, 2009

Life in the French Quarter

Dear Family and Friends,

Our sidewalks are brick and a parrot two doors away squawks when people pass her.

I've been in the French Quarter a short time now, surely not enough to call myself a part of the neighborhood, but long enough to have come home to random people on my stoop, my car rifled through by a homeless man and a next door neighbor who will sign for my packages.

Our house was built in 1830 and has 14-feet ceilings. My roommate Andrew and I, we bought a basketball hoop. It's nine-feet high; most shots are accessible and the toughest one makes you navigate a once-was-dining-a-room chandelier.

In the morning, sunlight comes through three bedroom windows. I wonder often who lived here when way back when was an era of horse-drawn carriages and dirt streets. Every time I hear people say that New Orleans shouldn't be rebuilt, I touch my keys and think someone has been opening a door to this place for 179 years.

The parking is atrocious. I have a lemon tree in my backyard. These two things cancel each other out. During the big events, Mardi Gras most recently, police sirens and drunken sidewalk singing sessions both invade my thin second-floor bedroom windows. On nights like these, I've found, it's better to be out with the people than trying to sleep through them.

When I look back and say "When I was 25..." I hope living in America's most notable neighborhood will make me smile.

But there are those nights when people seem to lurk too closely in the shadows. Recently, the news extensively covered the murder of a bartender by a 15-year-old in a stick-up gone bad. The intersection where it happened is about eight blocks from my house.

The news was clear to state that our police district is the smallest, yet has the most patrol units. Crime, although not acceptable anywhere, certainly isn't acceptable here. It is the French Quarter, our tourist livelihood.

"Walk on the side of the street without the cars," people say. "Muggers hide behind cars."

During my first conversation about moving in with Andrew, after he said how great living here is, he did, almost like slipping in an earmark into a piece of legislation, say that a man fired a gun from our doorstep his first night.

"Nothing has happened since then," he said.

I've said that we're urban soldiers. I hope this joke remains funny. The alternative is scary, of course, but not enough to not love living in New Orleans. Sure this place has its black eyes, bad roads and everything else that comes along with the fabric of a poor American city recovering from a major disaster.

But, today the temperature is 70 degrees. And I have a parrot for a neighbor.