The first evening I was in New Orleans, I got star struck, and furious about it.
We landed in the heart of it all: the French Quarter. What a pretty town! I could relate to those high balconies, looking like the front of boats. I could understand why the prostitutes of the old days would be perched on these balconies and size the potential customer from afar, check how straight he walked, if he had a weapon, if he was mad, if he had friends. The streets were not safe back then.
I loved the colored houses, everyone newly painted and well taken care of. All the sailors city were very attractive. For the sailors who went far away, they had to have a good reason to come back.
And then there’s the music. But I’ll come back to the subject.
New Orleans is very beautiful and accessible. So, why is it that the sidewalks are broken, showing grass, soil, ready to break your ankles? Why do you have at any time of the day or night, people so drunk they can barely keep their eyes open? Why does Bourbon street have three “Hustler” shop by Larry Flint right in the center of it all?
In Europe, they preserve something pretty. They will make sure that Strasbourg for example is pampered and updated all the time, they will do light and sound shows in the summer to showcase the beauty of this or that monument.
People of New Orleans do not seem to have the same concern. I talked about it with my wife. We were both puzzled, we couldn’t find an explanation.
But, the second day, after walking around town a bit, I started to understand.
I understood that New Orleans is a sailors town. I lived in a few of these when I was a kid: my step father was a sailor. I am the son of a fisherman.
And so, the French Quarter is done for the sailors. It’s pretty, yes! but it’s not healthy. Vices and corruption run wild. If you don’t believe me, listen to Louis Armstrong sing “Mack the knife”. Louis always said that he understood exactly what the song was about because he knew this kind of character when he grew up.
A sailor’s town is a party town. It’s an “anything goes” kind of town. It’s raw and unpredictable. Not a good place to raise your kids there. There are always some casualties in making a port a sailors town. Because, never forget! someone had to pay for that party. In the case of New Orleans, black people, the blood, the sweat, the pain, the strife of black people is what paid for the party. I do think that the French built the town, but I know that black people paid for it with their pain.
So, I calmed down. I was almost glad that New Orleans wasn’t too pretty. The whole atmosphere would have changed if Disney would have taken care of it. New Orleans is not an amusement park. It breathes the worst of humanity, both what it wants to show case as well as what it wants to hide. Sailor’s town are like that. They’re not easy to hate because they project a mirror of humanity that is all to true.