January 5, 2007

New Orleans, New Year, Inauspicious Beginning

I received an invitation from my friend Misty to visit her in New Orleans for New Year's, so I decided to drive over for the weekend. The drive over was one of the scariest experiences of my life, since it was raining hard the whole time, and flat out pouring more than 50 percent of the trip. Still, my companion and I made pretty good time for leaving at 6:30 on Friday, and a bit after 3 in the morning, pulled onto Bourbon Street where her apartment is. (She lives on the quiet end of the street, further into the Quarter, needless to say.)

Just driving over the overpasses into town sent chills down my spine, since the last time I had seen them was on television during Katrina, when desperate people were stranded on the highways around the Superdome and bodies were floating in the water. Some houses on Esplanade still bore the tell-tale pie markings, evidence that the house had been searched for survivors, but most had been repainted and repaired, and some were even decorated for the holidays. Still, New Orleans has always been like Venice, a dying city that has borrowed time from the surrounding lagoon, and that has spent its precarious days steeped in vice and hoping for one more sex-and-alcohol-fueled night's reprieve from watery oblivion.

I should have known better than to expect a different outcome when accompanying a heavy drinker to New Orleans for New Year's, but I guess I was in a charitable mood for Christmas. The entire city, with its 24-hour booze cycle and ever-available to-go cups is like a giant enabler for alcoholics. As it turned out, there was rather too much wine-fueled confession for the trip to be very pleasant for me. But I did enjoy seeing the city again, and the way that at least some of the culture had returned--not to mention a lot of the bad behavior.

There's an air of desperation on Bourbon St., with its perpetual smell of stale beer and cigarettes, and the way that pop hits only tangentially connected to the city's native blues and jazz blare from bars advertising "big ass beers" to go. All of mankind's worst faults are on prominent display, while corpulent tourists with decades-old hairstyles stagger from bar to bar, holding fluorescent drink cups filled with over-sweetened ethanol, and wearing vulgar t-shirts loudly proclaiming their shortcomings.

We took the ferry over to Algiers on Saturday, and waited out the rain in a bar for a couple of hours--the way a lot of time is spent in NOLA. Misty and I tried Abita, I think.

I revisited Cafe Du Monde, which was as crowded as ever, and as sticky with powdered sugar residue. We speculated as to how many pounds of sugar they go through every day, seeing as they pour about a quarter pound on every serving of beignets. Still, yum.

We watched the fireworks in Jackson Square, surrounded by a motley assortment of college kids, hippie slackers, young professionals, and millionaires in diamonds and mink coats--a melting pot, indeed.

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