Monday, October 25, 2010

New Orleans, Excelsior!

George' Bank herring from off the coast of Canada...
George's Bank is located off the coast of New England.  It is a fabulously fertile fishing ground that gave the Commonwealth of Massachusetts one of its symbols, the Sacred Cod that hangs in the Statehouse.  Can a cold water fish really be at its best when dressed in Louisiana spices?  Some would say yes.  I like to think so.

I was born and raised in Connecticut, a small state many people confuse with a city in Ohio when I travel cross-country.  Whether they it is Cleveland or Cincinnati or whether they there really is a Connecticut, OH, I've never bothered to ask.  Ohio was once a part of Connecticut's Western Reserve, but that is a story for another day.

As I discussed yesterday, I have lived in a number of cities and I would like to spend today's post discussing why I feel New Orleans is best.

     9.  The most recent city I have called home is New Orleans, LA.  I am newly married and we live here by choice.  I wanted to live in a city that is the most opposite of Boston that I could imagine.  New Orleans fit the bill quite nicely.

New Orleans has half the population of Boston and much more area.  Except for the Central Business District this is a two-story city at most and by that I mean the height of the buildings not the number of tales this ancient place has to tell.

New Orleans, like New York, doesn't sleep.  It may catnap but business is running twenty-four hours a day.  The business involved isn't high finance, it is individual citizens working to make a buck and to pay the rent or raise a family.  Everyone has a scheme and they aren't the small-scale schemes that are hatched in New London where artists move for cheap rent to perfect their craft before moving on to more lucrative markets.  Orleanians want to make their mark on the culture in the city they call home.  What happens in New Orleans may not stay there, it may span the globe like jazz, but what happens in New Orleans matters for that fact alone: it happened here.

Like Naples, New Orleans loves to eat.  The food doesn't follow trends.  Much of the city's culinary culture is indigenous, parochial and, in its way, perfect.  No one is trying to invent the next fashionable lunch.  Every grocery deli is trying to perfect the po'boy sandwich and bring it to its next, natural, sublime level.  Like Naples, New Orleans loves to celebrate and both cities do it in their own way.  There is a parade almost every weekend of the year in New Orleans and there are official marchers and those who follow behind dancing to the brass bands.

The texture of a New Orleans day is unlike any other.  The peeling paint and the damage left behind the levee failures that followed Hurricane Katrina in 2005 are a part of the city's already notorious damply picturesque decay.  New Orleans has character.  Whatever eyesore a visitor may find is actually a cherished thread in this tightly knit community.

To know New Orleans is to love it.  I have only been here permanently for four and a half months and I am smitten.  I have a dead end job that is like eight hours in Purgatory.  It isn't hellish, just a sort of blank during which nothing memorable happens.  During the other hours I am awake, however, and especially during weekends, the city sings to me.  Better a job you dislike in New Orleans than a job you dislike anywhere else.  Better to work to live rather than live to work.  New Orleans invites a soul to live to fulfillment and contentment.  I have never had an unpleasant day in New Orleans.  I wouldn't choose to live anywhere else.

I have thought like this in other places.  Newport, RI is a city in which life is enjoyable when it isn't winter.  New London, CT was the city that treated me best and it did it for a decade.  If not for love of a woman I would probably still be in New London.  I knew I wasn't going to spend a lifetime in Naples, Italy so I resisted being seduced.  Boston didn't even try to make me a companion though I had honorable intentions when I moved there.  I can say, unequivocally, that New Orleans is the most livable city in America.

New Orleans' murder rate may be high if you read the newspapers.  No one reports on the suicide rate.  I suspect few people give up all hope in New Orleans.  It cannot be anywhere near Seattle's statistics.  While the city currently pins it economy on the tourist trade, New Orleans is not a museum.  If it is, it is a living museum, a place engaged in continuous creation rather than resting on its laurels.  It is a bundle of neighborhoods bound together into a municipal whole.  You can live in Gentilly or Carrollton or the Lower 9th or Lakeview or New Orleans East or Uptown or Bywater or the Irish Channel or St. Roch or Black Pearl or Mid City or Central City or the Warehouse District or Treme.... It doesn't matter.  If you live in New Orleans you cannot help but be bitten by the bug.  You've got the contagion.

If the course of a life can be said to be on a trajectory, mine is.  It was onward and upward for years and then I moved to Boston.  My life plateaued for a few years as I cooled my heels, gathered my wits, found my focus, exercised my muscles, and prepared myself for the next leap.  Now I live in New Orleans.  I borrow the motto of the great state of New York: Excelsior!  "Ever Upwards!"  Moving to New Orleans confirms that I am moving up the chain of being.

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