Friday, November 26, 2010

Ineffable Magazine Street

"The New Orleans that can be described is not the true New Orleans." -paraphrased from the Tao Te Ching.

Millions of people visit New Orleans every year.  They take pictures; they write postcards.  New Orleans has been captured in literature and history books more than many other American cities.  Tourists tramp the streets, ride the streetcars, take the guided tours and wander the neighborhoods by dint of their own intuition often following nothing more than their noses.  Everyone comes away with impressions, only impressions.  New Orleans is too big and varied to be able to pin like a tattered butterfly to admire at your leisure in a box constructed of words.  It is in constant motion, flickering too quickly to capture in one sitting or a week's worth.  When you think you know New Orleans, it surprises you with a different side catching the light.

"Do not confuse the finger pointing at New Orleans for New Orleans." -paraphrased from Zen Flesh, Zen Bones by Paul Reps.

The lady of the house and I are moving from one part of New Orleans (the Lower Garden District) to another (Esplanade Avenue).  What these choices of address say about our tastes is immaterial.  Both parts of the city are beautiful in similar ways and they have their admirers for similar reasons.  For myself, I admire all of New Orleans, even the parts closer to Lake Pontchartrain.  While Lakeside and Lakeview, and Pontchartrain Park don't appeal to me personally, they seem more suburban than urban, they have their appeal and it takes more than one kind of housing stock to make up a world-class city.  If New Orleans is nothing else, it is diverse.

The neighborhoods surrounding Esplanade Avenue are very different from the neighborhoods found Uptown.  Things don't seem as... convenient.  Uptown has two strengths going for it (more than two but these are the ones that attract me and the ones that made us consider Uptown first before settling on our future address).

Firstly, I am a big fan of the St. Charles Avenue streetcar.  I am a big fan of mass transit.  We took the streetcar yesterday, on Thanksgiving, when, because of the holiday it was running on its Sunday schedule.  What's the St. Charles' Sunday schedule?  The same as every other day.  I wrote yesterday how much I enjoy hearing the streetcar grind its way through the night, all night.  I'll miss that on Esplanade which, like much New Orleans, is served by bus.

Secondly, I will miss Magazine Street and I am not the only member of the King household who will.  Magazine Street has spoiled us.  It holds everything a body or soul could want. We both travel down Magazine Street every day and we still discover things we never knew were there before.  Between June 9 and November 26, we both have the same impression of Magazine Street:  it is a bottomless well, a inexhaustible cornucopia, a miraculous wine jug that always has a few swigs left no matter how much a thirsty person gulps.

Magazine Street is laid out in a straight line between Canal Street and Audubon Park, you will find what you are looking for eventually just by looking left to right and back again.  The same isn't true in Faubourg Marigny or Bywater.  You have to poke around in those neighborhoods, be in the know, do a lot of exploring around every corner.  There are good things to be said about that, the method and texture have their own rewards.  We are just spoiled by Magazine Street where a platter of delicacies are laid out like jewelers' temptations on mossy velvet.
So it will be another New Orleans adventure.  Another quest to make a home for ourselves in a city unlike any we have ever known before and, if popular wisdom is to be believed, a city unlike any other in the world.  I believe it.  I believe in New Orleans.  I believe that no matter where I rest my head in this city of lights and fevers, I will be home: where the heart is.   Just ask the people who live in Mid-City.

North Claiborne is no Magazine.  North Broad Street is no Magazine.  St. Claude, St. Bernard, Franklin, Elysian Fields, Jefferson Davis Parkway, North Carrollton, North Rampart, Basin Street...none of these hold a candle to Magazine.  There is no other street like it.  Uptown isn't like Downtown.  No one even says "downtown" in New Orleans.  Uptown is a world of its own without a downside reference to compare it to.  There is no up or down.  There are north and south streets (which have nothing to do with compass points) there is riverside and lakeside (when neither river nor lake are visible or relevant to one's bearings), there is east bank and west bank (which are north and south on map).  In New Orleans, everything is topsy-turvy.

It's still New Orleans though.  That is why it is good.  Every neighborhood is a uniquely cut facet in this gem of a place hewn from marsh and miasma to provide the foundation of celebrations and joy come what may, bitter or sweet, hell or high water.    

There is one thing that Magazine Street doesn't have.  New Orleans' best comic book store.  That's on Freret Street.  Uptown, 'natch.

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