Sunday, November 14, 2010

South of the West Bank

Tchoupitoulas Street.
An old friend asked me what it is like to live in New Orleans.  I trust she won't mind if I just post this excerpt of my reply.  It's not like it's a secret:

"Unlike what we are used to, there aren't many incorporated towns in the surrounding parishes (counties).  I still haven't really figured it out,.  There aren't any towns so much as "places."  I find it very disorienting trying to navigate my way around when touring the countryside since I am used to using incorporated towns as a reference point.  There also doesn't seem to be the ingrained animosity between communities that I am so used to in New England.  People live in Metarie but there's no stigma attached to living in the suburb.  People here seem to love their developments and strip malls." 

I was in Belle Chasse yesterday.  If this were in Connecticut, I would expect to find a town green, a city hall, a white clapboard Congregational Church on the green, and a cluster of old commercial building on the surrounding streets.  The center of town would have colonial homes dating from the 1700s and then other eras in a widening circumference from the center of town.  Belle Chasse (pronounced Bell Chase) is not like that.

The center of "town" (it's not a town, it is the seat of Plaquemines Parish, unincorporated without a government of its own or selectmen or town meetings) is where two state roads meet.  All the homes are gated communities of McMansions and then a strip of shopping centers that goes on and on and on.  There is very little eye candy to delight a sensitive aesthetic sense.  Ungated communities of prefabricated homes seemed to be lining the street grid behind the McDonald's.

New Orleans is a different world from the rest of the American cities I've lived in.  Louisiana past the west bank of the Mississippi River (which I traveled south to reach, it's that convoluted) is another world altogether.  I passed a mix of heavy industry, agriculture, and bedrooms interspersed amidst torn up swampland.  I don't know what the residents of Plaquemines Parish do for entertainment or community.

I ride a motorcycle.  I pass through, I observe, I head home to the city I call home.  I don't know a gol-darned thing about anything I've witnessed.

I did order a new fairing for my Little Ninja.  The old one has rattled so loose and developed so many cracks and faults from the abuse of New Orleans's potholed streets that it is beyond repair.  Every time I hear the front end rattle, it pains me and embarrasses me.  The Little Ninja is a sleek machine, as finely tuned and fit as its driver.  The noises it makes is a personal affront, as if I am a rusty Tim Man jangled by my environment so that I sound like I will fall apart the next intersection.  Untrue.  New Orleans is nurturing me rather than killing me.  New Orleans is making me stronger and more open to the cornucopia life offers those with the inclination to swallow whole.  The Little Ninja shouldn't rattle the same way I don't.

I was given a choice of colors.  The Little Ninja is blue (see below).  Now the fairing around the headlight will be red.  I never want to hear someone say, "I didn't see you."  You can't be afraid of color.  This is a doctrine I employ in my shirts and ties and socks.  As I get older, it is a doctrine I employ in my motorcycle gear.  "See me."  Nothing says New Orleans as much as this statement.  New Orleans commands attention.  It's citizens demand to be seen.
There aren't any hills this tall in my part of Louisiana.  Picture taken in Virginia's Shenandoah Valley.


Anita said...

Lovely post. Those with whom you correspond must feel quite special to receive your letters. Genuine correspondence these days is so rare.

I was reminded of an observation of mine when I first moved here from a place almost as seriously correct as Boston. During those hidebound days of "Dress for Success," I wrote home, "This is unlike any place I've ever been. Here they wear purple clothes!"

Whalehead King said...

I tend to write long, rambling letters and those are the kind I like to receive. Who doesn't like mail? As much as e-mail is convenient, nothing beats an envelope in the physical mailbox written by hand. You get to chat with the mail man (Heaven bless the USPS) and you get to trace the real impressions a friend makes on paper in with their own eccentric hand. I love real mail. I wish I could get more of the stamped kind.


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