Monday, February 13, 2012

The Real Esplanade Avenue, New Orleans, LA

Our Lady of Prompt Succor.

When people say they live on the sunny side of Esplanade Avenue, they mean they live on either side.  The side with even-numbered addresses is as chipper and convivial as the odd-sided one.  Esplanade Avenue, running along the panoramic high ground known, locally, as Esplanade Ridge, is the slenderest slice of New Orleans that is a world unto itself.  No street in America is named more truly than Esplanade Avenue in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Unlike Saint Charles Avenue, the street both closest to, and furthest away from, Esplanade Avenue’s sensibility, Esplanade Avenue is a street that is made for walking.  Its length, between City Park and the Old U.S. Mint, is rarely visited by tourists.  If they chose to, they could absorb a few centuries of New Orleaniana in an hour and three quarters.  Esplanade Avenue’s economy is based on neighborhood interaction.  Its story is self-contained, both part and parcel of the whole city in microcosm.
Saint Charles Avenue is a long, run-on variation on a theme, a tinkling on the ivories.  The only people who live on Saint Charles Avenue are the ones who inhabit it.  Esplanade Avenue is a self-contained story told in four acts, starting with picturesque introduction and concluding when there is nothing left to say.  The people who live on Esplanade Avenue love it.  When musicians march on Esplanade Avenue, they play brass and snare.  A perfect street stokes platonic passions that sizzle, under the skin, from one august day to the next.  
Bisected down its neutral ground, the even-sided half of Esplanade Avenue is the Sixth Ward, and the odd side is the Seventh Ward.  The Sixth Ward’s landfill trash, and the household trash meant for recycling, gets picked up at curbside every Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday.  The Seventh Ward puts its trash barrels on the curb every Tuesday, Friday and Saturday.  Esplanade Avenue is very picturesque.  
Between BMC and Check Point Charlie, rhythm and tympanum compliment each other in contrapuntal harmony.  
Fed by the dedicated exit ramp off the Claiborne Avenue Overpass, traffic does not jam on Esplanade Avenue, with its many, patience-inducing traffic lights.  Everyone smiles.  There is plenty of change to spare along a stretch of road that is as old as the city itself, and older, still, in some places.
Between the statue of the Muse of History and the house that Edgar Degas lived in for five months, where Bayou Road, the oldest street in the city, goes from Treme to the Fairgrounds, where the neutral ground narrows at the jag in the lanes after South Galvez Street, bus lines converge and transfer passengers.  Communication and commutation between New Orleans’ distant parts is enhanced and enabled along Esplanade Avenue, where wards converge. 
Different flavors, and different shades, as it traces its patched-pothole track, Esplanade Avenue is consistent in its diversity, and surprising in its tranquility.  If you can imagine peace on Earth, you can imagine a stroll along Esplanade Avenue.  The rat slumbers next to the hen, and eggs are on the breakfast table with red beans and grits, every morning.  Children go to school in waves, and they head home, later.  Adults wander to and fro, morning and night, on their errands.  Conversations unfurl, and connections are made, along Esplanade Avenue.
Between the crumbling high school and the abandoned nursing home, diagonally across from the donut shop, behind the new Rent-a-Center, where a locked, empty church keeps its welcome sign out, business blossoms.
Esplanade Ridge, an unmeasurable, natural wonder of elevated dry land, as majestic as any ineffable, topographic feature, runs somewhat askew of the Crescent City’s curved street grid.  Triangular parks scale Esplanade Avenue’s sides as it runs its straight line to end up near Storyland.  Great things happen on Esplanade Avenue, but they rarely make the news.  
Between two supermarkets that cannot be bothered to compete with each other, and two Spanish restaurants that are as far apart as Minorca and Majorca, a twinkle of whimsy tickles one length of Esplanade Avenue, and one length of Grande Route St. John, and one half of Mystery Street.
Between Saint Louis Cemetery No. 3, and Cabrini High School, devotees of Our Lady of the Rosary pass every day, whether they know it or not.  
Esplanade Avenue rolls over Moss Street and crosses Bayou St. John in a soaring arc atop a utilitarian, cast-concrete bridge.  The view is breathtaking, as is the traffic circle that loops around itself, with stoplights at each cardinal point.  If you ever need to get your bearings, travel the length of Esplanade Avenue from front to back.  What you lose in perspective, you will gain in experience.
When Esplanade Avenue ends, it does so with a command.  A statue of P.G.T. Beauregard, himself, astride a charger, points his saber to the river,.  Any surveyor licensed by the State of Louisiana can plot the course of Esplanade Avenue’s middle by just that saber tip’s angle, alone.  Any symbolic instruction is unintentionally implicit.  You do not have to graduate from Delgado Community College to learn what lies on the other side of the Storyland Railroad’s tracks.
Behind the stalwart, noble figure of General P.G.T. Beauregard, CSA (ret.)(d.1893), is a nexus of rest, relaxation, rejuvenating exercise, picturesque surroundings, family reunions, amateur sporting events, gardens, benches, trails, lagoons, an art museum, and a golf course.  Wars have been fought to preserve civilized life.  Fate runs a weighted lottery.  New Orleans City Park is many things to many people.  Sometimes it all boils down to zoning.  If there are nutria, there is raw, spiritual nourishment available for the inhaling.  Ducks do not live by breadcrumbs alone, and New Orleans needs a grand City Park.  A city that is, itself, a vast testament to vibrant perseverance, should be freckled and speckled with the relics of its permanent past.  
To General Beauregard’s bronzed, right flank, the Canal Street streetcar stops its run with no transfer, but for a a bus.  The only bell that rings on Esplanade Avenue is the church bell summoning parishioners to mass.  Streetcars do not clatter down Esplanade Avenue.  It is a street that finds its identity in unhurried modes.  The loveliest, most thought-provoking, six, sunny-side miles in New Orleans are down one side of Esplanade Avenue and up the other.  A great city’s heart has many arteries to keep its pressure pumping where needed.  Some neighborhoods are scabbed over and scarred, and some have undergone cosmetic surgery.  Some neighborhoods have a fluttering pulse, while others throb with expanding contractions.  Some neighborhoods are husks of empty shotgun shells.  Some neighborhoods are empty, still.  Some neighborhoods make for a pleasant walk at all times of day and night, at all times of the year.
Esplanade Avenue is alive and well.  It is a world both apart from, and, a part of, the rest of New Orleans.  There is no more New Orleanian street on the map, or off the radar.  Esplanade Avenue makes an impression that will inspire a career track for those who can recognize beauty in its polished rough.  A human promenade progresses along Esplanade Avenue.  If New Orleans is beautiful, and it certainly is, its essence is distinctly distilled without a trace of stink, in the perfume that lazily wafts along Esplanade Avenue.  Time does not stand still.  It evolves.  A rough oyster shell holds a pearl.
Esplanade Avenue starts at the Mississippi River, as most everything in New Orleans does.  It ends in art, as most everything in New Orleans does.  There is plenty to see along the way.  Every journey is full of distractions and temptations.  Every journey is worth taking.  If you are lucky enough to walk Esplanade Avenue, you know what it means to have your senses alive.  What is life, but experience?  What is experience if it does not lead to knowledge?  What is knowledge if it does not lead to more questions?  There is always more to learn.  Lessons are dealt every day along the sidewalks of Esplanade Avenue.  Autodidacts, university scholars, and sages wise beyond their credentials find something to savor on Esplanade Avenue.  
Moonlight and sunlight, streetlight, and strobe light, in brightest day and blackest night, Esplanade Avenue is welcoming, peaceful, and secure in its community.  Pelicans, chickens, and pigeons call it home.  So do many, many people who have nowhere else to go between up and down.  The length of Esplanade Avenue runs a pleasant gantlet that invites wandering.  The destination may be unknown, but there will be a welcome respite at journey’s end.

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