Friday, July 30, 2010

One Year Later

This post is actually a couple weeks late as it was really the first week in July (2009) that I packed up and moved down here to what I lovingly refer to as the greatest little sweatbox in the south. I promised a year ago to give you my uncensored, unbiased, unabridged thoughts on what its like to be here in New Orleans post-Katrina and while I know I've given you little bits and pieces from time to time, I think you really do have to live someplace for awhile, and really immerse yourself in the culture, before you can fully appreciate, understand, or explain it. And yes, I realize that was a run-on sentence...don't judge me.

Any-the-who, lets talk about New Orleans. I think that on the days I don't hate it, I love it as much as any place I've ever been. It's quite the conundrum, but just about everyone who lives here will tell you the same thing; that they have a definite love-hate relationship with this city. Lord knows its the most unique city I've ever been to, and that's saying a lot.

By now you all know my feelings about the climate and the weather here, particularly in the summer. From May to October we have the "gates of Hell" death heat and the humidity is at like 5000% percent or so. It's the opposite of all things good and pleasant, really. And honestly, even though it does cool off and on occasion get downright cold in the winter, there aren't really seasons here like I'm used to, and I miss that.

For me the biggest culture shock was adjusting to the demographics of the city which are so much more diverse than where I grew up. I've never lived in a place where I am a minority, but most of the time here I feel as though that's the case. People here have their own distinct dialect, accents that border on the impossible to understand, and by and large...very poor grammar. That sounds harsh, but what can I say? Facts is facts. I will say though, that New Orleans has maintained the renowned hospitality of the old, deep, south--the people here are as generous and loving and friendly as you could ever hope to meet. Well, when they aren't shooting at or shanking each other anyway. There's very much a mentality of "what's mine is yours," and the generosity most people have, especially when they are hosting you in their home, is endless.

In terms of culture and personality, this place can't be topped I don't think. New Orleans loves a good party and by golly, we'll look for just about any excuse in the world to have one. And if we can't think of an excuse, well, we'll probably just go ahead and have one anyway. When I first moved here I was a bit shocked at how carefree people here were--I've mentioned the liaises faire attitude of the city before. Everything just moves at a slower pace here than it does in the rest of the world and if something doesn't get finished today...well, let's go get a drink and worry about that tomorrow. (And let's be honest, its not going to be just one's going to be cocktails and dinner and wine). Because that's just how things are done here. If there's one thing this city isn't lacking it is alcohol and good food. Wait, I guess that's two things. Whatever.

Speaking of food...good Lord I believe I could do a whole post on the food in this city alone. It's incredible. Gumbo, jambalaya, etouffee, po'boys and bread pudding are the staples here; everyone has their own variation and those things are served at quite literally, just about every restaurant in the city. It's a wonder I haven't gained a hundred pounds in the past year given all of the deliciousness I am surrounded by. There's obviously a ton of fresh seafood to be had, but truthfully, you can find just about anything your heart could possibly desire.


Shrimp and grits

At this point other than the weather, I may have lead you to believe that New Orleans is all teddy bears and gumdrops (or sazeracs and po'boys, whichever). For all of the good here though, there are things that I think I'll never really adjust to, no matter how long I stay. Despite everything, New Orleans is still a very broken city in many ways. Katrina is partly to blame for sure (even five years later there are things that have yet to be repaired or replaced. At this point I assume they maybe never will be). But on top of that, there's also a ton of corruption in the local government, a crime rate you wouldn't believe, enough poverty and illiteracy to choke a horse and an overall attitude of ignorance mixed with defiance. It's like the people here realize that their city is broken, but rather than admit to and work to fix it, there is a weird sense of pride that many of them seem to take in it. I feel as though people think New Orleans will lose its charm if they actually repair roads and sidewalks, or clean the trash off the streets, or maintain the infrastructure in general. So good food and music aside, after driving over pot holes big enough to swallow my jeep, waiting for stop lights that have been broken for months, getting lost because many street signs were never replaced after Katrina and twisting my ankles while trying to run down sidewalks that look like they were paved by a jackhammer...there are just some days I think I've had about as much of this place as I can stand.

I guess if I could summarize this whole rambling post into something more manageable, I will say this. When I moved here a year ago, I had no idea what to expect. I was petrified out of my mind, but excited for an adventure. People warned me when I came that New Orleans would "get into my blood" and that I'd come to love this city like no other. They say that once you live here, you never really leave. You may move away, but New Orleans has a place in your heart forever and for the rest of your life you'll never find a place that quite compares. At this point I can honestly say that this is true for me. Despite all of the bad memories I have of the past year (and God knows there are plenty) I am so thankful for the opportunities I've had here, and the experience of living in this place that I can't even begin to make you understand. I feel that everyone living here is in survival mode to some degree; it's not an easy place to live and every day I get up and have this feeling in the back of my mind that I need to put a suit of armor on because I'm going out to do battle. But that's ok. That's part of what makes this city so great.

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