“A part of New Orleans’ beauty is that she is a place where many people, stifled elsewhere, feel safe to be themselves: just safe to be…” (Quo Vadis Gex Breaux, New Orleans” (What Can’t Be Lost, 2010)
Embracing a great love for music and cultural stimulation, Ruth and I spent three days in New Orleans to end our first week of our road trip. Finding our way through the dense maze of traffic in the city by car would not be easy so we opted to book a historic Air B&B room midtown nearby the historic, St. Charles streetcar line. How strange that we then witnessed the odd combination of historic stone, Victorian mansions, colorfully creole, wood cottages, ornately latticed, French balcony houses and the eerily twisted branches of ancient trees littered with discarded, Mardi Gras beads.
On both days of our visit, we opted to purchase one day passes for the nominal fee of $3.00 for our streetcar journeys downtown. Exiting at the centralized, Lee Circle, I visited Confederate Memorial Hall, containing a massive collection of Civil War memorabilia. Of particular interest were the bullet-filled uniforms and personal artifacts of “Rebel” soldiers, as well as the emotionally moving letters to family written by doomed soldiers on the eve of to their bloody deaths in battle. Having functioned as a a veteran reunion site for surviving soldiers of the period, I could only imagine the extreme emotions that such heroes had felt upon visiting this iconic museum.
The busy Canal Street corridor would mark the terminus of our first street car journey. Walking from there toward the Mississippi River, we noted that the flood-swollen waters ominously has risen to overflow conditions. It seemed that the low lying, land area adjacent to the riverbank sadly functioned as a bathtub for the next rising water calamity. Imagine the eerie necessity of burying the dead above ground in the surrounding, waterlogged neighborhoods.
The theme of our second journey downtown to the Bourbon Street vicinity, might be described as a clash of “Saints and Sinners” to our tourist mind. While nights might be somewhat more raucous there to the party spirit, we enjoyed plenty of sensory excitement in our visit by day. A street poet feverishly wrote her latest creation, a tourist placed sunglasses on her pet dog. a homeless man ranted apocalyptic verses from the Bible, street bands improvised jazzy tunes on corners, the enchanting smells of fresh but fattening beignets aroused our hunger. Such human indulgence occurred as we sighted the St. Louis Cathedral reigning in the distance to remind those to repent their latest sins and respect the Bible’s teachings.
On our final stop along the river, we discovered the New Orleans Jazz Museum. Oddly, half of this museum exhibited information about the U.S. Mint in New Orleans, while much of the remainder documented the unique legacy there of funeral processions as a uniquely festive occasion Visiting the famous Preservation Hall for live jazz would clearly have been a a better choice. Maybe next time.
While the liberating, Mardi Gras spirit of “let go of yourself” remains strong in New Orleans, I am intrigued that more “Deep South” service of “family and faith” remains strong in this historically and culturally unique city. Perhaps this enigma of New Orleans extreme presents an opportunity to look beyond my liberal mindset and become more sensitive to conservative views in future travels.