When you travel, you expect a certain amount of abuse.
I used to think it was because I’m American. Like, Parisians have some sort of cheese-induced Spidey sense that magically makes them be nicer to my Canadian comrades, no explanations why.
But I digress. I’ve been stepped on, pushed aside, ignored and stared down in lots of cities around the world. At the other end of the spectrum, I’ve also been welcomed into homes and hearts, shocked and astounded at the level of generosity some cultures show total strangers.
But I’ve never been treated with the kind of camaraderie as I have in New Orleans.
New Orleans is a great place. From the rich history, the sordid Bourbon Street reputation to the heart-wringing stories of hurricane recovery, New Orleans sports many faces. But it’s also New Orleans, the big city down there, not at all like anything else in the deep south.
Its extreme tourism could be a shame: “Authentic” cajun hot sauce, po-boys, fleur-de-lis oven mitts, voodoo dolls. Yes, because all the locals sit around their altars slurping gumbo and popping pralines. Mais oui, time has not changed in three hundred years, except the libations have grown larger, colder, and are available in your favorite day-glo colors.
I considered scoffing at the tourism industry, all pre-packaged, marketed up the wazoo and soaked in butter and alcohol. Oh, I thought I might rave for hours about the lack of soul, the loss of respect for the history and how it’s all been reduced to ghost tours in the park.
Instead, New Orleans blindsided me with a shocking warmth. (More than the late spring heat!) I don’t know or care whether those friendly faces were locals or not, but every smile, every question, every curious inquiry and comment was extended with the most honest feeling. What a beautiful city! The food is good. The music is great. And how about this weather?
Uniquely, I felt truly welcomed. From French to Jamaican to Swedish, from curator to painter to punk, they all had the ability to disarm my defenses and show me a great… no, a fabulous time.
Despite the reputation of New Orleans being rough around the edges, despite the constant mantra of “tourists are targets,” every little thing was gonna be just fine. Welcome to this city, shoot what you like, smile at anyone, come in, have a drink, share a laugh! A veritable Disneyland of Louisiana, the French Quarter exists as a fantasy environment hand crafted for tourists, where every need for food, drink and entertainment is provided.
It is a safe haven for any and all, protected from the dangerous outside world. A special place where we all know that reality waits for us, but never in here.
It’s OK. We’re in this together.