Thursday, October 17, 2013

What I Learned in New Orleans

It's my last morning in New Orleans, and in a couple of hours I will trundle my suitcase downstairs to the cab stand and spend the rest of the day in airports. I've only been to the city twice, once with friends and once alone, so I don't claim to say that I know the city now and that my word is law. These are just the things that have occurred to me since Sunday.

1) Some of the city is really pretty. Like I posted the other day, Jackson Square and parts of the French Quarter are really pretty, as is the riverfront. Yesterday, at Kristin's suggestion, I took the St. Charles streetcar:

st. charles streetcar (2)

down to the Garden District, and the houses were beautiful:

the garden district (3)

the garden district (6)

the garden district (7)

the garden district (9)

the garden district (11)

They're Anne Rice houses, with columns and trees and gardens and statues. More than anything, I want to go home and reread The Witching Hour (but not the books after it because Jesus, she sure went off the rails with that series in a hurry).

And the houses aren't the only thing that's pretty. Even the inside of the streetcar is charming:

streetcar interior

with their wooden benches and brass handles and old-fashioned windows that slide up and down. I've been on mass transit systems in a number of cities, and I've never gotten on a subway and thought, "Oh, this is so cute!" I could have been Melissa on "The Real World: New Orleans" (season nine, not season twenty-four, which I had no idea even existed before googling this morning) riding to the house on the trolley to meet six strangers with my suitcase and my huge bag of rice.

Also, if you live in the Garden District, this is your Fresh Market:

the garden district (5)

It is inside of a mansion, and has a porch.

And your trees are covered, year round, with beads:

the garden district (10)

So, to sum up this point, New Orleans is not ugly. It has some rough spots, but there is gorgeous scenery here, beautiful neighborhoods, random statues everywhere:

joan of arc (2)


Molly Marine

and a lot of charm.

2) Some of the city is really ugly. And I don't mean the lower socioeconomic areas. Every city of any size has those. I mean the tourist areas. Maybe I've gotten old, maybe I've become conservative, or maybe this just really is in poor taste, but there's no excuse for things like this:

drunk lady

That lady is drunk at three in the afternoon. I, and everyone else on the sidewalk, can verify that she is wearing neither a bra nor underwear, because we have all seen her breasts, butt, pubic hair, and some of her vagina. She gleefully pulled her clothing up or down for people walking by, and a gang of guys working on some road construction kept egging her on. The really ugly part is that the city seems to welcome this, and they haven't even tried to class it up with a cheesy tagline like the "What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" people. New Orleans tourist culture doesn't just want you drinking; it wants you drunk. It wants you to have a shot or ten from the shot-gun:

shot gun

and then flash the world your breasts for some beads:


and then drink some more.

The tourism industry here, which I thought was fantastic in my youth, now strikes me as sad and slightly vulgar.

I've gotten old.

This brings me to my third point, which is:

3) I shouldn't come here again by myself. I'm not good at navigating strange towns. Some people wade gleefully into traffic and strike out, plan-less and map-less in the spirit of adventure, but I'm not one of those people. I want to know where we're going, how we're getting there, and if we might get shot on the way. I want to know where the things that I like to do are, and I don't want a thousand suggestions from people who want me to conform to their idea of fun, especially after I make it clear that I don't want those suggestions.

Take your own trip, people, and skip as many conference sessions as you want, get as drunk as you want, and eat as many beignets as you want. That's not why I'm here.

My school paid to send me here for a specific purpose, and that means I have a responsibility to follow that purpose. I have to go to sessions. I have to go to meals. I have to avoid skipping things, and I have to bring back ideas and contacts that will help us to better serve our students. I might get to squeeze in some sightseeing and a nice dinner out, but that's a bonus, not a goal. Maybe your employer doesn't care if they spend a couple thousand dollars sending you somewhere and you squander the money on Hurricanes and vomiting, but I feel like mine does. Maybe I'm old and square and rule-following, but if you're my friend you already know that, and just because the conference happens to be in New Orleans rather than in Scranton doesn't mean that it's ok to fling everything out the window.

In closing, I'm not saying that I'm not coming back. I would love to come back on vacation with someone who knows the city better than I do and wants to do something besides drink. We'll see if that happens.

1 comment:

Marcheline said...

You know how people who say "I don't mean to be rude, but..." are absolutely going to be rude?

Well, I read your statement "I don't claim to say that I know the city now and that my word is law". Do you know what that means?

Yes, Joel - your word is law. Live with it. And be careful what you say.