Reflections from NOLA

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I had no idea about New Orleans. This city is something special, something real. And sad, too. There is this vibrancy popping out around the seams and mixing blood with a darker current swimming outside the fabric of civilized society, creating a fantastical environment filled with histories of food, drink, sex, and music. When I walk through town I feel the energy lifting me, carrying me, twisting me, hurting me. This is a city of manipulations, of vice. It will hold you and then crush you. It will let you in and lock the door behind you. You are welcome so long as you are blind or willing to be led.

In our first two days off in the city I have moved from the fringe of Washington Avenue to the heart of the Garden District and seen the spaces between the ghetto and the historic homes of the city elite. This city is pocked, picked over, and filled in again. Neighborhoods squish in atop each other. The city infrastructure never meant to handle such a population in such a climate.

This is New Orleans: you have the Haves and the Have Nots, the Business District and the French Quarter, the Bad Roads and the Bad Construction, the Heat and the Humidity, the History and the Modern. Disparate relations feeding the other half.

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I could live here. It would deeply affect me, I think. I’d either grow or wither. I want to understand New Orleans. Or at least get a better bead on the city. In my three nights here my best definition of the city is this: “A city of pride that clings to its culture whilst building into the modern era.” I believe this is wrong, and I want to know how to better put my observations into words.

In three days I’ve seen the following in New Orleans:

  1. A Saint Patrick’s Day celebration on Magazine Street, a raucous chorus of revelry extending into the night.
  2. My relationship with my seedy Air BnB host go up in a puff of smoke.
  3. The worst road conditions I’ve seen in America, with potholes the size of bodies.
  4. A ghetto of New Orleans, and the people who populate such poor living conditions.
  5. City Square on a Wednesday. There was a free brass concert and, at the concert’s end, a whole bunch of free beer for the Keys to Freeze team.
  6. The Napoleon House and its bartender Robbie, who said that Brady reminded him of Robbie’s son because of the “stoic face.” Hah.
  7. The wrinkled noses of the passing public as we passed piles of vomit and piss on our way to and through Bourbon Street.
  8. On Bourbon Street, one man soliciting crack cocaine to me as we talked to a crew of videographers capturing a parade of brass performers.
  9. On Bourbon Street, adults acting like high school seniors reveling in the flickering neon iridescence.
  10. On Bourbon Street, the evolution of hard alcohol drinks.
  11. How quiet the French Quarter gets between Bourbon Street and Frenchman Street.
  12. How many jazz artists there are on Frenchman Street … and how many there must be in the city.
  13. A guy named Jetpack buy Keys to Freeze a round of Fireball shots in celebration of our first three weeks on the road. Thanks Jetpack!
  14. The hype around Café du Monde first die and then rise with our first then second round of beignets.
  15. Tyler licking powdered sugar off his beignet plate, then my plate, then the neighbor’s plate while Brady, now shirtless, cycled lifted his arms over his head to expose a proud cardinal tattoo named Rick Pitino before lowering his arms back down, squishing Rick into a short, fat Mark McGwire cardinal tattoo as I yelled “Rick! Mark! Rick! Mark!” in correspondence with Brady’s movements.
  16. Canal Street late at night. Sad, weird place.
  17. Some Rainbow Gathering of homeless white youth drinking beer and cavorting in a park corner.
  18. The St Charles trolley late at night, and the moonlit progression of Downtown to Garden District.
  19. More street construction than I’ve ever imagined possible, backing traffic up for miles.
  20. The French Quarter in the day, a gradient of bad smells growing worse the closer one gets to Bourbon Street.
  21. A saxophonist street performer wearing a leather jerkin and loincloth.
  22. One of the Rainbow Gathering youth begging on the street, asking the passing traffic for “change to buy whiskey?” Honesty does not always pay, I suppose.
  23. The line for Café du Monde during the day extending out the door and around the corner. Idiots! It’s okay funnel cake!

And more. But now it’s time to pack up once again and prepare for another 107 mile ride, tomorrow’s road taking us up to Baton Rouge. The time off of my bike has been much needed.  I feel rested and ready to hit the trail again tomorrow.

Photos, George Eklund

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