Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Memories of the Big Easy

I'm in mourning for New Orleans.

I haven't spent a lot of time in the Big Easy-- I still haven't made it to Mardis Gras, for one thing-- but I have nothing but good memories about the times I've dwelt there.

The first time the future Mrs. Meauxjeaux Fabulous and I gambled together was at the Harrah's Casino in New Orleans. I sat down at the blackjack table (I know, but they didn't have a poker room back then) and was up about $100 in short order. Meaux sat down next to me and proceeded to get her clock cleaned. That night established the precedent-- which holds true to this day-- that only one of us can win at the blackjack table at a time. Not once have we both finished a winning session on the same night.

That same trip saw us eating Oyster and Shrimp Po' Boys at a hole-in-the-wall dive; carrying our open containers of alcohol around Jackson Square; wiggling our way in and out of galleries during a free art show, at one point staring at a motionless naked woman in a cage and being unable to decide if the figure was a real woman or a mannequin; swilling Hurricanes (now a sadly misnamed drink) at Pat O'Brien's.

We also took our first cruise out of New Orleans. We cruised the Western Caribbean on the Carnival Inspiration, which sailed out of New Orleans harbor. We departed about 7pm for the six-hour journey down the Mighty Mississippi to the Gulf, and got to watch the sun set while the Big Easy slowly dwindled in the distance. After dark, we stood out on the observation deck while the black river and shadow-draped shorelines rolled by us. We'd see what looked like a major metropolitan city, dazzling the night sky with its thousands of lights; as we got closer, we'd realize that it was actually an oil refinery. At about 1am, it was too dark to see anything with the new moon overhead. But when we finally left the confines of the Mississippi and hit the Gulf of Mexico, we could feel the change in the air nonetheless. It was the most impossibly romantic moment I'd ever experienced.

And then there's the architecture, which is-- was-- my personal favorite aspect of the New Orleans experience. I'm not just talking about the flashy scene around Jackson Square, although that's cool enough. I'm talking about the afternoons we spent just driving around the residential quarters of the city, our jaws agape at the spectacular old homes with their gamboled roofs, turrets, balconies and ivy-strangled columns. What fabulous Tennessee Williams-inspired lives these folks must lead, I remember thinking.

New Orleans is the closest we Americans can come to visiting a foreign city without leaving the continental US. There's something about the combination of the architecture, the food, the liquor, the music, the humidity and the filth that made spending time in New Orleans like spending the night with a high-class hooker. Yeah, you had to pay her for her time. But man, what I time you had.

And now she's gone. I have no doubt that New Orleans will be rebuilt, in some fashion. But all those fantastic old homes I loved are gone now, or soon will be. What's left of the city will become a theme park for tourists who want to experience a sanitized version of the culture without wallowing in the seediness that makes it authentic. What New Orleans was will never return. She needs to be mourned properly, with music and booze and cigarettes.

Say a prayer for the Big Easy. May she rest in peace.

13 Comments:

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