A jazz player silhouetted in the milky haze of lamplight flooding Jackson Square… the twin-stacked, wedding-cake steamboats floating down the Mississippi River… the mildew and mold forming an artistic backdrop for a demolished canvas of flooded memories…. These are the images of New Orleans conjured in the minds of contemporary commercialism. What about the reality of a city struggling, a city in ruins, a city singing the blues? New Orleans has been bullied, has been buried, and has been banished like a distant cousin no longer accepted by the immediate family, yet this city keeps coming back in the same way bedbugs don’t die just because the exterminator sprayed.
To even question why La Nouvelle Orléans should be a part of American society is absurd, for New Orleans is not a land of concrete buildings, big business corporations, and high-end capitalism. It is a land with Caribbean flair, European style, African soul, Acadian vibe, and New World influences through the immigrated people who give the city its unique gumbo of ideas, ideologies, and idiosyncrasies. It is a world where the unusual is usually expected and stolen moments are up for grabs, creating a universe that many dub “the land of dreams, old New Orleans.”
America must remember its roots in African and European culture – two influences from which humanity first ignited music, literature, art, and science – and New Orleans was among the first cities of Western Civilization on American soil. After passing through the hands of the French who originally founded the site for a future city, and into the hands of the Spanish who rebuilt New Orleans from two devastating fires in the late 1700s, until finally the United States bought the city during the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, New Orleans has had its share of owners. But the city still claims itself as a separate entity, a unique sliver by the river, an isle of denial. Whether on high ground, low ground, or neutral ground, New Orleans is a port city built on a swamp that pays homage to a history so intricate that Hollywood can’t film it in a two-hour flick.
Many aspects of the city contribute to the unique flavor of this old town: musicians making a buck on the street, playing for passersby; restaurants serving non-diet menus of local cuisine, battered, fried, covered in spices with hot sauce on the side; nightly nightlife offering bawdy, uninhibited goings-on whether along Bourbon, Decatur, or Frenchmen where a little music, a few potent drinks, and great conversation with the stranger on the next barstool can turn a dull night into a landmark happenstance.
From Europe’s architectural influence of Creole townhouses and Spanish balconies to the African influence of early jazz music in Congo Square, from the earthy embodiment of local meats, seafood, vegetables and rice in Cajun cooking to the island-life vibe of living laissez-faire in New Orleans, culture is more than a way of life, it is a reason to live here in the Big Easy. It is why photographers cannot get their fill, why tourists return for more vacations, why visitors decide to rent a room and stay indefinitely. It is the land of dreams, this city by the sea. It is N.O.L.A., it is Vieux Carré, it is the Crescent City, and it is the city that care forgot but never forgot to care.