Day 113 (2016-12-17): Extreme juxtaposition. I was going to roll all of NOLA into one day, but this really stood out to me.
I kicked around the house this morning, waiting to leave and head toward my final Warm Showers host for the trip. I face a head wind the whole way, but it’s only about 10 miles so I can suck it up. I meet Bert and Holly, two art therapists who have toured both together and separately. Their most famous trip was from Iowa to NOLA when they pulled a trailer full of art supplies and made art with folks along the way. Pretty cool.
We chat for a while and I wash up before hopping in the car and riding with them down to the 9th Ward – one of the neighborhoods most devastated my Hurricane Katrina a decade ago. I am blown away – many of the lots still sit empty, leaving a checkerboard of houses, plots of smooth green grass, overgrown weed forests, and lots with nothing but a foundation. Even a decade later the devastation is right in your face. We go to a local house-turned-museum to learn more about Katrina. I can only stay so long because the experience weighs on me…and nothing from Katrina impacted me personally!
Seriously, learn about this – it’s bad. This historically African-American neighborhood where people of color were able to gain a foothold and pass their homes along to their children has been devastated too many times. First when the canal was built against residents’ wills in the 20’s, to facilitate shipping but bisecting their neighborhood and forcefully separating the lower 9th Ward from the rest of the city. Then again shortly thereafter, when the canal was purposefully blown up to sacrifice the neighborhood and ensure flood water. Several major floods over the next few decades destroyed swaths of the neighborhood, and Katrina was a disaster.
On top of it all the city botched evacuation efforts, a President Bush and the federal government responded too slowly and without enough support, and the media painted a dastardly picture of African-American “looters” getting basic supplies from abandoned stores while white people with the same photos doing the same thing were described as “finding” food. Oh, and let’s not forget about the police brutality and their shooting and killing of so many people, including a couple attempting to cross into a neighboring area to buy supplies. To think this all happened here in the United States, the “greatest country in the world.”
After leaving the heaviness behind Bert and Holly drop me off on Frenchman Street, one of the premier streets for food and music. It’s also just a short walk to the French Quarter and the infamous Bourbon Street. Talk about juxtaposition. I walk around for a while, just taking it all in, before settling down for a beer at a club with a live band and some dancers.
I’m not quite in the mood to sit down at a restaurant for a meal, so instead I head to a small corner-store deli known for great sandwiches. I order the muffaletta, an Italian sandwich brought to NOLA by Italian immigrants and now a staple of the city. It consists of layers of salami, mozzarella, ham, provolone, bologna, and olive salad on a Sicilian sesame bread. Served cold. Again, NOLA food is not exactly what I would connect with healthy. But it sure is tasty! I walk as I eat until I find a band performing in the street, which makes for excellent outdoor seating.
At first it’s not bad – Royal Street is filled with shops and galleries. The atmosphere is relaxed and I see quite a few families with kids. It is a pleasant walk. But then I wander over to Bourbon Street…another world. People everywhere can walk with open containers and bars will gladly serve you to-go drinks in plastic cups, but Bourbon Street is over the top. It is loud, dirty, smells like stale beer and piss, and everyone appears drunk. Mind you it’s Saturday, but only like 19:30. I walk up and down, taking it all in, but it’s brining me down. This is not my scene. To think, only a few hours ago I was trying to understand the magnitude of devastation in the poor lower 9th Ward. And now I am here, taking in the shit-show that is the iconic scene of New Orleans, the one the city spends 75 million dollars facilitating every year. Wow.