Monday, June 13, 2011

NOLA Observations, For Today

On the heat:

Ask anyone you pass by while strolling the streets how they are, and they’re likely to reply: “Hot!” Minnesota gal that I am, I’m somewhat tickled by this. It’s sort of the equivalent of saying: “Cold enough for ya?” One would think that in Louisiana in June, that heat and humidity would be taken for granted, a simple matter of course, rather than grounds for discussion. But just like anywhere, weather is universal and what else is there to connect us but our few frames of reference about environment and mutual humanity?

A confession: today I finally broke a sweat for the first time, instead of the usual sheen of perspiration that just makes me feel sexy. A sweat that was dripping into my eyeballs and ruining my eyemakeup. And today, when a lady asked me how I was doing, I replied, quick, easy and simple, “Hot.”

On the “pests”:

In the French Quareter, cockroaches (locally known as Palmetto Bugs, code for Very Large Cockroaches) stroll down the street as easily and confidently as a horse and buggy. Thanks to my Mexico time, I’m primed to be mostly unbothered by them,  despite the fact that they scoot along up and down building facades, and along the sidewalks as innocuous as the foofy dogs that every old lady and gay seem to have on a leash by their side. I’ll probably feel differently once I find one in my bed or shower, knock on wood.

One thing I already feel differently about is the rats. At night, their chirping abounds, and if someone, your neighbor perhaps, hadn’t stupidly told you what that sound was, you might have thought it was some pleasant sort of night bird, or a cicada perhaps. But no, it’s the chirping of giant mice, and if you’re really lucky, you’ll see them having a snack in the kitchen of one of your favorite local restos, casual as a regular. What you should do about your own late night eats after that sighting is entirely up to you. Whatever your choice, in New Orleans you’ll be reminded every time you turn a corner that we share our world with so many kinds of creatures.

On the drinking :

Sure. This town is known as a tourist trap for drunken frat boys and obnoxious tourists staggering down Bourbon sloshing a go cup onto their shoes. But. The tourists have nothing. On. The. Locals. It’s Monday night, and I’m sitting in a packed local bar as we speak. Most are either diligently drinking, or having casual conversations while diligently drinking. I’ve been exploring the city all afternoon, and yes, I’ve been in a packed bar all afternoon with people diligently drinking. At the last bar a placard read, “Remember, you can’t drink all day if you don’t start first thing in the morning.”

It’s never a not-okay time to drink in New Orleans. Simply walking down the street you can hear the crack of a beer can opening, yes, first thing in the morning. It’s true, New Orleans is a wet town, and drunkards stagger down the street with paperbagged beer cans in their hands at all hours. At noon, business people are popping in for a bump. At three, hipster chicks are headed down to the corner bar for some cold beers after their dip in a pool or bike ride. By NO standards, I am a light to moderate drinker.

It’s cheap to drink here. Where in many cities it might cost you upwards of twenty dollars for three decent glasses of wine, here it will cost you merely twelve. It’s always a good idea to have yet one more. When people are not drinking, they are conversing about drinking. But usually, they are drinking while they are conversing about drinking. I can’t tell what this is about.

In most of the world, conventional wisdom will tell you that if you drink to excess, you are trying to avoid something in your character, attempting to compensate for something in your childhood, or generally medicating a wound. But here, it’s difficult to reconcile that. Here, it seems that people are living life to the fullest extent. If it means having a martini or five during lunch in the lobby of an overly ornate hotel bar, and then making conversation with a southern belle, then so be it. If it means contemplating life while hunkering over a poboy and a bourbon at three in the afternoon, then so be it. If it means sloshing a beer over your shoes while jamming out to a brass band on the corner of Canal and Bourbon as the sun goes down, is that so horribly wrong? I for one will have to say no, no it isn’t.

And yet, now and then you see a man sitting on a porch with his teeth grown in all askance. They’re in the wrong places altogether. The whites of his eyes are completely awash the color of fresh blood. Bloodshot cannot begin to describe this. He has a beer off to the side of his left hand. This man is a ghost, and not a man at all. His young son is flitting around the edge of the balcony. New Orleans is a complex place.

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