Saturday, 30 July 2011

The big easy

I have wanted to visit New Orleans for so long that, like a long-anticipated party or Christmas as an excitable child, I felt sure it would be a disappointment, would not be what I expected.  But the crumbling plaster, the iron balconies, the oily heat that coats your skin, the lush foliage trailing from upper storeys… everything is exactly how I imagined it would be.  Bourbon and Decataur Streets are both reminiscent of Blackpool or the tackiest parts of Ibiza, but the rest of the French Quarter (and indeed the rest of the city that I see) is an essay in faded beauty.   

I think my two favourite things over the 3 days I am there are the bike tour I take with Confederacy of Cruisers and the Katrina exhibition at The Presbytere.  Jeff, the guide on the bike tour, is witty and knowledgeable and it’s nice to leave the French Quarter behind and see areas (mainly the Fabourg Marigny and Bywater districts) where residents live, work and go to school.  I haven’t been on a bike for a few years and was slightly concerned that I wouldn’t cope with cycling in decidedly non-English temperatures.  I needn’t have worried: the fixed gear bikes are super easy to ride on the flat streets of New Orleans and the breeze when cruising is a pleasant way to cool off.  It leaves me itching to get a bike when I return home to the almost as flat Leicester streets.

I’ve been reading New Orleans-based books while I’m here: Poppy Z Brite’s Lost Souls, the New Orleans classic A Confederacy of Dunces and, having picked up a copy in New York specially, Zeitoun by Dave Eggers, which is good preparation for The Presbytere. The Katrina exhibition is amazing and I spend a lot of my time there biting my lip, willing myself not to cry.  Lots of photographs, recorded testimony, video and donated objects (everything from a mud-encrusted teddy bear to the wall of an apartment on which a resident wrote his diary).  I stumble out into the sunshine of Jackson Square full of awe at the resilience and spirit of the residents of New Orleans.

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