Wednesday, October 31, 2007

City of Contrasts

Reviewing my photos, I realize that almost all of them were taken in the French Quarter, and almost all of them with eye to the asthetic. That is, they are not photo journalism. In part this is because the French Quarter is so genuinely, thoroughly picturesque that even I could take pictures I like. And partly because it's still easier for me to take pictures of things that stand still (my out of the tour bus pictures were awful). And partly because I was shy of trying to take pictures of people, especially people who were just doing their jobs, or just trying to get by.

So some of the people you don't see are extremely elegantly dressed, and some are punk kids panhandling with their dogs at their feet. There are people who look like us, tourists from the Midwest. And uniformed service people from the hotels and restaurants on their way to work, or just out on the sidewalk for a smoke. A bride going from the cathedral door to the stretch limo on her way to a wedding reception that probably cost half as much as our house. Street musicians, college kids, local residents going about their business, Hispanic construction workers. Frat boys, old hippies, Asian vendors in the French Market. All crossing paths, weaving in and out among each other.

Walk one block from raucous, vulgar Bourbon Street and you are on elegant Royal. Walk a few more blocks to Rampart and you are on the edge of Treme, a dicier neighborhood altogether.

I love the way so much life is open to the street and takes place on the street; and at the same time the private homes, whose shuttered fronts abut directly on the sidewalk, have secluded courtyards that can sometimes be glimpsed down alleyways, and are sometimes only hinted at by the tops of trees rising above walls. Openness and mystery both.

The French Quarter is a long way towards being "back" (though one resident we spoke to said it will never be back, never. The mix has changed and economics and politics have tilted the playing table irrevocably). But however things are going in the Quarter, the rest of the city is not back yet. It has a long way to go. We talked to folks whose families have still not returned: because the rents have gone so high, because the house is not completely rehabbed yet, because there have ongoing health care needs and the medical infrastructure has almost completely disappeared. We saw FEMA trailers still in use, including one at a Fire Station. The greens at the City Park golf courses still look like the rough. The Garden District is as elegant as ever, but the streetcar line repairs haven't reached that far yet. And what the people we talked to (ordinary working people) wanted to tell us was "Don't forget us. We are still struggling."

This is a grotto at the National Shrine of St. Jude on Rampart Street. Jude is the patron saint of desperate cases and lost causes. I'm hoping he comes through for New Orleans.


YarnThrower said...

Your trip sounds very interesting. Thank you for sharing some of your photos! Glad you're back safely in Wisconsin!

MollyBeees said...

Wonderful post and great pics! Thanks for sharing!

magnusmog said...

Sounds like a really thought provoking trip - New Orleans would be a hard place to forget I think :)