Saturday, January 22, 2005

Travel Notes: New Orleans & I-10 between Houston and New Orleans

I was traveling for work all last week and had no time for blogging. However, I did jot down a few impression using old fashion pen and paper.

New Orleans

Walking Bourbon Street at night, I think of Baudelaire. It must be the old world charm and the aura of fin-de- siècle (or should that be post-fin-de-siècle) decadence—the revelers draped in beads, the Girls-Gone-Wild wannabes, the leering middle-aged men, the strip clubs, the bars blaring 20-year old rock music. But this is American decadence – exuberant, loud, and vociferous, not a dark 19th-century European opium den.

This is the dark heart of America – the hucksters, the shysters, the con artist, the fools easily parted with their money, the openness and vice that comes with freedom. It’s all here along the sidewalks, under the iron-work balconies, in the smoky clubs and on the sleazy stages, in the stories that could be told by the bartenders, the cops, bouncers, stripers, musicians, and the middle-aged women (accountants, school teachers, housewives) dancing and drinking hurricanes.

This, like New York City, is the most American of cities. All of our contradictions are so obvious here, even celebrated: the exuberant, hyper-capitalist decadence, genteel southern hospitality, faith and religion (witness Mardi Gras); the mix of European and African culture: Creole, Cajun, Zydeco; poor and rich, black and white – all of these are on view in this crescent-shaped bowl that hovers just below sea level. It’s not Cleveland or St. Louis or L.A. that captures our cultural gumbo, our uniqueness, but New Orleans and New York – even the names mix the old world with the promise of the new.

These are not Baudelaire’s cities. They are Walt Whitman’s.

I-10 Between Houston and New Orleans

At first, boring. The ubiquitous Burger Kings, McDonalds& Subways. Then…

A flock of white egrets rise above the Sabine River.

Casinos and Cajun food at truck stops.

I-10 rising above the Atchafalaya Basin.

At night, heading east from the Texas/Louisiana border, I pass through the eerie greenish-orangish glow of the refineries and chemical plants--swirling steam lit by hundreds of lights—a man-made nebula swirling in the stars.

1 Comments:

At 11:05 AM, Blogger The Iconic Midwesterner said...

Good to see ya back David. Great post. But I've one bone to pick:

"It’s not Cleveland or St. Louis or L.A. that captures our cultural gumbo, our uniqueness, but New Orleans and New York – even the names mix the old world with the promise of the new."

This is both right and wrong. New York & New Orleans reach unique heights that makes them truly great world cities. But that is also their problem as well. They offer an experience you could only get in America, but not a uniquely American experience. For any foreign visitor who really wants to know something about America they are much better off getting to know places like Cleveland, St. Louis, Baltimore, Memphis, Austin, etc. It is in these places that you can see the diffusion of the great urban experiences of New York and New Orleans to urban America more generally speaking.

There is something to be said for the median experience.

 

Post a Comment

<< Home