Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Analogies and Cities of the South

Last night we returned to -W Ranch (that's "BAR W") and were welcomed with hugs, hurrahs and turnip wine. We said we'd be back and we drove all day from New Orleans to get here. It was a long eleven days and it went by fast. Six days in Austin with Tina during pre-SXSW madness and three days in New Orleans on Sydney's breakneck tourist schedule.

Now that all is said and done I have this to say: Austin is like the mall punk younger brother to New Orleans mysterious, hot older sister. Austin knows how to party and is proud of it. New Orleans is unabashedly friendly and uninhibited. Austin is young and clean. New Orleans is a lot older and has a lot of dirty secrets and not so secrets.

Don't get me wrong though, Austin is fucking sweet. We drank a lot of free beer and saw Darkest Hour, I Wrestled A Bear Once, and Dillinger Escape Plan for free at Emo's all in one day. Dillinger! For free! At Emo's! The city is full of tattoo shops and tattooed people. There are so many bars and restaurants you could eat somewhere different every day for a year. But it reminds me too much of Calgary to be intriguing.

New Orleans on the other hand is... sexy, mysterious, spooky and magical. Haunted mansions and centuries old cemetaries filled with mausoleums and caved-in crypts; this city has so many stories to tell. Everything about it is unique. The people, the cuisine, the heritage. The closest comparison I can make in terms of Canadian cities is Montreal, of course. But Montreal stands in a large shadow.

The number one thing that made New Orleans so attractive was the friendliness of it's inhabitants. Everyone on the street says hello and smiles without exception. The general vibe is laidback and accepting. It was interesting to be there nearly five years after the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina and so soon after Mardi Gras and the Saints Superbowl win. New Orleans has a lot to be proud of and a lot to mourn.

We spent half a day driving around the Lower Ninth Ward, which is the neighborhood adjacent to the levee that broke and hit hardest by the destruction of flooding. Some areas were completely flattened and grown over with weeds leaving only the cracked foundations to be seen. There were many houses that had been rebuilt and reoccupied as well as half-standing shells of old family homes, their front doors marked with Xs stating the day they were searched, by whom, and how many were found dead inside. It felt like walking through a graveyard, which we did a lot of in New Orleans, but there was hope and the human spirit at work here. Families and community still working hard to rebuild their neighborhood five years later.

New Orleans is beautiful and unique not despite it's morbid history (whether it be slavery, voodoo or Katrina) but because of it. It is unlike any other American city and is, so far, by far my favourite. I'd love to go back during the summer and have nothing to do. Just to laze about in the languid heat amidst palms and vines on the balcony of an old French mansion taking in the sweet spiciness of the city, with a jazz tune floating on the breeze.

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