I never saw anyone vomit in New Orleans. Nor did I see anyone defecate. But the results of those better-done-in-private bodily functions were everywhere in NOLA. Especially in the morning.
My mom, sister, aunt, and I decided to take a trip together, and we lit upon N’awlins because none of us had been there. For us, our timing was impeccable; we chose to go the week before the city’s Jazz and Heritage Festival. I know, I know, NOLA is known for its great food, overly abundant drink, and music-music-music, but the latter, especially, is not really our beat.
Ours is more the historical as well as less-crazy cultural, and we got what we came for. And then some.
Abby and I don’t live in the same city, but we both love a great morning jog (like the pace of the South and its molasses, the slower the better). Whenever we get together, regardless the weather or hours before sunrise, we lace up our running shoes and hit the pavement together.
In New Orleans, we were in for a shock. We spent five days in NOLA; that’s a lot of shock and awe(ful).
Mom had booked an awesome hotel in the French Quarter, one block from (in)famous Bourbon Street and only two blocks off Canal Street. Off we’d set, single-file down the French Quarter’s European-esque narrow streets. Had it rained the night before? The sky didn’t look like it. Then why were the streets in that part of town completely wet?
Oh, right. Workers had to hose them down, and not just Sunday mornings, after a Saturday night of revelry. Indeed, they had to hose them down every morning, because every (morning, afternoon, and) night in NOLA is like a Friday or Saturday night on American college campuses. So, Abby and I didn’t really jog through the French Quarter on our daily runs; we rather lept through it, skirting our way around and over human waste from a number of orifices, all of it splattered around, thanks to the diligent work of the morning laborers and their powerful hoses.
And the smell? At least barf and stool can be somewhat easily washed away. But piss on brick -- in the humid climate of southern Louisiana -- verily sticks around.
We became very accomplished mouth-breathers.
We spent so much time and energy looking down while on our runs, that -- after we’d showered and readied for our day, and once the soaked sidewalks had dried -- we loved looking up and around as we toured the city’s disparate parts and parishes, as well as a plantation.
We wandered leisurely through the French Quarter and Jackson Square, my two favorite parts of the city proper. My aunt led us four ladies on a self-guided tour of the Garden District.
Throughout town we peered into the famous cemeteries whose dead only are buried in above-ground crypts. We hit the Riverwalk along the (muddy) Mississippi, tooled through the CBD (Central Business District), and we absorbed the south’s different geography, state of mind, and fraught racial history via the fantastic Ogden Museum of Southern Art. We also strolled around the verdant campus of Dillard University, the first Historically Black College or University (HBCU) we’d had the opportunity to visit.
New Orleans is 60 percent African-American. I would prefer a Portland that approached that kind of statistic. It bothered me that it didn’t feel “normal” to be with and among roughly as many African-Americans as Caucasians. The U.S. is a melting pot, so shouldn’t there be more of all that racial fondue in far more places around the country?
Walking around Dillard University, I felt like a very pale sore thumb. And that’s the point. As my husband said when I returned home and told him of the experience, “Now you know how the majority of them feel.” I already knew it, deep down, but to experience it, even for a short while, is something else entirely.
My disparaging remarks about New Orleans might bend some noses out of shape. I loved being there; I didn’t love the place. I call it Las Vegas of the South. Sin City versus the Big Easy. I’m a bore, I know. But I’m not gonna lie: I like a good, clean sidewalk during a nice morning jog.