The brief amount of time I spent in New Orleans leaves me ill-equipped to understand everything that makes it an amazing place.
New Orleans is a place where you can get lost in the best of ways. A place where you don’t need a reason to do just about anything. A place where you’re much more likely to be accepted than anything else. A place where you’ll probably see something you’ve never seen before. A place where precessions of naked bike riders just might flood the block you’re walking down for no other reason than why not?
There’s something intoxicating about New Orleans. There’s something that defies reason about New Orleans. It is as unique as anywhere in the world.
People are so damn proud to be from New Orleans that this pride emanates from them like a blinding light they couldn’t possibly contain even if they wanted to.
Perhaps the highest compliment I can pay to New Orleans is that it has the ability to change the way you think. It has the ability to show you just how ordinary and serious so many other places can be. It has the ability to show you that the way we view our lives might need to be reexamined. It has the ability to show you that sometimes we value the wrong things. It has the ability to show you that sometimes we take ourselves way too seriously.
Given how stuck in our own ways we can be, showing us these things is no easy task. But New Orleans has a way of bringing about these realizations like few other places in the world.
Amidst the celebration of how the city has persevered and amidst the somber remembrance of the destruction and lives that were lost 10 years after Hurricane Katrina, there’s still so much that isn’t okay.
So many people who still haven’t made it back home. So many neighborhoods and blocks that are still trying to sort through the wreckage. So many problems that don’t have solutions. So many things that were lost 10 years ago that still haven’t been found. So many things that may never be found.
It’s difficult to focus on these harsh realities all the time, but while we’re celebrating and remembering we can’t forget about the darker side of the past 10 years and what New Orleans is facing as it continues to move forward.
Though it may seem like it, New Orleans is not one big party. Or, at least, New Orleans is not only one big party. There were scars and pain before Katrina and there are certainly scars and pain today.
Admittedly, I have only experienced a fraction of a percent of what New Orleans has to offer. I don’t know the ins and outs of the city or know much about the vast cultural traditions that have made it a place that, in my opinion, everyone needs to visit at least once in their life.
But I do know there’s still such a long way to go. There’s still so much that needs to be done. There’s still so much healing left to do. There’s still a laundry list of issues that need to be addressed.
But no matter how much progress needs to be made, you’re still so damn beautiful, New Orleans. You’re so damn beautiful I just want to stand back and watch you do your thing. So please keep fighting and persevering and working to make things better. Keep on enjoying life and showing the rest of us what a real party looks like.
I remember sending an email to a friend who had just started a semester abroad in August of 2005. I think I said something along the lines of: “I don’t know if you’ve heard, but there’s some really bad stuff going on in New Orleans right now.”
As I was typing those words just a day or two after Katrina had struck New Orleans, I had no idea how much of an understatement that was, and I still don’t really know today. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve read about what happened. I’ve seen the pictures. I’ve talked to people who lived through it. I’ve since visited New Orleans and seen the city firsthand. I’ve walked by buildings with those haunting x-codes spray painted on them.
But these experiences don’t give me much perspective compared to the people who lived through them and who call New Orleans their home. The only thing I know about New Orleans is that I don’t know much. I have no delusions about the fact that the brief amount of time I spent down there leaves me ill-equipped to talk about the culture and what makes it such an incredible place. Or about the unspeakable damage and horrors that many lived through in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
All I know is what I’ve seen. And what I’ve seen has made an impression on me.
It’s made such an impression that I still have the beads I got when I went to New Orleans for Mardi Gras in 2012. They’re hanging on the doorknob of my bedroom right now. I did the whole tourist thing and went to Mardi Gras a few years ago, but I also spent a month there this summer holed up in an apartment in the Bywater writing a book and staying as far away from Bourbon Street as I possibly could. Trying to get a feel for what it was like to live in New Orleans away from the sights and sounds that have defined the city for so many people who come for Mardi Gras or Jazz Fest.
During that time, I spent far more nights by myself in front of my computer writing than I did partying. Maybe I was doing it wrong. But that’s the thing I’ve come to realize about New Orleans. Even when you’re doing it wrong, it’s still amazing.
Originally appeared in Medium.com. Reprinted with permission.
Photo credit: Getty Images