There are places in the South that, even after 28 years of roaming this region, still startle me with their foreignness.
New Orleans is one of them. I first went in the summer of 2008, and as a Georgia-born, Carolina-raised Southerner, I found myself in an enticing South I barely recognized. A friend and I were visiting for a month to help build a house for a man who’d lost his to Katrina. We woke first thing in the mornings to sweat out our woes while drilling drywall, then broke for po’ boys at the nearby corner store and squinted through the salt leaking from our brows into our eyes. At night, we sought out blues so good it made our bones moan.
One afternoon, we went to an empty, hurricane-cleared field that had once been a neighborhood. There is no starker reminder of the power of placemaking than when places are un-made. But as ubiquitous as Katrina’s mark on New Orleans was (and still is), it hadn’t changed the city’s underlying character; instead, its vibrancy had intensified. At least, that’s what locals said. They also said “Don’t drink the water,” warning, “You’ll never leave.” Loyalty to NOLA is a matter of the liquid that runs in your veins, whether metaphor, booze, or blood. Anyway, I’ve gone back four times since then, so maybe a part of me never really did leave.
In late March, Eugene and I drove back down for our friends’ wedding. I had a few spare hours to wander with camera in hand and was reminded of how unapologetically lush New Orleans is.