A few years ago, I walked from New York City to New Orleans. Having arrived, bullied and broken, I came to know a city I never wanted to leave. For various reasons, however, I now live in the Middle East, as far from Louisiana in real and imaginary term as is conceivably possible. Which is perhaps why I was so moved by this fantastic article from ESPN magazine. (Credit to the incomparable Dean Ellis, who was really my first guide to city and also for pointing me to this piece.)
Stories from New Orleans tend toward insufferably cuteness and fawning cliche — just as they often give incomplete and misleading information — but this one gets it. Read the whole thing.
But if you’re in a hurry, here are five reasons there’s no place better:
1. People do things together
When the Saints played the Patriots on Monday Night earlier this month, 84 percent of TVs in town tuned in. Cops say there’s only been one murder during a game this year and calls to 911 emergency services virtually stop during scheduled play. Also, the whole town loves the great daily paper, which has a higher percentage of hometown readers than any other newspaper in the country.
2. Even Republicans are happy here
From ESPN: “A friend of mine, who lives in Uptown and grew up going to [Saints] games, says the feeling about the team has changed. He’s an oil-and-gas man, a Republican, not prone to fits of hippieness. ‘The last four years have been very special in the city’s attachment to the Saints,’ he told me. ‘I am not one to do a lot of reflecting back on Katrina, but there is clearly a line of demarcation there.'”
3. An icon of the city has an icon of the city tattooed on his chest.
ESPN: “When he takes a break, [jazzman Kermit Ruffins] calls me in closer. There’s something he wants to show me. He undoes his thin black tie, and the top two buttons, then pulls both his collared shirt and T-shirt down just enough so I can see. I notice the top point first, and slowly, the entire tattoo comes into view, a month old, enormous, covering his entire chest. I start laughing, and so does he. A symbol of the city adorned with a symbol of the city. Ruffins has gotten an enormous fleur-de-lis, the Saints’ helmet logo, tattooed on his chest.”
Imagine Sinatra with the Yanks logo on his chest. Or BB King stripping to reveal a Chicago Bear.
4. The outside may be decaying but the center is alive
Unlike a place like Dallas, with its suburbs and looping snarl of bland interstate leading to a barren downtown, New Orleans is ringed by crumbling mini-cities with killer seafood, from which there are old-school bridges leading to the thriving, throbbing center. Jane Jacobs smiles.
5. Jazz Fest is like hajj
If you haven’t made pilgrimage to one of the two weekends that make up New Orleans’s annual music fest, you should consider converting to a new religion. This year’s lineup was just announced and includes Aretha, Jeff Beck, My Morning Jacket, Pearl Jam, Juvenile, and the Gipsy Kings, among about 100 others. Last year, I saw sets by Elvis Costello and Al Green year that both made me weep. Oh, and the food at the fest will kill you with deliciousness. Ever had cochon de lait? Prepare to die.
I ache to go back there. I will, as soon as possible. Meet me there! Who dat? Yeah you-rite.
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