Monday, October 1, 2012

An Apology of Sorts

I've come around to the feeling that I may owe an abject apology to those people of the Pacific Northwest who do not necessarily share the sentiments of the person I poked fun at in this past Sunday's post.

Well, to be perfectly honest, there's this young lady in Portland (not the one one in Maine, the other one) whom I would never want to offend, and I'd like to clarify my position to her especially.

So let me say this about that.

As soon as the waters of the great flood of Aught-Five had receded, a more insidious threat to New Orleans' recovery and well-being came swooping down upon us from the sky like a coven of fairy-tale witches on broomsticks: America's corporate and creative elites.

The corporate elites wanted to recreate New Orleans as some sort of Atlanta-in-Exile with our historic neighborhoods being remodeled to resemble something like Orlando's Disney World version of the French Quarter, a copy of a copy.

The creatives wanted to inflict a version and a vision of art which was alien to the nature of the people of New Orleans. The fact is, we have been making art for over two-hundred years, as long as people have lived here and wrestled with the Mississippi and the surrounding bayous of Southern Louisiana for food and a livelihood.

Our art, however, has always tended to be accessible, utilitarian, and organic to our gumbo culture. Nearly every home and small business has a sign that reads "Be Nice or Leave," cleverly offset by a frame decorated with beer- or soft-drink bottle caps. That's the work of our Dr Bob. There is a dapper little man who does wonderful things with driftwood he collects from the banks of the river a block away from where I am writing this. Another gentleman learned to draw in Angola on discarded manila folders, and is now represented by a local gallery, but who will gladly give you one for a cigarette or two, for the price of a drink, or for anything else you might like to contribute. Our children seemingly take to music as soon as their hands can grasp a horn.

These new visitors (I call them that because, unlike residents, they can pick up whenever they choose and fly away with no thought to what they leave behind) find our music too loud, our food too spicy, our drinks too strong, our visual arts too quaint and negligible.

They haven't the means to see these things for what they really are.

They haven't the capacity to love these things as we do, for what they mean to us and for what they tell us about ourselves.

I'm not decrying change. I do not have a numbing fear of it.

What I am saying is that New Orleans changes those people who come to her and learn her ways. Those changes are what change New Orleans. They expand her. They increase her breadth and depth. They  intensify her humanity.

So I ask that you please forgive me when you catch me speaking passionately, and even somewhat rudely, from time to time about a place where my feet have taken root, a place that feeds my spirit as no other place has ever done.

Thank you.

Now, go home.


  1. Very well put, Glenn! As one who lived in New Orleans as a kid and remembers when the French Market was a REAL market, and the Quarter was full of great local businesses (lots of them run by Sicilian families), before the old generation died out and the new generation sold out (I have one particular place of business in mind, and long for several others that have long since moved or closed.), you're right on target.

    When I return, it's those memories that help me endure the "touristification" of what was home. Like you, the City feeds my soul.

  2. Thank you for your thoughts, Billy. I seem to have touched a nerve with this. I just hate to see the overwhelming deification of the dollar and the resulting harm that it can do to all that is good and truly necessary in our lives, from the weather to the distant melody of a saxophone down on the levee somewhere.

  3. Oh Glenn...what you do to my heart! :) I love this post. I feel the exact same way. A young lady who moved here temporarily blogged about how glad she was to be leaving and moving to a place she actually liked. I told her good riddance.
    Oh, she made sure she became a member of Muses though. That makes me wonder how many people actually hate our city but come here just to ride in a parade and then leave.

  4. Wow, thank you for sharing your own story. These are people with no poetry in their blood, no music in their bones, and no vision in their eyes. I know I'm strange, but there is a pulsing force here that you can find in few other places (and there are some). I can't understand how they are untouched by it. But I know they are.

    Oh, this reminds me of an incident I remember from my early days working at the Unemployment Office. One of the senior workers had just returned from a trip to Europe and was telling the clerks about the sights he'd seen. When started talking about his time In Rome, the clerical supervisor piped up and said, "Oh, Rome! I've been there. You can have it. That was a nasty, dirty city."

    I just thought to myself, That's not right...

  5. Bravo!!! I am not a native of New Orleans. But the many reasons I love New Orleans are for the very things you point out, with passion. It's the funky and artistic (sometimes the same thing) people & things, that colors a place.
    I grew up in the coastal Monterey, CA area. The Cannery Row that John Steinbeck wrote about no longer exits. (side note: the canneries and the fishing fleets were manned by Sicilians as well).
    But when I was a kid, the empty canneries were being converted into cool record/vinyl shops, head shops (this was the early 70's) hippy restaurants and the coolest independent movie theater (the only place showing Rocky Horror Picture Show). Now it's tourist souvenir shops and a Bubba Gump's restaurant. The heart & soul that I remember is no longer.

    Mr. Glenn, keep writing and fighting for the funk.

  6. "Now it's tourist souvenir shops and a Bubba Gump's restaurant."

    Oh, God, you've just described the French Quarter!

    Thanks for the encouragement, Deb. I tell you, I sometimes feel like an old yard dog, barking to keep the strangers off my lawn ;-)

  7. On the Oregon/California border, there is a huge sign facing south that says, "WELCOME TO OREGON!" Well before my time, some wise Oregonian wrote underneath the main text, "Now go home!" And that was before the mass influx of Californians came up and bought up all our affordable real estate and clogged up our freeways with their fucked up driving.

    I've never been to New Orleans, but I think of you all quite a bit, to be honest. One of the many times I think of you is every time I have a friend visit and they come back and say, "I went on the Hurricane Katrina tour!" I think, Well now. I have a couple of blog buddies who went on that original tour a few years back.

    You've perfectly described what it is to be seen as a caricature of what you truly are. Keep ranting. It feels important from here.

    (Young? Did you say YOUNG?) :)

  8. Thank you, young lady ;-) And, yes, you are young to these old eyes. Hell, at my age, the earth iself is looking pretty spry.


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