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Monday, October 1, 2012
An Apology of Sorts
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.
Now, go home.