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This post is part of my 2022 Word Project. You can read what that’s about here.

Monday, August 14, 2023

New Orleans, and I’m feeling remarkably relaxed, with nothing in particular to do and nowhere in particular to go. I spent the day sitting in a café and working but not feeling compelled to work. Just chilling out, getting stuff done, doing a little people-watching, occasionally daydreaming about beignets.

Not sure what today’s blog topic is yet but I’m sure something will manifest. It’s New Orleans, after all, where anything can happen and there is nothing to worry about because all of your energy is going to keeping your water molecules together so you don’t melt.

The good news about being here is I don’t have to plan, shop for, or prepare meals. That deducts a chunk of effort out of my day. There is no housekeeping to do, no laundry, no bathrooms to clean, no dishes to wash. That deducts an even more substantial chunk of effort.

My Peloton bike is at home so subtract that. My weights are home, subtract a little more.

There is literally nothing for me to have to do here but exist. A little bit of work with an iced tea at hand and the rest is just… all beignets, all the time.

I see nothing wrong with this.

At home, even if we are out working, say at a coffee shop, I’d still have to figure out dinner and then cook and clean up and deal with things like getting the mail and watering the plants.

Oh, my plants will probably be dead by the time we get back. Alice will be ok for a week but the plants outside on the balcony are bound to fry. Can’t be helped. I’m banking on at least a day of rain between now and next Sunday so we’ll see. I’m not in a caring mood about the plants, because I’m in New Orleans where it doesn’t matter.

It’s hot, I’ll tell you that. It’s the kind of hot that sits on you, a heavy hot. It’s like you are carrying yourself around but also carrying the hot around, like a particularly large and moody cat draped over your shoulders. Like if you leaned forward you’d fall over onto the sidewalk and not get up until January.

It’s not intolerable, I mean, I’m pretty much the queen of hot. But it is a little challenging at times. I actually sweat here.

It also stinks. Holy crap does it stink. Like garbage and people and a whole lot of weed. Holy crap the weed.

Yesterday was the worst. It was garbage day so everyone’s pails were lining the streets getting sautéed and steamed in the heat. Today is marginally better but hasn’t changed the permeating cloud of marijuana smoke. If it is possible to get high just by standing in the street, I am about to find out.

I looked it up: recreational marijuana is not legal but I suspect nobody cares. High people drink and eat and spend money, so it’s good for an economy where half of it lives on the street anyway.

Wow, homeless people. I don’t remember there being so many.

Today Ralph took a picture of a guy sitting on the sidewalk with his begging cup and playing guitar, who had a meltdown about how you can’t take pictures of people without asking permission first and he was going to smash the camera and do non-repeatable things with it. Ralph smiled and said, ok. Because neither of us was armed, and it’s New Orleans, where something like 92% of the murders happen because of an argument. I looked that up, too.

We saw a cop on the next corner and Ralph told him about the encounter but I suspect he didn’t care. It’s New Orleans. We’re not talking high class. You don’t come here for the white tie affairs. You come to appreciate one of the oldest cities in the country in all its debauchery.

You come for the music, for the mystique, and for some of the best cuisine mashups you’ll find. You come for the po’ boys. You come because you know that it doesn’t matter what you look like, and most times it doesn’t matter what you do, because someone will look and do worse.

The architecture here is gorgeous. The city itself is beautiful. The people… well, they’re mostly a sideshow. Subtract the homeless, subtract the lunatics who stand in front of the racks of tourism brochures and systematically turn every one inside out, subtract the tourists taking pictures of it all and… probably not a lot of people left.

In between the crazy there are a lot of great places to go, and they aren’t always obvious. They can be in the back in the basement behind the seedy looking gate, but they are there and they will delight you as much as the rest stupefies you.

The coffee shop we went to was nice. It had personality, which is one of my favorite things about being here. Not a whole lot looks basic. A coffee shop is never just a coffee shop, it is an eclectic collection of kitsch and stickers stuck on walls and Mardi Gras beads and voodoo.

Even the tourist shops are not basic. Sure, you can buy your t-shirts and your shot glasses, but everything is imbued with a particular je ne sais quoi, an edginess, something in colors and styles and shapes and attitudes you just don’t find in tourist shops anywhere else.

Most places along the street keep their doors wide open even though it’s almost a hundred degrees outside, “feels like” 106, and is humid enough that if you walked around with a bar of soap you could probably do your laundry right in the air.

That open, welcoming vibe is another thing I love about being here. You never walk into a store, you are just somehow… there.

In an old city where it’s this hot, air conditioners don’t always work and when they do they usually leak and pour water out of various ducts. The bathroom in the coffee shop had a literal a shower coming down from the ceiling grate in the middle of the room. There was a bucket, but it was probably more for show because the floor was sopping wet and you were going to get splashed when you sat, period no question about it.

You just deal with it. You absolutely come here with a certain attitude, or you adjust it fast.

You have to be relaxed in New Orleans. You cannot be too delicate and you’d better not be wearing any pearls to clutch or you’ll probably get mugged.

You cannot walk at New York speeds in New Orleans. The August heat makes you ooze anyway, but there is also the possibility something might fall off a balcony and land on your head. You might trip over someone splayed across the sidewalk or fall into a hole where the street used to be. Inevitably there is a pipe or a bolt or a piece of sidewalk that will try to kill you. It requires a certain equanimity to take it all in stride. It cannot rile you.

You have to, by default, be chill.

I’m thinking maybe chill is a good word. It describes the totality of the attitude you need to survive here.

You can’t walk around in this heat in any sort of hurry. You can barely think anything except whooooooohot. It is possible to completely forget you’re walking at all, let alone where to, and just sort of meander in a haze.

Music is chill too. Except for Bourbon Street where it’s like The Battle Of The Dueling Bars with every one blaring music and fake strawberry syrup smell onto the street, the rest of the city is … chill.

You aren’t going to be listening to Taylor Swift or death metal. It’s jazzy, oldie, mellow.

This is a town where you sip your sweet tea and fan yourself with a flyer from church.

Oh, yesterday I got a kick out of Jackson Square. There is the Catholic church there, all Catholic-like and people coming out from mass, and sitting directly in front of the church, lining the street under their sun umbrellas, sitting on buckets and in lawn chairs with card tables propped in front of them, are psychics and palm readers.

People go from mass to psychic readings with no irony whatsoever.

Behind them are the artists, all un-shirted and barefoot, selling their wares hung on wrought iron fence posts. Around all of that are people sleeping on grates and in the shade of a single shutter.

This is all perfectly normal.

You can’t be too precious about things here. I mean, it’s dirty. Yes, there are nice places and good restaurants and our hotel is amazing. But the drinks are to-go so you know there is a certain amount of insanity happening.

Don’t get me wrong, I want to go back to my clean hotel room and my upscale cocktail bar, but there is something about getting gritty in the streets that feels… what. Grounded? Visceral?

Everyone here looks ridiculous so you have to get over staring. There are going to be people with multi colored hair, people covered in tattoos, people wearing all manner of indiscreet clothing. Men in thongs and women the size of circus tents. Shorts up to the crotch and shirts hanging open. People are going to be missing limbs. And pretty much everyone is gross and sweating.

I love it.

I may not love it the first time I get mugged or someone steals my phone but I’ll probably be too hot to notice, at least for a little while. Then I’ll leak on over to a cop who will be too hot to care and someone will probably hand me a hurricane in a glass and everything will be chill.

For dinner tonight we went to Manolito, a decidedly un-Cuban Cuban place. They put Angostura in their mojitos and hot sauce on their plantains. This would never fly in New York but it makes perfect sense in New Orleans. The food is halfway between fine and good. Not the best, but it has personality and it is unlike anything rational you’d ever have anywhere else.

The walk back from dinner was very peaceful. I guess the weekend crowds went home so the craziness of yesterday was supplanted by the subdued chillness that is today. The streets were pretty quiet. There were not a lot of people. It was lovely. I just strolled along and bopped variously to whatever music was coming out onto the street, gazing dreamily at the vampiric reminiscent architecture.

Speaking of vampires, I expect that by next week I will be one. I know they live here, along with the Voodoo priests and witches. As long as I’m here, I fully, 100% believe it.

You’d believe it, too, if you saw what came out in the daytime. New Orleans is a place where you have to be ok with pretty much anything, or you will be in a very bad mood. If nothing else, it inspires a profound Zen state of total acceptance and living in the moment. It’s not a terrible way to be.

Photo: one of the many lovely, balconied streets in the French Quarter. Minus the crazy.