Wednesday, August 16, 2023
Every time I visit a place I want to live there. I like visiting, but I like experiencing better. The problem with visiting is that you find a few of the top hot spots and go there. For a few days, you’re a tourist.
But you don’t really get a sense of place. You don’t understand anything about where you are. You only get to see a place dressed in its best clothes. Like going on a first date. Everyone is showered and perfumed, nobody burps at the dinner table, and conversation is exploratory and polite.
It’s not until some time later that you get a glimpse of the reality beneath the veneer. Maybe you get married and everyone is comfortable not wearing makeup or going three days without changing clothes.
I want to marry every place I visit. For a little while, anyway.
Yesterday as Ralph and I strolled the more residential streets of New Orleans, I wondered what it would be like to live here. I decided that I want to live here.
Not forever. Maybe not even for long, but I would like to live here… for a little while… and feel what it’s like to be here. Where do you go for groceries? What do you do when it rains? What’s it like to have nowhere to go because you’re here long enough that you don’t feel like you’re missing out on stuff, and you can just sit back and kind of be in the space you’re in?
We visited a jazz club last night and along with a bunch of tourists and locals, enjoyed some fantastic music and cocktails. What must it be like to live like this? Just walk out your front door and down a few blocks to a local jazz club where they set your absinthe on fire?
I was thinking last night during the performance that it is really hard to be a spectator here. Don’t get me wrong, most of what happens is a sideshow of absurdity. But you are somehow more immersed in it than walking by and watching it.
I don’t know if it’s in the attitude, the proximity, the activity.
I can walk for blocks and blocks in New York, go from one venue to another, and still feel like I’m in one bubble and everyone else is in another. I don’t mean that in a bad way, just that it’s possible to be there and also be slightly outside of there.
Over here you cannot help but be part of it. Every street corner has a guy with a tuba and you don’t merely watch, you participate. You jive along, or you throw a buck in a bucket. You stop in a gaggle of people who are also chilling out and listen for a minute.
The show last night was kind of like that. They had these narrow sort of tables alternating with chairs like bleachers and it was all very cozy and charming. It felt like you were part of the scene, instead of apart from it.
The Mardi Gras side of Bourbon Street is a waking fever dream of psychosis. But the residential end is just beautiful. Old, grimy, painted and repainted a thousand times, but beautiful. You pass a school zone sign and think, people live here. Not just come out to walk the spectacle, but actually sit in their living rooms and watch TV or sit on their balconies in the midst of everything happening around them.
Kids go to school here.
People say hi to each other on the street or ride their bikes up to a shop and hang out in the entryway with half a dozen of their friends. You don’t feel like you’re in just another suburban void.
Of course there is nothing suburban about it here, but it is also contained enough that you don’t feel like you’re in a city, either. There is suburban, then there’s town, then there’s city, and it feels like none of those.
There is a refreshing lack of mall.
Right along the river there are a few corporate shops. Sephora, Urban Outfitters. There is a whole business district with Marriotts and tall buildings and everything. But here it’s different. It’s local. The streets are narrow and one way. It’s pedestrian friendly insofar as cars drive in a way that indicates they know they are secondary. There are stop signs on every street.
I guess the historic nature of it makes it unique.
But I digress. The point is that I am enjoying this trip particularly because we are not being tourists. We are just being.
I was thinking that when our lease is up next year, I would be totally into living here for the summer. Yes, it is hot as Satan’s frying pan, but it is also somewhat subdued. I wouldn’t come here during Mardi Gras if you paid me. And during cooler weather the madness picks up. But right now it’s so hot it’s cool.
So as we walked down the opposite end of Bourbon I imagined what it would be like to live here. Not fight traffic. Walk everywhere. Not take my life in my hands trying to make a left turn across four lanes of high speed traffic in Middle Tennessee. No suburban moms in their minivans.
I’m not implying it’s the best place to be. I know it has its grime and its homeless problem. I know the drunk-and-high factor is real. I know there is crime and I would almost certainly not be walking around by myself after dark.
Because of the vampires if nothing else.
But it would be a fascinating experiment to live here for a month or two.
I get that feeling just about everywhere I go. Except maybe for Amarillo, Texas.
When we visited Scottsdale I wanted to live there. When we visited Snoqualmie I wanted to live there. When we visited Colorado I wanted to live there.
Not forever. Not even for a long time. But long enough to feel the place and get a real sense of what it is.
Sometimes it feels like we do the same things over and over. We’ve been to New Orleans several times so why not go somewhere else? This is exactly why. Because the more I can do something the better sense I get for its true nature.
I also want to visit new places, but unfortunately I only have so much life.
I don’t want to live anywhere. I want to live everywhere. And I don’t know how long it would take me to be like ok, seen enough of THAT. But I think a month would be a good start. In a month I would feel more like a local and less like a tourist. I would stop carrying my camera around everywhere I go and taking pictures of every door I see because they are all so fascinating. (Yes, that is true, and it will probably be a blog. Spoilers.)
I would stop thinking that they guy who wants to sell me soap is just being nice when he says hello and I’d walk right by on my way to beignets. Would I be tired of beignets after a month?
These are the things I need to know.
Being in a new place long enough for it to get old is a very enticing proposition. It takes you out of the concerns that you wear like old slippers and shifts your entire perspective. You put on the new slippers, and if you’re in New Orleans they are rainbow colors and sparkly. Then you strut around town in them until they get worn and comfortable and a little bedraggled. And when you’ve loved them to holes, you put them away and get new ones. And the whole thing starts over, maybe in Santa Fe.
But never, ever in Amarillo, Texas.