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New Orleans: City I love/City I hate

New Orleans—City I love, City I hate

 

 

Now as He (Jesus) drew near, He saw the city and wept over it.

Luke 19:41–42

 

Only a native Louisianan can understand it. And even we cannot fully grasp (i.e., wonder) if some psychology doctoral student has ever written a dissertation on it: The unique love/hate relationship that exists between the state of Louisiana and the city of New Orleans.

The best description of this long-term relationship is told by John Maginnis in his book, The Last Hayride:

 

“New Orleans is part of the rest of Louisiana on the maps only—not in the minds of its residents… New Orleans is its own world, a city and a state of mind separate and apart from the rest of the country, the South, and the state—especially the state.

“The average Orleanian will acknowledge there is a state of Louisiana, a vague, distant, desolate hinterland, somewhere ‘across the lake.’ Thousands of adult Orleanians walking the streets have never set foot outside The City…

“The rest of Louisiana has this love-hate relationship with New Orleans. The farther north you go, the more likely you are to run into people who revile New Orleans as a stinking sinkhole…”

 

Maginnis, a long-time Louisiana political observer, states it as well as I’ve heard it.

In traveling I meet many people whose first comment on knowing you are from Louisiana is to say, “Oh, I’ve been to your state—I’ve visited New Orleans.” I love to shock them with this comment, “Oh no, that is not part of Louisiana. In fact, it is its own country.”

During the winter at camp we host many Northern volunteers who all want to go visit New Orleans. We remind them that their passport must be up to date to get in or out. That draws some strange looks.

New Orleans is like that eccentric uncle that every family has. (I have several). You love them because they are family. But you never know what they will do or say next. They can just as easily embarrass you as make you proud.

We love New Orleans.

It is a great place to visit. Like no other American city.

Beignets at Café du Monde, riding the streetcars along St. Charles,

The French Quarter, street musicians, Jackson Square, the aquarium, and the D-Day museum.

One of the best experiences of my life was taking a group of East Beauregard basketball players to a tournament in New Orleans. Most of these Sugar town and Dry Creek boys had never been there before. Twenty plus years later they still comment on that trip when I see them.

However, we rural Louisianans are embarrassed by New Orleans. The homelessness. The crime. Oftentimes the murder capital of America. Bourbon Street.

My parents once took my older grandfather on a walking tour of Bourbon Street. He ducked his head and sadly repeated over and over, “Iniquity, iniquity.”

Even our Saints… such a love-hate relationship with our state.

Resentment over footing the bill for the Superdome,

Yet loving and hoping for a championship…. Still waiting.

I remember the first official game of the Saints. I was about 10 years old and their first regular season game was with the Los Angeles Rams. The Saints received the opening kickoff and Walt Williams returned it 100 yards for a touchdown. I thought to myself, “Man, we’ve got us a team!”

As I said, we are still waiting.

Much of the hate part of Louisiana is due to our inferiority complex due to our bigger, older, and more famous sibling. The first question an out-of-stater will ask is, “How close do you live to New Orleans?” That will make any non-Orleans Louisianan cringe. I always want to answer, “Closer than I want to be.”

It is 240 miles from Dry Creek to New Orleans. Culturally, it is much, much more like light years apart. We not only march to the beat of a different drummer, but even march in a totally different direction.

However, since Katrina, I’ve felt different about the Crescent City. She has been hit and hurt. That swagger that my protestant redneck rural inferiority always saw is gone. It’s easy to hate a big braggart. But we Americans always love an underdog. And since Katrina that is exactly what New Orleans has become, even to other Louisianans.

It is now our city. Its citizens have fanned out all across the state. They are family. And when this new family returns to their city, it now has become my city too.

Recently I made my first visit there since Katrina. It is hard to describe the destruction and desolation. It amazed me as to how much of the city is empty. People are simply gone.

Whether it was the upper class Lakeview area or the Ninth Ward, floodwaters are equal opportunity destroyers. What was painful to see was the “empty U-Haul syndrome.” As many residents have returned to the City to gather their belongings from their flooded homes, it has been so sad. A house sitting in six feet of nasty water for two weeks leaves few items to gather up and take with you.

Families came home pulling empty U-hauls and left New Orleans with them still empty. There is little to salvage from these homes. Pictures, books, furniture, and even table settings do not escape the mold and toxic water. At one nice residential home we saw a lifetime of family pictures, documents, framed diplomas, and memories of a lifetime scattered about the house and yard. There was nothing worth taking. All gone… All lost.

All of a sudden, the largest city of our state needs all of us. She has not always been kinfolk to be proud of. But where I come from, you take care of family.

New Orleans,

The city I love

The city I want to help rebuild,

However that rebuilding may take shape.

 

P.S. Go Saints.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About Curt Iles

I write to have influence and impact through well-told stories of my Louisiana and African sojourn.

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