Saturday, July 31, 2010

Her name was NOLA...

I was in New Orleans on Tues/Wednesday (in Taos, NM now…), and was entirely blown away by the fact that NOLA is the SAME SIZE as Buffalo, yet there are people shopping in stores on every street, people playing music on the corners and in the plazas, and there are just people everywhere walking outside! Sure there are people out and about in Buffalo, but not en masse, and it seems odd that there are more people out in NOLA weather (hot/steamy) versus the wonderful summer weather in Buffalo. What makes NOLA different than my hometown?

Well, for one thing, any new builds or additions must comply with zoning regulations…in NYS there are certain setbacks, lot sizes, etc. I’m not familiar with the present codes in Louisiana, but the old New Orleans certainly missed the enactment of larger set backs and larger lot size regulation. Mixed use buildings everywhere, residential on top of commercial, buildings crammed in next to each other…all this helps to create a more communal space and makes people feel comfortable with living closer to and interacting with each other. Is that all? I think no, not entirely...there must be another reason. Maybe capitalizing on music and cafes? What section in Buffalo could be turned into a French Quarter or a Garden District? Is that even possible? The New Orleans of the Northeast?

At the same time that I am blown away by the amount of cafes, galleries, etc that are supported by this city of just 300,000 people (and the many tourists), I am also well aware of the disparity here. It's odd when the place we stayed was a GIGANTIC mansion-like house on Louisiana Ave and 2 streets over it looked like the east east side of Buffalo...abandoned buildings, collapsing structures and all. It’s odd that I spent all morning wandering the French Quarter, walking in and out of expensive galleries, and took a 5 min drive to meet with someone from an organization and all I saw around me were signs of reconstruction, of gutted homes and the people still trying to remake them…

Despite the short stay, there are a few experiences from my first time in New Orleans that I will not forget. The one that I most want to recreate is the music we heard the last night in town. Phil and I had visited two major music cities—Memphis and Nashville—but had hardly spent time in either, thus missing the reason why most people go and visit them. I couldn’t quite understand the importance that people lent to this idea of an energy filled music town, which makes for the heart of a city. In New Orleans I was hoping we would spend a bit more time learning the heart of the place, and luckily our host had a music venue in mind! I say luckily because it is rare to find people playing music solely for the love of music, and that’s what I experienced at the Candlelight Lounge in Tremé. The musicians came in and out throughout the night; new ones added, some left, but always a core group that brought the audience through the 2 sets. I watched each guy as he was playing his trumpet or tuba or trombone (yay trombone!), and the joy of playing was evident; each player was having a ton of fun egging on each other, which made it SUCH a great experience. For the first time I came to understand the deep roots that music has in Memphis and Nashville and New Orleans and how it can have a real power in bringing people from all walks of life together. Maybe just for 2 sets and a 20 min intermission, but there is something there that taps into our inner spirit, binds us together. I want to know…how can/does this tremendous power manifest itself in our day-to-day interactions?

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