Friday, September 02, 2005

Way Down Under in New Orleans: There's not much left to say about New Orleans. The only question is when, or if, the city recovers.

Unlike most opinions I have read, it's not immediately obvious to me that they can rebuild what was. I have visited New Orleans twice, both rollicking good times. But I stuck to the French Quarter where all the activity is (and I'm pleased to see the Quarter was spared the worst of the flood). The city proper leaves much to be desired, and as a vital economic area it has been on a downward trend for many decades. It is rife with crime. The politicians are consummately corrupt. There will be masses of businesses that will collect their insurance money and head elsewhere to set up shop -- probably Vegas. People will have to follow.

Perhaps I'm being too pessimistic. It's remotely possible that this becomes the opportunity to straighten the city out. Property values plunge; rents drop in synch; new development moves in; a fresh start. Even if businesses don't return, there's always the possibility of going the Savannah route and turning the place into a piece of living history; kind of a Mardi Gras theme park. I'd go so far as to call it probable that the Quarter comes back -- there is still money to be made there.

But if it's gone for good, will it will be a real loss? For the folks with roots in the area, of course it will, but for others, I don't know. It will be a loss to the convention business (and a gain for Vegas, a city that needs no more gains). It will be a loss to the culinary world, for sure. It will be a loss in that it was one of the last places that truly embraced a certain form of hedonism, and thereby celebrated an aspect of humanity that normally (and properly) gets repressed. But for the residents and businesses that relocate and continue their lives elsewhere, it may not be such a loss in the long run.

It will be a loss for you if you never saw New Orleans. The Crescent City of my memory was a place to dazzle all five senses from dusk 'til dawn. I can easily picture myself as an old man, sitting in my rocking chair, affecting a Louisiana drawl and telling all the youngins, "Chillun, if you never saw N'Awlins, you never saw a party."

My favorite sports columnist, Bill Simmons, says it this way:

Walking around Bourbon Street my first night there, I remember being legitimately blown away -- it was like showing up at somebody's messy frat house after a keg party, only for miles on end. But it was a functional craziness. Everyone wanted to walk around, get plastered, throw some beads, have fun and cross a few lines. Debauchery ruled the day. As I wrote at the time, New Orleans was one of the rare cities that made you feel like you were appearing in a movie scene, even if you were just walking down a street or making a pay phone call.

Speaking of which, if it does come back I'm guessing they'll throw a party. Oh my, will they throw a party.