about the big easy

The not so strange thing about travel stories is that everyone seems to helplessly focus on what is different (which obviously strikes people the most) and forgets to enjoy the comforts of similarity (or somehow overlooks them). In the three weeks (already!) since I came back from the States I have had tons of stereotypical conversations about how much space there is, how polite people are (with the adjacent `Is it only superficial or not?` conversation attached), how gross/sweet/in bizarre quantities the food is, how big the cars, how nice the shops in New York. It seems impossible to escape the flood of commonplace observations of difference – with often a negative touch. ( I will admit, with all my keenness not to surrender to Western European snobbishness at the American propaganda about `the great nation`, I, too snorted when, during the postelectoral comments, I heard an anchorwoman say `European observers have been mandated to check the electoral process in [so-and-so states], which is quite ironic…`. It is whaaat? )

But that was not what I was going to write about. New Orleans was my first step ever on another continent. They had said it will feel sort of European. I don’t know if that was why I felt right at home immediately, or whether it was the fact that I was happily alone all day, with my husband (also quite happily) indoors at his conference, or the fact that we had avoided the big summer heat and were there at a non-rainy time in 28 Celsius (from 9 at home). I don’t know if it was the lace of the balconies, the absurdity of the city plantation houses in the Garden district or the river that made me feel as if I could stay there for a while… The architecture, the courtyards, the vegetation that I couldn’t recognize felt… familiar. I had expected so much difference, for some reason, and it was just a piece of earth with people on it. I took gorgeous pictures.

That said, there was a substantial downside. I have known this phenomenon at Vama Veche, but had never thought it was applicable to a living breathing city. All over the world, getaway places which used to be beautiful because they were empty and one could get away have been exploited to death by tourism industry. So now they are beautiful completely built-up areas where you can go together with all the residents of your country, at the same preestablished time, to get away from… them. The French Quarter felt like that. Like there was nothing there for its own sake anymore. With a handful of exceptions, every shop sold t-shirts and memorabilia. The thrift shops sold Indian market dresses for hundreds of dollars. The bars were there exclusively for the tourists. The music this place is famous for had stopped living – every band (of very good quality though), every shop soundtrack, even the intercom of the entire Riverwalk played what the tourists had come to hear – I imagine that if you live there, you may want to kill someone every time `When the saints go marching in` starts, which is about every half hour. It felt like a giant tourist trap that had actually trapped the inhabitants and deprived them of their city. I got the most agoraphobic I have ever been after 3 minutes on Bourbon street.

But walking around for miles and miles, in spite of the blisters, and taking in the historical gumbo 🙂 – totally worth it. I thought houses in Algiers were quite cheap, too :). Alas, even though you apparently can freeze time in a city in the jazz era, I can’t also stop it for myself so as to live a year in every place I have ever felt right at home in…


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