Friday, October 14, 2005

Life As A "Novelty"

Being a native son of New Orleans seems to have a new meaning these days. I mean, I've always been a novelty outside of the South, but things have changed. When I first moved to Baltimore five years ago, everyone reacted with surprise and glee when informed of my hometown... as though they never knew people actually lived in New Orleans. And this reception became commonplace over the past few years. Now, I get a similar, yet more subdued response. Which is fine. I've always enjoyed being thought of as a little different. However, the thing that gets me is the propensity for the same people to offer their opinions on the present situation... and specifically the future of the city.

First off, let me say that most people offer the proper amount of condolence and are willing to listen to my perspective on this tragedy. The ones that confuse me are those who unthinkingly proffer their view that the city should have never been built in the first place... or that, as our esteemed House Speaker Dennis Hastert noted, "It looks like a lot of that place could be bulldozed." The weird thing is, in a way, both are right. But only if you look at it from an outsider's point of view. People in Baltimore (and apparently, Illinois) are so far removed from the situation that it may as well be happening in Iraq... or Indonesia. They have no perspective, other than that presented to them by CNN or Fox News. And they definitely have NO insight into the hearts and minds of the people of New Orleans. We love our town, flaws and all. There is a soul there. A living, breathing presence that so many of our larger cities lack. It may be the heat and the humidity. Or the music, the food, the culture, the history. In fact, it's all that... not the corrupt politicians, the abject poverty, or even the seedy, breast-baring tourist industry upon which our fragile economy depended. These were unfortunate by-products of the laissez-faire culture that pervaded New Orleans for far too long, but hardly a reason to abandon an entire city to the elements. Few would think twice about rebuilding San Francisco or Los Angeles were they ravaged by earthquakes. Yet New Orleans is expendable. We exist only to entertain and amuse the civilized America. And once gone, it should be left in the past, like a college pot habit... fun to recall, and occasionally jones for, but we're better off without it in our newfound maturity.

In the end, I think most New Orleanians know the city will rebound. It will be changed... how could it not... but things will return that we all know and love, perhaps with more feeling than ever. Jazz Fest in the rain. Lunch at Mandina's or Liuzza's. Rebirth at the Maple Leaf. And yes, even Mardi Gras. Not the one seen with Snoop Dogg on "Girls Gone Wild", but the one on St. Charles and Napoleon, outside Fat Harry's, sharing a drink with strangers while looking for a friend whom you think is on one of those floats. I'll be there this coming February, even if the only parade is me and Uncle Speed in a wagon pulled behind A. Franz's car. Yes, we'll be drunk... but there are just sometimes in life when that's called for. I don't apologize for that, so maybe I should just be left in the past as well...


At 12:25 AM, Blogger Peter Fenerk said...

Being a score or more older than Markus I can attest to the novelty of being a native of New Orleans. The first reaction one encounters when informing a person from another part of the country is indeed surprise or even shock. They picture only drunks, hookers, and street hustlers as being from there. For years I felt somewhat smug about being from a town others thought of as such a fun place. That is no longer the case, as I have come to realize how truly disdainful people are of N.O., and deservedly so. The intial light in their face at the mention of N.O. is usually induced by memories of their drunken stupor or pissing on someone else's doorstep. I predate the reprehensible showing of tits that now is the trademark of the city. Outsiders don't know that it's the visitors who do this, not our mothers and sisters. But the city is to blame for allowing and even promoting the practice.

Unfortunately, others' belief that New Orleans is a nice place to sin for a few days and then return to a better place to live has merit. Disgraceful schools, racism in many forms, and the philosophy that t-shirt shops are a major industry preclude the city from ever gaining national respect. The dysfunction of the city and state government in the face of the Katrina catastrophe is embarassing. Miss. and Alabama were also devesatated sans the three-ring circus.

Could it be that despite the fondness of Markus for the city, these embarassing aspects and lack of concern that the nation is laughing, are the very reasons why he and so many other bright young natives now live elsewhere?

At 12:34 PM, Blogger P.I. Mom said...

Markus - well written!
Though not for New Orleans, I have friends from there who are good, God fearing people who have raised good kids and worked hard their entire life to help others. They will remain in New Orleans because that is there home and they can appreciate all that is overlooked by outsiders. New Orleans is what it is, but it's also a whole lot more and this outsider can appreciate that. Best of luck to you and Uncle Speed as well!

At 5:06 PM, Blogger Scott M. Phillips said...

Marcus, you know I'll be there.

You touch on something that we've all known for a long time, but doesn't get conveyed to the outside world. Unfortunately, we've allowed our city to become a joke, not just a novelty, to many of our fellow citizens.

I'm sure you've touched a nerve with the NOLA-philes in the audience. Glad to see you finally finished this one.

At 7:54 AM, Blogger lca0529 said...


Since you may not know this, A. Franz is driving a Lexus. So I'll offer my truck as the float. It is easier to clean if someone gets sick. We can use Mr. Franz's loudspeaker to blast the music, Princess will be the mascot of our Krewe, and Mr. Franz's daughter shall be queeen and my son shall be king.

All we need is a name....


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