After a couple of weeks staying here in the Crescent City, I stumbled on a word this morning that fits the place in several ways: louche. This, according to my dictionary, means “disreputable or sordid in a rakish or appealing way.” The word comes from the French (as does so much in New Orleans), where it orginally meant “squinting,” something you may find yourself doing in the bright spring sunshine of the delta, or in a smoky bar, like Cafe Negril on Frenchman Street, where the other night we heard an amazing, frenetic blues harp player blowing his heart out.
New Orleans also is highly improbable (a city built in a swamp), vulnerable (heard about Katrina?), decadent and derelict (from the “Tits and Whiskey” sign on Burbon Street to the constant threat of black mold), and offers a cultural/historical stew (“roux,” I guess I should say) unlike any other place I’ve been in America. Often it feels more like some lost corner of the Caribbean than the USA. As one resident put it after returning from a post-Katrina stint living in Atalanta for a few years, “they really should require a passport when you come here.”
Click here for a New Orleans photo gallery.
Our rich immersion experience has provided fodder for dozens of posts. We’ve toured the post-Katrina cityscape with Steve Nelson, a Tulane geologist who has studied in depth the disaster’s connections between human development, the delta’s complex formation, and the hydrology of surrounding waters. We’ve delved into subsidence (the sinking of the delta and disappearance of its wetlands) with University of New Orleans geologist Mark Kulp. We paddled the Barataria Preserve with two informative National Park Service guides (click here for a photo gallery of that trip). We walked the levee of Bayou Lafourche with its remarkable administrator and master planner, Cajun Windell Curole. We’ve witnessed inspiring wetland restoration work by dedicated school kids under teacher Barry Guillot’s leadership at Wetland Watchers Park. We’ve been up and down the delta with consummate guide Jimmy Delery, who led us on a winding path to Port Fourchon, a bizzare, other-worldly industrial complex serving oil and gas industries near Grand Isle at the very outer edge of the delta’s fast-disappearing salt marsh.
More on all that in the days to come—now the sun’s out and it’s time to go paddling.
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