The Pulse of Nawlins

by Rachel Gertz

Day 86

St. Roche

Let me tell you a story about the beating heart of the US. It’s right here in a little town called New Orleans, which isn’t a town, and isn’t so little after all. This story starts when two road weary travelers beeline their way through the parched deserts of Texas and into the humid underbelly of Louisiana. Cypress stumps jut out of greasy quagmires. Spanish moss hangs from the branches.

These tired hooligans roll into a quiet RV park in New Orleans after hearing hyped claims of violence and rape and gang activity. Nothing bad happens to them in the French Quarter. Awestruck by lights and the trumpet sounds of Bourbon Street, they sip overpriced draft and watch 73 year old Jimmy  in a smart jacket belt out his Dixieland blues. He’s one Cool Cat. Jazz club after theme pub blur together in the throngs of Cajun locals and gawky bead covered tourists as these strangers gorge on the culture. The Louisiana sun sets on the 300 year old streets.

Then comes the food. Spicy gumbo, crab bisque, and crawfish, alligator, frog legs, etouffee, blackened catfish, fresh cornbread muffins, They eat till they bloat and roll off of their stools. Drunk and happy, they let the voodoo pulse of New Orleans lull them to sleep. Man, this place really gets ya, they think. The Cajun dialect sings in their brains.

The boy and the girl set out again, and this time stand before the wreckage of the most devastating hurricane in history. The 8 foot water line is fading, but most of the buildings on the Lower 9th Ward still gape with storm punched windows and rotting beams. The National Guard has tattooed their initials on the doors of homes where they have retrieved victims and only 30% of folks have come back to their wooden remains. FEMA trailers still sit occupied in front yards, but the displaced people are strong and homes are springing up once more —not without controversy. These two strangers feel the heart beat stronger. New Orleans will be rebuilt within two years, they are told.

Vines cover the architectural giants of New Orleans. Plantations and libraries look down regally at the two, later that afternoon. Shotgun houses, line the streets like pretty teeth. The Napoleon House, the oldest relic in the city sits with brick & mortar walls and rickety tables. The strangers don’t feel like strangers anymore; they sit and sip a Pimm’s cup or two, revelling in the breath of the city.

Rain plops down on the streets, smearing mist over the city. To warm up, the couple visits Du Monde Cafe and sips chicory coffee with powder-covered beignets. They wander the French market, they sniff the humid swampy air. They watch the colourful people. They feel connected.

More than Vancouver, more than Seattle, more than San Francisco, more than San Diego.

The beating heart is New Orleans.

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