Saturday, January 14, 2012

Touring the Quarter, Differently

A first-time visitor with only a limited time to tour the French Quarter has a choice of bus tours, carriage tours, and walking tours. The focus of the tours ranges from identifying the important sites in the Quarter to specialty tours--cemetery tours, ghost tours, voodoo tours, jazz tours, or courtyard tours.

As noted by Frommer's: "Even if it's the only recreational time you spend in New Orleans, you owe it to yourself to experience the French Quarter.... The area is made up of just over 80 city blocks, and it's a living monument to history.... Somehow the place seems timeless, at once recognizably old and vibrantly alive."

On this visit to New Orleans, we have had the time to walk through the Quarter with no particular destination in mind, simply taking a slow walk to attend to the details of this beautiful section of this city that is unlike any other city in the US--maybe even the world.

We have heard long-time residents of the New Orleans repeat the expression: "Old is good, new is bad" and while the absolute meanings of this distinction may be overstated, the message summarizes the character of the Quarter--and maybe the city itself.

In our photographic walk presented here, we have presented scenes that we think show the city's character. A broken chair by a shop's entrance

or a giant advertise-ment long past its product's prime

or chunks of paint peeling off a building's facade may signal the need for an army of repairmen to "spruce up" the place and make it look sparkling new.

But that would be devasta-ting to the character of the Quarter. Each weathered, chipped, or past due item that one finds on a walk carries a message of strength, endurance, and will. Whatever adversity has befallen the item or its caretaker, it is countered by a stronger quality--a determination to continue, to withstand the rush to remove all signs of adversity and in the name of beautification to do away with the history of that item.

It is not a message of carelessness or disregard that is shown in the state of these items but rather an assertion of the importance of the history of the item, the building, or the message that must be preserved.

This valuing of the past and an unwilling-ness to "im-prove" or "fix up" these "mes-sengers of character" is further highlighted through the pairing with small touches of beauty. And each pairing emphasizes the beauty of the detail when paired with the character in the broken, chipped, or past due item.

Adding a colorful flower,


or scooter to the scenes would not have been as colorful against the background of a newly-painted door or building; nor would the faded background show as much character if it had not been paired with the small burst of unexpected color.

Our walk around the Quarter was a slow walk designed to see tiny details of scenes around us.

Perhaps the most important detail in this walk were the people that we saw. I took time to talk to this gentleman who was playing a lute outside what I assume was his home. His tune, "House of the Rising Sun," seemed to fit the mood and the discovery of our walk. The beautiful music played by this very pleasant lutist against the words "And it's been the ruin of many a poor boy; and God I know I'm one" seemed a similar contrast to that contained in the scenes above.*

Similarly, this person's (right) colorful outfit shows the lighter side of the present and contrasts nicely with the weathered remnants of the city's (recent) past.

This was not a walk to see buildings, statues, or historical places, but we think we connected to a greater degree with the city's character and will than we would have on any formal tour.

*For an even more interesting contrast, I refer you to the Blind Boys of Alabama who sang "Amazing Grace" to the tune of "House of the Rising Sun" on The Spirit of the Century album.

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