Samedi Gras, Endymion and My Initial Thoughts on New Orleans …

Endymion Parade in New Orleans' Mid-City

Endymion Parade in New Orleans' Mid-City

I arrived in New Orleans at 4:00 p.m. yesterday and so far, it is everything and nothing I expected it to be. For sure, you have some beautiful old French architecture in every neighborhood … which reminds me of San Francisco’s Victorian homes. But it’s far less gentrified than I expected, although I have not yet been to the French Quarter or the more touristy parts of town. And the City has been struggling since Hurricane Katrina … rents have doubled, while the City tears down housing projects. I stayed last night with my friend Eli Ackerman, a fellow blogger who I met in July at the Netroots Nation Conference. Yesterday was “Samedi Gras,” the Saturday before Mardi Gras …

Before getting here, I wanted to experience some of the scenery between Mobile and New Orleans. I didn’t have time to take Route 90 the whole way, but I figured I could deviate from the Interstate a little bit. The car zooms out of Alabama … and into Mississippi. As I exit the Interstate to take Route 90, I figured now was the perfect time to play Don McLean’s “American Pie” album … my favorite song of all the time. I cross the newly renovated bridge before getting into Biloxi, only to realize that it’s a really tacky resort town … with massive casinos.

Gulfport, Mississippi -- just west of Biloxi.

Gulfport, Mississippi -- just west of Biloxi.

By now, the song “American Pie” had ended … and the rest of Don McLean’s album is a series of very mellow and soothing songs. Just west of Biloxi, Route 90 now hugged the Gulf coast. After going to the Emerald Coast in Florida, the beaches here are far less impressive … but it was nice nonetheless. And it was truly magical and relaxing to look at the Gulf from my car while singing along to “Vincent” and “Empty Chairs.”

When Don McLean had finished, it occurred to me that I had yet to play a single Beatles CD on this road trip. So I put in the “Revolver” album, as Route 90 deviated from the Gulf Coast and I went to re-gain the Interstate to take a direct zoom into New Orleans. The drive on I-10 was longer than expected, as the Beatles eventually gave way to Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits — Volume 3 (the 70′s take.) The road got bumpier as I got closer to the City; and when I exited at Elysian Fields Boulevard, I realized I was almost out of gas. My first impression of New Orleans was not a good one. The roads are in awful condition, and there are lots of boarded up buildings and liquor stores.

I get to Eli’s house in the Faubourg Marigny (“the Marigny”) — a neighborhood directly east of the French Quarter, but where no tourists venture. I’m pleasantly surprised to find parking so easily, and he takes me to a local cafe to get a late lunch. The neighborhood has an edgy bohemian feel to it, far more genuine than any neighborhood in San Francisco … artists can afford to live here. I had always imagined New Orleans to be like New York or SF — a very compact city with great architecture that has become totally yuppified. But New Orleans is still a poor city.

The Endymion Parade along Canal Street in Mid-City.

The Endymion Parade along Canal Street in Mid-City.

One of the great advantages about staying with friends is they tell you about places and things in a City you would never learn by staying in a hotel. Today is Samedi Gras, and there’s a parade called Endymion that goes through Mid-City. It’s the one major Mardi Gras parade that caters primarily to locals, and does not go through the touristy parts of town. Everyone is happy and cries out at the floats to throw beads at them. “I love Mardi Gras,” says Eli. “Because living here the rest of the year can be so miserable … this is the one time that everyone can celebrate.”

And the future of New Orleans doesn’t look bright for the locals. Louisiana is a very Republican state, and the city is still very much stigmatized and hated by whites living directly outside of it. Black families have tried returning to New Orleans after the Storm, but rents have now doubled … and the city demolished the St. Bernard Projects. On our way to Endymion, I was appalled to walk by a gorgeous 1930′s-era public school that was boarded up and abandoned. The school district doesn’t have the money to fix up these buildings … the city doesn’t have the money to really do anything.

Eli tells me something that gets me plain outraged. New Orleans will get less money (per capita) from the Federal Stimulus than any other Congressional District in the country. Of all places that could really use a stimulus, New Orleans should be the top candidate ….

The parade is now over, and it’s time for Samedi Gras revelers to stay up all night drinking and dancing. We go to Mimi’s, a local bar in the Marigny, staying until about 1:00 a.m. Unlike in California, where bars must stop serving alcohol by 2:00, they just keep going here in New Orleans. We then go to this party called the Maritime Ball … and underground punk-rock party. It is very loud and hot there, and it’s not really my scene. Apparently, the party keeps going until dawn … at which point everyone walks to the French Quarter.

It’s getting late, however, and I’ll be taking a side trip tomorrow to Cajun Country. I call it a night, so I can wake up tomorrow at a reasonable hour.

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8 Responses to “Samedi Gras, Endymion and My Initial Thoughts on New Orleans …”

  1. nafiss griffis Says:

    it is sad that the city that symbolizes the best of black america is in the throes of Republicanism that emphasizes tax cuts for the rich so that cities like New Orleans can experience hell most of the year. Katrina exposed the fallacy of less taxation for corporations. Katrina proved the inefficiency of a government that doesn’t tax the rich. Pleased to know that New Orleans is still hospitable to artists, those genuine ones that come from the ranks. In San Francisco, how many rank and file artists disappeared or reduced to begging. One of my favorite, a Harmonica player , who used to grace the corner of Stockton and Sutter, now is homeless and use the same spot still to beg. Hope the stimulus money for New Orleans will be as Gras as Mardi.

  2. James Says:

    Hey Paul! Thanks for keeping us updated on your travels. Seems like a great road trip through the Deep South. Come home soon! -James

  3. Paul Says:

    “it is sad that the city that symbolizes the best of black america”

    -black on black crime, horrible education, refusal to improve themselves, rampant drug abuse. Let’s hope this isn’t the best of black america.

    “Katrina proved the inefficiency of a government that doesn’t tax the rich.”

    -The rich pay the lion’s share of the tax burden. The real problem with Katrina was that no one in New Orleans city government ACTUALLY planned for Katrina. There was a lot of posturing, but no real planning.

    I guess there’s no end to misinformation…

  4. paulhogarth Says:

    For the record, the Paul who left the last comment is NOT me (Paul Hogarth, the author of this blog.) I don’t know who that person is, and I don’t agree with him.

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  6. Paul Says:

    you have a very narrow view of what New Orleans is and to say it is victimized by the Republicans is a lie. LA has been a democrat state for a long time and just recently elected a republican governor. in fact the city has been victimized more by democrats both black and white for years so much so that for the most part it doesn’t even know how to get up when knocked down. the absolute volume of red tape bullshit created by a government that almost strangles itself and its citizens. and to say we need to tax the rich more is absurd, we need to fix the system. i don’t know if I’m rich but the single biggest expense I pay yearly is taxes, more then my house, food, car, or any other single expense and it’s sickening.

  7. Dana Says:

    You really should think about actually going into a city before judging it as a tacky tourist town. Biloxi has a lot if culture and personality if you venture off the tourist track. Yes Hwy 90 is full of condos and casinos, but if you are going to make a blanket statement about a city… perhaps take the time to get to know it.

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