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April 13, 2005

New Orleans Diary: Day Five

This is the last entry. I feel like one of those idiot film students walking around taking video of everything around him. It's not going to capture the flavor, especially as close to real time as this is.

I found my mother's house's in the projects at the corner of Claiborne and Orleans. My cousin took me around all this afternoon and we visited the places where they grew up over in that neighborhood. It's funny when I look at the place now as symbolic of the lowest class on the totem pole: projects. Funny because she kept telling me about the movie theatre that used to cost a nickel for all day, that's now a converted church, and the other theatre that's now a converted church and the old bowling alley which is now a converted church. Then she showed me the old church that's now a middle school, and the high school where a kid got shot not long ago. Nothing is the way it was. The streets haven't been paved and the shutters haven't been repaired. There are too many holes in the infrastructure to hold the same quantities of hope and aspiration, or so I presume.

Poverty of this sort would not work in Los Angeles. Very few parts of my hometown get as rundown as these have, and yet there's something magical about that inversion - the charm of the Drop Squad value the whole place holds. I don't get the feeling this place is dangerous, then again, my sense of dangerous is fairly different from most folks.

We visited another cousin briefly. Somewhere in my family tree file are the digital connections. It's so embarassing when you don't know and can't place the face. But now that the physical connection is made, everything makes sense. It has depth you can't get from a family reunion because it's about place as well as face.

Cousin showed me the park where they played 60 years ago at the southern end of the Laffite projects. Just as quickly, she pointed out the twin park, 'where the whites would play' on the other side of Claiborne. The Two Sisters Restaurant was closed so we headed back up to Galvez. Then over and across to Esplanade, the burb quickly transformed to exactly what you could expect - gentrification. Not so fast, Cousin said of the house at the corner of Esplanade that a white somebody has lived there all of these years. An odd thing to know, but coming with the territory of a woman born in 1940 in this part of town.

As we drove further up Esplanade we got into a stretch of nicer houses that rent for 'as much as $700'. For a three bedroom? 'No a three bedroom would be $1000'. I'm freaking out, silently. These are very nice houses. Finally we arrive at my aunt's building. She's somewhere in Europe this week, nobody quite knows where, and so I missed her tour of the city. Instead, I'm checking out her building, the Esplanade at City Park where she lives on one of the top floors with a view of the lovely park. In the distance to the left across a lagoon is a stand of magnificent homes, one of which must be the Pitot House. As we cross the lagoon towards City Park, nearly clipping a duck, Cousin explains how 'we couldn't even think about crossing those gates'.

Just around the corner is another cousin, and the sun is going down and the breezes are warm. Lovely. He chills my enthusiasm for the idyllic spot by bringing back the reality of New Orleans' own recent school shooting. Every place has it's plusses and minuses. In the end, we had a nice fish fry down at a joint called The Trolley. And I met yet another couple of young cousins.

It has been a great trip. Now I gotta sleep. I have a 5am wakeup call.

Posted by mbowen at April 13, 2005 07:32 PM

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