Friday, December 09, 2005

New Orleans and Time

There's not a working clock in this entire city. This morning I went on my walk and the big clock by St. Patrick's Church on Camp said it was 2:30, as I walked on the Whitney clock said it was 11:15 and by the time I hit the French Quarter a clock there told me quite firmly that it was 6:00 o'clock.

I'm not really surprised at this' New Orleans has always had a problem with time. Time is not linear here. This is a city where people live in two-hundred-year old houses, have wireless Internet and use 600-year-old recipes while singing 60's songs to their newborns. Time is more of a mental game in New Orleans, you can pick the year you liked the best and stay in that year for the rest of your life here and no one says a thing. You can talk about your great-great-grandparents as if they were still alive and talk about your neighbors as if they were dead, we all understand.

Time marches to its own drunk drummer here. This morning as I walked into the Quarter on Chartres, a woman ran out of a cafe to greet me, "Hey dahlin" she yelled as she hugged me, "Where ya been?" I looked at her and realized it was one of the exotic dancers from the smaller establishments on Chartres. Over the years I'd become friendly with several of the dancers as I would take my morning walk, we'd smile, wave, exchange pleasantries. This morning I realized that even though I had said hello to this woman three times a week for four years, I didn't know her name. I smiled, hugged her back and told her how badly I felt that I never knew her name and she laughed "Dahlin, you know my name, it's Baby!" Time to laugh out loud.

Twenty minutes later as I walked up Royal from Esplanade on my way out of the Quarter, a dark sedan stopped in the street right by the Cathedral and all four doors opened at once. I was twittering with curiosity when the driver hopped out, ran to the other side and escorted a smiling Lindy Boggs out of the car. Before I could stop myself I'd yelled out, "Hey Lindy, good to see ya!" Mrs. Boggs, accustomed to such raffish behavior, smiled and yelled out "Hey yourself" as she waved, laughed and headed to church, surely thinking it's time to pray for better manners for the likes of me.

We're dealing with a lot of time issues these days, time to meet the insurance specialist, time to call FEMA, time to put out the refrigerator, time to get a new refrigerator, time to decide whether to stay in New Orleans or head elsewhere, time to register the kids for school, time to sell the house, time to buy the house, time to find a job, time to leave a job, time to figure out the rest of your life.

Could we maybe, while dealing with all those time issues, take a minute and remember? Remember that there was a time when all of this was different, there was a time when slaves were sold in Napoleon House, a time when Mid City was considered the country, a time when people staged sit ins downtown, a time when there was no McDonalds or Wendy's or even Popeye's, a time when the Quarter burned, a time when people spoke French or Spanish, a time when the Opera House was open, a time when this was all uninhabited, a time when your refrigerator worked, your house was whole, your neighborhood wasn't flooded and your city wasn't defined by a Hurricane.

More than any other city in this country, this is a city defined by the quality of the times people have had here. Maybe it's because it's a port city, maybe it's because of the food, maybe it's because of the heat, but this city remembers everyone who has ever lived, loved and laughed here. People visit us because they can feel the difference as soon as they get here, they can feel how time is honored here, in the time to craft our houses and the time to make a roux. They can feel that the city holds all of our memories, our joys, our sorrows and our triumphs. That any time spent in New Orleans is kept in the breath, air, water and sky of New Orleans. What happens in Vegas may stay in Vegas, but what happens in New Orleans changes the city and its people, minute by minute, day by day, year by year so that we can't help but live in the past, present and future.

Time will tell what we will end up looking like, how strong the levees will be, how many houses will be repaired, but we will tell time how strong the people of New Orleans are, how deep our commitments to each other are and that sometimes the best stories are the ones we write for ourselves.

Once upon a time in a city called New Orleans...

written by Boysie Bollinger


Anonymous Hänni said...

great story

11:27 AM  
Blogger Sassy said...

Came from my friend who resides down there -- he says things are actually better than they appear on the news. The spirit of the people lives :)

12:44 PM  

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