“Don’t you just love those long rainy afternoons in New Orleans when an hour isn’t just an hour – but a little piece of eternity dropped into your hands – and who knows what to do with it?” –Tennessee Williams
New Orleans is my favorite city in the world. My first time there was the summer of 2015, having been invited to perform as a guest artist with New Orleans Ballet Theater, along with other professional dancers from around the globe. Only a couple of hours after arriving, New Orleans had already entwined itself deeply into my soul. Since then I’ve returned to dance for three consecutive summers. I was obsessed on day one but after spending more time there, I can’t get enough of this strange town that is in the South but actually a whole world of its own.
It’s a complicated city that’s been through a lot yet still feels so vibrant. People are full of the joy of life but it retains an aura of mystique that is somewhat darker and gritty. Maybe it’s the voodoo influence or it’s legacy of poverty. But so much of what New Orleans possesses can only be found here- in this town built on a swamp by a unique merging of French and Haitian cultures. It’s the town that inspired the likes of William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams and Louis Armstrong.
From the colorful characters to the great food to the big brass sounds that are blaring out of every open window and every street corner, any time of day or night- New Orleans feeds all my senses. Everywhere there is music. Everyone knows how to party. Everything in New Orleans revolves around the past or the present. The future just doesn’t seem to matter as much as it does anywhere else. You go at your own pace. Sitting out on the porch, someone is always ready to tell you their story of New Orleans, or offer you a snow ball, or become your new dance partner.
A praline hawker probably in her 70s named Tee Eva, a self-proclaimed “city icon” and Queen of her Krewe, told me about what makes New Orleans special to her, “You bored or asleep I say wake up! Put some pants on! I’m fixin’ to have a party. There’s always food, bring your drums- I looked out my window yesterday, there was a parade just like that. No reason. Close up your shop, bring your keyboards, bring your drums, call a friend, I’m cooking up some beans and rice, I got crawdaddies and sno cones. We fixin’ to have a party.”
It’s hot sweaty loud colorful magical fun beautiful and tough in equal parts. In spite of the poverty, racial divide and violence that the city is also known for there is a palpable sense of collective unity. The people have a fierce, strong pride in their city. As well they should. Festivals are a way of life. Great literature and new genres of music have grown up through the swamp here to become part of America’s cultural fabric. Old shotgun houses painted bright colors stand next to crumbling mansions. Life here seems just a little more bright, people seem somehow a little more alive.
The city motto “laissez les bon temps roulez” -which translates to Let the Good Times Roll- is emblematic of the place that has overcome so much and still retains its unique identity. From the music to the food to the street dancing, from the beads to the gorgeous cemeteries to the beautiful architecture, from the old oak trees to the local people that both have deep deep roots, this city has my heart.