Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Medium Moderate / Insincere Filth

Forty years ago, I can imagine Bourbon St. in New Orleans was a wholly different experience; the locals who are old enough to remember and the tourists here on business who once came in their youth lament the change, but you'd hardly notice them anymore.  The whole of the French Quarter and much of the surrounding area revolves around the service industry, as does the neighboring business district across Canal St. that is home to the less historic but ultimately swankier hotels, the Morial Convention Center, and the Sugar Bowl; in a post-Katrina town many of those service people are imports, with only a passing sense of the history of the town and the people, and even those born and raised in the Big Easy are too young to remember it as it was.

Much like the Las Vegas Strip, Bourbon St. is a relatively safe parody of what was once a genuine reputation for sin, indulgence, and vice.  Bachelor parties, organized tours, conventioneers, and retirees are slowly chasing down and overtaking drunken students and dedicated hedonists as the primary clientele, and once you get past the ready availability of liquor and strippers, you realize that the food sucks now, everything is overpriced, and worse than being filthy, it's insincerely so.  The public order laws, police presence, and company policies have been engineered to provide what is ultimately a sort of pervert's Disney experience.

All of this competes of course with the priorities of a much larger, richer city that wants to recapture or protect their history and help their own people; if you stray from Bourbon St. into the rest of the Quarter and on into the Marigny, you can still see some semblance of the old New Orleans of legend...but even that may not be there for much longer.  The one adult themed store that caters to the traditional leather and S&M community is being drowned out by a trio of whitewashed chain stores that sell bland "intimacy enhancers" designed for vanilla couples, and for every storefront steeped in local culture and indigenous practices, there are five convenience store that sell cheap copies imported from China, from voodoo dolls to plastic versions of the sculptures, glass works, taxidermy, and other oddities.  There are a few very good restaurants remaining, but many of them are sadly attached to a celebrity chef who is never actually present, or to someone that has insisted that New Orleans somehow needed fusion foods based only loosely on what was already one of the richest and most diverse culinary traditions in the world.

But the heart of it is still there in the people who remain true to the experience; brass bands wandering in front of Pirate's Alley, the smell of roux and bread, and a pervasive idea that even the most desperate of souls can revel alongside the local gentry and the tourists.  The merchandise and services may be overpriced in places, but the soul of being in New Orleans is still entirely free of charge.

Other than the toll it takes on your sleep and sobriety, of course.

No comments: