“Stop thinking of New Orleans as the worst-organized city in the United States. Start thinking of it as the best-organized city in the Caribbean. New Orleans is a city-sized act of civil disobedience.” Dan Baum
Weird times for New Orleans.
For over 290 years, New Orleans has accepted life behind the eight ball. Spring floods, yellow fever epidemics, ethnic strife, hurricanes, and pervasive corruption. Even before Hurricane Katrina, the city was a mess. Just this week, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said that Katrina was the best thing that ever happened to education in New Orleans.
Honestly, New Orleans still has serious problems: crime, corruption, education, health care, and the realization that the next big storm could cripple the city for decades. And while residents remain aware of their collective frailties, they are drawn to the good things that are taking place in the city. And much of this energy is focused on the annual carnival celebration and the singular success of their perennial NFL near-do-wells, the Saints.
The Saints entered the league in 1967, on the heels of Hurricane Betsy, and although they have fielded numerous stars, from field goal Kicker Tom Dempsey, to quarterback Archie Manning, to running back Deuce McAllister, they are a stranger to the playoffs and have never appeared in the Super Bowl. Until now.The Super Bowl will affect Mardi Gras parades, Catholic mass schedules, and, quite possibly, public school on the Monday following the big game.
On the Saturday before the Super Bowl, citizens will go to the polls to elect a successor to Ray Nagin. Many fear that the mania will depress voter turnout, which will likely benefit Mitch Landrieu, son of former mayor “Moon” Landrieu and brother of U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu. And while the results are of intense importance to the city’s future, more immediate interests cloud the peoples’ minds.
So, even though New Orleans’s values have never been aligned with “American” values, this level of disconnect is extraordinary. But I think it can be explained. New Orleans, regardless of its problems, is the epitome of resilience. It went from hard-scrabble colonial settlement to become the richest city in America. And within a few decades, it was among America’s poorest cities. Through it all, the residents surround themselves with tradition, history, and a joie de vivre that is fed by local food, music, and culture. It’s easy to come back if you’ve never, truly been anywhere else.
The entire region is gearing up for the Super Bowl. If they win, it will be the biggest municipal party in the history of the United States. However, if they lose, they’ll look to their new mayor, to the last nine days of Mardi Gras. They will eat well, party hard, sing, dance, and make the most of their days before the beginning of Lent. And they’ll be fine, thank you. And they will do this, because that is what they’ve always done; overcome the most awful adversities and move on.