It's hard to write this and call myself an ex-pat of New Orleans but I guess that's where I am in life, even if I am in a place so close yet so far away from my home city. New Orleans and Baton Rouge are cousins-in-law, inextricably linked but not close enough to be twinned in blood. Whereas New Orleans is the gorgeous, exotic model at the dinner table with her sequined dress short and straight, martini straighter, and hangover fairly evident; Baton Rouge is the Southern belle that can dress up for a cocktail party, impress the cosmopolitan crowd, and yet still find time to scream bloody murder in between second and third down.
And it's weird having spent four and a half years, ahem, adjusting to the Capital City. It's a city that one can fall in love with maybe six days a year during the fall. She looks beautiful on national television, even among throngs of sometimes less-than-adoring football fans. Her heart is in the University and the love is consummate and whole, unlike New Orleans' half-hearted attempts with her multiple institutions. The beauty in Baton Rouge lies in her attempts to be something she's not. And that may sound weird but the failures to fully embrace the South's noveau chic mixture of Mint Juleps and Cosmopolitans have created pockets of the city given to each idea. How you can step out of an antebellum bed and breakfast, shop in Perkins Rowe, and still tailgate down to Saturday night in Tiger Stadium make for an exceptional day in Red Stick. But failures are failures and the feel of the city is...incomplete. I always find myself wishing for more when I'm here. More restaurants, more experiences, more culture. In the four and a half years I've been here the city has flourished but just as we're beginning it seems we've stopped (alas, I'm unconsciously using the collective. Someone erase any mention of New Orleans from my profile). Baton Rouge needs what New Orleans has: quirks, history, good food. But at her core, she's a Southern city. That's all and what she'll ever be.
I get excited every time I go home now. Maybe it's the fact that I really don't have any barriers (other than lack of sleep during the week) to enjoy the city now. Being over 21 is the obvious answer to that question but it's something more than that. I have a better outlook on New Orleans now that I've absorbed another city's persona into my own. Now don't get me wrong, the mixture is hovering somewhere in the 75 NOLA/25 BRLA zone and you can bet I still change lanes without a blinker, call everything by funny nonsensical names, and remain a Saints fan above all but it's odd to come home twice and month and see New Orleans in a different way.
It certainly isn't the same town I left in 2007 and I still believe the Saints have a massive stake in that. Without that Super Bowl we're still talking Katrina and corruption (we? WE? Well, here's the start of my identity crisis). Now, we're talking expansion and...corruption. Ah, the good old bad old days. But really, what we need to start talking about in New Orleans is sustainability, and not the kind we're used to talking about.
The one thing that I have learned from Baton Rouge is that New Orleans is an exceptionally historical city, something among others that Baton Rouge is not. It is a mix of influences seen nowhere else in the world. The language is Creole, the French Quarter is Spanish, and the cemeteries are Roman Catholic. It's a unique place that leaves an indelible mark on whoever decides to live there. New Orleans is something few cities in the world can lay a claim to: the city is a living museum. There is history at every turn and while London, Madrid, and Paris may laugh at us for being so young we always have the realization that those cities fed directly into our bloodline. New Orleans is the bastard child of European greed, American ambition, and Louisianian circumstance and every day we fight an uphill battle to keep those traditions alive. But between the failing schools, skyrocketing murder rate, and vanishing coastline our way of life is tenuous at best. We are fighting and losing a war to the outsiders who think their way is better for us and the insiders who fight to destroy our lives with violence and threats. For those in the Crescent City and those who have moved away the strongest sense of community should be not during a Saints game, Mardi Gras, or any other civic event that holds us together. No, it should be in the quiet, individual moments that will come to define the days, weeks, and months of our lives.
The bumper stickers are everywhere: Be A New Orleanian. What that means to me is different than what it means to you. The only thing I request is that you act the way a New Orleanian would.
“To be engaged in some small way in the revival of one of the great cities of the world is to live a meaningful existence by default.” - Chris Rose