There is a profound and pervasive vibe here: experienced through all of the senses, and expressed as both euphoric and stank. The smell of chicory coffee and fresh baked pastries might be followed by a smell cloud of natural gas, or pee. Studying the branches of a stately and elegant Magnolia tree or the intricate French Colonial wrought iron work of a brightly colored home might be interrupted by a spill into an enormous pot hole, or or a trip over an exposed sewer pipe being birthed from the swamp.
Yes, this beautiful town is built on a swamp. And yes, most of the city is below sea level: creating a bowl that traps energy and lets it fester and blossom and decay. The city is haunted by the ghosts of slave traders and free people of color, lords and ladies (titles both inherited and bought) criminals and common folk, Creole and Cajun.
Katrina flooded the city, but she did not wash away the spirit or spirits of this place. She was brutal and destructive, stealing the homes and lives of many, and yet New Orleans thrives. From the perspective of a visitor, it seems that New Orleanians have evolved into a community that has learned to face adversity and challenge (be it potholes or poverty) with a strength and positive forward movement that is as dynamic as the parades that they cherish.
Attending a Second Line (community parades that cannot truly be described, only experienced) we were welcomed into the celebration with smiles and nods and love that could be felt in the music and the dance. Entering the rituals of this city (of which there are many) with confident kindness will most often be mirrored back, or at the very least silently respected.
There are very few social rules here, but the following are crucial if you wish to weave yourself into the fabric of the city:
We are honored to return here. Thank you New Orleans.