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Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Do You Know What It Means

Do you know what it means
To miss New Orleans...

I do. The first year I went to Saints and Sinners Literary Festival, the big GLBT literary conference, I wasn't a big fan of the city. I loved S&S, but between the piss and puke stink of Bourbon Street, the humidty, and the feeling of unwanted privileged due to the color of my skin, I wasn't exactly smitten with the French Quarter.

When I came home, I decided that S&S would be a every-other year event for me.

Then Katrina hit. How could I stay away? Not because I wanted to see destruction like a gawker looking at a bad traffic accident, but because the No/AIDS Task force, which sponsors Saints and Sinners, had lost it's two biggest fund raising events and needed for this one to break even, and because I knew that frankly, the city need my tourist dollars.

That's the year I fell in love with New Orleans. On the drive from the airport, I saw cars caked with dried mud stacked under freeway overpasses. Many houses still had blue tarps on their roofs - nine months after Katrina hit. Insurance companies were dragging their feet on paying out justifiable claims, and the Federal government let them do it. There were random boats sitting on people's lawns. Finding food even in the French Quarter was a challenge. Restaurants were open for dinner, but didn't have enough staff to open for lunch. Most of the small places were permanently shuttered. Outside the tourist areas, nothing had been repaired. We should never forget the failure of government on every level. But that was a separate issue from the people who faced it every day and still went on.

That year, because I knew how much I disliked the Bourbon Street scene, I explored other parts of the French Quarter and found a different world. One I really liked. The gay bars don't reek of piss and vomit, and the clientele don't act like sleezy fools. The restaurants down that way are quieter and don't serve tourist chow. The pace is different. It's a neighborhood. It has a personality.

Now the longing to return starts in January and only gets stronger as the months pass. Part of it is because I get to see so many friends from all over the US and Canada. Every corner I turn, there's a familiar face. For a person who has never felt as if anywhere is home, that's as close to belonging as I'll ever get. I miss that. I miss New Orleans, every night and day.


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