No city knows how to bounce back better than the one whose latest cultural innovation is literally called bounce music.
New Orleanians have been dealing with calamity since their first major flood and two devastating fires in the 18th century on up to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Now comes the coronavirus, which has been especially cruel there, circulating during Mardi Gras before most Americans knew to take precautions.
As we all cling to travel goals for after the coronavirus chaos clears, you might be surprised to learn that this hard-hit city — with some of the worst infection rates in the country — is one of the first places I want to visit once it’s safe.
Supporting its ravaged economy is one reason. But there are plenty of selfish reasons, too. I need New Orleans now as much as it needs me.
The music, the food, the attitude of the city all inherently have a this-could-be-the-last-time richness. The toughened people there are remarkably soft and friendly. “Darlin’ ” is the default name for strangers. Days spool out slowly, over relished lunches, languid walks and tirelessly long nights.
Every time I go there, I don’t leave without planning my next trip.
My latest next time was supposed to be another trek to the city’s famed Jazz & Heritage Festival at the end of April. Organizers had pledged to reschedule the popular two-weekend affair in the fall, but now even that has fallen through. You can bet that both the artists who love playing the 51-year-old music fest and the city that heavily relies on it — for the tourist dollars it brings and the joy, too — will line up to salvage it in 2021.
I’ll be there, too.
I hope to rebook the same Airbnb I had planned to stay at next weekend in the Uptown neighborhood.
From that perch, I can walk under the Southern live oaks in Audubon Park each morning.
Each night — after a long day at the festival’s gospel, zydeco and blues stages, of course — I can gorge on the BBQ shrimp at Pascal’s Manale, an Uptown spot that’s been serving up New Orleans classics since before they were classics, circa 1913.
Later, I can groove into the wee hours with Rebirth Brass Band or George Porter Jr. at the Maple Leaf Bar, as funky a venue as you’ll find in the world; both kinds of funky, I mean.
I might even trek into the famed French Quarter one night, partly for an old-school jazz fix at the aptly named Preservation Hall — but more for the perspective from the oldest part of that resilient city about how life goes on.