Listen to New Orleans

Posted: May 31, 2014 by jennroig in Chronicles, English, Travels
Tags: , , , , ,

I learn something with every new travel. Every new place has its own magic and distinctive attribute, you just need to be aware and wait till it hits you. You must keep all your senses open, because you never know whether that particular magic is going to be a sound, or a taste, a touch, or something that will reveal for your eyes to see.

The sound of Jazz

(c) jennroig May 2014 - Street musicians in the middle of the French Quarter

(c) jennroig May 2014 – Street musicians in the middle of the French Quarter

The first hint that tells you that New Orleans is a place to please your ears is the name of the airport: Louis Armstrong. Jazz was born in New Orleans and the city shows its pride.

It was hot and humid when I walked out to the street to take the bus -only 2 bucks to Downtown- the Airport Information Officer had told me, and I took the advice. I guess that my accent and my backpack gave away that I didn’t have a problem with public transportation.

It was hot and humid outside, but not as nearly uncomfortable as it is in Florida. A ride in the bus through Airline Dr will teach a lot about the city landscapes, economy and demographics. Maybe because I don’t go out a lot in Florida, but I kind of got the feeling how scary poor white people can be around here.

I went to New Orleans to meet a friend. She had the chance to get to the city as part of a group of European young professionals who apply to a USA government program with a very long name. The program included some days in New Orleans, and we start planning a month in advance.

In the Louis Armstrong Park

In the Louis Armstrong Park

There’s a unique spot in the city, the Louis Armstrong Park. Just on the northern border of the French Quarter, crossing Rampart St., this massive green space can be found. It is quiet, a solitary place for musicians to practice and couples to come and leave their child to run free and give them some space and peace.

second lot (18)

Movement or Madness?

The park is a monument to cherish Music, especially Jazz, and the genius musicians who created it, and turned it into Art. But it is also a space to remind the historical links between native Americans and slaves. second lot (22)

There is a sculpture of a musician in the Park -I didn’t picked up his name. The man with his instrument is shaped with three torsos. Three faces with different expressions. My friend told me a tour guide had explained her group that it meant the madness of the artist. But I didn’t see madness in this representation. I saw motion, speed, a frenzy of time and rhythm.

In the French Quarter

The first thing to be noticed once in the French Quarter is how little it reminds anything French. It hit me with a strong resemblance to Havana, or some places in Matanzas, even Santiago de Cuba or Santiago de Chile.

first lot (7)The thing is that the city burned with a fire, back when the French had already left and the Spanish were taking over. So the architecture reminds you of a Spanish kind of colonial style, though here and there something French crosses your way. That’s the case of the Cathedral. first lot (15)

The French Quarter is between by the Moon Walk – on the river’s side – on the South and Rampart St to the North. To the East is Marigni, the arty location that is now fashion where there are a lot of Bohemian spots like a weird Japanese place where we couldn’t have sushi but we found great sashimi. To the West there’s the Business District. It says a lot positive about New Orleans that the first day we were there we went to Lafayette Square, in the Business District, for a free Pop-Rock concert.

But the best of the French Quarter is probably the night in Bourbon St. The Fritzel’s there. Go check it out if you are ever in New Orleans.

The Latino Business boom

To finance my trip, I convince my editor to let me write a story about the Latino business community in New Orleans. Evidently, New Orleans is far from reaching the biggest Hispanic hubs that Los Angeles, Miami, Houston or New York are. However, the bases of my proposal were solid as long as the Hispanic population in the city more than doubled since 2005, when the Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana and New Orleans was badly damaged. Back then a lot of help was needed to rebuild and recover, and many Hispanic workers went there to take jobs in construction. The city has changed, Latino supermarkets started to appear here and there, while Latino restaurants were thriving because Hispanic immigrants are really demanding of their own food. Although many of those workers left again, hunting for the next place wrecked by some natural disaster, a large number remained. So, I had arguments to convince my editor that my story was worthwhile.

Adrián and Roberto outside the Taquería Corona

Adrián and Roberto outside the Taquería Corona

Within the Hispanic business community, small restaurants are the most common and successful enterprise. I found the main character of my story in one of those restaurant owners. Roberto Méndez, a Salvadorian native, came to New Orleans in the 80’s as a Benihana manager and fell for the city. The inspiration fairy came down to him and whispered in his ear that there was no quality Taqueria in the city, only fast food TexMex style. That was it: he would open the first Taqueria Corona in Magazine St more than 25 years ago.

Adrian Mendez, Roberto’s nephew, was my first source for this story. I found him through some contacts at Tulane’s Freeman Business School, where he just graduated from the MBA program. He was the one who told me that the government and also the society in New Orleans weren’t too keen of having many changes around there. He mentioned that when explaining how much resistance Starbucks found in New Orleans, it seems the company had to sue the city to be allowed to open its stores there. It won, because there are certainly Starbucks “cafés” in New Orleans. Thus it is surprising to me that small restaurants are precisely the most common, and successful, form of Latino enterprise there. But I guess good food will always find a way to the stomachs and hearts of the most conservative cultures.

A spot that sounds like gospel

A spot that sounds like gospel

Adrian drove me around. He showed me the river, some old structures -dams?- and the new ones that are supposed to protect the city from floods. The areas that were under water in 2005 and some fancier neighborhoods.

He also told me about the intention to foster entrepreneurship and the support given to biotech start-ups.

As well, New Orleans port is among the oldest in the Gulf. It used to be the most relevant, strategically located in the Mississippi Delta, connecting the deep south to the open sea, and the trade from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean. But without renovations, the port lost its edge against competitors in more active cities such as Houston in Texas, or better infrastructures with competitive prices such as Gulfport in Mississippi.

But Katrina washed out some of the old mentality. New Orleans is ready to receive the future and improve its infrastructure, without losing its character.

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