Posts Tagged ‘Freedom’

The Bywater: Not so Black and White

Texture of the Bywater

One of the glass-is-half-full things about being homeless* is that we get to live in a lot of different neighborhoods. The week after next, we’re staying in the Bywater. Yesterday we walked down there from Canal Street to check it out.

My college boyfriend used to stay in the Bywater when we were students at Loyola. I was living in Gentilly and would make the drive from St. Cecilia to my Aunt Velma’s nearly every night. Velma was old, white and working class New Orleans. She warned me about the “coloreds.” She said I had to be careful.

But, yesterday, we walked up Royal Street busy with funky cafes, Ironworks and artist studios. I had to look up the term “gentrification” because I’m not exactly sure if that’s what’s happening to this neighborhood. Some parts have been cleaned up and artified. There’s still a lot of rough texture, though, abandoned buildings and senseless murders.

A lot of people that we meet encourage us to move to the Bywater when we get off the homeless boat. Many of these people are white, educated, professionals who came down here post Katrina to volunteer. They fell in love with the city and the neighborhood they were helping to rebuild and stayed. One woman told me that her windows are screwed shut. That she would love to open them during this fall weather, but she’s afraid. I wanted to tell her that we did just such a thing 20 years ago at an Uptown dinner party, and two kids came in with a gun and took our cash, our jewelry and our pecan pie. The fear can take you to horrible places.

As we walked up St. Claude Ave. after dark, I felt a little afraid. But what I felt more was a sense of freedom. There is nothing like walking through a neighborhood at night to make you feel alive. We passed some amazing locations for our film. People, mostly black people, were sitting out on their stoops, hanging around, enjoying the evening. (Here’s one difference between the blacks and the whites in New Orleans. Black people say “hello, how  you doin’?” to strangers passing by their doorstep. White people don’t.)

I’m thinking long and hard about the old fear these days. It’s not so black and white. It has something to do with freedom, but I can’t really work it out yet. It has something to do with responsibility. Since I’ve come home to New Orleans, I’ve met people of many races, many religions and of many classes. I have been treated fairly and respectfully by every one of them.

New Orleans is a lovely city without fear. But, beware that chilly side. It will seduce you too.

*Patrick has asked me to footnote any mention of our homelessness with the fact that we have been homeless by choice since July 23, 2008. It is a somewhat experimental lifestyle, one of the aims of which is to limit our impact on the environment.

Some free stuff I did today…

Gnarled Tree at Palmer Park from Alex Castros Flickr Photostream

Gnarled Tree at Palmer Park from Alex Castro's Flickr Photostream

Yeah! We found another bus that goes from near ma maama’s* on the West Bank, over the Crescent City Connection and to Canal Street in just 22 minutes. I love the Algiers Ferry, but it takes too damn long to get to it. 

The Gen. Meyer bus (102) lets off just one block away from the downtown branch of the New Orleans Public Library. I love this branch of the library. There is a great little patio on the third floor (smoke ’em if you have ’em) where you can take books and mags to read when the weather is good. Next to the patio entrance is a fascinating display of turn-of-the-century mug shots. I stared into the eyes of these people and tried to imagine what they were thinking. Some were scared shitless. But a few looked satisfied, contented. I made up the stories in my head. 

The magazine section at the NOPL sports anything from “The Atlantic Monthly” to “Vogue.” This is a really good way to spend my tax dollars, thank you very much. We spent two hours in there before meeting Melissa in Palmer Park for the free outdoor concert by the Louisiana Philharmonic.

We waited by the side of the stage for all of our party to show up. I saw a shiny bald head and said to Melissa: “I know that guy.” “He’s hot,” she said. “But he lives in Dallas.” I didn’t realize it was Nagin until his minders were ushering him away. I wonder if they were going to take public transportation.

Palmer Park is a weird one. A few weeks ago, my maama was chaffeuring us around, and we passed by Palmer Park. She crossed herself and told us to never go there. It was dangerous, she said. Gangs. Well, I did find an article about how the gangs were ruling the park, but the park also hosts a monthly Artist Market sponsored by the Arts Council, so you be the judge.

I have become fascinated by the names of things here. Where does Palmer Park get its name from? I googled and googled and could only come up with Reverend Benjamin Morgan Palmer. Now this guy was a pretty nasty piece of work and used his pulpit to proclaim that slavery was the will of God, so I can’t really figure out why there is a park named after him in this city of all places. The park had originally been called Hamilton Park, but the name was changed in 1902. Sometimes google does not give the full story, so I am going to ask at the library the next time I am there.

After the concert, Melissa dropped us off for the bus on Elk and Canal. We had an hour wait, and I was a little nervous. I kept hearing a cacophony of voices in my head saying that this was not a great place for a couple of alabaster people to be hanging around after dark. But it was fine.

And, here’s the rub: I want to be careful. I don’t want to be arrogant or brazen or disrespectful to anyone. But I feel that I should be able to go anywhere I want to in this city at any time of the day or night. Isn’t that freedom? People in this city are more afraid of what other Americans might do to them than they are by what any terrorist might do. So, why exactly are we spending 341 million dollars a day** on making people in Iraq free? I want to be free too. 

*We are gonna have to leave ma maama’s soon as we are starting to bother her landlord. Who wants to put us up next? Email me.

**This, by the way, is a very bad way to spend my tax dollars…bad, capitalism, bad.

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