It came to me the other night, driving back to Megan and Andy's after a couple hours communing with my piano in the French Quarter. I was thinking about a recent email from a friend in MS that seemed to suggest summers are hotter in New Orleans. Is it hotter over here? What is it about New Orleans? Why do I prefer it to Gulfport?
The weather was perfect that night. All the car windows down, OZ jamming as usual... Folks on the street forming one picture-perfect still life after another. Each block a visual metaphor, containing buildings in every state along the pole from collapse to renewal and people displaying every human condition from affluent decadence to abject poverty. Everywhere I looked I saw poems, performances, collages.
That night, as ever in New Orleans, I was at peace in my body. Whether puffy-eyed, itchy and sneezing with allergy or gleaming with perspiration or waddle-walking after more-than-enough of another great meal: I'm almost always completely in my body here and smiling about it. I've never felt over- or under-dressed whatever the event. I'm not self-conscious about my appearance--even strolling down Magazine in pajamas with uncombed hair. I'm at home in my body, just as I am, in New Orleans.
I don't notice it being any hotter here than in MS. What I notice is that life is slower in both places than anywhere I've lived or visited in the North and West. And people seem generally more down to earth all over the South. What I decided the other night is that "down to earth" in Gulfport lacked the joie de vivre that I find in abundance in New Orleans. It's in the food and the people and the music and the architecture and the language.... In some strange way, it's even in the graft and ineptitude and violence and class bigotry that are also part of the landscape.
The unpretentiousness I notice as a distinguishing feature of Southern living has a brown tint in Gulfport and a dusty rose with flecks of gold tint in New Orleans. So far, it's easier to live with my depressive tendencies in NO than Gulfport.
I'm not looking for a fight here. These are my impressions, my opinions. If Gulfport is your favorite place on earth, I won't try to change your mind. I'm just reporting the view from where I stand. For my taste, New Orleans has a grace and elegance and kookiness that fits just right. And there's nowhere on earth I'd rather be.