NOLA Is America’s Lagniappe

by | Jul 7, 2007

In cultural terms, New Orleans is arguably the most important city in the United States. I’ve been there five times and there is no place like it—not in this country. Which is why I find Dan Baum’s reports from New Orleans so vital.

Painting by James Michalopoulos

Baum, a staff writer at The New Yorker, arrived in New Orleans two days after Hurricane Katrina and has reported on the disaster and its aftermath ever since. Earlier this year, he returned for four months, filing daily dispatches from New Orleans and working with his wife and writing partner on a book to be published in 2009.

In his final blog post on The New Yorker’s site, Baum dives into cultural insights about the Crescent City, noting just how different the place is from the rest of America.

New Orleans endures as the national repository of the loose-jointed Huck Finn spirit we Americans claim to cherish. While the rest of us pare down our humanity in service to the dollar, New Orleans is a corner of America where efficiency and maximized profit are not the civic religion. As I drive past endless repetitions of Wendy’s, Golden Corral, Ethan Allen furniture, Jiffy Lube, Red Lobster, and the like on my way back to Colorado, I realize that I haven’t spent a dollar anyplace but locally owned business in four months. A long time ago, David Freedman, the general manager of the listener-supported radio station WWOZ, described New Orleans to me as a kind of resistance-army headquarters. “Everyplace else in America, Clear Channel has commodified our music, McDonald’s has commodified our food, and Disney has commodified our fantasies,” he said. “None of that has taken hold in New Orleans.” In the speedy, future-oriented, hyper-productive, and globalized twenty-first century, New Orleans’s refusal to sacrifice the pleasures of the moment amounts to a life style of civil disobedience.

Baum goes on to descibe Boulder, CO–where’s he lives–as “a city full of high-achieving software engineers and real-estate brokers who have built a fabulously well-organized community, with excellent schools, thriving businesses, and immaculate parks, but who can’t find the time to sit a spell on the porch, let alone enjoy a second beer.”

Sounds like he’s going to miss New Orleans.

[via Evelyn Rodriguez]