As a native New Yorker, I question whether any other place on Earth rivals the aesthetic experience of this city. Paris maybe it’s equal in terms of beauty, culture and romance, but lacks New York’s ethnic diversity. The same may be said of London. Los Angeles lacks so very much– history and soul and romance. Los Angeles has none of the cultural patina and historical layering that makes a city aesthetically captivating.
New Orleans, however, gives New York a run for its money. It is so different from New York and just as magical. I try to go every year for my birthday to Jazz Fest. New Orleans in some ways is what Brooklyn wishes it still was- a place where artists and musicians actually live and work and collaborate. It’s a true hotbed of creativity and experimentation– with musicians playing in the streets and impromptu parades. There is an energy of improvisation and unapologetic impulsivity I’ve seen nowhere else. What it lacks in safety it makes up for in charm and grit and true economic and ethnic diversity. Where New York is all about racing ahead, New Orleans is charmingly backwards. As my bike tour leader said, “In New Orleans, we go south to go uptown. We go east to get to the west bank.” New Orleans is about eating dessert first and kicking back and drinking an open container of booze on Bourbon Street. Visiting New Orleans is like visiting a foreign country in a time machine– so rich is its history and architecture, and its cuisine is so deliciously original. New Orleans has the romance of Paris, the culture and originality of New York, the earthy warmth of Barcelona, and somehow simultaneously feels like the South with all its casual hospitality as well as its tension and ghosts. This is what draws me there every year, and I dream of living there for six months and writing a great novel or book of poems. I can’t imagine city more inspiring or magical– except of course New York.
As glorious as New Orleans is, it is not the most livable city, but if it were, it wouldn’t be New Orleans. Its charm is its chaos and messiness and debauchery and heartbrokenness. Like red meat and red wine, New Orleans is delicious but daily exposure to it is likely hard on one’s health and one’s nerves. I write this only half believing its truth, as the act of leaving this city breaks my heart and I think about it like some love interest who you know is no good for you long-term but you still love despite yourself.
Finally, I have added some photos below which capture the spontaneity, taste, and energy of New Orleans.