So I moved six months ago to a new apartment, which is in Mid-City/Bayou St. John. I always have to explain to folks who are visiting that there are actually neighborhoods and meta-neighborhoods in New Orleans, and that they sometimes have the same name, for example Uptown can mean anything on that side of the interstate or it can mean Uptown proper, which is a much smaller area. So Mid-City is my meta-neighborhood, and Bayou St. John is the neighborhood, though my block feels more like the back of the Treme (which is right across Broad). I guess I am also living in the 5th ward, but I am neither black nor did I grow up here.
Today is a beautiful day, first day of Jazz Fest, and the streets (which often have no sidewalks) are filled with parked cars. A high school kid is playing the trumpet outside.
Bayou St. John is a funny neighborhood. It’s mildly affluent in parts, Ursulines which is one block away has noticeably wealthy sections. But the part I live in is mostly low-income and mostly black, but with enough other white folks that I don’t feel like an intruder. This part of Mid-City feels sweet and lazy and even more laid back than other neighborhoods here. More private too, quieter than the neighborhoods nearer the river.
Of course on New Years my immediate intersection was a war zone of fireworks from five in the afternoon to four in the morning. People get down here, but mostly you see them on stoops and porches, or coming home from work. A man named Blue with gold teeth talked to me last time I was working on my truck about carpentry work. I have discovered no way as good to meet my neighbors as regular automotive repair.
Pal’s is my new neighborhood bar, a bar that I had been flirting with for years. It used to feel cool and quiet and like a getaway- six months after moving down the street I don’t go there as often. Reminds me of some relationships. I, like most other people, must be a sucker for the allure of the inaccessible. Or maybe it’s the new bartenders, some of whom fail to live up to the legendary charm of the old ones.
Soprano’s, the local grocery, has not lost its charm. The place is your typical ghetto grocery story, canned food, toilet paper and beer, except that it has a kitchen and serves hot food. The walls are decorated with autographed photos from the Soprano’s TV show, which the proprietor, a man from the Middle East, is apparently obsessed with. I don’t know how long he has been here, he halfway talks like a Yat and has decided that I am German, so he greets me with a “boomstig shaiza! (or something like that in German) every time I show up. He has a mischievous gleam in his eyes and is constantly in motion. I wonder about the source of his constant energy, stuck there behind the counter with toothpaste, chewing gum and cheap cigars.
Whenever he grabs my hand to shake it vigorously I notice again that he is missing the last digit of his index finger. There’s a small sticker of a flag on the back of his car, I think it is Palestine. I can’t seem to bring myself to ask him about either one of these things.
And he’s hard to keep up with sometimes. At times like this I will smile and slip out to the street, to the cool under the oaks, to the stars which are more visible with the lack of streetlights, to the night air which is filled with distant sounds- cars and children, couples arguing, and the sounds harder to hear, and indistinct, somewhere out there people are making love, fighting, eating, living. And the clean smell of the banana trees, of food cooking, all the growing things, and the earth.