I miss New Orleans. I walk St. Charles and miss parades. The St. Patrick’s parade was cancelled well before the stay-at-home came. Then my favorite day of the year was cancelled, Super Sunday when the Mardi Gras Indians parade Central City in elaborately beaded and feathered suits they spent a year (and thousands) sewing. As the virus spread across the country and ravaged our state, in the city we retreated to our homes and looked for tips on finding toilet paper.
New Orleans got an “A” for staying home. But our tourism-based economy is shut down. French Quarter Fest was supposed to be next week. Last year’s fest brought in $190 million and generated almost $15 million in tax revenue for state and local governments. They employed over 1,700 local musicians and host over 60 local restaurants. This time of year, we have at least 1 festival every week. Jazz Fest injects $300 million into our economy. The weekly Wednesday at the Square concerts and food booths were cancelled the week they were to start. The shut-down-indefinitely film and TV industry creates over 1 billion in annual impact that won’t come to the state. The oil industry has also tanked.
Some restaurants switched to pick-up only. For a couple of weeks, we were able to get Commander’s Palace to go. As their sign read, “Who’da thunk it?” We had fried chicken, greens, and red beans and rice from Dooky Chase for Good Friday and glazed, corned beef brisket, goat cheese grits, crawfish quiche and fruit salad from Ruby Slipper for Easter – all while sitting in front of the TV. We’ve even had paella from Lola’s. There may not be many restaurants still open and the menus usually have one family-style meal per day, but we can eat from some of our favorite places and support our neighbors and their businesses. Even the Garden District Book Shop who carries all 7 of my books (signed) offers pick-up and free shipping on orders over $25.
But mostly the city is empty streets and boarded windows. Bourbon Street looks eerily hurricane-ready. The Convention Center has been converted to a hospital. The Columns Hotel looks like a haunted house. The French Quarter is aggressively silent. As we drove past Glen David Andrews playing with his band on a balcony the other day, my heart burst with the joy of hearing live music. Normally, it’s all over the Quarter all day and night. Lately, more people we see when picking up food or going for walks have taken to wearing masks. But our new masks masks are nothing like the masks we wear for Mardi Gras, a few of us have been wearing the do-rag throws from the Krewe of Muses parade.
Easter is normally a 3-parade day including burlesque queen Chris Owens’ parade and the Gay Easter Parade – with even bigger, fancier bonnets. We were to miss those festivities for a family Easter/house warming/birthday party, but that got cancelled as well.
I don’t know how we get people to travel here again, fill our restaurants, bars and hotels. I’m not even sure how we go to outdoor festivals together, much less movie theaters and stadiums. What I know is that I miss music. I miss stopping into the book store or visiting with friends on my walks. I miss working in my industry. I miss eating at restaurants and chatting with the staff. I miss people dancing in the streets. I miss hugs. I miss New Orleans being itself.
I wore an Easter bonnet to pick up our feast and kept my eyes peeled for anyone else in a fancy hat, a seersucker suit, even a floral dress. We got all the way back to our block before I finally found what I was looking for – a Merry Antoinettes parader wearing a lavender wig topped with vibrant plumes waving from her balcony. This too shall pass and we will find our way again somehow.