The Eagle Has Landed

So, I’m in New Orleans.

I’ll keep this brief as I estimate that I’ve had roughly 8 hours sleep since arriving here at midnight on the 23rd.  Which is not enough hours sleep.  I’ve also consumed the grand total of a salad, six cookies and a strip of bacon.  I call this ‘the moving to a new country diet’.  I’m fairly sure I’ve lost weight.  TRY IT TODAY!

Turns out jetlag plus starvation plus insomnia plus stress creates a strange kind of delusional euphoria.  I was wandering around Canal Street on Tuesday, with the intent to procure a cell phone (achieved!) and a bank account (not achieved!), basically off in my own little world and occasionally talking to myself.  A guy covered in red food colouring (I assume it was food colouring…) who had vampire fangs on over his braces came up to me and told me I looked like Bettie Page.  Later that day I passed an old white dude wearing a santa costume.  On an 82 degree day.  As you do.

This is New Orleans.  Weird, a little bit dangerous…weird.

I caught a cab to a mall later that evening (how good is it being in a country where the malls are open EVERY NIGHT till 9pm?  Very good) and the driver was chatting to me pleasantly about good areas to live in.  “You just need a good neighborhood” he said.  “You gotta be careful, you know?  There’s a lot of crime.  Like right here, see?” he indicated to the right of the overpass “That’s the projects.  You just don’t want to live anywhere with too many poor people, you know?”

Then he paused, and said “…and I don’t want to say, you know…’black people’…but…well…”

As we drew into town, he began justifying his alarmingly casual racism.  “I mean it’s not like I have a problem with them, though!  I have a neighbor who’s black.  We exchange Christmas presents.  You know?”

Too exhausted to get into an ethical argument I ‘mm hmmed’ my way through the awkwardness until he dropped me at my hotel.

I don’t want to talk too much about race, because frankly it’s a bit of a minefield and I fully admit that I’m not as educated or socially aware of the terminology and issues surrounding the concept of race and racism as I should be.  I try to be as educated and sensitive and aware and mindful as I can, and fortunately I have a lot of awesome friends who are much more aware and educated on the subject than I am, who help me out if I put  my foot in it.

But what I do want to say, without wanting anyone to read too much into it, is that for me, it’s definitely a different experience to be in a city whose citizens are predominantly people of colour.  Perth is fairly multicultural, but darker skin isn’t something we see all that often (aside from indigenous Australians).  And I would say, without any stats to back this up but just from my own observations, that the city is still overwhelmingly Caucasian.  So it’s an interesting experience – a GOOD experience, I think – to walk into a store or a coffee shop or a restaurant and find myself as the only racial minority.  I’m still processing what this means, for me – my experience of it, the fact that I noticed it at all, how I felt, what living in this city can teach me about racial issues.  I can certainly say that it wasn’t (hasn’t been, so far) at all a bad experience and none of my feelings or observations have been negative.  It’s just an acknowledged difference.  A shift.  Something I felt I should record, in the spirit of recording the differences between living in Perth and living in New Orleans.  I think it’s important to have these experiences, to be challenged, to take yourself out of, if not your ‘comfort zone’ then at least the environment that you’re used to.

Now that the serious stuff is over, I also feel compelled to mention that New Orleans is bizarre.  It’s a strange, strange city.  The few times I’ve visited I always end up getting myself into weird situations and scenarios, and this time looks to be not different.  Last night, after still-no-sleep and a dinner of cookies (healthy!) I got a text from a friend I met over the internetz asking me if I wanted to hang out.  I was kind of hesitant, because I’m shy/nervous with new people and I was SO out of it, but in the end I figured ‘fuck it!’ and said sure.  He picked me up from my hotel and we had drinks in a bar in the garden district, on a balcony, and somehow we ended up on the roof of his parents’ house, looking out over the city, feeling the heat come down (it’s been oppressively humid) and watching car tail-lights flicker in the distance.

What I’m liking about being away from ‘home’ – somewhere different, somewhere new – is the opportunity to have these moments.  Spontaneous, different, weird, impulsive moments where I can remember that life can be – is still – surprising and chaotic and wonderful.  That if you just say ‘yes’ to things once in awhile, amazing stuff can happen.

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