Very belated New Orleans linked post.
Over Christmas, when I was in New Orleans, I joined the long line outside Preservation Hall on St Peter Street in the French Quarter to see a show. The Tornado Brass Band was playing that night and I wanted to see some real New Orleans jazz in one of the city’s best known venues. Preservation Hall was founded in the 1960s for the very purpose of preserving and honoring the local jazz music culture and boy, has it got charm. An intimate space, a few hard benches then standing room only, rustic wood, old posters and a resident cat that will curl up on anyone’s lap mid-gig. Dark (and back in the days before smoking bans, probably smoky).
I’m not some pretentious jazz head or anything, but crammed into that venue with those big brass instruments, booming voices and history shoving you in the ribcage, you couldn’t help but feel it. Just like you couldn’t help but feel the grandeur when you walked down the streets lined with Louisiana mansions, even though some of them had seen better days. I could understand why New Orleans was a creative place.
Bluegrass street musicians in New Orleans.
I love cities that make me feel something. In Washington DC, the drive and dreams of people was so palpable, mixed in with history and soul and intrigue and the hustle bustle of one-upping each other to try and fix the country and the world. It was contagious and compelling and a little daunting all at the same time. In Jakarta, things were always happening, night and day. You couldn’t ever drive down the same street and see the same scene. Buildings went up fast, shops were on wheels and even when you were stuck in one of the notorious traffic jams, in some strange cosmic way, everything around you was moving and pushing even when it didn’t look like anything was moving at all.
Sydney (at least when I moved there, maybe not toward the end of my stint) was glamorous, with the sparkling harbour and beaches brimming with possibilities. The kind of city where you could sink into anonymity in some parts, but run into everyone you knew in others. Where you could drive for 30 minutes or an hour and take a mini beach or nature holiday just for a few hours.
In London, history was a living, breathing part of the city but the Britpop-indie-pop gigs were plentiful.
In Canberra, I really feel nothing (yet, or so far… I’m not so pessimistic as to reject finding some sort of buried Canberra). It’s vaguely pleasant. It’s attractive in parts. There are lots of trees. There is good fruit and veg and international food. It’s “a good place to raise your kids.” Especially if you work for the government and have flex time. But I feel like there is no… oomph. You can’t feel the drive, even though I know it is there… I know there are people here who want to change things. It barely has any history. People seem to mostly be coupled up living some sort of suburban dream life. Things move too slowly. It’s where status quo meets Ramsey St meets the West Wing on sedatives meets Kath and Kim meets “why the hell do you need to wear spandex to cycle from Dickson to Civic? It’s only a few kilometres.” I know compared to these other cities, Canberra has a tiny population… I know for a place with a relatively tiny population, it really isn’t too bad in what it offers. But it still doesn’t make me feel anything. Unoffensively pleasant just doesn’t really cut it right now…