A Tale of Two Tourist Cities

This one’s been brewing for a while, probably because I recently wrote about the New York/New Orleans jazz debates as portrayed in the HBO series, Treme. Then I also happened to read a short piece in the latest Oxford American about the differences in New York and New Orleans mentalities.

Jazz Capital of the World, but is it the Birthplace of Jazz?.

So it makes sense that, while at the Brooklyn Bowl the other night (which I was mentally comparing to the Rock n Bowl), I struck up a conversation with a man who had a tattoo of a fleur de lis with NOLA scrawled underneath. He wasn’t a New Orleanian—and neither am I—but, as he said, he visited there plenty throughout the year. Always for jazz fest, never for Mardi Gras. He told me that he had driven across the South to a music festival in Mobile, and he continued, in what I thought was a slightly smarmy tone, that he couldn’t believe all of the churches, whether they were ramshackle side-of-the-road snake-handling type places or big corporate to-dos. Needless to say, like any progressive southerner, I was annoyed: “We’re not all like that, you know.” (I almost wanted to say: “how do you know I’m not a snake-handler?”)

This conversation just fueled my musings on the NYC/NOLA divide. Both cities thrive on tourism (although New Orleans is much more dependent on the industry). Both cities boast a rich heritage of diverse peoples and arts communities, and both cities capitalize on the cultural arts—whether visual, literary, musical—for the purposes of tourism. In light of that, I’m interested in how these cities sell themselves at the face-to-face level. In New York, most guides and museum workers and even strangers on the street are pretty friendly to us tourists, but I’m not getting the “Where are you from?” or the “Honey/Baby/Darlings” that I’m used to in New Orleans. Sometimes I’ve even gotten looks of annoyance. Of course, in New Orleans, everyone is friendly and welcoming—until you turn your back. New Orleanians are protective of their culture and wary of outsiders in a way that I haven’t seen yet in New Yorkers. It’s my feeling that New Orleanians want folks to visit, even to see the “real” NOLA, but I’m never sure they’d be so accepting right away if you just stayed. I get the feeling New Yorkers might not even notice if you just stayed.

I intended to end this post with a declaration of my overwhelming preference for my “heart” city of NOLA, even if their welcoming attitudes can be a little put-on. That faux friendliness–those “Honey/Baby/Darlings”–instantly makes me feel like I am a part of New Orleans, like I could stay forever with my new friends. After years of graduate school in south Louisiana, I am always homesick for the culture, the food, the people there.  But, then again, who is to say that these two cities don’t have more in common than I thought, and who is to say I won’t feel the same way about NYC after only three weeks. (To be continued…)

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Filed under History, Music, Neighborhood Fun, Popular Culture

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