New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, three months before Katrina: TD Archives, Issue Eight, May 2005

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Posted December 12, 2012 in Archive 100

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Welcome to the dirty south and its even dirtier secret. Beyond the Mardi Gras crush, the Anne Rice scenery and the tourist jazz, there’s the 9th Ward of New Orleans – where people party hard and die young

Something’s cooking in New Orleans. Lately there’s been a big influx of young creative types – many ex-New Yorkers – looking for inspiration, low rents and a more laid-back lifestyle. Young designers are taking over dusty storefronts, bands are rocking in the
basements and the party never stops. New Orleans has always been a magnet for writers, artists and musicians, who flocked here to soak up the magic and mystique. Their comings and goings – and sometimes their demise – are the stuff of modern myths that the city treasures like gemstones. New Orleans is the setting of more songs than just House of the Rising Sun. It’s the backdrop for Anne Rice’s gothic vampire tales and the essential New Orleans novel A Confederacy of Dunces. Photographer Richard Sexton’s acclaimed coffee table book New Orleans: Elegance and Decadence sparked a restoration frenzy, driving up real estate prices in the process. Nicholas Cage, Fats Domino, Trent Reznor, Ray Davies and Johnny Thunders are just a few of the city’s famous past and present residents.

But New Orleans is no starmaker. This city is a place to hide, to create for the sake of creating, to meet like-minded people and find an audience of peers. Fame and fortune have always been elusive for New Orleans’ creative underground. People with their heart set on making it usually go elsewhere. That’s why the underground scene is so vital – it comes from the heart. The pull of the city is easy to understand for anyone who’s ever walked the streets of the French Quarter, taking in the old world architecture, sultry charm and wild energy.

It looks like no other American city. New Orleans was under French and Spanish rule from its founding in 1699 until the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. The European and especially French influence continues to keep a firm hold on everything from culinary traditions to street names. Once, New Orleans was one of America’s biggest and richest cities, but those days are long gone. In the early eighties, the oil industry went bust, leaving the city impoverished. Today it relies heavily on tourism to bring in money.

La Nouvelle Orleans is eight feet below sea level, situated on the swampy banks of the Mississippi River. A half-moon-shaped city deep in the dirty south, it possesses a strange mix of reckless abandon and melancholy. Scientists predict that New Orleans will be underwater in less than a hundred years, for the intricate drainage system that keeps the city (kind of) dry is ultimately doomed to fail. Many of its Victorian wood houses are in bad shape – rotting and termite-infested – and ready to go. A direct hurricane hit could mean sudden death. So since we’re all going to die anyway, let’s party!

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