It’s late Wednesday afternoon, and I just took a little walk around the Quarter, which is already chock-full of football fans, still relatively sober, waiting for tomorrow’s game and festivities. They’re wandering around, Big Ass Beers in hand looking for special deals on souvenirs. Yes indeed, Mardi Gras, but with the addition of Dave Matthews Band and Taylor Swift, in the confines of the Quarter. That should lessen the crowds a bit! Hah!
Mind you, the football fans are mostly on Decatur Street, which is where the big party will take place tomorrow evening. Bourbon Street was pretty barren, at least this afternoon.
The parking lot next to Jax Brewery reminds me of post-Katrina days, back then it was full of FEMA tents and medical facilities; now it’s closed and full of tents for NFL sponsors who are shilling their products to fans (or maybe only VIPs).
We’re expecting all hell to break loose in the Quarter Thursday…it could be a pretty short weekday. In fact, it almost is a city holiday. Schools are closing; traffic will be a nightmare. The Saints’ opening game of the season—never thought I’d see a day when the city is closed down at the beginning of the season.
Being the curmudgeonly, cynical person I am, I’m rather appalled that the almighty NFL has taken over New Orleans for the next few days, especially the French Quarter. Now I have my beefs with the so-called preservationists who don’t want anyone to touch the Quarter—the way it looks, the noise levels, the artists who sell artworks on Jackson Square, the buggies that line up on the Square. I’m assuming if you’re reading this, you’re either local or a “foreigner” who’s a New Orleans fanatic. Let me tell you, you would not recognize the Quarter. Joseph says it almost looks like another city.
But this time, I’m sort of leaning their way.
I know how hard local organizations—especially groups like the French Quarter Festival—struggle to maintain the integrity of the French Quarter, and to work closely with the community whenever there’s an event there. The hoops you have to jump through are vast in number.
It appears that Decatur Street will be turned into a huge staging area for the NFL show that’s being staged locally by Festival Productions (the same people who produce the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival). I’ve been told by several residents and our clients in the Quarter that they literally had no idea this was happening, so they weren’t informed of the street closures, of the closure of Jackson Square, of the massive stage that’s on Washington Artillery Park facing St. Louis Cathedral.
There’s also a serious consideration of emergencies: medical, fire, police problems. God help us if there was any situation where a fire truck or an ambulance had to get down Decatur Street. But I guess if the NOPD can handle Mardi Gras, they can handle this too.
It’s tremendous that the NFL has given New Orleans the opportunity to shine in a national spotlight, but jeez guys, would it have hurt to be a little more sensitive to the real culture of the city? This city wasn’t built on football!
I sure hope the Saints win because the massive stage and all the barricades, video displays, closed streets will all be worth it, and will certainly confirm—once again—that New Orleans is really nothing but a big party town. Speaking of video displays, I find it so amusing that there are at least five of these monstrosities hanging on towers that go over Decatur Street. They’re near the historic French Market. There are little sayings posted on the video screens informing the expected yahoos about the history of the fleur-de-lis and its symbolism to New Orleans, about how New Orleans has thousands of buildings on the historic register. Just a bit ironic, hmm?
Personally, I’m glad the city will be seen by a national audience, but I’m really sorry they won’t see the real New Orleans. This event will be just another cowtow to mainstream media and football mania, so by God, I hope the Saints win so we can get all that crap out of the Quarter. Otherwise, we’d have sold our cultural souls for nothing.