Thursday, April 8, 2010

Back from NOLA

I’m back from the Big Easy. New Orleans is unique among American cities. It has a distinct culture and has, for the most part, eluded the Big Box homogenization that has afflicted every other American metropolis from Albuquerque to Zuma. The City is still visibly struggling even five years post Katrina, but the indomitable spirit of the people who live there cannot be underestimated. On our first day in town we were lucky enough to stumble upon a second line Indian Parade, complete with brass bands and other festive music. Mardi Gras Indians are actually African-American Carnival revelers who dress up in elaborate and colorful suits influenced by Native American ceremonial apparel. Collectively, their organizations are called "tribes". Many of the tribes also parade on the Sunday nearest to Saint Joseph's Day, which is when we were lucky enough to encounter them.

Running in NOLA is an exercise requiring patience and careful footing. Our hotel was nowhere near either of the two large city parks, but we were close to the St. Charles Street trolley, whose tracks run from downtown near the French Quarter out to the suburbs on a grass median in the middle of a wide street. The first day in town,  I was running along the tracks on the sidewalks, when I tripped on a displaced sidewalk flag and took a pretty bad fall. I lost quite a bit of skin on my knee and right arm, so for the remainder of the week, I did as the locals did and ran right on the tracks, facing into oncoming trolley traffic and moving to the side when a streetcar needed to get by. It is actually much safer than it sounds (see pic), although I’d still leave the I-Pod at home lest you get waylaid by a trolley coming in the opposite direction. St. Charles Avenue passes through the beautiful garden district, so if pre-civil war era mansions and immaculately maintained gardens are your thing this is a good run for you. I thought the scenery was quite interesting.

On two mornings I changed routes and hoofed it through the French Quarter at dawn, which is perhaps the quietest time of the day for that neighborhood. The roads and sidewalks there are pretty bad too, but there is plenty to look at.
Overall a great trip. I ate some fantastic meals which I’ve been working off since I got back. I think I might have to skip the ½ marathon this Spring though. On Sunday I leave on a work trip to Charleston and I don’t know if I’ll get in any long runs during the week I’ll be away.