So we've been in New Orleans for about a month now, and I have to say that whoever decided to call this place The Big Easy was sadly mistaken. It is more like The Big Inconvenient, or possibly The Big Hassle. The whole experience of moving here and trying to get set up with an apartment and furniture and utilities and so on was much less like moving to a mid-size American city and much more like moving to the developing world than anticipated. Locals trying to cast this in a charming light say things like "You just have to understand that this is really the northernmost Caribbean city," but they seem to have not spent enough time in the real Caribbean (outside of beach bars and all-inclusive resorts) to realize exactly how unfortunately apt the comparison is. Yes, like many Caribbean towns, New Orleans features pavement consisting mainly of potholes, and a lackadaisical approach to many professional activities, and a love of seafood and live music. It is also, like much of the Caribbean, economically stunted, racially segregated, culturally isolated, and casually corrupt. It has a white, affluent historic core surrounded by a sea of black poverty, where the after-effects of Katrina remain visible less as scars than as festering wounds. Significant stretches still look like war zones -- abandoned retail strips, half-collapsed buildings, vacant lots, empty apartment towers slowly sliding from disrepair into ruin. It is unlike anything else I've seen in America, even in Detroit, which I'd previously thought was our most depressing city. Professionals from property managers to university bureaucrats to delivery people are routinely incompetent and unhelpful, forgetting appointments, refusing to return phone calls, giving out false information, and so on. Not that we haven't met a few very nice and highly skilled individuals, but it's kind of problematic when even a basic ability to do one's job as advertised stands out as a remarkable accomplishment.
It's summer, of course, a long season in these parts, so the weather varies between hot, sunny and humid, and warm, rainy and muggy. Given this, it seemed reasonable to expect that people might insulate their dwellings to keep in the cool. This, as we learned during our week of intensive house hunting, is not the case. Out of about forty properties that we visited, only three or four had anything in the walls. When asked about air-conditioning bills, landlords without exception told us "under a hundred a month." The tenants we asked reported it was more like three hundred a month through the summer. So we rented a recently-built condo close to campus with thick walls and few windows, and have not looked back. Natural light and traditional architecture are nice, but not having to keep the AC cranked up day and night is nicer. We like our little cave.
Having secured a lease, we then set out in search of furniture. This was harder than expected, as there's no Ikea for three hundred miles, and the local stores, lacking the competition provided by a thriving economy, offer mediocre goods for exorbitant prices. Fortunately there's a guy
who runs a small business undercutting Ikea's shipping by making weekly runs from here to the store in Houston, so we now have nice things like a bed and couch and table and so on.
We've also, of course, been trying to explore the city a bit, though we've thus far kept mainly to our Uptown region with the occasional excursion to the suburban mall-lands. We have, however, learned that we are ill-suited to the local cuisine. Despite what a wonderful eating city this is for many folks, the regional specialties are almost exclusively based in seafood and pork, which neither Mr. B (vegetarian) or I (allergic to sea creatures and unwilling to eat pigs) can even taste. For us, New Orleans dining mainly involves Vietnamese food and pizza, finished off with treats from the nice patisserie
down the street. It's not a bad life, but it does make me miss LA sometimes.
Aside from the settling in process, not much is afoot. Mr. B's official hire date isn't until July 1, so for now he's without even a library card to help with his research. I'm starting to plan out my next novel, and am relieved to have gotten to a point where the new story is more engrossing than the last one (this will help with all the rejection letters I expect to receive). In another week we'll be heading out to New York and Ohio, which will be a nice change of scene as well as an exciting opportunity to eat dumplings and visit with friends. Mmm, delicious dumplings. Please excuse me, I have to go salivate now.