I met an old friend on Friday. Doing so is always a pleasure and, for me, even more of one when that friend has just returned from their first trip to New Orleans. I was fairly sure my friend – let’s call him Thomas – would love the city, so couldn’t wait to hear what he had to say about it.
We, and some other friends, had a drink by the river – the Thames not the Mississippi sadly, but it was almost warm enough to be a late spring night in New Orleans. And Thomas told me about his trip.
He’d arrived in New Orleans on Good Friday for the whole of the holiday weekend and had loved it all – Kermit , the McDonagh Oak in City Park (see image, courtesy of the park’s blog), étouffée in a Quarter restaurant, Easter parades, a house by the shores of Lake Pontchartrain, Abitas, the Hot Eight, and all rounded off with a crawfish boil on the bayou.
Thomas comes from Northern Ireland and has family in Belfast, so has a taste for complex cities with complex pasts. He told me he regards Northern Ireland as to some extent an island, part and not part of what surrounds it.
And as we all do, he reads new places through the ones he knows best, and he said he thought New Orleans might be an island too, or even a collection of islands. I suppose you could see it that way, part and not part of land and sea, part and not part of the American continent and the waters of the Gulf of Mexico that run into the Caribbean.
While he was in New Orleans, Thomas was in training for the Belfast marathon the following weekend. He said running the marathon, through all the city’s communities and past cheering spectators from across them all, reminded him of the New Orleans parades he’d seen.
They’d given him, he said, a new appreciation of how a city can be united and placed in context, making it more than the isolated sum of isolated parts it might sometimes appear to be.
And I guess what he said reminded me in a new way of how travelling across the world, a world of different cities, can reveal the connections across it. To paraphrase the poet John Donne, no man is an island and, in some ways, no city is either.