Tuesday, July 31, 2001
I live in a real neighborhood. I got up early today and walked from my house to the far end of the French Quarter, which takes about an hour round trip. The neighborhood is very mixed, with rich and poor literally right next door to each other, mansions beside crumbling shacks and punks and retirees, all mixed up together. Gay couples walk their dogs, tattooed and pierced people ride bikes, and old ladies sit on porches and size up everyone who walks by. Most people make eye contact with you, and no matter how strange you may appear, say hello. Many houses are being restored, no small feat in an older part of a city where the elements extract a wicked toll. Our house was built in 1840 by a free man of color and we spent far more than we could afford addressing structural and cosmetic issues. Our neighbors are mostly working class and the ones on the right side drink a little bit too much on weekends and turn up classic rock to deafening levels. Judas Priest whips them into a frenzy in the afternoons and Lynrd Skynrd winds down the evenings (think "Free Bird"). I don't mind this most of the time because while their presence can be unsettling to strangers, they are actually very friendly and perceptive people. I introduce them to guests as the "neighborhood watch committee." Like other urban areas my neighborhood also suffers from crime, neglect and suburban flight. Saints Peter and Paul church is about a block away from my house. It was built in 1848 and it closed its doors last month, after 152 years of serving the community. Most of its parishioners had passed away or moved to the suburbs so the archdiocese decided to roll up many of these small congregations into one church, about a mile away.