A Different Take on New Orleans
I came across an article that touched on a topic I’d never seen before. It appeared in the August 2019 issue of AFAR magazine, a relatively new publication that I signed up for recently. Sarah M. Broom, a writer who has appeared in the New York Times Magazine and the New Yorker, among other publications has written an intriguing piece.
Broom grew up in New Orleans East, a neighborhood most travelers and visitors to NOLA don’t see. During a summer home from the University of North Texas, she took a job – her very first one – in the French Quarter. This resulted in Broom’s change of heart as she gained a new perspective of the city where she had lived all her life.
WHERE IS BOURBON STREET?
Her barista job was at CC’s Coffee House on Royal Street where she found that, along with coffee orders she answered questions: the most popular one being about the famous Bourbon Street.
On her 15-minute breaks she stared through the window of the place where she worked and observed the people walking by. But, on her lunch breaks she wandered the streets with her camera, e.g., a man playing a horn along the Mississippi or a juggler on stilts leaning against a street sign. These were the photos she took back to Texas as memories of the place she grew up.
HER FIRST TIME IN THE FRENCH QUARTER
Despite living all her life in New Orleans she had never spent time in the French Quarter until she worked there. It was life changing, or as she writes, “After that summer I based all my stories about my growing-up years that played to the ‘non-natives’ imagination.” She wrote scholarship essays and told stories about young boys tap dancing with Coca-Cola bottle tops on the bottom of their sneakers.
Traveling home after work involved a journey with employees and their uniforms: Napoleon House wore all black with white lettering, females in black with white aprons were hotel cleaning women while those in green-grass outfits worked at the Hotel Monteleone. Brown’s uniform was khaki pants, a burgundy cap and a matching polo shirt.
RETURNING HOME BY BUS
Broom traveled by bus to the corner of Downman and Chef Menteur where she waited to transfer to a second bus. She confesses that she “took no photos of New Orleans East because this was not what her college friends wanted to see.” The reality of Broom’s home district was this: no iconic street lamps, no street musicians playing on a flat industrial landscape, no streetcars with joggers alongside them, few restaurants, no cafes to stop in for a quick cup of java.
She found the French Quarter to be a marvel + escape from the East New Orleans where she lived on the short end of Wilson Avenue.
SO WHAT’S THE BOTTOM LINE?
Later in life Broom came to realize that she had embraced a New Orleans myth AND writes “I came to lay that much of what was wayward and backward about myself on New Orleans: I can cook, I love jazz, BUT I am interesting because…
Yes, you are Ms. Broom and we salute you.
NOTE: The above was excerpted from: The Yellow House by Sarah M. Brown that was published by Grove Press in August 2019.