Great exhibit at the Historic New Orleans Collection’s Laura Simon Nelson Galleries of photographer Richard Sexton’s details of Caribbean life. It includes New Orleans, Colombia, Haiti, Ecuador and of course Cuba. The exhibit is designed well, with the New Orleans scenes hung next to their Caribbean counterpart, both photos sharing the exact same architectural or at least many composite details.
The exhibit reminds one that the Caribbean face of New Orleans is most likely another reason for its emotional distance from the rest of America. Those places have no great hold on the American imagination, as seen in the lack of the same architectural styles of Washington DC, or in Savannah or even San Antonio.
America turned its back after its imperialism was slowed by Bolivar, Castro and others and left little New Orleans (and Miami too) without any older sisters to sit with, remembering the past.
On viewing this exhibit, I was reminded of one of my favorite quotes from those dark days of 2005 post-levee break reconstruction, said by a well known Cuban architect in a piece in The Atlantic. Andrés Duany, a co-founder of the Congress for New Urbanism, and a persistent advocate for traditional small-town design, gets to the essence of New Orleans as a Caribbean city said then:
“When I originally thought of New Orleans, I was conditioned by the press to think of it as an extremely ill-governed city, full of ill-educated people, with a great deal of crime, a great deal of dirt, a great deal of poverty,” said Duany, who grew up in Cuba. “And when I arrived, I did indeed find it to be all those things. Then one day I was walking down the street and I had this kind of brain thing, and I thought I was in Cuba. Weird! And then I realized at that moment that New Orleans was not an American city, it was a Caribbean city. Once you recalibrate, it becomes the best-governed, cleanest, most efficient, and best-educated city in the Caribbean. New Orleans is actually the Geneva of the Caribbean.”
And for those that remember the old Tally Ho Restaurant that was here at the corner of Chartres and Conti, it is a treat to walk through the gallery and remember the ghosts of past grits and red beans had at that counter….