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NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small

Po'Boys in the Lesbian Creole Bar

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In the days since Hurricane Katrina scattered many of its residents to the winds, many have focused on what would be lost if New Orleans faded from the American scene. It has long been a place for new beginnings in a spirit of tolerance, as a chance encounter of a past evening illustrates.


New Orleans has always been its own place in this world, a town where they play jazz at funerals and bury people above ground, a place in which the waters that encircle and crisscross the city--a mighty river and myriad bayous, lakes, canals and waterways--have always had to be kept back so that the town wouldn't drown. Its joy has always been tinged with a sense of fragility and understanding that something crushing may lie just across the way. The time to have fun is now.

Great cities are those places where people come to change their lives. New Orleans has not only nurtured native-born genius on the order of Louis Armstrong but has drawn the likes of Tennessee Williams and Walker Percy and thousands of others who set out for New Orleans to try on new lives in a place where the old neighbors weren't looking. New Orleans isn't just tolerant of differences; it collects and treasures difference.

Years ago, I was covering a political convention there and walked into the streets late one night in search of food. All the most famous restaurants were filled or closed, but I found a friendly bar along St. Charles Avenue with lots of women with beautiful copper complexions eating fat fragrant oyster po-boy sandwiches. The locals saw that they had a visitor and the owner came on over. I think her name was Renee(ph). She explained that she'd opened her place as a lesbian Creole bar. The word had gotten out. The food was good, the people were interesting and lively. `So these days,' she said, `you can't tell who's who or what's what and who cares anyway?'

I asked Renee if any convention delegates had come to her place. `How'd I know who they are?' she asked. `They usually wear badges,' I told her. And Renee said, `I don't see badges. Only questions you got to know the answers to here are what you want to drink and "What do you want us to call you?"'

In these past days, as New Orleans has struggled for life, a lot of Americans have begun to appreciate the preciousness of the city all over again, perched so precariously between a delta, dreams, destruction and rejuvenation. It's important just being there, which is often the case with those you love.

(Soundbite of music)

Ms. MAHALIA JACKSON: (Singing) Lord, dear Lord of love. God Almighty, God above, please look down and see my people through. Lord, dear Lord...

SIMON: Mahalia Jackson.

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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Simon Says

Simon SaysSimon Says

NPR's Scott Simon Shares His Take On Events Large And Small