Marking Time in New Orleans New Orleans has never kept time quite like the rest of the nation. So is time of the essence as the city focuses on recovering from Hurricane Katrina? Perhaps it's a good time to reconsider how we mark our days.

Marking Time in New Orleans

Marking Time in New Orleans

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New Orleans has never kept time quite like the rest of the nation. So is time of the essence as the city focuses on recovering from Hurricane Katrina? Perhaps it's a good time to reconsider how we mark our days.


As we close our show today we note that one year ago this weekend New Orleans was bracing for the storm that would change it forever. Commentator Sylvana Joseph reflects on how New Orleanians mark time.


There's not a working clock in this entire city. This morning I went on my walk and the big clock by St. Patrick's Church on Camp Street said it was 2:30. As I walked on, the Whitney Clock read 11:15. And by the time I hit the French Quarter a few minutes later, it was six o'clock. The concept of time in New Orleans is unlike anywhere else. Time is elastic here. Only in New Orleans do we say that you're to be somewhere for seven instead of at seven. For seven allows the person the fluidity of arriving somewhere in the vicinity of seven, whereas at seven is a demand, harsh and unforgiving. For seven is a love letter, at seven is a parking ticket.

New Orleans understands that time is subjective. This city allows you the luxury of dealing with time in whatever way you see fit. In New Orleans you can pick the year you like the best and stay in that year for the rest of your life. One of our more venerable banks routinely covers the overdrafts of customers who refuse to acknowledge that their fortunes and their youth have passed them by. I have been in stores and watched elderly women pay less for the same item I just bought because, as the store owner explained to me, well be, that's the price they remember.

Since the hurricane our sense of time has come up against the rest of the world's. Constantly the world outside of New Orleans wonders exactly what we're doing with our time. Well, we're finding out that everyone else's sense of time is pretty crappy. There aren't enough hours in the day to meet the insurance specialist and call FEMA and sell the house or buy a house and make the red beans and have a cocktail and deal with the kids and figure out the rest of our lives.

Sometimes it helps to remember that our sense of time has survived many incarnations of the city. There was a time when slaves were sold in the French Quarter; a time when mid-city was considered the countryside; a time when the Quarter burned; a time when people spoke French or Spanish; a time when this was all uninhabited; a time when your house was whole, your neighborhood wasn't flooded, and your city wasn't defined by a hurricane.

People love this city because we haven't kept up with the times. We've kept what is timeless, a sense of community, a generosity of spirit, a joie de vivre that is evident in our food, our music, our way of life. While the rest of the world rushes to build its future in glass and stone, we remember everyone who has ever lived, loved and laughed here. And this timeline is the foundation of New Orleans.

ELLIOTT: Commentator Sylvana Joseph lives and writes in New Orleans. Tomorrow on this program we'll travel from Biloxi to Houston with NPR's John Ydstie and hear how people are faring on their rough road home.

Unidentified Man: Six, seven or eight months ago it was just total devastation. As you can see now, you've got roofs on houses, you've got some lawns cut, you've got people that have rebuilt.

ELLIOTT: Join us again tomorrow.

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