There is No North

River Lake Uptown Downtown
Local t-shirt & gift shop Dirty Coast knows how New Orleanians give directions.

New Orleans is an easy city to get lost in.  When you visit the first time, you tend to underestimate this, because if you venture out of the easily-walkable French Quarter, you are braver than most.

On perhaps the third day after I moved here, all of my belongings en route from Philadelphia in three ABF U-Pack”Relocubes,” I asked a neighbor kindly to point me in the direction of North, i.e. how can I get back to Philly if I start walking right now.

“I know what you mean, but we don’t really use North and South here,” she patiently informed me.  That’s when I learned that “Toward the lake, toward the river, uptown and downtown” is a real thing.  “Toward Lake Ponchartrain” IS basically north, but I admit, it does depend entirely upon where you are standing, based on the curve of the Mississippi where Bienville first planted the French flag.

After nine years of living in Germantown, this chaos does feel a bit familiar.  In Philly, Center City is an extremely user-friendly grid, thanks to William Penn’s “greene country towne” concept and a compass.  But as the city expanded west, it hit the Schuylkill River,  the Wissahickon Creek, and more.  Improvisation kicked in.  At some point past the Art Museum, you start to go “off the grid.”  Lincoln Drive, etc.  In some cases, too far even for taxis.

Maybe “Toward the river” isn’t as crazy as it first sounds.  But it doesn’t really help a lot with the question of where I am in relation to Philly, or to home.

 

 

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