Southern energy. Is that an oxymoron? Not when you’re using it to describe Magazine, Royal, Frenchmen, Freret, Decatur or other vibrant streets in New Orleans.
Don’t you just feel it? The vibe when, on a nice day, you walk down one of these well-traveled streets in the historic areas of New Orleans.
Living in the Garden District, on Seventh Street, I frequently walk up and down Magazine. Tables on the sidewalk teem with groups dining al fresco, mother and daughter cohorts wander, gaggles of teens and pairs of 50-and 60-year-olds meander up and down the sidewalks in a kaleidoscope of vitality, one repeated on many other busy thoroughfares lined with old buildings in NOLA.
They say that introverts discharge energy from within and extroverts like me suck energy from others into themselves. Whatever. Count me guilty. But I just feel the energy on Magazine. In a visceral way. And so do others from Mobile, Jackson, Biloxi and other points in the Gulf and South region who flock to Magazine Street. For the vitality.
Southern energy is different from, say, New York City energy. There, people walk with direct intent, eyes ahead and with a no-nonsense look of purpose. Yes, it’s energy, but not Southern energy.
On Magazine, people smile warmly and make eye contact, uttering perhaps a “good morning” or “afternoon” as you pass. New Orleanians will talk to anyone in a welcoming manner, and that’s why our vibe draws like-minded people: They seek that politeness and warmth, that Southern vibe.
I am sometimes unconvinced of our self-professed exceptionalism. It’s perhaps a defense mechanism we use to deflect attention from the many serious problems our city faces. But I am convinced of the unique Southern energy that New Orleans emits. That stereotypical picture of indolent, slow-moving and slow-talking denizens of our city doesn’t ring true to me. Walk Magazine between Washington and Louisiana on a weekend and bask in the Southern energy–especially you introverts–and you’ll understand.
We extroverts will be walking our dogs and absorbing all of that good energy. It’s our own Greenwich Village, Haight Ashbury, Soho; but here, it’s a mix of Southern and European. In fact, the stretch of Louisiana below Lafayette and I-10 to New Orleans and, I would guess, on to Pass Christian, is not Deep South but New France, according to writer Colin Woodward, who divides the U.S. into 11 different “nation states.” Here, he says, we tend toward consensus and an egalitarian sense of community.
So it’s that mix of Southern culture and continental Europe and a centuries-old melting pot of ethnicities, together with our rebirth after the Thing That Shall Not Be Named, that produces this dynamism. Southern energy is a force one senses, one feels. It’s not Bourbon Street, which has its own kind of frenetic energy – one that may speak to conventioneers or party types, but it’s not us.
For a New Orleans kind of Southern energy, head for lesser-known but equally vibrant streets. Come plug into it. Like me, you’ll be recharged.