We would have felt proud of our city had it just been selected Number 1 in the nation; but to claim the top spot in the world is more than humility allows. Not that we think the designation is wrong, it is just that as locals we know where the rough spots are too. But then how can the designation be faulty when it is spoken by the New York Times?
In announcing its choices of the Top 52 Places in the World to visit in 2018, The Times’ website said this about New Orleans:
There is no city in the world like New Orleans. Influences from Europe, the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa and indigenous peoples have made it the ultimate melting pot. And that diversity expresses itself in a multitude of ways that define New Orleans in the American imagination: music, food, language, and on and on. Though it’s been a long recovery from Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans isn’t just back on its feet, it is as vibrant as ever — particularly impressive for a 300-year old.
As flattering as the statement is, there is also much to appreciate in a deeper sense. When New Orleans became part of the Union with the Louisiana Purchase, the national demographics changed. Within the country’s boundaries there was now a city whose citizens were not all white and Protestant. Here was a place with different shades of skin colors and a cacophony of languages. There were as many dialects as there were spices at the market, which was aromatic with scents that were brash and sweet. New Orleans was the ultimate place for diversity long before the term became a cliché.
Whenever this city has been included in a list, it is usually near the bottom, unless the subject is crime for which our numbers soar. Yet we hear about pickpockets in Paris and Rome and hooligans in London. These cities have lost none of their charm. The same greatness that attracts people to our city sometimes attracts those who we wish would go elsewhere. (The greatness of truly good cities is not just in their historic attractions, but in their appeal as a refuge for those in need.)
New Orleans’s first-place ranking is especially impressive because most of the other locations are not cities but countries or regions. Number two is the nation of Colombia, for a long time a place to stay away from, but now newly freed of its narco-entrapmenet. “Once off-limit attractions like the Pacific-coast rainforests and the rainbow-color river Cano Cristaoles are now in every guidebook,” The Times says.
Among American cities only eighth place Cincinnati also makes the top-ten because of its flourishing artistic scene.
(Baltimore is 15th, two behind the Cambodian Coast and one ahead of Estonia.)
New Orleans obviously got an extra boost because of this being the Tri-Centennial year, so we cannot expect to hold the number one position forever, though any spot on the list speaks well for the city.
Yes we know about the potholes; flooding; race issues and those who exploit them. But we have also experienced those special moments when there is the scent of jasmine in the air, a passing parade and the melody of a distant calliope. New Orleans number one, we might ask. What took the world so long to notice?