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Summer in the French Quarter 

Tourists used to unnerve me. They occupy my historic neighborhood in large numbers to gawk at improbable landmarks, following tour guides who fabricate stories to amuse them. Some of the stories are so preposterous it's a wonder how anyone could listen with a straight face. Some of the visitors are sober and responsible citizens in Iowa, leaders of the community and professionals, but as soon as they get to New Orleans they turn into children. Being gullible and charmed is not a crime, of course, and neither is standing in ruminator-like groups in front of my house. On the other hand, going about one's business through large humanesque obstructions clad in yo-yo T-shirts, with stupid hats on clueless heads, is no picnic. Tour groups smell. Unused to our summers, they stand together sweating like French Quarter carriage mules. Threading my way through tourists used to be a complex and emotionally fraught journey.

That's how it used to be. But then I had an idea. Instead of getting irritated at their insensitive blocking of sidewalks, I would consider them Natural Formations. Instead of thinking of them as human blobs, I would consider them Boulders, Spurs, Ranges, Dips, Streams and Mounds. Instead of thinking of my trip to the store as an obstacle course, I would think of it as a stroll through the countryside. In my favorite kind of country -- mountainous! -- I always walk around big rocks, ford small streams, take narrow paths past large boulders, avoid spurs, and so on. Country walking is a great pleasure, and I saw no reason not to enjoy my daily trek through tourists in the same fashion. As soon as I changed my mental frame, I began to enjoy the amorphous herds lumbering my way. A group of ten or more became a Range. A couple with beers and binoculars were a Mound. Five inebriated college students, a stream. A gaggle of partying junior partners in a Midwest firm, a Butte. A single drunk whirling his arms, a Sink Hole. A shirtless man with a map who'd lost his wallet (along with the shirt) looking for his hotel (whose name he'd forgotten), a Lonely Spur. A guided night-time ghost tour became a Hidden Valley. Thinking this way, I found myself enjoying a country outing right in the middle of the city.

Having solved the major part of my irritation, I must now work on the remaining problems: the stink and the talking. The stink isn't so bad if you consider it part of the general funk of New Orleans in the summer: rotting crawfish shell, steaming piles of fresh mule doo-doo, garbage-truck juice, decomposing small rodents, beer urine, and night-blooming jasmine and magnolias. The talk is more problematic because these urban Natural Formations say incredibly stupid things you can't help overhearing. But there are always iPods.

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