By: Lauralee Buchanan, Centennial Volunteer Ambassador at Jean Lafitte & New Orleans Jazz National Historical Parks
The Crescent City Connection (CCC) is the name of the beautiful bridge that stretches across the Muddy Mississippi River, connecting the East and West Banks of the city of New Orleans. For those who may not be familiar with the area, New Orleans gets its nickname the Crescent City because it is nestled right into a ‘U’ or a crescent shape in the River’s bend as it makes its way down, about 100 miles south, to empty into the Gulf of Mexico. Why exactly the city was established where it is today, in the swamplands of Southeast Louisiana, is a whole other story for a later blog, but for now, back to the Crescent City Connection.
It’s not the bridge in particular that I want to tell you about, but rather, the Connection. I think it is safe to say, that anyone who has spent time in New Orleans knows the “connection” that can be so easily felt by simply walking down the street.
On my first day of work as a Centennial Volunteer Ambassador (CVA) for Jean Lafitte (JELA) and New Orleans Jazz (JAZZ), Brennan and I met our supervisor, Chief of Interpretation, Nigel Fields on his lunch break and we strolled with him through the colorful streets to a po’boy shop nestled into the back of a small establishment. We got to know each other over lunch, and then headed over to the Old U.S. Mint, a museum partially owned by the state, and partially owned by the New Orleans Jazz National Historical Park. We made our way to the third floor where we stepped into beautiful, cool, concert hall and watched one of Jazz’s Rangers lead a discussion and play Jazz Guitar in a free concert with a few local musicians.
The fact that there is a National Park completely devoted to preserving and sharing Jazz music as one of America’s National Treasures, still blows my mind a little bit every time I think about it. How Beautiful and Brilliant! National Parks really are ‘America’s Best Idea’!
Throughout that first day, we discussed this undeniable Connection that is so easily felt and unique in our city, and how wonderfully important of a role the National Parks here play in sharing the history and culture of this connection with the city and its visitors. As Nigel so fittingly said, the city itself not only has an important story in its landscape, but perhaps even more so in its ‘soundscape’ and ‘smellscape’. It is extremely aesthetically pleasing, and almost overwhelming to the senses at times.
Being very rich in culture and history, New Orleans is also very adamant in celebrating and embracing both these aspects, and doing so often.
Much of my experience as a CVA in these first few months has been in absorbing the culture, learning this complex history, and realizing how our Parks here play a role in preserving and interpreting not only the landscape of the swamp, but the soundscapes, smellscapes, and connections people feel with this place. To know this city is to love it, and the more I get to know it, the more I love it, everyday.
Jean Lafitte has 6 locations across Southeast Louisiana; The Headquarters I mentioned, The Barataria Preserve, which protects about 3,000 acres of precious Wetlands that lie a half hour south of the city, The Chalmette Battlefield and National Cemetery, where in 1815, Andrew Jackson, Jean Lafitte the Pirate, and many others banded together to protect the city in the final battle of the War of 1812, and three Acadian (or Cajun) Cultural Sites, in Lafayette, Thibodaux, and Eunice. Each of these three sites tells a unique story of Acadian Culture, from the history of the displaced French Immigrants from Nova Scotia, to their rich traditions in music, food, dance, and overall lifestyle surviving, and still flourishing in the wetlands of Louisiana.
The Jazz Park is closely tied into the music and dance traditions of all the sites, but also has two locations of its own. There is a visitor’s center and concert hall in
the Old U.S. Mint Building, as well as a Jazz ‘Park’ visitor’s center in the French Quarter, where free concerts, children’s programs, interpretive tours about Jazz history, and even Yoga and Pilates classes to live Jazz music take place weekly.
The more I learn about JELA and JAZZ the more I am continually wowed and humbled by all they already offer and how much I still have yet to learn about the history here.
Since I started my internship in June, every week has been a new adventure. Six of the eight physical sites that make up our Parks have been checked off of my list, and I am very excited to visit the remaining two, in Eunice and Thibodaux, and to continue to work with all of them.
So far, I have had the privilege of celebrating in the NPS & YMCA 50 Cities Initiative Announcement Ceremony, and I am very excited to be a part of this new partnership throughout the year. I’ve also been able to assist with volunteer clean-ups, summer camps, and youth group programs at the Barataria Preserve and the Chalmette Battlefield.
Some highlights of working with the Jazz Park have included tabling and expanding outreach at festivals, (there is one just about every weekend of the year) marching in a second line, and participating in a flash-mob for National Dance Day!
All of these events- including touring a Mardi Gras Indian Museum, working with VIPs from our ‘Trails & Rails’ program with Amtrak- and many more, could each be their own blog post for another day.
For now, I will leave you with these few of my experiences thus far, and I will delve much deeper into a particular aspect of life as a CVA in the Crescent City’s National Parks at a later time.
I hope this has given you all a taste for the deeply woven connections that exist here in the Crescent City, and why I am so happy and honored to be a part of JELA & JAZZ.
Until next time- Laissez les bons tempsrouler!