Sunday, December 16, 2007

The Informal Economy

The city has been lively lately with open air markets, rummage sales, roadside stands, open studio parties, neighborhood festivals with live music and food and drink available everywhere. As is common at this time of year, much of it centers around gift buying for others, which is slightly elevated and certainly more frantic shopping than regular days of the year.

But still, the gifts that New Orleanians buy at these events are mostly homemade, often funny about the "situation" in our city; with some items that are awkwardly made but still charming and perfect for someone on their list.
And all made by people who work from their home or a small studio and somehow show up every few months with more, and patiently set up their table and wait for you to find them.
The only times I see this economy in other cities is in college towns- late at night after music ends with mostly food vendors lining the streets- or in an immigrant neighborhood in some out of the way part of town.

This city has always revolved around the group of artists, musicians, chefs and other handy folks, and not just at holiday time. If you could enter some time machine and go back when the city was made up of a few blocks at the river, I bet you you would find many of the same personalities, themes and wares that you can find today. The Pie Lady that traverses the French Quarter on Saturdays in 2007 with her shopping cart full of still warm pies; we know from paintings and songs that her ancestor existed, selling callas or pies. The bicycle companies that set up shop in garages across town and have no sign or phone; I am sure those men fixed carriages and horse shoes in an earlier time.

When we start to worry about the future of our city, it sometimes helps us to look back instead. Find that which worked and revive it, rather than hoping for a modern answer to a problem that we don't even have.

Rejoice in your thriving economy and seek it out; stop at any truck set up with an sign, double back when you hear the fruit man coming down the street, go to the shoe repair storefront to get some new soles, buy a book at a used bookstore, order some food at that window.
It may be informal and maddeningly old-world sometimes but it is certainly ours.


Leigh Scardina said...

Hi, it's June, 2010 and I haven't seen or heard the Pie Lady in quite some time. Does anybody know if she is ok?
Leigh Scardina
French Quarter Postal

darnola said...

she is doing light opera on the streets of the Quarter now, rather than selling pies. have seen her 3-4 times