Dead Squirrel on Esplanade Avenue
Very little tragedy occurs on Esplanade Avenue in New Orleans. People who live in New Orleans often call Esplanade Avenue the happiest street in the city. Death, petty crime, theft, disease, bounced checks, spoiled food, even wine turning to vinegar---few of these mishaps unfurl along the whole length of Esplanade Avenue. Occurrences are measured in decades.
When the dead squirrel showed up by the sidewalk curb on a block of Esplanade Avenue, it was an event that excited the interest of neighbors. Elementary schoolchildren came on a field trip to examine the corpse. When was the last time someone saw a dead squirrel on Esplanade Avenue? Nobody could remember for sure. An elderly gentleman said he thought the last time he saw one was in November, 1978.
There was a dead squirrel on Esplanade Avenue the other day, on April 19, 2017. That's a long time without a dead squirrel on the side of the street. Nobody held a jazz funeral but everyone who passed by paid their respects until the city sanitation workers drove by and scooped it up, unceremoniously, and put it in a plastic trash bag in the back of their pickup truck. On Esplanade Avenue, few things are as surprising as the street's constant surprises.
A reporter from one of the local newspapers came out, accompanied by a photographer:
The story of the dead squirrel didn't make front page news. It was buried way back in the paper. I don't think it even showed up in the online edition. Who cares about a dead squirrel?
The people who live in this part of New Orleans care about a dead squirrel. Every life is precious, even if it isn't human. Some of the schoolchildren, Mrs. Robicheaux's 3rd grade class, held a candlelit memorial service. The whole scene was all more than a little bit touching as it played out.
Dogs sniffed the dead squirrel as their owners walked them either lakeside or riverside on the uptown sidewalk. None of the dogs were tempted to take more than a sniff. They all turned away for more interesting prey, like the discarded chicken bones and crawfish shells that people walking down Esplanade Avenue leave in their wake in the middle of the night.
O! Poor squirrel! We barely knew you! We never learned your name!
There is a squirrel whisperer who lives on Barracks Street, one block uptown from Esplanade Avenue, between North Tonti and North Rocheblave Streets. She stopped by to see the squirrel, and, while a tear ran down her cheek she was otherwise unmoved. She admitted to all who were gathered that she had never seen this particular squirrel before. He (or she, the autopsy report hasn't filed yet as of this writing) was unknown to the neighborhood squirrel whisperer.
Esplanade Avenue is a dense and richly-textured street. Surprising things happen on Esplanade Avenue and on the streets and in the homes that surround Esplanade Avenue. I'm not talking about the AirBnB rentals that have occupied the surrounding addresses. I mean surprising things happen to the people who live in this part of New Orleans.
Surprising things happen to the people who visit New Orleans. They don't live here. They aren't prepared to expect the unexpected. For the people who live here, though, in actuality, all year round with a renewable annual lease, for a lifetime, surprises outweigh the humdrum. There is never a dull moment in New Orleans, especially when you spend most of your time in the environs of Esplanade Avenue.
In the middle of Esplanade Avenue, in the 2200 block, where Bayou Road, the oldest street in New Orleans, crosses Esplanade Avenue, there is a triangular vest-pocket park named Gayarré Place. It's named after Charles Etienne Gayarré, the Father of Louisiana History. In the park is a statue of Clio (pronounced KLEYE-oh), Goddess of Peace, Genius of History. If you are from outside New Orleans and you know your classical Greek mythology, Clio (in this case pronounced KLEE-oh) is the Muse of History. Toe-MAY-toe, toe-MAH-toe.
There is a ton of history in New Orleans. There is lots of history along Esplanade Avenue. Some of this history is known all over the world. You can read about it in any guidebook. Much, much more of it is only known locally. Most of that local history is forgotten after a decade, or after the people who live here move away. Few people move away from Esplanade Avenue. The furthest they move is the other side of New Orleans, either Uptown or Downtown. There is history in the Garden District and there is history in the Lower 9th Ward. There is history around Esplanade Avenue, bushels of it, whole crawfish sacks full of history to bursting.
Wanna see another side of New Orleans outside the French Quarter, where the guidebooks won't venture to point you? You can spend your New Orleans visit at La Belle Esplanade. Make your New Orleans headquarters on Esplanade Avenue. Visit New Orleans like you belong here. Your professional innkeepers are goodwill city ambassadors who can show you where the dead squirrel was found. In fact, there's a tiny memorial next to the curb where the squirrel breathed his last breath. The whole scene is very moving.