Teri Orr: Saints and sinners all
I‘m about to find out, as the old song goes: “Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?”
And right now, I know there is nothing shy about this town. Bold designs, rich food, live music everywhere, historic buildings and marbled aboveground cemeteries. As the backdrop for this year’s TED Women conference, the town did not disappoint.
And the conference has yet to conclude as of this writing but there have been so many talks about the bridges we build and cross and yes, sometimes burn. The speakers have included performers on pianos and cellos and in strong voice. The historic Orpheum theater has served as the “just right” home for the magic to happen.
And a longtime friend who lives here has been a terrific inclusive guide and host to Halloween parties and cemetery walks and talks about all those things we used to talk about endlessly when he lived in Park City.
For now, the best I can manage is to share some snippets and impressions of an infusion of smart people sharing their stories.
Leaving the French Quarter one morning in a taxi, the driver complained about the streets still shut down for repairs. And I said, “There is so much construction.” And he said, “You mean corruption.” And I said, “Is that left over from Katrina?“ And he said, “No m’am. It is much, much older than Katrina.” And I said, “You mean Huey Long?” And he said, “Yes, ma’am. Some say he still sits in that seat.”
And I was once again grateful for my high school AP English teacher who had us all read the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, All The King’s Men, by Robert Penn Warren. The character Willie Stark was loosely based on former Louisiana governor Huey Long, who was assassinated in office. Some say one of the most corrupt politicians of all time.
And New Orleans is like that. Living the past with present. The statues still up of a gilded Joan of Arc and of Andrew Jackson.
“He was also a President” another cab driver tells me a bit defensively, but then he shares: ”We took Robert E. Lee down. “
My hotel is a block away from Rue Royal and I am reminded there will always be a Park City connection in my travels. Royal Street Land Company, all those years the parent company of Deer Valley Resort, came from New Orleans and the stewardship of the Stern family.
Once the actual TED Women conference started, the speakers laid out stories like breadcrumbs to the place where we make our own personal connections.
So, in no particular order, I learned:
Louisiana incarcerates more people than any other state in the union. They know the system is broken and they know they don’t know how to fix it.
Two playwrights share a dialogue that is beautiful and strange and heart warming. A heavyset black woman and a tall, thin, pale, redheaded woman. And I was lost in their words and intense friendship and a phrase: You didn’t have the dream, the dream had you.
The cognitive scientist who talks about the value of speaking another language and what that does for our brain and more. To have a second language is to have a second soul.
The tribal attorney based in D.C., a woman, tells us about the bullets and the buffalo at Standing Rock and what meant to be there that day. But she warns of the looming crisis of Native Peoples ahead – she tells us 40 percent of the indigenous people in America are under the age of 24. And there is little support for all these young people on or off the reservations.
The participants here are from places like Syria and Somalia and Sudan and South Carolina. And the dress and languages at break time are an event in themselves. There are so many conversations that can happen when women feel safe and acknowledged and valued. And such a sense of discovery when the days are unfolding for us all in real time and we hear some the smartest, most talented, most inspiring women speaking to us.
And Judith Hill’s performance of “Strange Fruit” flattened us.
The session where we started talking about burning bridges had these statements:
Arson is not for the fainthearted. Playing with matches is not for children – it is for women! We are cheering now – emboldened by the talks and each other’s stories. Well fed and oiled. Slightly glowing from the humidity many of us are not accustomed to. Reconnecting with women from other TED events who are building and burning bridges in their communities the world over. Like the woman who has been holding TEDx events in refugee camps in Europe. The woman who helps curate all of the TED programs, who is in tears after her friend presents a surprisingly naked talk about forgiveness. The woman who always makes me laugh with her raw insights to the younger version of TED discoveries.
We are all hungry for the same things. Authentic conversations and connections and unspoken compassion. And we know the world is moving pretty fast but sometimes we need to carve out a few moments and remember the cellular parts of being a woman, any day like this Sunday in the park.
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