“do you know what it means, to miss New Orleans?” asks Louis, between trumpets.
I don’t, not yet.
but brother, I ain’t looking forward to it.
been here almost 3 months to the day, leave tomorrow.
I’ll post this now, however — a day early — ‘cause in 24 hours, I’ll need to stay sedated.
before this trip — made possible by kindness thrown my way by a dear friend with a spare Carriage House — I had associated New Orleans with two things, and both bad: Bourbon Street and Katrina. maybe that’s what we all associate it with, those of us who don’t know it. I’d been here many times before — always staying in the French Quarter, always drinking daiquiris from Pat O’Brian’s, never venturing far from muffulettas and beignets. no wonder I had never been a big fan — the only thing missing from my adventures was a Hard Rock Casino.
I saw a different side of New Orleans this trip.
I saw New Orleans.
The Quarter remained the Quarter — I stayed away, save for my favorite bar that I took a handful of you to. Katrina — well, what did I know about Katrina? nothin’. my little home — placed quietly in the upscale Uptown neighborhood never saw much of Katrina. but what I did notice is that this “We Will Rebuild!” slogan that popped up everywhere — it existed, but the strength and the pride of the people here never went anywhere. not before The Storm, not after The Storm — we were just suddenly aware of it. sad that it took a tragedy to put their joie de vivre on a t-shirt, but hey.
what I got to see was a lot of the city in small doses. days began at the little French bakery down the street, a bike ride to the park, around a few times, and then back home. it was a 11-mile journey — in total — but trust me when I say it seemed like a fraction of that. something about the tightly packed houses — blue ceilings to scare away mosquitos/ghosts, trees hanging over like aged hands, the Southern Smell of Confederate Jasmine wafting through the streets running North to South, the smell of seasoned crawfish boiling from East to West. I got to read a fair share of books — some travel, some historical and one magnificent. I didn’t get to see as much music as I would have liked, but then again, every night, The Sax Man walked up and down Magazine Street [one block away from where we were] and thankfully, people kept giving him a few bucks. so good was he that we turned down Graceland every time his notes made it over the fence.
but what is New Orleans, really? for me, it was the realization that it’s the closest thing we have to Paris, while — at the same time — the northern-most Caribbean state. it’s Spain and it’s Southern, Voodoo and Very Catholic, Cajun and confusion, America without being AMERICA. it’s brash while being polite, a whore as much as she is a lady. they love her here — despite all the shortcomings. ask anyone about the deplorable roads and they’ll roll their eyes, laugh and say ‘That’s New Orleans’. a filthy jezebel with a siren’s voice, a sailor’s tolerance, a muse’s intoxication.
they get dressed up for everything here. everything. and not dressed up like you and I get dressed up, they Get Dressed Up. anyone not boasting a closet full of wigs and costumes is definitely temporary.
they’re loud — mostly to cut through all the music and laughs.
they’re bold — probably get that from the French.
and they eat — but I hardly need to point that out.
but food— one instance in particular — is what summed this place up for me. I watched a visitor try and wrap his head around a Po’Boy. ‘so, it’s basically a sandwich’ he jabbed. ‘I mean, it is’, patiently explained the local, ‘and it isn’t. yes, it’s a sandwich, but it’s so much more.’
and there’s New Orleans for you, I suppose, yes, a city… but so much more.
I’m going to miss it, I’m going to miss the hell out of it.
- every time I try and light up a cigarette inside, or take my drink with me.
- every time I hear someone correctly enunciate “where are you at?”
- every time Paul Simon sings ‘That Was Your Mother’.
- every time I see some Yankee try and dismember a crawfish.
- every time someone wants to walk fast.
- every time a city sign reads ‘you can’t do that here’.
so, in keeping with my wishes — the one where I die before you [and trust me when I say that after 3 months here, it’s almost guaranteed I’ll go first] — I still want my ashes thrown off the West coast of Ireland, but first, have me a little Second Line party down here. ‘We put the Fun in Funeral’ says the bumper sticker, and boy-oh-boy, until you’ve stepped in behind a stranger’s procession, all white kerchiefs and parasols, you won’t get it.
I didn’t get it for a long time, but now I think I did — a day before leaving with a heavy, but happy heart.
heavy — cause I’m starting to know what it means to miss New Orleans.
happy — because for a brief moment, I got to be in that number.