Imagine turning on all of the faucets in the bathroom, doors and windows closed. Let the steam rise, envelop you. Take a deep, open-mouthed breath.
Feel the hot wetness fill your lungs, the almost suffocating feeling...thick enough to cut with a knife. This is the experience of breathing South
Louisiana air on most clear days. I did that for 19 years.
I couldn't wait to leave. The poverty, the crime, the weather, the air. Never did I imagine how much a part of me it had become. How my very blood
would tingle at the thought of never returning. My mind kept intruding on those wistful memories, telling me "nuh-uh". Those wistful memories, though,
stirred my soul.
I still have my life-long dream of living in the English or Irish countryside, but that comes from past lives, not this one. This life is pulling me
home, home to New Orleans. My first love has returned there. My best friends live there. My history lives there.
Backwater bayous, seafood I couldn't eat, oil rigs on barges floating down river. Cemeteries with above-ground crypts so the bodies don't float away.
Nights on Bourbon Street, stopping into every bar.
Riding the St. Charles street cars.
Sitting in a custom-built seat atop a ladder on Canal Street watching truck parades at Mardi Gras, screaming, "Throw me sumthin' mistah!" like the
millions of other people around me.
Going to the Pirate Jean Lafitte
and the Marie Laveau
museums near Jackson Square with the giant statue of Andrew Jackson on a horse,
surrounded by a low, black, wrought-iron fence and street artists set up around it.
Always wishing someone would take me for a carriage ride. Coffee with chicory and beignets
at the Morning Call Cafe'
on Fat Tuesday morning.
The Camellia Grill
downtown with a line to get in so long that as soon as you remove the napkin from your lap and lay it down, you are required to pay and leave. No
sitting for after dinner coffee and chat. The po-boy sandwich shops in out-of-the-way, street corner hole-in-the-walls that leave gravy and mayonnaise
dripping off your chin.
Watching Harry Connick, Jr. grow up, hearing Pete Fountain, or the Neville Brothers, play in some open-front dive bar, where they don't advertise.
You just happen by and watch a show, have a drink.
It's a place where they are proud to have had Huey P. Long, and other openly crooked politicians running the show because they were family. I turn on
world news now and remember when Charles Zewe was a local reporter. I look at parades in various places, or on TV, and scoff because they are poor
substitutes for the real thing. Marching in Mardi Gras parades was just as fun as watching them from the sidelines.
Watching the Superdome being built
and hearing my brother call it the "Soupydome" every time we crossed the Greater New Orleans (GNO) Bridge. Attending Saints football games, even when
they couldn't win at all, or watching them faithfully on TV. Finally having hope for them with Morten Anderson kicking and Jim Mora coaching. (Finally
realizing that dream with Drew Brees and the 2009 team.)
Living in SOUTH South Louisiana - in the toe of the boot. So many memories: the banana spiders with webs stretched across the driveway at face height,
alligators, deer flies, the Cow Incident, the voodoo fires in the swamp behind the house and drums echoing in the stillness, the sinkhole in the
driveway, the swarms of bees and wasps in my room, the Horse Incident, the Christmas Tree Incident, and so much more.
Yes, all of this I look back on fondly. Going to the drive-thru frozen daiquiri shops
and then going to Fort Jackson
on prom night and hearing the alligators in the reservoir sing and grunt. Collecting baby frogs on the river side of the levee. The floods, the
hurricanes. Swimming in the front yard after those. Playing slip-n-slide on the smooth concrete of the carport with a running water hose. Deep sea
fishing, 70 miles out, tied up to an oil rig, catching 300 to 600 pound grouper with a giant hook and a rope.
Throwing five hook lines and catching five snapper on them. Getting burnt to a crisp, sleeping on the flying bridge of the same deep sea fishing boat,
and then spending a week in bed with sun poisoning, but loving it because Wimbledon was on at the same time.
Does everyone have memories as rich, dark, and fulfilling as these? Maybe they belong solely to Louisiana, solely to New Orleans and its suburbs. I
don't know, but these memories are mine, and for the first time, I treasure them.
The most romantic night I ever had was the night of my first love's prom. His twin brother and his date, our best friends (who were dating and then
later married), and he and I, all together after the prom at the Cafe' du Monde
at the edge of the MoonWalk on the River.
My hoopskirt getting torn on one of the wrought-iron chairs. Climing into the back of the limo (while Fred, the chauffeur was stretched out on the
front seat reading Spider Man comic books.) and taking the hoop skirt off, leaving only the dress, now flowing loosely around my legs while I laughed
and shivered with excitement. My love taking my hand and walking out on the MoonWalk with me, under the light of the moon sparkling off of the river,
with a soft breeze blowing. His arm around me as we gazed at the river while he told me he loved me.
I have never felt that safe, that sense of mystery in the air, that way, since then. Maybe it was just us that made it feel that way, but I am sure
the magic of a New Orleans night helped.
Sure, bad things happened there too.
Don't they everywhere? But my memories of the bad are just as vital as the ones of the good. As a whole, they make me who I am. They make New Orleans
what it is...the most magical, most culturally diverse city in the world. It is my home, as I now realize, and some part of me will always reside
there, even if I don't physically live there. My heart still lingers around the old Live Oaks in City Park
and Audubon Park.
I still see the shrimp boats with their nets cast out like huge wings in the Gulf of Mexico.
I still hear the distinctive sounds of New Orleans Jazz, and the sharp smell of the shrimp boil seasonings. I still taste the bitterness of Dixie
I still feel my first love's arm around me on that moonlit night.
I crave the romance of the city, which, even when it is at its dirtiest, when the grime of it won't wash off, New Orleans is pregnant with. Would I
move back there? Every day the answer is just a little more yes.
edit on 18-8-2011 by Ceriddwen because: punctuation, grammar