Friday, September 02, 2005

My Last Visit to New Orleans

That's last as in previous, not--hopefully--last as in never again. I love New Orleans. I've been there only twice, but it is (I refuse to say "was") a special place.

The first time, I was recovering from a broken heart and my parents invited me to join them there for one of the spring music festival weekends. Every weekend in April is some sort of music festival. I didn't remember or care which it was. It was New Orleans, city of voodoo, decadence, and dreams. I remember being struck by the utter cuteness of the French Quarter. It looked like something out of Disneyland, not including, of course, the numerous sex shoppes. Pink buildings with white french shutters; curly iron latticework on second-story balconies; the lovely inner courtyard of Court of Two Sisters and its most popular drink, called, ironically, the Hurricane. I took the glass with me, as had so many patrons before me.

The music was first rate. Springfest? I think that was the name. Combination arts/music/food fair. Colorful booths and more colorful visitors, wandering gracefully through the grass in front of the Catholic Church in the center of the Quarter. My mother had recently joined an online New Orleans list, and had made many new friends, most of whom lived there. Dad, Mom and I ate and drank with her virtual village and pictures were taken. Somewhere I still have one or more of them.

The weather was already very hot and humid, and again, this was April, near the Mississippi river. I can only imagine, as I'm suffering in the relatively dry heat here in Los Angeles, how much worse the hot humidity, tinged now with death and decay, must be.

What struck me most, living at that time in Los Angeles, was how kind people were, how they really took their time with you (a detriment if you were in a hurry, a graceful reminder of Southern Hospitality in other cases). I loved the soft southern twang of the people who spoke to me. I indulged in pralines and learned the "proper way" to pronounce the city's name: "Naw-lins."

I read the paper over coffee and beignets at Cafe du Monde, "Cafe of the World", a morning ritual for locals and tourists alike. And I learned a wonderful word: lagniappe, referring to that little something extra, the surprise gift a generous shopkeeper might have slipped into your bag, the little gift at the hotel, the extra food item at your meal. Small kindnesses were everywhere in that city.

We stayed in a small boutique hotel just east of the French Quarter. I had a four-poster bed with a lovely chandelier in my room. The tiny hotel had an inner courtyard with a lovely little square pool, and a separate small jacuzzi. Perfect for soaking your feet in after hours of wandering through the art stores, trinket shops, umbrella shops for "second-lining."

I took the Nachez Steamboat up the amazingly massive Mississippi River to the Zoo just north of town. I'm always drawn to animals, although I hate having to see them in cages. Not being able to afford a trip to Africa and the other continents of the world, I confess to patronizing zoos, and always find the experience interesting, often amusing, and always a tad disturbing. I can't imagine being caged for life. I also saw the pride and joy of the town - a huge "new" (then) aquarium, where sharks swam over your head as you walked through a glass tube. Then I cruised downriver to see new and old battleships stationed there.

I had a bite of the city's signature sandwich, the Muffeleta. It's like a huge antipasto salad in sandwich form. Delicious.

Last February, a couple of weeks before Mardi Gras, I had occasion to return to New Orleans again. I had left the Dean for America campaign in Vermont after Dean lost the New Hampshire primary. I knew it was over and knowing that, didn't want to drag down the true believers still on staff. I had planned my return from Seattle to Los Angeles months before, and was no able to continue the journey. I looked at the map home and decided on one detour from a straight shoot. You guessed it, the city of New Orleans.

I spent Valentine's Day there. If there was ever a city less suited to that day, I cannot imagine it, and that was fine with me, being utterly Valentine-less at the moment. I stayed in another boutique hotel in the same area, not quite as nice as the first but fine enough for me. This one had the essence of pirates about it, with dark green fronds of elephant palms brushing the walls built over a hundred years earlier.

From my temporary home in Burlington, Vermont, I had driven to Washington DC, staying with the Virginia head of Dean for America, a lovely and gracious woman who continues her remarkable activism to this day. From there, I had driven to Greensborough, North Carolina, and spent the night wandering the downtown area, trying to find all the little brass mice hidden throughout the city. The next morning, I drove through seven states to get to New Orleans - North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, ran down to Pensacola, Florida "just to see it," got back in the car and drove through Biloxi, Mississippi, and on into Lousiana and finally to New Orleans. The beach along the Gulf of Mexico was beautiful. A very fine white sand, laden with bleached scallop shells, one of which remains in my car to this day. There were no upended pinball machines littering the beach. And there were no oil slicks on the Mississippi River.

I parked my car and everything I owned in the world in the attached U-Haul trailer, and took my first extended walk of the trip. As before, I enjoyed the variety of people, the way people of all races, colors and political persuasions got along in the Quarter milieu. Again, there was music everywhere, and this time, because it was almost Mardi Gras, there were beads and breasts in abundance. I got my share of beads, not by bearing my breasts, but simply by bearing my teeth. You'd be surprised how many beads a genuine smile can be worth. But that's New Orleans. Sure, it's had its share--okay, more than its share--of smut and violence. And I can't forget that the plot to kill Kennedy was hatched in part there. But to me, it was also a town where the word stranger had no meaning. Everyone was a friend, be they a local, a tourist, or an immigrant worker.

Where are their friends now? I applaud all the people who are giving money - it's much needed. But that's why we pay taxes. Government is supposed to be our insurance policy against disaster and disarray. But to hear our PINO (President In Name Only) speak, he's more interested in shooting looters. What about the looting of southern state resources to feed the war in another gulf region? What of the redirecting of monies tagged for buttressing the levees to fund instead the war in Iraq? And how dare we judge the looters? We don't know how desperate they are. They don't know if they will live until the next day. They have kids who need diapers. They need food. They need medicine, and something potable to drink. And clean clothes. If President Nero wants to shoot looters, he should point his gun at the face in the mirror.


Post a Comment

<< Home