I am not a native. I did not grow up there. I have never lived there. I have never, for that matter, lived in Louisiana. But you know how you go somewhere and you feel like you’ve been there all your life? That’s how I feel about New Orleans, and I am sure I’m not the only person who has felt that way. There’s a certain allure about the French Quarter – the steeped-in-history feeling, the grunge, the funk, the quaintness, the overall vibe is exactly what millions of people fall in love with over and over and over again. Every time I am there, I feel a weird, other-worldly feeling – like I am supposed to be there. Like I have been there already. Like the city is waiting for me, breathlessly, until I return.
And of course, it is. Waiting for me with its endless balconies of weathered wrought iron; with its music that fills every corner – sometimes the jazz or blues it is famous for, other times drunken karaoke sung by a tourist. Waiting for me with gallons of coffee and alcohol, if I wanted it. It was something I worried about on this last trip – this was my first trip sober, and I was a little anxious to find out if New Orleans still held all the same mystery it did for me when I was drinking. It of course did, because somehow I always knew that even though drankin’ is a huge part of the essence of the city, there’s a heartbeat that echoes subtly underneath the booze. It’s the people, the whispered and passed-down tales, the food (good god almighty the food) and the desperate beauty that is New Orleans. There’s absolutely no escape from it, at least not for me.
Have I seen absolutely crazy shit there? Yes. Hasn’t everyone? More often than not, however, I find myself walking the streets of the Quarter or any of the surrounding neighborhoods in awe of the care people take with their plants, their porches – as if this is where life is centered, unlike anywhere else in the country. I can imagine nothing more perfect than to lounge on a plant-filled porch with a book or a pen or some music, watching the neighborhood, watching the sunset, watching all the vibrant colors that New Orleans is. Watching the night come alive, listening to the sounds of people cooking, laughing, drinking, and luxuriating – yes, that – the way only this one culture does.
I’m not a Christian, but I’m filled with reverence for the dead in this city. Being among the graves in St. Louis # 1 fills me with not only the sense of “damn I best gather these rosebuds right the fuck now” but also with a stillness and a longing to know more, to learn all I can about the people who have lived here and made New Orleans what it is. When I visit the small church that is next to the cemetery, it’s perfect and new to me every time I go. The mosaics, the grotto, the room that is heated with a thousand silent prayers on the wicks of candles – it is gorgeous, it is tragedy, it is human.
New Orleans is faith. It is us.