I’m falling into a rhythm in my strange new home.
My mornings are beauty and stillness. Wake up; watch the sunrise over the lake, diluted by city haze.
Climb down, let Lost out of the electrical room I store her in for the night. Simple boiled rice and vegetables for breakfast; roam the deserted grounds. It’s hard to break the dreamlike trance and start the bike, the day. Find a pool, a café, move incognito.
You all but have to be on fire to get people’s attention in this city, where colourful characters have so saturated the streets. I’m not habituated; I’m delighting in it.
Eris has talked me into staying just a little longer despite radios crackling with dire warnings of hurricane Isaac’s inexorable approach – Midsummer Mardi Gras is this weekend. What is a visit to New Orleans without a phantasmagoric mobile block party? Besides, there is something about this place.
People ask me why I do this, I glibly shoot back a Why Not, or joke about the job market, the snow, whatever. The truth is, after sixteen years, I just knew that as beautiful as Ottawa is, my beloved hometown had not changed with me and – for now – I need new surroundings. I need to see what else there is, perhaps even find somewhere that stimulates & challenges me in new ways, the sort of place I could stop wandering from – if only for a while.
New Orleans has an atmosphere charged with energy and potential. The people are proud, and their hardships have made them prouder. The city wells with art, it bleeds into the streets and feeds the souls of a people who can’t simply walk on by unseeing – this place is just too jarring. They want to see their home improve, and they want to be a part of it. Was it like this before the hurricane, or did they just start rebuilding and never stop?
Whatever the root, it’s intoxicating. I’m filled with the question: Could I stay here? The hedonism seems over the top, but that’s just the surface. Beneath the veneer of tourist traps, hackneyed stereotypes, novelty clothing, and stiff drinks, there is a vibrant culture and rich community. I feel the city draped around me like an old coat, familiar and patchwork, secret pockets, hidden treasures.
Inertia looms like the hurricane clouds on the horizon, and both make me anxious to leave. This was supposed to be just a taste. I don’t regret extending my stay, but the time has come.
Before I leave, a few things. The dinner at Oswaldo’s finally happens – delicious BBQ during the day, I hang out with his family and help out around the house. It’s good to get some sweaty work done, and I even find a couple of desiccated geckos for the road.
I take Eris to explore my kingdom, and she gives me an intimate tour of hers: we meet the crust-punks with their homemade junkstruments, fortune tellers whose cards call me to stay; voodoo-mamas and shysters who draw me in to their mythologies. The jazz band can’t play St. James infirmary blues, but I get a better selection from Eris’ guitar anyway.
And then the grand finale to my New Orleans adventure – Midsummer Mardi Gras.
The debacle is as weird and wonderful as I had hoped. In the sweltering New Orleans heat, I can’t imagine how people manage to find so much energy but it sweeps you away and next thing you know you’re dancing in the streets with a crew that looks like something out of “a midsummer night’s dream” meets “fear and loathing in las vegas”.
Like all good stories mine ends with a hangover of bewildered recollections, and lingering doubts about what actually happened in the end. Fortunately, I have the photos to prove it. I leave Eris with a spare helmet that made its way into my possession for the next time we meet, and ride out through evacuation traffic, past drained gas stations and boarded windows.
The city is hunkering down, and I am riding out into the sunset,the bayou following alongside the highway glows with warm twilight. When darkness falls, nothing but hours of endless tail lights – my fellow escapees from the coming storm.
But they are coming right back. I don’t know when I will return. What I do know now, is what it means to miss New Orleans