*Sigh*. I'm in love. You know the feeling...euphoria, quickened pulse, the urge to laugh at anything and everything. The feeling that nothing can touch you, and that you're floating on air. That's how I feel.
The one I love is everything my mother would have warned me against if she had been one of those mothers who waste time warning their daughters about "those" kinds of men. Soulful, sexy, funky, slightly unkempt, with a quick wit, smoldering eyes, substance-abuse problems, a dark past, and a darker future. Swoon!! Yes, bad boys are my weakness.
There are problems, though. The one I love is 2,270 miles away from me. That's not so bad, right? Long-distance relationships work all the time. Also, the one I love is physically incapable of having sex with me. OK, there are other ways of expressing love.
The real problem, of course, the real sticky wicket, is that the one I love isn't a who, it's a where. I'm in love with a place.
When I visited this place last summer, after being away for five years, I spent the first two or three days feeling the physical sensations of being in love. I felt high, even before I had my first drink. I felt like I was floating. My pulse felt quick. The feeling of the warm air on my skin felt like a lover's touch. Within an hour of stepping out of that cab from the airport, I was striding through the sticky afternoon, no longer obsessed by how I looked or where I was going and why, flip-flopping over dirty cobblestones under cracking, falling-down balconies, introducing my friend to this place that has lodged itself into my soul, and feeling finally, absolutely, adoringly, at home in my own skin. It's a way I've never felt about a place before. Not when I visited Paris, not when I toured Venice and Florence, only when I hail a cab at the Louis Armstrong International Airport, and am deposited in the balmy funk of New Orleans, do I feel this sense of coming home to a lover.
I'm probably being dramatic here, maybe even pathetic. I don't really feel like New Orleans is a lover. Well, maybe a little. Let's just put it this way: if Nola was a person, I'd do him, in a second and with no regrets. In a dark alley, or on the hood of a parked car late at night. Whew! I'm getting flushed.
My friend and I (yes, a real human friend, this time) just finalized plans to travel back to New Orleans in May with a volunteer group to help build houses in St. Bernard Parish, one of the areas most devastated by Katrina. We'll be staying 20 miles outside of town, in Violet, La., in an elementary school that's been turned into a permanent camp for Habitat for Humanity volunteers. After that, we'll spend a few days in a hotel on the edge of the French Quarter, and soak in the sights, sounds, and yes, smells, of New Orleans.
Every time I go back, I feel like I'm getting to know N.O. better, and it does feel somewhat like getting to know a lover. Yes, there's the drinking and nightlife, and there's the funky old buildings with the wrought-iron balconies overhung with plants. But there's something else underneath all of that. And that's what I'm trying to root out as I peer past gated archways into courtyards, and sit by the Mississippi watching the tourists go floating by, serenaded by that awful calliope.
Maybe because it's because I'm from California, which, though a beautiful and diverse place, still gave us the "television accent", that is, no accent at all, that I love New Orleans to distraction. To be honest, I have a southern fetish anyway. I've enjoyed my brief explorations in South Carolina, DC, and Virginia, although I can't say I enjoyed my time in Florida. There's some kind of soul and spirit in these places (but not Florida) that I don't feel in California or other places I've visited, like Montana, Washington state, or even New York. Maybe it's the climate, or the haunted forests and swamps, or the terrible abuses that occurred there, or the strange way southern culture hangs on to the past, or the hint of danger and secrets there, that fascinates me.
But, New Orleans, of all places I've seen, keeps calling me back, and even the fact that I managed to visit twice last summer hasn't lessened the pull. So here I go again, ready to find out more about the one I love, and maybe even to help out a little bit this time.