Friday, June 11, 2010

There Will Always Be More Music

Way back in 2007, I wrote a post about being lovestruck. I waxed poetical about a place that is near and dear to my heart. It was one of my favorite pieces, and I think it's funny that one of my favorite love letters is not to a person, but to a place. That place is New Orleans.

I went back to New Orleans last month for a week to celebrate my 40th birthday with my best friend, my mom, and my aunt and uncle. I think I've traveled to NOLA about 11 times or so over the last 8 or 9 years, and each time, like each meeting with a soul mate, it gets better.

This time, we went to places that we'd never been before, and revisited old haunts. We drove to Chalmette, in St. Bernard's Parish, where my friend and I had volunteered for Habitat for Humanity a year or so after Katrina, and, miraculously, we even found one of the houses we had worked on. We drove through the famous Ninth Ward, a former urban residential center that now looks like the corn fields of Iowa, with grass up to my shoulders in some spots, covering all the foundations from bulldozed houses. There, Brad Pitt's Make it Right organization is building a series of funky,  modern houses for returning residents. We drove to Slidell and found a crazy good roadside restaurant that we would never have found if we hadn't taken a wrong turn. We took a swamp tour with a critter-phobic psychiatrist, and later hung out with four spanish psychiatrists(The American Psychiatric Association was in town for a conference) as they waited for it to be time to go to the airport - at 5 am. I saw the sun rise over the Mississippi. We wandered through Audubon Park and City Park. We had wonderful food, heard amazing music, walked for miles and miles, and laughed a lot.

In a recent workshop on finding safety within oneself, the attendees were asked to think of a situation or place where we felt totally in rapport with ourselves. Confident, strong, and centered. My first thought was of walking through New Orleans. When I walk the streets there, I feel comfortable in my body. I walk confidently and my strides are longer. I don't obsess as much about whether I look OK or not. I think it has to do with the warm weather, although I have been there in February and shivered as I strode the familiar streets, so that's not completely it. But the feel of the warm breeze on my skin, wearing flip flops and tank tops and skirts and never fearing the cold, there's heaven in that. There's something about the overarching shade trees, the lazy, dirty river, the slow awakening each morning after yet another music-saturated 3 am night, the boats moving past, and the ding-dong of the churchbells that makes me feel so at home. It's not the drinking, because after a few days of that, it gets old. It's something else about the place.

I was reflecting on my former letter about New Orleans, and the way I experienced the city this time. In my earlier letter, I was In Love. I wrote about arriving on the streets of the Quarter and feeling, literally, in love. My heart pounding, my feet not even touching the ground. This time it was different. We were old familiar friends, the city and I. I didn't feel those butterflies and that elation that you feel when you're in love. It felt just like the way you feel when, with a real human lover, the high of infatuation wears off, and you now get down to the business of really getting to know the person - the real person. Let's face it, New Orleans is a mixed bag. It's dirty, its claim to fame is rivers of booze and flashing co-ed breasts, and it has a sordid and cruel history. If it were a human being, our mothers would have warned us about New Orleans. Hmmmm. Sounds good to me!

But in thinking about how my reaction to this town has changed over time, I can't help but relate that to how our relationship with everything changes over time. I remember visiting New Orleans once and feeling horrified the first time I actually got bored there. Or leaving a music venue at midnight, worried that it meant I was getting old, since I used to stay out until 3 am pretty regularly. But then telling myself that it was my experience and I could do whatever I wanted. That there were no rules here, and that there would always be more music.  We tend to forget that all things change and shift, and no matter how much we try to hold on to how we want things to be, we will never be able to. In my relationship with New Orleans, I see things shifting, and maybe because my emotions aren't as painfully triggered as in my relationship with humans, I can see the change and I can accept it. The town and I love one another, but love, as well all know, is a many-splendored thing. Never the same thing twice.


bechtoldlifework said...

What a journey it was to read this, Melissa. Your love affair with NOLA makes for a delightful story. And Happy belated B-day too!

Honey B said...

Thank you! :-)