Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Home is Where the Heart is

One of the reasons I wanted to live in New Orleans for several weeks rather than simply visit it for a week or so is that I don't think you can really know a place until you've experienced the actual rhythm of life there, including the things that might make you grumble. In New Orleans, in an apartment rather than a hotel room, on a residential street rather than in a tourist zone, I already feel at home.

Yesterday morning, the jackhammer at the construction site around the corner started up at 7:30 am as the workers tried to beat the coming heat. Sitting here today, writing in my apartment at noon, the sounds of construction just, blissfully, stopped for lunch. if I was in a hotel room, I might complain to someone, or changed rooms. But as a resident, even if just a transient one (is that an oxymoron?) it's just part of the scene. The hotel workers walk by at all hours of the day and night, their talk loud and often disgruntled, punctuated by loud laughter that bounces off the buildings. Someone was fighting on the street corner last night, late, as I sat,  exhausted and weirdly achy after taking the commuter ferry across the river to Algiers and back under a bloated, full red moon. My companions on the ferry were young black men transfixed by their iPhones, and middle-aged people of various ethnicities coming home from working in the city.

Until today, the days have been cooler than I've expected here, but they're warming up again. The wind of the last three or four days has died down. It's expected to get sultry here, every day warmer than the next. If I was only here for a week, I'd have been sorely disappointed in the sweater weather, but with a few more weeks to go, I'm enjoying experiencing the changes in the weather, the way the clouds are different every day, the way the thunderstorm swept through on Friday and was cleared out by the afternoon, and the air became sparkly and crystalline.

These days, I think about what to cook for myself rather than where to go and eat. I clean my own dishes and bathroom,  make my own bed, and if I want clean clothes, I go to a laundromat. I sometimes feel like connecting and sometimes don't, and I sometimes get bored, or sad, or tired, or too lethargic to go out. I walk familiar streets now, to cafes where I know I can get internet and good coffee. I waste too much time on Facebook and e-mail because I'm procrastinating on my job. Just like at home.

The day before yesterday, I felt depressed and tired the whole day, and spent it in my apartment, napping, canceling plans to meet up with people. I went to bed early and didn't sleep well. I listened to the street sounds and, as the sky lightened, to the sounds of the sparrows changing guard with the nighthawks. In the morning, I felt better - even happy -  and spent the day connecting with the people around me. Life is like that, isn't it? Nothing if not changeable.

When we live somewhere, we have these times when there is no escape from real life, and when distractions don't seem to work, times when we feel productive and energetic and times when we feel lethargic and down. Our lives have schedules, but they're not as full of exciting, new things as they are when we're tourists. Here, I make plans to go far afield, to go to places the locals go. The museum, neighborhood eateries and bars, art galleries. I explore the place the way someone would who had just moved here. I look for places to feel comfortable, rather than distracted, places to visit again or places that teach me something. I make note of the trolley routes, the bus schedules. I recognize people on the streets, even if they don't yet recognize me. I consider helping the tourist couple looking at their map, but then realize that I don't actually live here, and might very well not be able to help them. After all, I'm still not entirely sure of the order of the streets here. I laugh at myself for becoming so quickly acclimated to this place. I think about never going back, but I know that that's an impossibility.

A new friend yesterday suggested that I split my time between here and my other home. That would, perhaps be the perfect solution, for how can we get bored with the routines of home if we have two homes? I asked him how I was supposed to do that, and he, a native of Alexandria, Egypt, who came here sight unseen ten years ago and worked his way up from dishwasher to owning his own store, just shrugged, smiled and took a drag of his hookah. I suppose that means there's always a way.

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