Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The feeling's getting stronger each day I stay away...

A week of scents, music and movies in honor of New Orleans

(Ed. note: I had already been working on this series, but in light of Hurricane Isaac pummeling NOLA today, on the seventh anniversary of one of the worst disasters in American history, I'm moving forward with it beginning today.)

I've been thinking a lot about New Orleans lately.

Okay, that's a lie. I think about New Orleans all the time. Is it strange to long for a place you knew only once and briefly, like a love affair that last only a few hours but has stayed with me all my life? That's how I feel about New Orleans.

 When I hear a singer croon, "Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans, and miss her each night and day?" I have to say, with an emphatic breathless strain, "Oh yes!" Maybe stems from my Gulf-focused upbringing which included so many trips to Bolivar Peninsula and the small moss-covered towns of deep East Texas I lost count. Maybe it is that the smell of those waters and trees haunt my dreams, thick and pungent, like a veil draped across each memory. Maybe it is that New Orleans has become a symbol for everything good, bad, and ugly about growing up in those wooded swamps, and the older I get, the easier it is to focus more on the rich history and music and food and less on the visceral experiences of living there, which was mostly bad for me. Whatever the reason, Naw'leans, ya'll, it calls to me -- the siren song of a lost love, the lingering regret of the road not taken.

I recognize not everyone feels like this. Over lunch a few weeks ago, someone I know was criticizing my beloved City of Saints, and I balked. He complained it was a crime-ridden, cramped, hot, damp, nightmare, with mind-boggling roads full of strip clubs and drunks. As far as he was concerned, the only thing worth having in sweet NOLA was the food.

"I think a lot depends on who you go with and what they're interested in," I said with strained diplomacy.

"Oh," he said frowning. "I was there with a bunch of surgeons."

She dreams of NOLA, too.
While I waxed on in eager poetry about the beautiful architecture of the buildings and cemeteries, the region's rich history, soul-filling music, and hidden mysteries, I watched him push food around his plate. "It's the only place I've ever been robbed," he muttered into his pad thai.

And there it is. He will never love New Orleans, or if he does, it will be a long hard battle. Whereas, you would have to beat the love for the place out of me through of each and every one of my pores. Every time I hear a little Zydeco or eat a hot beignet or see an image of Spanish moss hanging from a live oak tree, I am seized with particular ache. And because I am lowland swamp born and bred, I have an inherent sense of certain barometric drops in pressure (which believe it or not, have a distinctive smell) and of a season that doesn't exist outside the region. We are deep in the heart of hurricane season, and I meet it each year with a sense of deep trepidation for those living in the path of potential destruction, and a perverse longing to join them in their stand against the threatening tides both real and socio-political.

I cannot go right now, not physically. It's a sad, practical reality. But in my dreams, I stroll along the muddy banks of the Lake Pontchartrain, breathing in the smell of brackish water and knotty pines, live oaks and magnolias and moss and salt and sticky air until they cling to my hot skin, clothing me in their shimmer and gleam, and I am home.

Keep checking this week for more posts related to sweet New Orleans!  Perfumes both from and inspired by New Orleans will be highlighted, along with music, movies, and a drawing in this homage to that sweet city that dwells in the warm lowlands of my heart.

2 comments:

Melissa said...

I LOVE New Orleans!! I've never been to a city that makes me feel so inspired. Just driving in is exciting. I live in Mobile, AL so we're just a few hour away. But as many times as I've been, I know there are still a million things I haven't seen. So many beautiful little back streets I've yet to find. I feel bad your friend had such a horrible time. He'll probably never be able to see the city the way you and I do. Hopefully you'll get to go soon! There certainly is some good perfume shopping to be done as well as the eating and drinking!!

Diana said...

Melissa-

I know, right? New Orleans is AWESOME. Perfume shopping, drinking, food, fashion, voodoo shops, ghosts, beautiful historic homes, awesome graveyards, music -- did I mention the food?

Seriously, no way can anyone possibly fail to love the city once you get to know it.

Thanks for reading!

Diana