Initially, I thought I would describe New Orleans as weird. Then I thought, what is weird? Weird is relative. What is normal for the spider is chaos for the fly. I was a fly in a very strange web down there. Or maybe I was the spider who enjoyed weaving the strands together.

I love being in places I’ve never been because I can be whoever I want to be. It’s freeing to be in a place where no one knows your name. At least, for me it is. NOLA is a place like no other, it is awesome, sad, vivacious and uninhibited. I found it to be both dirty and incredible. The sidewalks of the French Quarter are busted and broken and filthy and there’s so much glorious history in between each and every brick that makes up the beautiful front balcony homes. The architecture alone was worth the trip. The French were the first to own the territory, then the Spanish had it for a decade, after that the French had it again and then came the Louisiana Purchase when it became property of the U.S. I learned so much and have already forgotten most of it. I saw the building where author Tennessee Williams was inspired to write A Streetcar Named Desire, a play that was adapted into my favorite old movie starring Marlon Brando. As a writer I found that peach building to be riveting. It’s right down the street from Armstrong Park where jazz originated, or as Fitzgerald called it; African Street Music, the music responsible for all the music we hear today. It is a one of a kind city where homeless people are as plentiful as the beignets at the legendary Cafe Du Monde. Beignet {ben-nay} is the French word for donut and if you don’t think you’ll be visiting LA soon, an elephant ear or funnel cake taste the exact same, only difference is the shape. There’s a multitude of NOLA stories to tell but what I found most inspiring was the music, the nightlife and the how bizarre it was that an oddity like me seemed to fit right in. 

​It’s perplexing to be sweating down the streets of the 9th Ward seeing all the post-Katrina property and then watching a boat sail by up above. The below sea level thing didn’t totally register with me until I heard it explained as, New Orleans is a bowl. Gentilly would be the bottom of the bowl, not the 9th Ward where the hurricane hit. People just think that because that area had the most consistent news coverage. Also, 9th Ward doesn’t sound like an area to me as much as it does the title of a horror movie based in an insane asylum. Speaking of crazy, there’s a whole lot of crazy in New Orleans. Actual, legitimate, diagnosable crazy. There’s also a lot of drunkenness and it’s hard to distinguish which is which. It’s usually a combination of the two. Throughout my trip I honestly couldn’t decide if the vagrancy was more depressing or entertaining. People are drunk and high and not just on Bourbon Street but all over the Quarter. There were some interesting moments when Louisiana boldness challenged my Chicago brashness. It’s best to just avoid the crazy or when it gets offensive which it does, just remember, there’s no reasoning with junkies. The only thing hotter than the swamp like summers would be the aboveground tombs that the dead are stored in. I love cemeteries. That was my absolute have to do thing, even before strolling Bourbon Street, the shock value of which ranged from men in skirts to Miley Cyrus, depending on the time of day. There are no trees around the cemeteries because they want the bodies to bake as fast as possible. The tombs heat up like ovens and when the bodies decay significantly, the remains are scooped out, bagged and put in a hole below the caskets and a newly dead body is slid into the empty space. Cremation was considered a sin among Catholics until very recently, now that it isn’t (or probably never was) NOLA might be able to eliminate the dirty job of body scraper altogether. There’s also holding spots in a separate wall for when the tombs are full and still cooking. Some walls aren’t used anymore because the spaces in them are too small. Caskets got bigger because people got bigger. The cemetery was my favorite place. Walking through the tombs was cathartic. Teva liked it too, he made a good gravedog who was as reluctant to leave as I was. At night the city really comes alive with street performers, blaring trumpet and saxophone music that is good for the soul. What I found most amazing is that it was as if I had no disability in NOLA because everyone just assumed I was drunk like everyone else.

I was relaxing in the Quater eating a Spongebob popsicle (a random ritual I try to do when on vacation) when a pirate walked by me and said, “there’s something very untrustworthy about you.”

“I know” I told him, thinking how ironic it was that this came from a pirate. I don’t think it was one of the Lafitte brothers but he might’ve been Captain Jack.

This happened right outside my favorite spot in the French Quater, Jackson Square. One evening I sat in the warm night air and listened to the street violinists play in front of the cathedral. Violin music is what I write best to and given that this experience was better than playing a Lindsey Stirling track on my phone while tapping away on my notes app, I took advantage of the life giving strings filling up the air to read over a scene for my memoir. The happenings of Jackson Square are not always inspiring. There are psychics, palm readers and tarot card dealers. Strange women that wave burning sage and say “hey honey, come take a seat, let me show you what I do.” It reminded me of the scriptures where Jesus is so enraged at what’s happening near His Father’s House that he flips a table and drives the people out with a whip. One man and a whip made of three chords cleared a courtyard full of people. That kind of righteous rage tells just how seriously God should be taken. The fact that these blatant mockeries take place next to the church steps is a perfect illustration of what NOLA is, a town founded in a strict form of religion called Catholicism that sparked rebellion as it often does, followed by a brazen revolt toward anything righteous. This attitude and these actions are no surprise to me because I am certain that religion is awful and I would rebel against the Lord too, if I didn’t know Him personally. What surprises me is that the religion in NOLA has not been washed out by Mardi Gras. In fact, the city’s Catholic roots are emphasized as much as their seafood and voodoo shops. It’s a place where sacred and secular exist side by side, not perpendicular but parallel. Deity and debauchery exist on opposite sides of the same train track. Maybe the contrast is so stark because everything’s in such a small area. The Louisiana state symbol has a meaning similar to the crucifix. The fleur de lis, the peeled banana design on the uniforms of the New Orleans Saints, its origin meaning ‘grace of God.’ Nearly every street is named after a saint. A town with holy history inhabited by happy heathens. Why not just change the names of the streets and get a new state symbol that isn’t like the cross of Christ? If the bars never close and the days apart from mid February are just a milder Mardi Gras, why bother respecting church go-ers once every Sunday? I find it unusual that they haven’t attempted to erase God like the rest of the country. To me, it just makes sense to pick a side. Heaven or Hell? Sins or Savior? Scripture even says so in Deuteronomy chapter 30. I wonder if the Pope thinks of that when he brings a new statue of Jesus and sees the saturation of sadness that bleeds well beyond Bourbon Street.

Voodoo dolls in the French Market.

Morning Call in City Park, arguably the best place in NOLA to get beignets.

NOLA is lost and lovely, hopeful and hopeless, vibrant and vacant. A place that both makes the heart and breaks it every single day.

2 thoughts on “NOLA

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