Thursday, September 01, 2005

My Favorite City In The Whole Wide World

When I was about 15, my family moved to Houston. My father had been diagnosed with leukemia and was going to have treatment at MD Anderson Cancer Center. Before he was scheduled to go in, my parents thought we should travel a bit. We couldn't go very far being that we were 8 girls squished into a big, smoking, grey van, but we did make it to New Orleans. My grandfather and great-grandmother met us at the hotel, and the first morning we were there, my grandfather was robbed at gunpoint of $800 when he went to get his morning paper. Not the greatest of initial impressions.

My mom is a huge history buff and couldn't wait to get to the French Quarter. I don't think anyone had told her what would await her there. My mom is a nervous and easily embarrassed sort of lady. At one time she had a little gyrating dance and scream she would do if she saw something naughty that might contaminate the pure minds of her virgin daughters. She has since given up the song and dance now that she fears our souls are in firm possession of the devil, but on that day my poor mom ended up gyrating and screaming throughout most of the French Quarter. She fit right in.

I was a typical teenager; sulky and cross and wishing I was anywhere other than with my pious family in what was clearly a very adult town. Everything I knew of New Orleans I had read in a Nancy Drew book, so my knowledge was limited to Mardis Gras and a few pirate stories.

It was a chilly day, probably sometime in March, not long after Mardis Gras. I grumpily trudged around after my ridiculous family, trying to stay at least 10 paces behind on the off chance that if a cute guy happened to look my way he wouldn't think I was with them (all the time knowing full well that there was no mistaking it). We ended up at the French Market, with my mother alternately trying to point out historic sites while simultaneously distracting us from a rubber vagina suspended in a shop window.

After wandering about the market, I bought 3 porcelain masks at $3 apiece. I considered them among my most prized possessions until they disappeared when I went to college. I also bought a baseball cap to wear low over my eyes so I could never be positively identified as belonging to my family.

But as we made our way towards the river, the city began to work it's voodoo. The musicians in the street filled the air with something riveting. Ancient, yet new. Timeless, yet fleeting. Happy, yet indescribably sad. And as your ears caught a thread of melody, you felt a longing to snatch it and soar back to a time of pirates, and Cajuns, and quadroon balls. You remembered the soldiers and slaves, and the ladies of the night, and all the other ghosts when they lived.

As we were walking along the river back towards Jackson Square, a young man passed us singing "Mama Said" by the Shirelles. Not particularly jazzy, but something familiar, I picked up the tune and started singing; my sisters joining in one by one. All of us being blessed with decent voices and cute faces, we might have caused a brief stir anywhere else. Not in New Orleans. The most we got was a nod and a smile from a man with a trumpet who looked as if he knew from where that song had come.

I've been to New Orleans several more times since then, each time drunker than the last. But when I look back, that first visit is the one that means the most because there is just something about being in a place and recognizing a part of your soul. When the song of a city fills your heart, you leave a little piece behind so you don't forget. It's still there. It's probably under water, but it's still there.

Pray for that city tonight. There is so much that has been lost, and yet there is so much more to lose. Find a charity. Catholic Charities is a good one. So is the Red Cross and Mercy Corps. And they operate in all of the other areas affected too, not just New Orleans.

If you are in the Houston area, they need supplies for the 25,000 refugees coming to the Astrodome. The Diocese of Galveston/Houston is taking up collections for the Largest Sleepover in Texas. For the terrified children, they would like character sleeping bags and pillows.

Jethro and I were going to be counter-protesting Mother Sheehan as she visited Houston. But in light of this disaster, instead of going political, we are going to use any publicity she generates to hold a food and clothing drive. She may do some good yet, however inadvertent.


Day Dreamer said...

Terrific story, and wonderfully written, as usual. My heart was warmed and a lump came in my throat, as I had just read a few news stories before reading your post.

That's awesome what you and Jethro are going to do. Good luck with it, and God Bless!

Michelle said...

You made me cry! That was beautifully written and you made it seem like I was there (I've never been fortunate enough to visit yet). I pray for those affected by the storm. I hope you have great results with collecting for those who are in such need.

kel said...

I printed off the link for the biggest sleepover I am taking the kids after school today to buy a sleeping bag each to send to the church address. Thanks for the link and the wonderful blog.

Kristin said...

I've never felt so helpless as I do now. Not even when 9-11 happened. 9-11 was localized to a certain part of NYC. The rest of the city "could" function. This time, an ENTIRE CITY has been washed under. I have a hard time wrapping my mind around that. I too am an avid lover of NOLA. The B&B I always stay in will never be the same. The garden district homes that I have tons and tons of pictures of, won't be the same. I've spent hours on the sofa watching the coverage and flipping through my 3 scrapbooks of pictures I've taken of my trips to Louisiana and NOLA. I have memories now, nothing will ever be the same.

Zelda said...

Day Dreamer - Thank you so much.

Michelle - I hope we can all visit someday.

Kel - you are awesome. Thank you so much.

Kristin - I know exactly what you mean. NY was my second favorite city only to New Orleans. I can't even bear to think about the garden district. That's where our hotel was. I stupidly didn't take that many pictures when I was there, so I'm frantically downloading them from internet sites before they shut down. This is just ghastly.

Inanna said...

NOLA... what can I say? Beautiful post Z.

Jen said...

Abby and I spent all morning gathering blankets, pillows, clothing, toiletries, toys, games, etc.. and dropped them off at a church this morning. They are so overwhelmed with donations, that they are begging for help to sort through the bags/boxes before it is sent to the Astrodome. I am going there all day tomorrow, so if you or anyone else wants to come with me - call me.

Cigarette Smoking Man from the X-Files said...

Attractive single female refugees are invited to stay at my place up in Minneapolis. The things I'm willing to do for the relief effort...

AJ said...

Zelda, way to shed some light on the situation. thanks

It will be interesting to see if refugees claim residency in TX after this.

jackabug said...

We have wonderful memories too.
My son graduated from Tulane and
stayed in New Orleans to work after he graduated. We've visited there for 7 years. jackie

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