Sunday, April 30, 2006

Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans

No city has ever haunted me like New Orleans, &, I suspect, on some level I probably do not fully understand, I haunt New Orleans.

I've been back many times for visits since I left, & each time, it's like I've never been gone--that other life was a weird dream, a minor bump--I have the delicious sensation that I'm back where I have always belonged, to it.

And every time I leave, the same things occur--such as vivid flashes of things I probably didn't even realize I was absorbing at the time. The way late afternoon sunlight plays in the branches of the oaks, for instance. I hadn't realized, until I travelled to Italy, that New Orleans shares that fabled mellow golden sunlight. New Orleans is about atmosphere. It has its own day, and its own singular brand of night.

I would go on about it, but I truly cannot. I'm very weird that way. When it really, really pains me to separate from a place like New Orleans, I don't even try to express it.

For one, it always comes out sounding cliche. The Crescent City is just one of those places--another world, in fact--that you have to experience for yourself to understand. It's a total, all-enveloping experience. New Orleans, despite its reputation, is most emphatically not a theme park. It's real, that can either be very, very good, or very, very bad.

People just get it or don't, & it's another one of those places that you can always spot a tourist if you're a local. It's like they've landed from another planet--some catch the vibe & groove with it, but most, even those who love it & return year after year, really don't. Which always reminds me of Jazz Fest.

So, my point: much as I really want to be able to talk about New Orleans, I can't, as above, because it defies description & has to be experienced instead, but all the more so now that Hurricane Katrina has devastated it.

I can't describe what it was like for an expatriate to have to stand by & watch helplessly. Not nearly as harrowing as being there, of course(!), but it was its own brand of bizzardo to glue yourself to CNN for three sleepless nights in a row, to have to wait & wait for word about the fate of friends who live there.

But as celebrations of the spirit of the place, I'm very proud of New Orleanians for pulling themselves together & in the true feisty spirit in which the city was founded, insisted on showing themselves & the world that they haven't been defeated even in the aftermath of a devastating natural disaster.

The Mardi Gras parades rolled, and my friends invited me to the quintesentially quirky parties the locals throw for themselves ("If we're on St. Charles watching the parade when you drop by, help yourself to the Hurricanes [a potent cocktail] in the cooler we're leaving at the curb in front of our house").

And now again at Jazz Fest, the first since the Hurricane Katrina. Jazz Fest was always my personal favorite of a local event: more, and more better, music over the course of two weekends than most of us outside of New Orleans will hear in our lives. And that's not counting the acts in countless bars & clubs all over New Orleans, from the Maple Leaf (my favorite) uptown to the legendary Tip's, to the House of Blues in the Quarter. Bob Dylan headlined the Fest Friday night, Bruce Springsteen played, too, and the Edge, from U2 jammed with several headliners.

But the biggest attractions to me, when I lived there, were always the equally, astoundingly good local acts. New Orleans is soul home for every kind of "American" music that you can think of, & no one does it better. The famous gospel choirs, especially, are not to be missed. I read that most of their members had to come in from where they've relocated out of town (many lived in the 9th Ward, which is still not habitable. Hello, George?) The Fest promoter, Quint Davis, put them up at the City Park Fairgrounds where Jazz Fest is held.

The first of the two weekends just wound up this evening, & now the parties are on in the clubs.

I miss New Orleans every day of my life, but none more than now, during the first Jazz Fest since the hurricane.

I can't be there this year. But leave a light on for me. Y'all know I'm comin' home sooner or later.


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