It’s impossible to be called to a city that you’ve never visited simply through your own imagination, yet I feel like that’s exactly what New Orleans does for me. I’ve never been there… never seen hide nor hair of its infamous city line or banks along Lake Pontchartrain. Yet for some strange reason, I can see it so clearly in my mind’s eye. Isn’t that peculiar? I think the strangest oddity of all is perhaps that I don’t see it as it stands today. I couldn’t tell you for the life of me what I thought New Orleans looked like today (honestly my first thoughts of modern New Orleans jump to Lil Wayne and that’s a scary thought), but I seem to have quite a vivid picture of what I think the New Orleans of old looked like.
Perhaps it’s the antique flair of a different era, where elegant parties, flashy Mardi Gras Queens, and voodoo priestesses reigned supreme. I can hear the distant melody of a trumpet softly serenading some remote corner of the French Quarter, as a gentle breeze sweeps through ripe with the smell of honeysuckle and sweet Magnolia blossoms. I can hear women laughing, holding on to their beaus as they head to a party… one that won’t end until the dawn conquers the uncertain night. Maybe it’s the antique houses with the wrought iron fencing that seemed to swirl and curl into vines and tendrils.
I see these things… I imagine them… it’s almost like I’ve been there before. Maybe since that area of the US has been glamorized in so many movies I’ve seen, I just seem to have developed a liking for what I think it might be like. I’ve sought out certain things native to New Orleans just so that I could be a part of it. I found a little boutique café in the Adams Morgan section of Washington, DC run by a family from New Orleans, and their food was spectacular. I had a poboy and a trio of beignets sprinkled with powdered sugar so sweet that it seemed to melt into the hot dough and form a syrup. Delicious!
I think if I could have lived in another time, I would have loved to live in New Orleans, where race didn’t seem to be as much of an issue as it was in other places in the US. Where a person would hear talk of the infamous Quadroon balls where white men and free women of color would get together to form an alliance of some sort… what they call a placage. Or what would it have been like to see Marie Laveau down in Jackson Square dancing with her pet snake, Zombi, leading the city to its Voodoo calling on St. John’s Eve.
What beautiful threads of multi-culture woven into a rich tapestry of history, New Orleans has. Or at least I think it has. I dream of it sometimes… of the ancient cemeteries of yesteryear, filled with white slave masters, black mistresses, and a bouillabaisse of different people, coming together to coexist peacefully… or at least more peacefully than the rest of the Southern US. The jazz funerals with bands following the dead to its final resting place… The Mardi Gras beads and sex in the streets as a last hurrah before Lent… New Orleans is a beautiful city of sin.
Even the taboo… the images of voodoo dolls with pins stuck in them and priestesses worshipping the Loa with faces painted white and ash upon their foreheads, they all bring a certain mystique to the city that just seems to draw people in. How could you resist wondering what a place like that would be like? And how could you resist being attracted to its rich traditions, wanting to be a part of it in some way?
Maybe I will get there some day… I will hear the music and taste the Andouille gumbos, and sip café au lait, taking in the afternoon sun. I’ll slap the mosquitos and visit the bayou, stopping in to some remote hole in the wall that specializes in crawfish and jambalaya. I will visit that strangely addictive place… and I will be a part of that culture, if only for a day. I will see what my heart wishes to see, and it will remain with me forever. Laissez les bon temps rouler, la Nouvelle Orléans!