I love New Orleans.
I have always loved New Orleans for as long as I can remember.
NOLA. The Crescent City, the capital city of the Nation of Who Dat. The Big Easy, N’Awlins. Whatever we call her, she’s always a lady.
Sure, she’s a little frazzled around the edges, but a lady nonetheless. She’s the Southern Belle, hoop skirt and Sunday-go-to-meeting hat, parading with a mint julep or hurricane in hand, smiling coquettishly because she knows something we have forgotten: under all that propriety and good manners, she’s secretly wearing crotchless panties.
That’s my girl.
It’s not Bourbon Street that attracts me, although we certainly danced a time or two in my youth. When gas was less than a buck a gallon, my friends and I would hop in a car and take the hour-ish ride to Pat O’Brien’s, where $9 would get us a triple Rainbow in a to-go cup, and we’d be dancing and traipsing and laughing for hours.
We rarely made it home before dawn.
I’m sure that intoxication could be had for less than $9; it’s just that I tend to stick with the familiar. That, and it was so sweet I’m sure my teeth rotted with every sip. Who cared about the future of teeth when $9 inebriation and all-night cavorting were involved?
Just past the Twinspan, we would curve into the city, looking for the ever-present ADULT VIDEO sign, urine yellow against the freeway, announcing our imminent arrival.
Excitement would ensue, and I always, always, always felt something inside of me simply rise, for lack of a better word. My stomach or my heart, both of which are emotionally attached to the city, would simply rise—something between the fluttering of a crush and the warm embrace of a long-lost lover.
My memories of New Orleans are many. Not only of the nights of cavorting, memories so tattered and torn that I’m missing large holes in them, but individual encounters. I had a nipple pierced–a testament to being 21–on Decatur Street at Rings of Desire. I paid extra for an Angel to pierce me, and my best friend and I ate ice cream to soothe his burning—and also pierced—tongue. I discovered the joy of endorphins on that trip, the high that comes with intense pain.
That actually explains a lot, come to think of it.
I had my first semi-legal drink in New Orleans, a chocolate daiquiri that made me sick. My parents bought it for my 18th birthday, when it was legal to drink in New Orleans at 18 while the rest of the country staunchly held to the 21-year-old requirement. I discovered that chocolate and alcohol were NOT two great tastes that taste great together.
I enjoyed beignets and chocolate milk as a child with my parents; later, I would blow powdered sugar on a first date. Despite his utter annoyance with me, he actually chose to go out with me again.
That poor man.
I window-shopped for the perfect emerald in the jewelry stores around the French Quarter and ended up choosing an extravagant costume jewelry necklace that shone red and looked—in hindsight—much like a collar. That necklace defined the relationship with the man who purchased it for me.
I spent untold hours immersed in the French Market, one of the few attractions that can entice me to shop; I ate gator-on-a-stick, grew angry at the alligator heads on display for sale, and swam in the ocean of languages that swirled around me. French and Spanish I recognized, even if I couldn’t understand the conversation; others, more exotic, I have never heard again.
Hobbling and hollering, I attended Southern Decadence, watching with awe the drag queens and the very out-and-proud LGBT folks prance down and around Royal and St. Ann.
I’ve fallen in love with “shotgun houses,” danced in Jackson Square, stared dreamily at the riverboats and tugboats, and drank coffee and steamed chocolate milk at Kaldi’s, where life was too short to drink bad coffee.
Kaldi’s is no longer there, but neither is Rings of Desire.
Even in New Orleans, things change.
I’ve stayed in the Monteleone with an English friend, listened to blues and jazz and club and rock music, eaten seafood and an occasional Lucky Dog, Roman candy, and a snowball from Pandora’s.
I even got lost going to a Tool concert. “Where’s the Superdome?” I muttered as I drove up and down the same street. It turns out that the Superdome is hard to see from street level when buildings block your view.
Some things never change.
But memories of New Orleans simply cement my love affair with the city. She is not merely passively enticing, but rather actively seductive. She arrests all of the senses. She doesn’t whisper or perform; she merely is.
She is both sacred and profane, both the beauty of the St. Louis Cathedral and sex in a dark corner. She’s total inebriation and temporary satiation.
That’s my girl.
I was in New Orleans last month, acting as a moral support person at Oschner’s. While at the hospital, I had the opportunity to meet an artist who had his paintings and prints on display.
His name is Patrick Henry. Not the “Give me liberty or give me death!” Patrick Henry (that would have been awkward with a capital AWKWARD), but an artist who shows so much of the beauty of New Orleans. Jazz musicians and oysters; Saints football (okay, maybe not THE BEST of New Orleans) and shrimp. The streetcars and the range of architecture: shotgun houses and churches and everything in between. Pelicans and fleur de lis; small prints and 3D outside-the-frame pieces.
He chatted with us for a few minutes; he was open and friendly, and I very much enjoyed our conversation.
He did play the “How old do you think I am?” game with me, but I forgave him.
I probably wagged my finger at him.
I am horrible at that game. The older I get, the younger everyone else around me looks.
But I love his work, and I bought a print as an “un-birthday” present for my mother.
I wish I had extra spending money; I would have bought several prints to hang, give away, display in my booth, and maybe even one or a dozen of his gorgeous paintings.
It’s not just the talent and skill of his art that sang to me. While both were both evident and abundant, the true beauty of his work lies in his relationship to the city.
He wasn’t born in New Orleans; he chose her. He chose New Orleans. And that’s something I can appreciate.
Mr. Henry did more than share his beautiful work and a few words of friendly conversation. Unwittingly, he reminded me of my “why,” something I had lost in my months of, well, lostness.
It’s the desire to support and promote artists who share their vision and add beauty to the world.
I had dropped that somewhere along the way.
I am so glad I had the opportunity to meet him and experience his paintings.
I hope to see him again in the not-too-distant future. I want to throw money at him.
I recommend that you do the same.