It’s grey cold, and rainy. The Mississippi river outside my hotel window is dark and muddy, but it flows. It carries birds, and boats, and a dark oily film of grime. It makes me wonder how many people have died in it or been reverted into the soil that makes its bed. Something about this city will do that, put your mind into a sexy state of death. If NOLA was a person, I think it would be a double Scorpio.
Like a child, it has no fear.
The first night I got in was the best. I was riding high on travel, finally touching down and taking in all the new sights and smells and sounds. I checked into my room, freshened up, and wandered out to see what the streets of New Orleans held for me.
It could never disappoint.
My modern-day hotel was one block away from the French Quarter. You walk for two minutes and suddenly there’s iron and stories everywhere, gas lamps hanging inches from your head. I see plaques acknowledging historic buildings, older than my own comprehension of time. I am in love, with the streets, I am in love with the people on them. I am smitten. I feel like I could die for this city. I can’t argue when it leads me down it’s dark alleys and aged cobblestone lanes.
I keep walking and looking around as if I just felt air for the first time. A pharmacy museum, trash cans, a tan scooter, people with accents and frizzy blonde hair, most of them don’t look anything like me or talk like me. Although, I am probably more French than them.
I belong here, flickering with the lamps.
I keep walking until I reach a clearing with a church and a museum. Jackson square, my friend told me about this place, that I needed to come here at night. There are a couple of tables out with candles and crystals. Mystics, card readers, and psychics sit and wait for a customer like me. It’s a perfect night, 72 and a little humid. I wouldn’t mind waiting in it either, sitting out here with my cards, rotten teeth, and a bottle of cheap wine waiting for me at home. I could do it, never take a plane back, and set up shop here in the square. I had wanted to sit with one of them, but none of them seemed right.
The city does what it’s moved to do, by invisible force, a form of sudden motion.
There’s a hidden undertow in the people here, a pull towards manipulation. They call you Ma’am and smile wide, with bright eyes, apologize for the weather. Then they don’t say excuse me and walk right through you and the traffic lights. The pick pockets, the tourist traps, and overpriced sugary bar tabs blend in on Bourbon street. The bartenders here call you Love, and for a moment you believe it. They distract you from the pain they inflict, innately, a survival tactic.
The city hides who is new and who is old, the ghosts here wear today’s fashion.
The streets and I, we know the same things. We see the same soles of the shoes, the bottom of things, the dirt, the fringe. I come to a building I have seen in a dream before and sit on one of the benches in front of it. It’s a state museum, closed for the night. I think about it, and the dream. It looks the exact same, it’s been here longer than me, existed longer than I have had a subconscious. It could be that I’ve just seen too many buildings like this, white, stucco, tall and old, but I think it’s more than that.
The weathered buildings here have souls.
What happened in the dream? Not much that I can remember now, something about a music show and some colored lights. I remember being happy. I sit and stare at the facade, and a man sits down on the bench in front of me. He has a plastic paint barrel, and he turns it upside down and starts banging on the bottom of it with his hands and singing. It’s primal, deep and scratchy, almost unearthly. It creates a strange harmony with a man in a suit singing opera in the alley. He’s distant, and his voice sound like a half an angel, melodic and transcendent. The falsetto plays subtle against the man’s bucket and his gravely low voice, folds itself into the high notes.
Good and evil wrestle, but here they find middle ground.
It’s kind of like the jazz that penetrates the city. Jazz relies heavily on the concept that you start only half knowing what’s going to come out of you and what it’s going to sound like. Then you bounce it off others, your band mates, your surroundings, you go where it takes you. You have a conversation with it, it tells you things that you forgot you knew.
I’ve never understood the flow of the universe more than I do right now.
I sit for a bit, and just listen, close my eyes. The humid air hangs, people walk by in dresses, in rags, and it’s all the same, they are all the same. I am invisible now, and I like it that way. It can be a welcome break to be unknown, to wear a new mask, or take yours off completely. I can’t stay on the bench much longer, I feel like there’s more to see. I’ll be back to the square, back to this church and its music.
In a way I’ve never left.