I was standing in six inches of horseshit-scented mud listening to Fleetwood Mac when it hit me: A lone tear escaped my right eye and threatened to fall past edge of my aviators before I quickly wiped it away. It didn’t feel like a tear at first; maybe just an irritation of the eye caused by some dust mote or allergen. It certainly came on unexpectedly as well, as almost all my emotional states do. It was that perfect combination of both infinite bliss and infinite sadness that I know there is probably a Greek or German word for but it presently eludes me. I was standing discrete, among thousands of other, sinking, stuck, luminous and redolent of cracklins, manure, and beer. The sun froze everything like a strobe through the lenses of my very dark glasses and this moment came over the top as I watched a gorgeous barely clad twenty-something fall into the pudding of horse dung that the Fairgrounds had become, and joyously wallow in it: ringworm be damned. It was that joy — I was suddenly overcome by it — and the sadness that I knew it had to end. After a full year living in New Orleans things seemed to coalesce for me in that brief moment, as Stevie Nicks assiduously avoided the high notes and a young woman couldn’t avoid the thing that I was feeling… that sinking feeling, but not in a bad way. The womblike feeling of being stuck somewhere, and wanting to be stuck there, sinking more deeply and falling harder.
When I started writing this blog, I didn’t intend to become an advocate for New Orleans. I intended to write about a lot of things: Louisiana Cajun Culture, cooking, SEC football, et. al., but that was before I lived here. Now I’m consumed with this place, frequently find myself lost in it, like Iberville and Beinville, who I think just gave up after awhile and sank into the mud here too, as Mobile didn’t seem to be the right choice for anyone.
The brothers Le Moyne first found the mouth of the Mississippi — confused by the deltaic passes that in no way resemble the mouth of the great rivers of Europe — largely due to luck and a purloined Spanish map. The river, the weather, and local flora and fauna, and pretty much everything else about this place was confusing, frightening, yet alluring. It still is. And it is still hard to navigate at times, as looking for a path back to the bridges that lead to the Fairground’s track seemed almost as challenging as finding the mouth of the river itself. People get confused here. They find themselves lost. Sometimes far away from where they need to be, like the couple from Poland via NJ that I guided back to the French Quarter after they found themselves on the corner of Claiborne and Esplanade about to make an ill-advised turn. After I walked them back and gave them a restaurant recommendation they said to me “You people from here are so nice.” I responded with “I’m from NJ,” because that’s the truth, but I’m not necessarily convinced of that anymore.
This place is a state of mind more than a physical place. I know this idea is not original to me, but it is true. There is a certain outlook you have to have to live in New Orleans. There is a certain charming dysfunction that you must accept. You have to understand that things don’t work here the way they do in other cities. Sometimes they don’t work at all. And that trust placed in public officials is often better placed somewhere else. Because once you get past the things that don’t work, you find the things that do. You find the endless shimmering walks along the bayou and the pageantry of the second lines and the wisteria that scents the air. You find real friends — scruffy layabouts with hearts of gold who you’d probably shun in NY for their lassier faire attitudes and general disinterest in “success.” You meet people who welcome you into their homes because they’ve heard you’re a good guy. And you become one of them. Sharing 1000 laughs at the local pub and nodding and winking at work in the morning. There is a little more marrow to be savored in this evening. There is a little more mud to sink down into… I’m only in up to my waist now…