There is nothing quite like falling out of love with New Orleans.
I first saw the city when I was 19 years old, and I fell immediately into the spinning, blind, careless kind of love that only youth is capable of. Leaving it behind me was my first real heartbreak in my love affair with PLACE.
In the Garden District, the air is cleaner, sunnier, yellow even. The breeze generated by the streetcar is Elysian. Everything seems happier. Cheerful. More beautiful.
For whole blocks St Charles can make you feel this way.
And the houses. Oh, how I love the houses. I have spent countless hours of my life riding the streetcar and looking at them. I have wandered amongst them, my head inclined, looking at every beautiful detail, collecting them inside of me.
It was then that I started to fall out of love with New Orleans.
It was beautiful but flawed. The darkness of the city hung in the shadow of its grandeur, and despite all appearances there was no way to truly separate the two. One thing gave rise to the other.
I used to grieve for the loss of this place after I left it behind me. I would read old notebook pages filled with descriptions I had written in the city, finding myself there again through my words. I knew it could never make me happy but I wanted it still, as if I had lost a piece of myself.
I recently had the occasion to go back there to work on the collection of short fiction I am writing.
I found that I still loved New Orleans, but I no longer felt like it was mine. I had lost it somehow. I walked down the streets and not that much had changed. It was me. I was different. The city didn’t belong to me anymore.
Coming back as a visitor, I could look at the houses and love them without thinking about it too much. I didn’t wonder what want was out there in the world paying for that luxury. I could just think how beautiful the architecture was, and how much I had missed the lurch and the rumble of the streetcar as it ambled down St. Charles.
There is much more to New Orleans than that, of course. There is the French Quarter with its narrow streets, snatches of music, and crowds of people as varied as the city itself. Art and language and life all clamor madly in every direction.
There is the charm of Spanish architecture and the lingering scent of last night’s party that hangs in the air. All the old places I have known before and loved so acutely.
There is the CBD, with its tall shiny buildings set against all the ages of architecture that have risen up against the city’s skyline over the years.
The Mississippi river flows out to the Gulf, and the city gathers on its bank like the curve of a smile.
Row after row after row of colorful shotguns and doubles crouch in the shadows of grand homes. There are countless neighborhoods that all possess a distinct sense of place found nowhere else in the world. The old and the new crowd against each other, the past refusing to give way.
New Orleans is all things at once. I admire the city for its unapologetic audacity.
Today I find myself back there, wading through words, walking those streets in my mind.
Outside the window of my library, frost covers the ground. Leaves fall in fits and flurries, resigning themselves to the winter ahead. I write myself away from here, into the world of fiction. I close my eyes and feel the pulse of the city and the warm rush of air across my skin.
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