Falling Out of Love with New Orleans

A live oak twists over an artist selling her work on the wrought iron fence of Jackson Square in the French Quarter of New Orleans, Louisiana.

Photograph by Brian Scott Casey

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.

The focus is on an angel statue holding a shell in the foreground, with the expansive interior of St Louis Cathedral in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Photograph by Brian Scott Casey

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.

A beautiful pink victorian house on St Charles in the Garden District of New Orleans, Louisiana.

Photograph by Brian Scott Casey

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.

Beautiful, intricate gingerbread detail on a purple Victorian house on St Charles in the Garden District of New Orleans.

Photograph by Brian Scott Casey

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.

A beautiful, gothic stone house along St Charles Avenue in the Garden District of New Orleans, Louisiana.

Photograph by Brian Scott Casey

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 am writing on the edge of a tall building in the Central Business District of New Orleans, overlooking tall office buildings and Canal Street.

Photograph by Brian Scott Casey

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.

A beautiful purple victorian home with wrought iron balcony draped in Mardi Gras beads overlooks St Charles in Uptown New Orleans.

Photograph by Brian Scott Casey

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.

Musicians gather in Jackson Square in New Orleans, one man playing a tuba with brightly colored stickers all over the bell.

Photograph by Brian Scott Casey

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.

Cafe Maspero along Decatur, a lovely cafe in the blue building with red shutters that used to be the New Orleans Slave Market.

Photograph by Brian Scott Casey

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.

Tall office buildings rise against the blue sky of New Orleans against all manner of architecural feats that were built over the long years the city has lived.

Photograph by Brian Scott Casey

The Mississippi river flows out to the Gulf, and the city gathers on its bank like the curve of a smile.

New Orleans curves around the bank of the Mississippi River like a smile.

Photograph by Brian Scott Casey

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.

An old streetcar track shows through the worn road along a street lined with Shotgun houses in New Orleans, Louisiana.

Photograph by Brian Scott Casey

New Orleans is all things at once.   I admire the city for its unapologetic audacity.

A unique view of New Orleans Central Business District peeking through the streets of the French Quarter on Jackson Square.

Photograph by Brian Scott Casey

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.

A carriage pulled by a white mule gives some tourists a tour of Decatur in the French Quarter of New Orleans in front of Jackson Brewing Company

Photograph by Brian Scott Casey

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11 thoughts on “Falling Out of Love with New Orleans

  1. Pingback: The Journey Home | LOCUS

  2. Kerri, I must have been twenty the first time I visited New Orleans. I fell in love with its decrepit beauty, though my fascination was helped along by reading Anne Rice’s novel throughout high school. I even set one of my short stories there. Like Savannah and Charleston, there’s just something utterly unique and haunting about it. Now my niece and nephew live nearby and all they do is spend their time drinking, but there’s so much more to do in Nola than just that 😉

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    • Jeri, so glad to hear from a fellow lover of New Orleans 🙂 “Decrepit beauty” is a perfect way to describe the city. Isn’t it such a wonderful setting for a story? Two of the stories in the collection I am writing are set there. You bring up an excellent point. People always focus on the partying aspect (which can certainly be fun) but the city is so varied and full of life. There is always something happening, something new or old to discover. Thanks for the shout-out on Twitter!

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  3. Great post, one I respond to! After living in Norway for almost eight years now, I feel a little of your emotions when I’m back in the States visiting family. There’s familiarity and comfort in the surroundings, but I don’t really belong there. But when I’m home in Norway, part of my heart still belongs in the US.

    Your husbands photography is, as usual, the perfect visual window for your words.

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  4. This is a fantastic blog post, and I could totally relate to it, as I have a somewhat similar relationship with San Francisco. I lived there for 20 years & was heartbroken when I had to leave as I loved it so much. Now I am back living about 40 miles away, and things have changed. As you said I’ve changed- and the city has too. But the connection I felt is still there, but it is not as ingrained in me as it once was. Lovely to hear about New Orleans as I’ve always wanted to go. Lovely last paragraph BTW:-)

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