I sit outside the Marigny Brasserie on a Sunday at half past four, enjoying a locally rolled and lit Robusto cigar that I picked up from the local Smoke Shop on Decatur. Finding a smooth cigar to set the mood is always as easy as following your nose in this city. And much like the cigar, so is just about anything you desire.
Today rounds my second fortnight in New Orleans, my new home. This is the first time since I moved back to Suttons Bay after college that I actually felt as if I was “Home”. The definition of what that means exactly is as hard to define as profanity – you know it when you hear and feel it. Finding the eastern side of the French Quarter on my first visit just two short months go was the omen I was looking for. It reminded me of going to Burning Man and finding that compassionate, loving, beautiful people did exist world-wide and wanted to share in a communal gifting society that promoted welfare, peace, bacon, and radical self expression.
New Orleans is something that can’t be written about, but experienced first hand. I used to believe that I could read literature from the great authors, the great CEO’s, the mavericks in personal ecology and health, and understand it in such a way that it shaped the way I lived. It took some serious convincing and looking beyond the veil that Oz sat behind to see that life is more about experience than it is about anything else.
“There is a house in New Orleans, and they call it the Rising Sun”
In my eyes, that line is a truism for all of the people visiting and living here. The Rising Sun is more of a feeling here, a way of life. Katrina came and went. Poverty blows her terrible winds through the Lower 9th, through parts of town so close I could find myself there from just one or two wrong turns on my trusty bicycle. Troubles abound, with an average individual income below $30,000 a year. I am hustled while on the pier at dusk, while on a date, from a man asking to shine my shoes while playing word games to get me interested. If there’s one thing this city doesn’t lack, it’s ‘gusto’.
The experience of living here is unlike any place I have ever been before. There is a sense of romanticism living in San Francisco, Rome, Barcelona that may compare, but I have yet to experience those first-hand. I have, however, been welcomed into an incredibly diverse city of prideful locals that will stick together, no matter what natural or man-made disaster hits them or their coasts.
Yesterday was the first day I was able to catch up on sleep since I’ve moved here. Starting by sleeping on the aged wood floors of my apartment that withstood the forces of Katrina, to relaxing on a soft, welcoming and humid queen sized bed, I’ve found myself as busy as I’ve wanted to be. If I finish work early, I am given few chances to stay inside and dream about what is possible outside. I merely have to open my front door or my twelve foot windows in my bedroom and be presented with a sound that is so welcoming and enticing that I have a hard time keeping a mile-wide grin off my face.
I can walk out my front door and sit on the steps of the brick stoop, accompanied by the guitar I purchased my Freshman year of college. A few strums to find my rhythm and I let out an old tune. It’s something my dad used to sing when I was a kid, and it’s another localized theme song of the mood of this city. I think Arlo Guthrie wrote it, and the modulation to the second chord, a B minor, has a sort of catchy grab that holds me to the beat like the street jazz performers keep me still at the corner of Bourbon and Canal at dusk on the weekends.
“I’m the train they call the City of New Orleans. I’ll be gone five hundred miles ’till the day is done”
When I was a kid, I tried to have as broad of a taste in music as possible. The one genre that I didn’t prefer was jazz. Just about any jazz, including Joni Mitchell singing in scat, or any of the trumpet virtuosos blasting away; I just couldn’t vibe with it. It took me the first night on Bourbon Street to hear a local mashup of talented young men playing trombones, trumpets, tubas and beating cymbals, paint cans, and large drums on their chests to find a connection with the music. Skating the fine line of absurd profanity with their lyrics like “I kissed an Uptown girl and I like it, I liked it. I kissed an Uptown girl and she loved it, she loved it. I fucked an Uptown girl and I liked it, she loved it”, performing on the streets. The young guys were looking attentively out of the corners of their eyes, as if to see if their mothers were watching them. The Southern charm is still in full swing down here, something I missed while living on the Atlantic coast of Florida.
As I composed that last paragraph, I met a guy who is studying Electrical Engineering at UNO, and we’ve been chatting for the past hour. Now, I’m off to perform my first street show as a magician at Jackson Square, fulfilling a childhood fantasy of being able to make a living based on a small talent. The evening isn’t even at it’s peak, which will happen as I meet a new friend at the steps of the Howlin’ Wolf for an Xavier Rudd show.
There is much more to talk about, and I urge you to stay tuned…
As they say, laissez les bons temps rouler (let the good times roll).