...I took a month of summer off. But unlike the French, I'm not very good at it. I worked some and fretted about not working more. Que sera? C'est la vie? Mehhh...
Though part of it was heaven. I spent four days in New Orleans with my husband of 20 years soaking up a culture that I took for granted growing up there.
When you grow up somewhere, the culture becomes your own, like a thumbprint. It's easy to forget it's there until someone identifies you by it. Or, like last week, you see it objectively from across the room, staring at you. "Wow, I left that there???"
Two of my three sisters and I moved to New Orleans in 1973 from Boone, NC. My mother was dating a Jazz drummer. They had visited New Orleans a year earlier, spent a weekend at the Jazz and Heritage Festival and proclaimed, "Pack your bags and your Doc Watson records, we're moving here." Like many before and after, they came to New Orleans, fell in love with its island mentality and never looked back. Magic happens there and situations manifest like the time British born Jon Cleary moved a couple of blocks away from the Maple Leaf bar in 1980. James Booker didn't show up for his gig. Jon infamously sat in on Booker's piano and the rest is history. (For a fascinating look into James Booker's life, check out the film, Bayou Maharajah)
As a kid, the transition was head-scratchingly odd - like Alice's. We took a slow tumble (down? up? sideways?) from our two-parent, church-going family in the Carolina's to a life communing with the Mad Hatter and the Cheshire Cat. When we first moved there, we lived in an apartment complex on high ground (Metairie). Our neighbor was a nice enough man with three kids and a wife. At dusk, he'd dress in women's clothes and ride off on his bike to work. (I'll stop before using another cliche about Kansas but I imagine you get the point.) There was more: late night bars, loose clothes and marijuanna. Fortunately, I forgot about God's daily book for calculating sins. If I hadn't, I would have been confused because there was no inferno there, just people living their lives... Again, the island mentality.
Really though, what stands out the most and rises to the top like fat is the music.
It's the back drop to everything there.
I think about the sketches of Walter Anderson's from his countertop view at K & B Drugs on Canal Street. The shapes are melodic and the seemingly syncopated foot steps on the pavement could be the backbeat on any of those New Orleans records. Seriously. Listen to a James Booker recording and look at one of Anderson's sketches or paintings. You'll see what I mean.
Unfortunately, The music and culture of New Orleans can sometimes be cliche or a caricature of itself now. I remember when the Mardi Gras Indians were a true secret society. They belonged to New Orleans and more importantly, to black culture. Same with second line funeral processions. Sure the cameras and recorders would roll a couple a ten years ago but more like Alan Lomax's did on Beale Street in Memphis. It was for preservation and not a show for HBO.
Bitter? Possibly. Or maybe just nostalgic.
Back to my month off, around the corner from where we stayed in the Tremé, I saw a woman walking in the street with a second line parasol. The street was bright hot and treeless. I was jealous of the shade but I also felt a twinge sad... I wondered if she was using it for real or if she was using it because someone would be looking.
Well, I was.
My dawlin' New Orleans...