By Ned Cheever
Jugglers and mimes ply their trades. Metal, clay, and canvas take on airs of life, and populate alongside the living. The percolating music of New Orleans bubbles up in a thousand places, and when the show is over, it seeps back into the flora and fauna, only to return at the slightest call. The wine flows with the moment.
Mystically the Muses have cast their ethereal influence upon the Crescent City. The people who make their homes in New Orleans abide in the appreciation of the near-tangibles bestowed by their sibling spirits. Music, drama, gaiety, tragedy, and culture hover barely beyond the touch, awaiting only to be beckoned.
A visitor to New Orleans can only enjoy transient status for a short time, for soon a sense of close association develops between host and guest. Before one can realize it, a transformation comes about in which the visitor becomes swept by enchantment into the weft and warp of this unique canvas. The Muses are at work.
Born of Zeus and Mnemosyne, the nine goddess daughters, the Muses, were given charge of the arts and science, each having an assignment of specific duty. Fittingly, their names are found indelibly etched in the heritage and cultural core of New Orleans.
For those who slept through Greek Mythology, a brief refresher:
Calliope, the Muse of epic poetry.
Clio, the Muse of history
Erato, the Muse of love poetry and mimicry
Euterpe, the Muse of music
Melpomene, the Muse of tragedy
Polyhymnia, the Muse of sacred poetry
Terpsichore, the Muse of dancing
Thalia, the Muse of comedy and of playful and idyllic poetry
Urania, the Muse of astronomy
For each Muse a street has been named. A ride through the Garden District takes on a fairytale air as the names on the street signs ring forth as if strummed from a lyre, while the clatter of the streetcar provides percussion.
Amusement flourishes here. Passionate in its pursuit of light-hearted living, New Orleans bursts with venues of entertainment. From great halls to coffee houses, artful performance abounds. When no stage is large enough, the streets become endless platforms for parades and festive gatherings. In quieter moments, a street corner or doorway will suffice.
Celebration is imbued by residency in the fiber of one’s being, and it is never long pent. Frequent are the parades and fests, but often a simple meal can be the celebration.
Grandeur coexists with simplicity to create a cultural blend of self-invigorating creative social interchange. One must muse the intricate configuration of this place in which time and circumstance seem stirred together, coalesced in a steamy roux from which springs the flavor of New Orleans.
The old city still gathers itself from the devastating heartbreak of Hurricane Katrina. Much of the old life is breathing well again, new life has begun, and the character of this special place remains unharmed. The city of New Orleans still rises among our national treasures, while somewhere just beyond, the Muses linger, casting a spell that is vividly apparent.
New Orleans, city of muses, awaits.
Ned Cheever contributes regularly to NolaVie. He lives in Texas, but his heart belongs to New Orleans. This column was first written in 2003 after a ride on the St. Charles streetcar line during one of his many visits to the city.