NolaVie is celebrating its first birthday this week. I asked our editor, Renee Peck, if she wanted me to write anything special to commemorate this most auspicious of occasions. “Write about your evolutionary journey in New Orleans. You so get NOLA … tell how that happened.”
I’m not at all sure I “get” NOLA (see below), but never one to upset an editor, here goes …
If I had to sum up my 18 months living in New Orleans, I’d say it’s been a fool’s journey.
First, a trusting fool’s journey. Trusting because never in my wildest dreams would I have ever thought I’d not only live in New Orleans, but be in love with New Orleans.
You see, I don’t like heat. I did not like it growing up in Texas. And I most certainly did not like it during my last visit to New Orleans in 1992. For a fundraiser that Lindy Boggs hosted for my then-boss, Congressman Gerry Studds. In her lovely garden. In August. Mrs. Boggs, of course, never broke a sweat. The rest of us? Well, let’s just say I threw away my blazer and my tie. No dry cleaner could save them. At least no Boston dry cleaner!
“Never again,” I vowed as Gerry, his partner Dean and I went wheels up that next morning, headed back to the cool August breezes of Provincetown.
But, a funny thing happened on my way to “never again.”
Nineteen years after my last NOLA visit, it was time for me to close my wonderful Boston chapter. I asked the Universe “where to?” (it’s what we shamans do). And she answered, “New Orleans.” Loudly. And repeatedly.
Everywhere we went to eat, they were having New Orleans-themed specials. In Boston. In April.
An African priestess named Jessie kept visiting me in my dreams. “New Orleans is calling you,” she said (imagine my surprise, five months later when I found myself living two blocks from Congo Square and two doors down from a regal, elderly neighbor named Miss Jessie!).
The deal was sealed when I was walking across Boston’s City Hall Plaza and a complete stranger (celebrating Jet Blue’s birthday) handed me a free round-trip ticket to … you guessed it … New Orleans.
That was on May 18, 2010. At 2:14 p.m. on August 15, I was wheels down at Louis Armstrong. Again in August. This time as a resident. I knew not one single soul.
“What the hell have I done?” I remember thinking as my dog, Tyra Banks, and I made it through the steamy, smelly Quarter in search of our decidedly less than Lindsay Boggs sublet … and our next chapter. Two hours later, as I made my virgin trip to Rouses, stepping past the woman sweating notes out of her clarinet, I knew exactly what I had done: I had come home.
Which began the second part of my journey: the overwhelmed fool’s journey. As my fabulous neighbor Meg says, taking in New Orleans for the first time is like finding yourself in the middle of a lush garden. A really big, really tall lush garden. And you don’t have any shears. It can be overwhelming and, for much of my first year here, it was.
I wanted to take it all in. To do it all. To be wherever they were playing the best music, to dine where they were serving the best food, to be wherever the best was. I spent my first Halloween, my first Mardi Gras, my first Jazzfest, my first everything plotting my every move. (Foolishly) asking anyone who would listen, “Where’s the best place to be?” (usually missing the bemused expression on their faces).
Yes, that’s right. I committed the ultimate — and perhaps only — New Orleans sin: I planned. Feverishly.
Until, after one particular whirling dervish of a night, a certain Caddywampus friend sat me down, put on “You’ve Got to Be Crazy To Live in This Town,” gave a deep sigh and said, “You know, the great thing about living in New Orleans is you don’t have to do it all. Because it’s all going to happen all over again. Pace yourself. Relax.”
Thus began the third — and current — stage of my journey. The blissful fool’s journey.
I say blissful, because there comes a point when you know you can never know this city. Fully and completely.
You can never understand her. You can never predict her. You most certainly can never master her.
What you can do is surrender to her. Fully and completely.
And when you do, the hidden harmony that is New Orleans carries you to places and people and experiences that you never dreamed were possible.
And you become a fool. In love.
Today’s column is dedicated to Renee Peck and Sharon Litwin, co-founders of NolaVie and two of the most amazing, inspirational and just plain fun people I’ve had the pleasure of knowing. Happy Birthday NV!