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New Orleans has my heart

As part of NolaVie’s new Yeah you write! campaign, we are inviting readers to submit New Orleans-related content for a chance to have their work featured on our site. Whether it’s a personal essay about moving from New Orleans, a photo of French Quarter Fest, or a video of a second line, we want to know: what’s your New Orleans story? Today’s featured submission comes from a NOLA transplant living in New York about her deep love and longing for our city.

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It was almost a year ago that I got the call. I was sitting in my cubicle, sneaking a reading break under my desk. When I saw the 212 area code illuminate the screen, my heart froze. I barely heard the first words on the other end.

“Oh my God, are you serious?” I cried, startling the attorney whose office was closest to me.

I stuffed my feet into my abandoned heels and stumbled to the nearest conference room, as the professor gave me the details of my acceptance. This was it. I had actually gotten into grad school, and in New York, the city I had worshipped since I was a 6-year-old sectioning off a tiny square of my bedroom with a Little Mermaid bed sheet to make it into a “tenement.” The rest of the day at work was a wash —I couldn’t stay focused. It was a Wednesday, and after work I met up with friends and my boyfriend around the corner at Wednesdays at the Square, where they greeted me with bear hugs and congratulatory beer.

One year into the MFA Creative Writing program at Columbia University, I admit that I thoroughly enjoy New York. There is something indescribable about walking across the Manhattan Bridge above the city at night, about staring out at the ocean on Coney Island on a deserted, October Saturday afternoon. To stay out all night on the Lower East Side and stumble into the 1 train at dawn. To demolish a pastrami sandwich at Katz’s or a half-pound of lox at Zabar’s or a Silver Moon challah — foods I heard about my entire Midwest Jewish childhood, now within easy reach. To crowd onto the L on 14th Street with the rest of the students in Ray Bans and holey black sweaters and black tights and emerge on Bedford Avenue. To get lost among the crowds in Williamsburg, in Lower Manhattan, in Central Park.

I accepted the offer well before the deadline, spent whole mornings at work perusing apartment listings. I tried not to think about leaving New Orleans.

Longstanding obsession with New York aside, I’d fallen in love with New Orleans almost five years earlier, during my freshman fall at Tulane. While the majority of my dorm mates discovered Maple Street and the Boot, my new friends and I ventured further off campus. (Okay, we spent some nights on Maple, too.)

We caught the (now-defunct) free midnight shows at Snug Harbor, ventured to the Maple Leaf for Rebirth and Rock n Bowl for Amanda Shaw. We brought our homework to Audubon Park, ate way too many beignets at Café du Monde and Manhattan omelets at Camellia Grill. On weekend afternoons, we took the streetcar downtown and watched barges roll down the Mississippi, visited the Backstreet Cultural Museum or NOMA.

My junior year, my best friend MaryKate and I moved off campus, to an apartment on Exposition Boulevard, bordering Audubon Park. At night, we pulled our ancient green corduroy armchair out onto the porch and drank wine. In the spring, night jasmine perfumed our block. Because we were only two blocks off the Thoth route, we threw a party, for which we woke up early, to cook an enormous stack of chocolate chip pancakes and make rivers of mimosas. That Easter, I came home from a gig playing with a quartet on Magazine, to find the park full of people celebrating. Entire extended families gathered around smokers and boom boxes vibrating with bounce. On the walking path, couples in seersucker and linen pushed strollers, and students huddled in the gazebos in clouds of moss-colored smoke.

I couldn’t bring myself to leave New Orleans after graduation. I stayed, taking a job as a file clerk downtown, cramming as many festivals, shows, and adventures as I could into my nights and weekends. But I still thought of my stay as temporary. The goal was still New York. I spent nights at Rue de la Course, writing a dozen application essays for grad school. And I moved to New York thinking that this was where I would stay. I would always have New Orleans, of course. It was, after all, where I had met my best friends, fallen in love twice, felt at home. But I had been looking forward to New York for so long.

And New York is amazing. I resent the people here who say they’re just not crazy about the city. Moving here was inevitable — the neurotic, sarcastic Jew out of place in the suburban Midwest with an invisible string tied to New York. I am not the only one of my friends in this position. Here I can wear black every day without having someone ask me who died. I never have to explain my Yiddish words or my sarcasm. I am not the only one reading Faulkner on the bus or Singer on the subway. Everyone is “working on their first novel.”

But these past seven months, I have also realized that as comfortable as I feel in New York, I don’t want to make it my permanent home. It has nothing to do with anything against New York (well, except for the never-ending, bitter cold), but instead the fact that I am realizing how deeply in love I am with New Orleans. I miss Free Music Fridays and coming up behind a second line on my bike and walking hungover on a Sunday morning to La Boulangerie for a pain au chocolat. I fantasize about my future Uptown shotgun with philodendrons swallowing the front porch and WWOZ leaking from the open windows. About inviting all my neighbors over for gumbo on Fridays and writing again at Rue, teaching at my alma mater.

As my idol and favorite musician Bob Dylan once said, “There are a lot of places I like, but I like New Orleans better.”

I like New York, I like it a lot, but New Orleans has my heart.


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