As we approach the ninth anniversary of Katrina — a storm that ravaged our city’s landscape; changed our hearts; drove locals into distant cities, some returning, some not; and ultimately made our community question what it means to love and miss New Orleans — NolaVie is running a short series that takes a look at why folks — locals, expats and tourists, alike — love the City that Care Forgot and continue returning after the catastrophic storm.
Today’s story comes from New York-based mixed-media artist Stacey-Robin H. Johnson, a frequent visitor to New Orleans and self-declared fan of the city’s creative culture.
This year’s vacation planning presented more inner conflict than usual. There was the warm turquoise water and sugary sands of the Caribbean or the feast of the senses in New Orleans, but not both; my budget simply would not allow a dual indulgence. Routinely, I opt for the NOLA adventure — a landscape I’d recently found myself missing — telling myself the beach will always be there.
Like birds instinctively driven to migrate, I am semi-annually drawn to the Big Easy. I’ve never lived in New Orleans or parts there about, nor do I have any friends or relatives in residence, past or present. I am a stranger in a familiar land. Even still, my visits to NOLA over the years, both pre- and post-Katrina, leave me with a low grade fever in my consciousness that can best be described as homesickness. Homesick. For a place I’ve never called home.
I’m a native New Yorker, a Harlemite of southern heritage by way of the 20th-century northern migration of generations of African-Americans from the South. By virtue of my geographical pedigree, I’m admittedly jaded. Living in New York can do that. Yet, the first time I heard New Orleans-style brass band music emanating from the front of Café Du Monde, I was moved — flesh and soul — by a sound I thought to be the biggest, most joyful noise I’d ever heard. I knew this sound — like the muffaletta sandwich, like Mardi Gras and the Mardi Gras Indians, like Bourbon Street, even like the shameless We Live to Eat tag line — as an indigenous quality of the enchanting culture. So began my fan-ship for Rebirth Brass Band, Hot 8 and NOLA’s other native sons synonymous with the city’s music scene.
Still, every departure from the city that serenades my soul, leaves me heavy hearted, slightly disoriented and homesick, so to speak, for weeks afterward. NOLA — its sights and sounds, smells and tastes — invade my thoughts and my dreams like no other place, not even the place I truly reside. With several visits to New Orleans under my belt (the last fortuitously occurring during Restaurant Week 2013) I have yet to make sense of the emotional aftermath of leaving. There is such a thing as Jerusalem Syndrome. Could NOLA have its own syndrome, too?
It’s sand and sun for this year’s vacation. I pride myself on possessing the Gift-of-Goodbye, not given to emotional haranguing and indecision when it comes to change. But . . . NOLA , specifically leaving NOLA, is complicated for me, like a revolving door relationship where hope lives but progress cannot.
My thoughts have already turned to getting back to NOLA. Maybe I’ll never decipher my feelings about New Orleans, but what I know for sure is: At some point, we all want to go home again.