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Calling New Orleans ‘baby’

As we approach the ninth anniversary of Katrina — a storm that ravaged our city’s landscape; changed our hearts; drove handfuls of 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 recently transplanted New Orleanian Ishani Pathmanathan, who vows to return home soon. 


What kind of wild, whimsical, world does a gypsy call home? And how, now that I’ve found it, can I say goodbye?

When I came here you called me baby and I turned up my nose. “Be nice or leave,”  you said, and so I was nice.

“Slow the hell down (baby),” you said, and so I slowed…long enough to feel your steady beat, synching with my pulse.

And then you added rhythm. First the rumblings of my wheels on your potholes — crooked sounds to match the crooked stoops and shutters that line your streets. Then the lazy sound of the Mississippi, taking liberties with turns like New Orleanian drivers do, and lapping up against the levy as if to test their strength again. The whistle of the Natchez, coming up the river, and the deep echos of the cargo ships at the end of their 2000 mile journey through the heart of America…or at just the beginning. And then you picked up the tempo — a little zydeco washboard; then finally, trombone, tuba, the powerful voice of the saxophone and the soulful warblings of the harmonica. My heart stirred and my feet started dancing. They haven’t stopped since.

I love you New Orleans. I love everything you stand for — that every day is a festival, that everything should be celebrated, that everyone should be tolerated — aside from the pretentious and the normal. I love your silhouette — the curve of the Dome, the revitalization of your skyline. I love the joy of waking up to mornings on St. Charles and bicycling through your nooks and crannies — where the smell of jasmine permeates the air and bananas lie low for picking, making me feel as though I have somehow leapt across the seas to my ancestral home and am cycling down the streets of Jaffna.

I love that your sense of direction is as bad as mine — that the Westbank is south and the East is up north, that river-side and lake-side define which way we turn.  I love that strangers say hello and cops dance in the street. I love your sunsets on the bayou and the thrill of driving up your one hill to be eight feet above sea level.

I love the way you taste — your fried chicken…your fried everything. Your rouxs thick with culture and red beans and rice thick with love. The way the powdered sugar is piled on your beinets. The facts that Abita tastes better from a Bulldog glass, that daiquiris are only good drive-thru and that Besh and tater tachos can equally hit the spot.

I love how proud I feel when strangers say they love you too.  I love the wild of your nature: your lizards and gators and herons and pelicans; the incredible backdrop of flora and fauna and bayous and swamps. I love the wild of your people.  Running in red, strolling in white; riding mechanical bull shopping carts through the heart of the Marigny and second-lining through Treme with our backpack boomboxes and to-go cup koozies.

The way we always find each other, with beer and crawfish, contentedly sprawled in the sunny comfort of the Fly, and later, with infinite supplies of energy, howling to the stylings of our favorite brass (or Russian mafia) band. Our bodies beat sweatily, steadily to the dirty rhythms of the Goldmine and the Saint, spilling out into your streets well into the next day. Our wigs, glitter, tutus, bubbles, our shouts of “throw me something, mister” and desperate clammerings for all things shiny. The feeling of indescribable joy when we catch that Zulu coconut after waiting in the rain, or experience the Superdome on Endymion for the very first time. I love the irony of Bourbon Street under the gaze of the magnificent St. Louis Cathedral, Pirate’s Alley and voodoo magic by night. Sunday Bacchanal, Monday Kermit, Tuesday Rebirth, Wednesdays on the square, Thursday Soul Rebels, and then it’s the weekend…..WHO DAT WHO DAT, LE BON TEMPS ROULER!  I love the wild of Me, when I’m with You.

We are at that point now, Big Easy, where I call you “baby.” I feel as though the Mississippi runs through my veins, but I know I’d bleed black and gold. How do I say goodbye? I refuse to. As gypsies do, I find myself, once again, blown by the wind, but for the first time, my heart leaves roots. The kind of roots that creep through the roadwork and deep into the swamp, unleveling the streets and giving rise to the beautiful and timeless live oaks whose Spanish-moss covered branches, laden with the colorful gifts of Mardi Gras past, now grace my rear view window. The streetcar, ever faithful, rumbles out of sight. But both it and I will be back.


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