Life on the run is my scripture. Being swept away by nomadic winds from every direction at any and every moment — it’s the only way I’ve ever known. It’s the only way I like.
I found my first steady craving for New Orleans this past Spring (how is Spring already in the past?), around Mardi Gras. But I was very much not going during Mardi Gras. Most obviously because my life was in fucking shambles, but also in respect of the lesson learned in Venice two years prior, when I just had to have first sight of the city during Carnival: an electric experience, in theory — but really, a fucking madhouse. But as I admitted in memory of Barcelona, and again a million times over: Everything has it’s place for me — everything a planned appearance in an ongoing daydream — and I have a very peculiar and obsessive relationship with time. It must be unmitigated. It never is.
Anyway, the beginning of August initially belonged to a renegade trip to Las Vegas, a “Summer Splash” that would only evaporate after throwing down a $100 deposit — as things that are planned between a thousand young, broke, and insincerely associated people usually do. But as I already set the time aside, I did not intend to waste it.
So, I spent my very first first-class upgrade sleeping. Like, knocked-the-fuck-out, drooling, wasting away in one of life’s finer luxuries. Through half-shut eyes, I vaguely remember the shadow of a business man next to me, ordering lobster, or some ridiculous 3-course entree of the like. Then again, I also could have hallucinated — like maybe even the entire experience. Reality is never real for me at 8am.
Post-acid trip—kidding, flight, I was childishly excited to learn our hotel was on Borbon Street, the focal point of everything I knew of NOLA and its insanity (ie. my comfort zone), with a balcony on which we’d spend the end of each night. Too soon for check-in, we dropped our stuff off at Four Points French Quarter Hotel, and embarked on life’s greatest adventure: Food.
A few streets away, I had my first “po-boy,” stuffed with fried, salty shrimp and mayo that for once I didn’t mind, at the place everyone should have their first po-boy with mayo they don’t mind: Johnny’s, the oldest family-run po-boy shop in New Orleans. It’s an absolute dive in every sense; crass, cash-only, and conducive to feeling at home — wherever that is.
Sadly, swamp tour fantasies washed away with the rain. (Rumor has it flooding threatened to drown the entire city after we left.) So drink(s) in hand, we wandered the French Quarter; through bustling flea markets, across Jackson Square, stopping every so often to listen to ordinary men play extraordinary music; and finally, into Pat O’Brien’s lush courtyards for Hurricanes, an infamous bar and its sweetest rum concoction that dates all the way back to World War II. For what it’s worth, New Orleans won’t rob you (unless you’re my friend at an ATM down a dark ally at 4am, in which case it will). I mean, a 24-ounce, historically acclaimed frozen delight served in a souvenir glass was like $9 — less than a regular cocktail at a dive in New York. You even get $3 cash back if you return the glass. Wat?
But drinking wasn’t the only to-do. NOLA is a historical mine, so we filled the swamp-less day with museums instead — Louisiana’s beginning, Hurricane Katrina, and then the art of Mardi Gras to lighten the mood (trust me, you’ll need to). We later hopped on a trolley for the hell of it, admiring grande, picturesque houses before getting more drinks, and more dinner.
Between seared scallops and baked garlic Parmesan oysters alone, I would jet to New Orleans daily for dinner — and every other meal while I was at it. We made it a point to have every classic: Jambalaya, rice and beans — and in the morning, powdery, melt-in-your-mouth beignet from the Beignet Cafe. Almost a week later and I’m still fantasizing about my first Bananas Foster French Toast happening — the sweetest breakfast creation consisting of French bread, ice cream, caramelized banana and rum. Rum — for breakfast? The city is magic.
Our trip weirdly coincided with a convention: and not just any convention, but a very Younique convention. At every turn, the streets were mobbed with cute little groups of Southern belles in purple apparel. They reminded me of a giddy sorority rush — as oblivious to the pyramid scheme as sisters are to their paid-for friendships. (I was not a snobority girl, if at any point that was unclear.) I also half-kid. Some are nice, and not delusional.
I remember one girl in particular. She wasn’t a member of either party — just a stoop kid. She sat on worn down steps just down the way from of an old, Game of Throne’s-esque bar to which we were heading — the oldest bar in the city. She was beautiful, but sad; her features soft but striking, with either freckles or dirt spattered across her nose, and her hair dreaded and carelessly tossed-up — something like Jennifer Lawrence, playing her saddest part. I sort of remember her beside a black dog. Or maybe I just wanted her to be, so she wasn’t so alone.
I’m notorious for never carrying cash (I prefer plastic transactions and their illusion of infinite wealth), but I remembered a few dollars I’d been saving for the perfect moment. This time, it came.
“I saw you last night, you’re really good!” That’s all I could think of. And when I say all I could think of, I mean all I could get out. Truthfully, I “think of” a lot of things — too many things — and while some thoughts are more elegantly put together than others, I often lose all of them before I can find a pen. And that’s about the extent of my thoughts’ travel. Only with the devil’s water do they reach the outside of my mouth.
Luckily, I was drunk, and eager to place currency and compliments into her small guitar case. She thanked me, her voice just as pretty plain, and I walked away with regret; my stomach pained with empathy. I immediately began playing all of the reasons she could be singing on a stoop: Did she leave everything for a dream? Did she get stuck in a bad gateway? Did she lose someone? Did she lose herself? Or does she live upstairs in that fancy house, roaming the streets while her parents are away on vacation, waiting for her friends before having too much fun — like lost boys with no time for rules or showers? I kept with that version. I’m too familiar with the others.
I wish I took her picture, but for once I took so few; decidedly choosing not to live in a single one — something like the ghosts that haunt our hotel hallways.
I don’t know when I’ll see New Orleans again, and I don’t know if she’ll still be there when I do. All I know is that I can still hear her singing; the voice of a fallen angel echoing against iron balconies as she clumsily strums tiny strings.