Thursday, December 29, 2005

Back in NOLA: 6

My time is almost up. I have done so much and so little. I wanted to go to Napoleon House for a Pimm's Cup, and may yet do that. I wanted to meet Slimbo, I wanted to see Peter, I wanted to see so many folks, and yet I did the best I could. I really needed to spend insane amounts of quality time with my family. We all needed it. I went back to my house three times. I may go one last time. Marc and my dad went this afternoon, but my heart was too heavy to go. Instead, I stayed in the Quarter and relaxed, reading. I thought I'd put on my ipod and I sadly realized it had a sick looking font - not unlike that of a ransom note - with a list of commands. Nothing worked. I failed to troubleshoot it on my own and didn't breakdown, but definitely left Rachel a sad voice mail and muttered to myself that "everything is own breaks" thinking of how few things I was able to salvage from my house. I did manage to salvage some cds which mom and Marc washed in warm water and cleaned for me while I archived my smelly, moldy journals, photos and letters. About 5 or 6 worked -- it's something.

I hope everyone is doing alright and has been having a peaceful holiday season. I will be incredibly sad to leave my very fractured, still bleeding city, but I will happily embrace my new home New York. It's been hard to reconcile this notion of home. The family I've chosen as opposed to the one I was born with. Life is messy and why must I be devoted to only one place. One home, one family. I am a New Orleanian at heart, yes, but I am not one of these people who can only live in New Orleans. My friends' families all reassure me that even if my parents leave New Orleans, I will have an open invitation to stay with them whenever I return.

More and more I realize that home is anyplace I can be with the people I love.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Back in NOLA: 5

I spent the greater part of this afternoon photographing two small journals that I wrote over the course of summer 1996, and letters and photographs that luckily ended up in the one (count it - ONE) box that floated in my room and did not manage to get wet. This is a lot when you consider that I have kept journals religiously from age 8 onward and that I saved every letter I ever received (which was a lot as writing letters was something really important to me from middle school until I finished graduate school and cover letters burned me out from correspondence that wasn't email) and that I was an avid photographer of friends, events, etc. My room is still wet and moldy with boxes and their now spoiled contents.

Used my new digital camera to photograph every page of a somehow spared set of journals that I wrote while working as the assistant director of the Junior Zoo Keeper program (a volunteer program of public speaking training and zoology/biology eduation for incoming 7th and 8th graders at the Audubon Zoo in New Orleans) during the summer after high school and before college. I only read snatches of things I had written, but it was amazing to read what were my thoughts and concerns from about ten years ago.

I also found an old letter from someone who had been a very dear friend. It was written during the fall of 1998 when she was studying abroad and I was anticipating a semester in Paris for spring 1999. It is so interesting to see how seriously 20 year olds take themselves. Angst in a 17 year old seems expected, but the level of drama and self-importance in a 20 year old is embarassing. Talking about "men" when you're still dating boys is just silly. Even getting caught up in that is embarassing. This letter exposes so many of the problems that ultimately ended that friendship. But it was funny to read about how another friend told this girl (in a melodramtically philosophical manner) that she would return much more mature after a year abroad. One would hope that would be the case by just living.

Last night, I had dinner with Simone, a friend I don't think I'd seen since May 1996. She has been living in San Francisco since then. We had dinner with Sudha and her family and my family, but I mostly caught up with Simone (she had kept in touch with Sudha throughout the years and her mother lives in the Quarter). This trip has been all about returning to memories and faces I hadn't considered in a decade or more.

Everyone keeps telling me that I remember stories they had long forgotten... and yet, pulling through all these long-tucked away letters, journals and photographs, I'm remembering even more. I can say this much: I am grateful the hurricane didn't happen for me at the age of 17... or 20 for that matter. Maybe it would have kicked me out of the melodrama of those ages, but I would also hate to have confronted this disaster at that stage in my emotional development.

Trying to put this into words is like speaking without a tongue. Nothing comes out right. It just gives me pause to remember where I was when I wrote these journals and received these letters --- and consider now the fact that I'm photographing them so that I can throw these items away. They are too smelly and moldly to hold onto. But I want to remember these moments in my life... however awkward or precarious. I need to remember how useless it is to not be self-assured. That one should be open and curious when one feels adrift instead of beating oneself up. You can always learn more and be open to the world. Seeing yourself as "shut out" for one reason or another is a futile way to live your life. I am not saying I was like this all the time, but the general position of an adolescent occupies a bit of self-fear and self-hatred, which is only normal because you don't really know who you are yet... what you are capable of being. But you should just enjoy and embrace that slate rather than curse it.

I say this because I think we spend our lives forging who we are more or less. The world's ever-changing state forces us to do so. I need to remember that I should always keep things in perspective and when frustrated, try to go about things from another angle or maybe give up for a little while and return later with more insight from that new position or with some new knowledge.

Aside from all this awkward, free-form thought, did I mention that I'm wearing sandals and a short-sleeved shirt? The weather here is gorgeous. For all those assholes who asked me how anyone could live in New Orleans... well, this is why we live in NOLA. 70 degree weather at the close of the year. And Lord knows we deserve some pretty weather after the hell that was 2005.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Back in NOLA: 4

Christmas morning.

We aren't eating our big Christmas dinner until this evening because we're waiting for my brother to arrive. Poor kiddo left New Haven on Metro North this morning at 8 am... and he arrives in NOLA via JFK airport on JetBlue at 5 pm.

But the cornbread is in the oven and we're getting ready.

I can't say how good it felt to walk around the Quarter and Faubourg Marigny with Sudha yesterday. Chatting with an old friend (who's more like a sister at this point in our lives --- especially post-K) and taking pictures. I love my digital camera. When I return to NYC, I'll set up a flickr account so everyone can enjoy 'em.

But it was exciting to consider all the possibilities for her residency program --- wherever she ends up. And I was excited to talk about the city and people we know, considering ideas to write up. I love the energy and urgency of my friends. At a time like this, it's great to move forward. We need it desperately. It's too easy to dwell and be complacent or just resigned to our situations. I want to devote my energy to my writing this year. I also want to explore new places in New York and cook new interesting foods. I want to knit more and have regular craft nights.

I guess this is me, mulling over what could be deemed New Year's Resolutions. But again, all I've been doing this year is looking back. I'm ready to look forward. Being at home has helped me see that. You just can't fixate on what has been lost or on new ways of devising a notion of "security." I would prefer to just throw myself into things and find security in the chaos of simply embracing life, and uncovering new pleasures and inspirations. I want to learn more about art and weave it into my life.

For now, I would like to go back to just hanging out with my family.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Back in NOLA: 3

Today, I took a bite of the best tasting beignet I've ever eaten. Despite the fishy sewer smell of the slate sidewalk beneath our feet, I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Cafe du Monde. Sudha, Anne-Marie, Marguerite and Chris (Marguerite's husband) joined me in this culinary ritual. After powdered sugared treats, Marguerite, Chris, and Anne-Marie headed to St. Louis Cathedral for mass. I asked them to pray for Sudha and I's souls as Su and I headed into the Quarter with our cameras and our arms linked.

Walking around the Quarter with a treasured friend is something I feared I'd never have again. This was a wonderful Christmas present.

Our windows are trimmed with white lights and we can't wait for my brother to arrive tomorrow evening. Cornbread dressing, artichoke casserole, sweet potatoes with pecans and marshmellows, green beans and turkey with gravy are on the menu here in our French Quarter studio. We might head over to listen to the caroling at St. Louis.

Btw, today is the thirtieth anniversary of the date my parents met. Hurray to my incredible parents. I hope I can say the same someday with equal joy and passion.

Merry Christmas, y'all.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Back in NOLA 2

This afternoon, after braving the grocery crowds, my mom and I were pleased to find (not unlike an oasis) a wine tasting in the Langensteins's grocery store. We both said we would like the sad thimble of wine, but the woman looked at me and in the voice of a pre-school teacher, she asked me, "Are you old enough?"

I think everyone in this town - including the kids - could use a drink this holiday and she asks me if I am old enough?

I told her, "Well, I'm twenty-seven. I would say that's old enough."

She then looks at my mom and says, "Are you her mother? Is she really twenty-seven?"

Haven't we all suffered enough?

I then stood in line to buy groceries and watched a woman from Old Metairie buy $158 worth of lavish goods with food stamps. Yeah. She probably voted for George Bush, too. Republicans don't mind the government helping them... just keep those African-Americans out of the city... well, unless they can help around the house over the holidays.

I'm still bitter, but hey, we survived the great Christmas grocery shopping adventure. Marc is coming home on Sunday and I should see Mlle. Gifford tonight in our native NOLA. I drank some iced coffee today, enjoyed sweet, sunny weather in the 50s and took a stroll in City Park's sculpture garden which miraculously survived the storm. So I had a nice helping of sweet with the bitter.

Also, I have a favorite new before dinner cocktail. And it is safe for all nice girls who look 27, but are actually 17.

Pour a third of a glass of pomengrante juice, two-thirds seltzer water (or sparkling mineral water or club soda) and a big wedge of lemon. Drink immediately and repeat. Enjoy!!!

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Emergency Preparedness

I'd have to check my sash, but I am pretty sure I earned the Emergency Preparedness merit badge when I was in the Boy Scouts. It's not the prettiest of patches, and it's hard to tell what these symbols actually mean, but maybe it's more realistic that way. In an emergency, you often know you are supposed to be doing something, you know someone made a plan, and you may even have it in front of you, but too often you aren't sure what the FOX NEWS you are supposed be doing.

Now, Ms. NOLA is down surveying the work of people that didn't earn or know how to decipher their merit badges. Meanwhile, I am digging out my compass and approaching a newly cartographed HOV-NYC. The transit union has gone on strike and the Mayor is sleeping on a cot in the Brooklyn Emergency Center. The subway system will have fire-watch trains. My solution was to stay at work all night.

In the midst of perusing headlines for other profiles in preparedness, I found this story on the AP wire. "House Moves for All-Digital TV by 2009: House lawmakers approved legislation early Monday that would complete the transition to all-digital television broadcasts by Feb. 17, 2009. The measure also would allocate up to $1.5 billion to help consumers with older, analog TV sets purchase converter boxes so they would continue to get service in the digital era."

Phew. At least we've got that one covered.

Sans cot,

Monday, December 19, 2005

Back in NOLA: 1

I'm here in NOLA and am still gathering my thoughts. One thing that has caught my eye is the difference in the teeshirts. There are some that read: "Make levees, not war," some that read "New Orleans rules" and feature a Rex crown, there are some that say, "I looted NOLA and all I got was this lousy teeshirt."

You can guess which one I would and do wear (just a hint, the one 'bout the levees). But it's really upsetting to see people buying the "New Orleans rules" teeshirts and then notice that these are the same folks who complain about the FEMA trailers, when some of my neighbors are waiting for their FEMA trailers... And who make utterly inappropriate comments about "rebuilding the ghetto exactly how it was."

Way to go. New Orleans definitely does not rule if you are the kind of people leading the way in rebuilding efforts.

Some moron tried to praise George W. Bush to my mother and me while doing laundry at the laundrymat next to Babylon on Maple Street. You can imagine how captive my mom and I were. Her comment: "Do you have someone else to quote, because we don't like or trust George Bush."

This man didn't know what hit him. I could say this is the post-K coming out in my mom, but she has always been outspoken.

I also went back to my house on Saturday and walked around. My mom and I drove around the old neighborhood on Friday as a first taste for what I will remember as the place I grew up. It does look like Hiroshima. Let no one tell you otherwise. And no one should forget what happened to New Orleans. As much as folks like Rush Limbaugh might like to say everything is getting "back to normal," I can personally say that in many areas, it doesn't look like a damn thing has changed since August. That is a tragedy.

It really hit me when I realized that the London Avenue Canal break (and the word "break" is such an understatement), was about 4 houses down from the home where I spent most weekends in high school, babysitting. I remember countless nights reading books, drawing sidewalk chalk, playing dress up and cutting and pasting cards with these girls. They haven't lived there in about 5 years, but that memory is enough to remind you that actual lives will never be the same again... and how safe are any of us? This is hardly an abstract incident that occured in an area with low-population. And entire neighborhoods are still vacant. Where are these people now? How can you tell your kids they will ever be safe again if you take them to see what happened to the dolls they left behind, or the bed where they felt so safe? The dolls are covered in muck and the bed is overturned and looks ravaged.

I know because I got to see my own childhood room while wearing a respirator mask, boots, and gloves.

It begs repeating: how could this happen in an American city?

However, I have to admit that wading through what is left of my house helped me unclinch that part of my heart and mind that has been in constant pain since August. I am ready to let go of the things I lost, even though it can't help but cause you to weep, silently and ceaselessly. I am just so grateful that my parents and neighbors were not there to wait for help as their homes filled with over ten feet of water and subsequently marinated for two plus weeks following the flooding.

Who said "let the healing begin?" Probably some moron I can't stand. But there is a part of me that is healing... and a part of me that really wonders how things will change. I hate to be a cynic, but with this president? How can anything be done? Here is where the grassroots change comes in... I just hope that it isn't just those folks with the Rex krewe accessories.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

kindred spirits

I just finished rereading "Anne of Green Gables" tonight. The book just makes me cry and cry with happiness. I see a bit of Anne in myself and there's a part of me that sees Anne in everyone I love. The pride, the yearning, her passionate nature, her capacity to love and her curiosity of the world.

I am heading home to New Orleans tomorrow. I take a deep breath and head to JFK airport with way too much knitting and probably far too many books. I read six books in the 3 weeks I spent at home last Christmas. I hope to read as many if not more this year. But I know there will be much chatting, much hugging, many photographs will be taken, and many stories to be told.

Everytime I return home to New Orleans, I feel as though nothing has changed and I have only recently been there. I fear this will be the first time I can't say that. It breaks my heart a little, but I think of Anne Shirley who spoke of a turn in the road. Life was never so straight and narrow, but as in all things, this is just another turn. I can do it. Especially with so many kindred spirits in my life.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

reading and mobilization

Read this article and this editorial from the New York Times. Assigned reading if you are a friend of mine.

I am thinking about throwing a letter writing party in January. I will make jambalaya and everyone can write letters to Congress and the president and I will mail them out. People can bring wine and/or stamps. How does that sound? I know it's a pain to write a letter and believe me, I don't think I can be trusted to write something civil to Dennis Hassert or George W. Bush, but perhaps with the company of others, this is possible.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

lazy Saturday musings

I'm at work today (Saturday) because I'm trying to make next week slightly less stressful. I don't want to stay late at the office this week because Sudha is in town and Tuesday night I'm having dinner with Helene and seeing Tim later in the evening.

My head is all cloudy. I'm listening to bossa nova as RJ made me a delicious cd full of Astrid Gilberto. It makes me want to learn Portuguese and wear sundresses. It also makes me feel like I'm a sophomore at Bryn Mawr, living in a Merion slit (a long, skinny bedroom), and musing over my Yale law boyfriend who said this music made him think of bad, drunken dinner parties his parents would throw in the late 70s/early 80s.

That was a huge turn off for me. I actually never saw him again after he said that. I guess it unconsciously made me realize that I was more of a naive romantic than he was. Well, I was much younger and legitimately naive on several levels. But we wanted different things from romance. I wanted bossa nova, and he wanted the reality of Tom Waits and the less cloudy jazz of Miles Davis.

Who can't get lost in "The Shadow of Your Smile?" Still, looking back, it seems cringe-worthy to realize I was trying to woo a 24 yr old man with Astrid Gilberto music. What did I know? Well, at least our musical conflicts detached me before things become too entrenched. If only all mismatches could unfold so simply.

Friday, December 09, 2005

tonight's fable (and of course it's true. this is brooklyn)

after a long day at work, i had to convince myself that I had no choice but to do laundry tonight. i am going to NOLA next wednesday, sudha is visiting this weekend and really when do i think would be a better time?

gifford was kind enough to keep me company and help with my three loads of laundry. as we sat and chatted, i noticed a man struggling to open the door. his hands were preoccupied with a large white object. I helped open the door for him and I immediately noticed the paper bag and glass bottle in the side pocket of his coat.

what also became clear to me was that the object in his hands was a microwave. i looked at gifford, cocked my eyebrows and squinted, thinking, "this should be interesting."

gifford kept talking, but i frankly couldn't listen. i had to see what was going to happen. he asked one of the customers if they knew where he could find a plug. he meant an outlet. he wanted to hook up the microwave and use it.

when the girl running the store came back into the main room after taking care of something in the back, she noticed the microwave on top of her work area as he struggled to shove a three pronged plug into a simple power strip. she said, "that isn't going to work." she was about my height and he was a very tall, heavy set man.

and drunk.

he said, "can't a man warm his food? i brought my own microwave!"

he then placed the microwave atop a line of washers and tried to reach behind the washers to find an appropriate outlet.

i couldn't stop watching. what if he threw the microwave at someone in anger? what if he dropped it? what if it blew a fuse and I was stuck with three loads of soapy, wet, cold wash?

he finally decided this was impossible and walked his unlaced boots out of the laundrymat with the microwave. gifford opened the door for him as he left.

then gifford went back to her story and everyone went back to their washing. what would we have done if he would have lost it? feigned a deep interest in fabric softener? sometimes i feel that life is not unlike the crazy man who wants to microwave his pizza in the laundrymat. we just try to pretend he isn't there and will him to be gone. sometimes we're lucky and sometimes we end up with an impossible amount of wet clothing mixed with glass.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

seashells in an envelope

Man, tonight I realized I have lost all the love letters I received from my then 13 year old boyfriend Peter.

Man. Those were beautiful. Especially given the fact that they were hand written and mailed to me.

I heard from him tonight and I suppose I should feel that the greatest gift is that I could care about someone so much (and he care about me) that we should still be great friends after being childhood sweethearts who only so much as held hands.

I told him we had to write more letters and I told Tim that, too.

I am so sad for having lost Peter's letters, but the place they hold in my heart remains. I've lost the prom picture we took together, but I remember every moment of that evening.

Don't get me wrong: Tim doesn't have to worry about a thing. But Peter was a wonderful and generous first love. And I'm the luckiest girl in the world that he is still such a great person and still so much a part of my life.

NOLA: there's no place like you ever.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

a snowy day

Well, to be honest, it isn't snowing at all, but I woke up to a snow crusted Brooklyn. I even saw a red cardinal in the stark tree outside the window. One would think it is bitterly cold outside given that the sky looks pregnant with more snow. But it's actually not that bad. All the same, I bundled myself up and marched Tim out the apartment so that we could go out to the grocery for sandwich provisions and coffee at Gorilla.

I really want to go back outside and go tromping to the Park and to Target, but I should stay home and read for work. Boo. At least it is cozy inside. I like the coziness of winter, I must admit. I'm just not prepared for months of it. Thank God I'm going home soon!

Also, thank you everyone for being so supportive and thoughtful. For as callous as some folks are, I have friends who surpass the levels of empathy, cheer, and thoughtfulness that one would typically expect. It's that I should recognize, not the lack I find in others. Thank you again.