Monday, August 16, 2010


Louisiana – you half expect to roll down the windows as you cross the state line to smell hot sauce and crawfish, to breathe in the humidity that instantly fills your soul to the brim. But don’t miss that “America’s Wetlands” sign just beneath the “Bienvenue en Louisiane.” It smells like the wetlands, at least at the Mississippi state line it does. And on this particular day, that humidity turned into a heavy rain in, quite literally, a hot second. It’s not until you cross the bridge into New Orleans that you can smell the fried goodness of a shrimp po’boy and the spiciness of the Cajun cuisine – ok, maybe I only imagine the glorious smell of the city in my food-obsessed mind, but you could very easily smell those things as you walk in the streets.

New Orleans. Probably when people think of New Orleans they think Mardi Gras, music, food and hurricanes and oil spills. And that seems appropriate. But the depth of New Orleans is beyond the typical images, in fact “typical” seems to be outlawed in New Orleans. When asked about the Indians I’d heard about, my New Orleans native friend Claire pointed out that unfortunately she didn’t know much about them because it’s not unusual to see costumed people around the city, so she never questioned it.

Point in case, the Red Dress Run was held this weekend. Thousands of people, men and women, dressed (mostly scantily) in red outfits – the majority of which couldn’t really be classified as dresses, closer to lingerie – roaming around to participate in a “race” for charity. Which charity? Well, no one really knew. And when we looked it up we found that it benefits no particular charity, but instead donates to various organizations. My non-New Orleans mind says, “Wait, what? Really?” But in my New Orleans state of mind there is no doubt that this dress-up and drink run should contribute to whomever, no questions asked. The Big Easy. A festival or celebration for whatever reason, whenever, beyond Mardi Gras.

And of course there is music. You can’t walk outside without hearing music, good music. Now, I’m no music aficionado, far from it, but I’m pretty sure there is more quality music represented in a New Orleans block than in most places in the world. And it creates, through its diversity, rhythm, and people, the palpable heartbeat of the city. The people of New Orleans seem to connect through it, strengthened by the camaraderie of enduring disaster.

New Orleans can easily be categorized among the great cities of the world, but it is especially unlike any other great city there is. New York is a place to be lost, to try to find yourself. Paris is a place to be alone, to try to find love. New Orleans, though, is a place to belong, to be. So, yes, heart NY, aime Paris, but NOLA, love NOLA. NOLA is love, with a side of soul..and grits.

Sunday, August 8, 2010


When I think about life, I feel like childhood was merely a blip. Adolescence, probably because of its proximity, seems lengthier. (Adolescence, they say, is from 12-21 for females and 14-25 for males, fyi.) But adulthood, already, seems to move like a new sea turtle into the ocean – a slow and amazing and risky! journey into a vast unknown, in the dark – oy! And then what happens??

When people I haven’t talked to in a while ask what I’ve been up to, my common response is, “Oh, you know, figuring out life.” But the truth that I am discovering, moment by moment, is that no one ever figures life out – life with its constant surprises and disasters and sameness always has the upper hand. I’ve spent some time observing people older than me lately – parents of young adults, retirees, the elderly. I’ve found that, yes, on the surface, some stereotypical milestones are met, some wisdom is gained, some new struggles are faced, but largely there are similar events and issues that pervade their lives, as mine. Loss or gain or want of love, embarking on new prospects, self-discovery or consciousness saturate each day.

Once parenting is complete, life and what to do about it becomes the constant theme, as it is in one’s twenties. Once a career is finished, leisure and/or a new career are the to-do, as they are in one’s twenties. Once age sets in, daily exercises, living on a budget, and cherishing time with loved ones become life’s focus, as they are in one’s twenties. Hmm, so what is life about again?? Is there progress?

Do we learn how to handle life’s struggles better – mid-life and post-mid-life crises are strikingly comparable to the acts of stupidity and roaming-ness of youth. Do we gain wisdom, really – I spent time with an older woman recently who in one breath shared stories of life that should bring wisdom, and in another bore ignorance with greatness of stubbornness. Do we learn to love better – are second and third marriages more successful than firsts, do we ever learn to hold our tongues and our anger as we should, do we ever realize the importance of loved ones in our lives?

So what is life about? Obviously, there is no answer to this. At least not one that fits everyone, but I think that life produces its own purpose, for moments at a time. Life takes us where it will, many times despite our own wills. And what we do with it, how we react to it, is what strengthens our character and keeps us going. I can only say this about my own life, I hope never to say that at least I didn’t try. If life is going to tease me with opportunities, ok, I will say yes. I suppose this means that when opportunity is taken away or turns out poorly, I will have to cope with those results and, gulp, feelings – but again with that whole character building thing.

Questions and people and events, mistakes and decisions and enlightenment radiate, reverberate, recycle. And somehow the combination makes us belong in this wide world. Experience. Life.

“But as years went on he became either less self-conscious or more self-satisfied. The world, he found, made a niche for him as it did for everyone.” – E.M. Forster