It started in Anaheim of all places, I was seven years old. My first visit to Disneyland with my family in 1987 was the beginning of my quiet and strange love affair with New Orleans. I was drawn to the allure of the Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Carribean – not so much for the ghouls, ghosts, pirates and wenches .. all those strange what-nots that lurk behind its doors. But for the architecture of its space: the wrought iron balconies to the lamp posts to the wood panel walls and soft mood lighting. Just the feel of New Orleans before I even knew what New Orleans really was has always fascinated me. That short stretch of bayou just before the first dip in the Pirates of the Carribean – the lightning bugs, the crickets, the sound of toads in imagined marshlands… I love it. I have dreamt for many years what it would be like to finally walk the streets of the real French Quarter and I finally had the chance to do so this past May.
There is so much to take in from the Big Easy… the food, the music, the architecture, the culture, the people, the history of the city itself – so much of it busting at the seams. I spent my last night in New Orleans on my own. Walking the streets of the French Quarter from end to end and wanting so badly to cover every inch of it. I only had that evening to take in as much as I could on my own with whatever my eyes and my camera could uncover. But it wasn’t enough. And it will never be enough because what I was chasing that night was a feeling it gave me. It’s hard to capture in words and in photos what New Orleans does and did to me. It’s like trying to bottle the feeling I get when I’m with my family on Christmas morning, that warm fuzzy feeling of home wrapped in comfort and such warmth. Those tiny nuances that make up a home is New Orleans to me but in a much larger scale.
As a lover of music, I usually photowalk with my iPod on hand. My headphones and my camera act as armor which separates me from the world I am observing. But not in New Orleans… the city had its own soundtrack with musicians in almost every street corner. Horns and guitars and pianos … it was amazing. The lighting of New Orleans (not neon lights from Bourbon Street and Canal Street).. but that gorgeousness cast from street lamps in quiet corners, the chandeliers behind French doors, romantic spotlights from art galleries on Royal Street and Dumaine, candles from old windows, soft and inviting and very moody. I have never been to Paris, but I would imagine this is what it would be if I walked its streets at night. The humidity of Louisiana heat wraps you up and after a few days exposed to its dewy blanket – you get used to it. The grimy alleys and streets and walkways to bars/strip clubs offer enough of that hint of noir which gives New Orleans an added boost of mystery and danger. Voodoo shops and ghost tours tug at my heart strings, for I am a lover of the paranormal and the strange. I have always been. So you see… the real New Orleans far from the pirates and ghouls of Disneyland’s Adventureland blew my mind and continues to weeks after it welcomed me into its mysterious and magical arms.
I imagine it will take years for me to get over NOLA. The resilience of the people there post-Katrina is a force to be reckoned with. I have so much respect for the locals loving their city the way they do… and how much they want to preserve everything it stands for before and after the storm. I want to discover their cities beyond the French Quarter – Garden Districts, Uptown, Bywater, Treme, the Marigny, the Parishes (where we volunteered to build homes). I want to get deep into its music scene… from the jazzclubs of Frenchmen street to the all out parties and afterparties of JazzFest and Mardi Gras. I need more time on the St. Charles streetcar. I want to see every animal in the Audubon collection of zoos, the museums. And the restaurants… my goodness, the food – that will take a lifetime. I want to know, to see, to feel and touch it all.
Whether I find myself living in New Orleans one day or perhaps become another passionate (regular) visitor – I will always have it in my heart. There’s a longing for it now that I am familiar with. And I’m glad that the feeling I’ve always been drawn to which developed on the streets of Adventureland is something tangible. And I can touch it every time I find myself in the Big Easy. I’m so glad it’s real.