Tuesday, 3 September 2013

An Ode to New Oreleans, Louisiana

Legacy of Katrina on the bayou - Louisiana 2012
It was a lifetime ago I began planning my first trip to New Orleans, Louisiana.

Nature and human greed, respectively, thwarted both my prior attempts, once in 2005 and the next time in 2010. It wasn't until 2012 that I finally set foot on the cobbled streets of the Vieux Carre; breathed in my first lungful of the wet, mossy scent of a Louisiana bayou.

I remember looking out of the window of the plane after a harrowing 38 hour journey from Australia and seeing the darkness of the marshes painted silver with moonlight. I remember seeing New Orleans City, twinkling invitingly below and feeling an overwhelming sense of coming home.

Odd for a woman who had never been to the State of Louisiana before. A woman who had never been to the South of the US before, for that matter. It struck my highly rational, legal and scientific mind as a very odd feeling indeed.

Where the initial attraction to Louisiana originated, I cannot tell. No doubt the countless books I consumed set in Louisiana's mystical bayou had something to do with it. Those books must have woven some subtle magic over me, cast some sort of spell through the rhythm of their words, because eventually desire to explore this State, and New Orleans specifically, turned into a deep, gnawing need, to feel for myself the heat of the Louisiana summer, to breathe the damp, musky smell of the swamp.

Bayou - Louisiana
Stepping into the bustling streets of New Orleans that night  - despite the bone weary tiredness that can only come from journeying so far, for so long - I fell totally and irrevocably in love with the city.

I'm talking head over heels, true, madly, deeply in love.

From the moment I set foot on Louisiana soil, it was like a tiny spark had been lit inside me. A flame that grew hotter and brighter each day I spent there. My weariness dissolved. My heartache and the bitterness of past failures seemed to slough away like discarded snake skin.

It was cathartic.

I loved the city with it's cobbled streets. I loved the oppressive heat that rose from the sidewalks and curled around my ankles like a cat, as I meandered down Rue Royale onto Rue St Ann. I loved the sound of jazz tripping and tumbling over pockets of hot air like acrobats, following me around from street to street. I loved the artists and the fortune tellers sitting in Jackson Square and the scrumptiously tempting smell of beignets drifting alluringly from Cafe du Monde.

Musicians in Jackson Square
I fell in love with everything about that city, with its exotic and beautiful and macabre history.

Most of all I fell in love with the people. People who, despite everything life had thrown at them, (from the devastation of Katrina, whose violence had left scars visible for those who knew what to look for, to the corporate greed of a company who destroyed the ecosystems upon which many locals had relied upon for a living) still greeted you with a genuine smile, a kind word and a good story.

As an avid and frequent traveler I can honestly say I've never felt such a connection with a city before. So much so that, ten months after my initial trip, I was back in New Orleans to celebrate my birthday.

My connection with the city hadn't changed a bit. Looking down at the sun-lit swamps, at the rivers snaking through rich and vibrant greenery, I felt that familiar warm feeling of home-coming.

What ever the reason, however crazy it may seem, New Orleans is good for my soul.

On the bayou, Louisiana