There have been few cities that have affected me as strongly as New Orleans .The fabric of the city held such clear record, such sharp memory of all the lives that have passed in the quarter. The dead were so present, dancing gaily through the streets, lurking in every corner, permeating every unclaimed space. I think my favorite thing was just walking with my partner through the streets, experiencing the ambience of the city at all hours, seeing how it shimmered and shifted as the holiday drew near, how it exploded in a cacophony of people -living and dead--at certain hours. For me, I was never just in New Orleans; I was wading through liminal space, through the psychic residue, vestiges of multiple centuries whizzing by. It was exhilarating, exhausting, inspiring, and dizzying. There was always that complex overlay of time and experience wherever I went. It was strongest for me in the French Quarter and that is where i concentrated the majority of my time. While it exhausts in its own way, it also counters the loud brashness of the here and now. It balances.
One of the more moving excursions during my visit was a trip to the World War II Museum. My father was a World War II (and Korean War) veteran. Of all the military dead that I honor (and honoring our war dead is a major part of my ancestral work, a very close second only to honoring my own personal ancestors) I feel a very special affinity and respect for those dead who fought in WWII. I fully admit, it brings me full circle to the experiences of my father and maternal grandfather. The museum in New Orleans is a powerful monument. My war dead were present from the moment I entered and it was very hard reading the personal accounts at the museum, making my way through the section for the Pacific Theatre, then the Battle of Normandy. My dead buffeted me with vestiges of their experiences - sights, sounds, smells, physical sensations, emotions and by the time I left, I felt as though I had been physically beaten. My partner supported me making sure I ate and got me back to the hotel but it was an emotionally wrenching experience -- as it should be. As it should be.
Last night, knowing that we were flying home today, we went out late and walked the city streets again, bidding farewell to the city itself, making a few last offerings to the ghede that populate it--an unseen nation of the dead. We were given unexpected gifts by the city in return and today left with a sense of peace and homecoming. It was good. It was an experience properly completed, and we will return again to visit the friends we made.
(for those who are curious -- i've been getting lots of emails---alligator does not taste like chicken; in texture it's rather the consistency of friend clams and turtle soup tastes rather like spaghetti bolognese. ^___^).
Image: "After the Rain" copyright Galina Krasskova.