People in New Orleans don't act in public the way I expect respectable people to act. They are histrionic, maudlin, stumbling, eloquent, passionate, friendly. They are talkative. They say I have an accent, but when I listen to them I think the reverse is true. I'm in the minority, a stranger in a strange land.
Where I'm from, Connecticut most of my life, but most recently Boston, people are buttoned down and stoic. You don't wear your heart on your sleeve and you don't say what you mean with any feeling. For the past three days I've been trying to immerse myself neck deep in New Orleans. I haven't been to the French Quarter and though I've run into tourists, I haven't made tourist destinations my destination. I've tried to stick to the edges rather than the core economy. This makes me a kind of tourist, I suppose. I plan on spending many, many years here but as a stranger I'm only getting my toes wet. I don't have any favorite places or any routine that will probably stick. Everything is new and I am still haven't yet had a proper baptism.
All in good time.
I've been to New Orleans before on too-brief visits. I'll be leaving again on May 20 but returning for good on June 10. June 10. It can't come soon enough. Instead of a taste, I'll be grazing on a feast. How many marvels can a New Orleans day hold? I intend to find out more than 365 times even accounting for leap years.
People in New Orleans don't act the way I'm used to. They love their city, the way most citizens do, but they love it over the top. That's to be expected. There is no place like New Orleans on Planet Earth. It isn't Terra Incognita. It is Civita Infantabula, a waking fever dream, all too real and tangible, Stupor Mundi, the sublime wonder of the world.
Can you imagine your heart drowned under fifteen feet of sludge and dirty water? Can you imagine your home decimated and then remade by caprice and bureaucracy? Can you imagine losing all you own and trying to scrabble every bit of joy and beauty you've ever known from scratch, with only sweat and tissue paper as the mortar that holds the bricks of future promise together? Can you pin your hopes to something as ethereal and insubstantial as good music and good food and good friends bound together in a matrix of shoddy infrastructure laid out over centuries and long past expiration?
I can't. I'm new to New Orleans and despite the verbal pyrotechnics and strings of adjectives above, I have to be humble. I don't know a damned thing about being a citizen of New Orleans. I can't claim to. I know how to be a Nutmeg Yankee in New London, Conn. Whoop-de-doo. Even the good people of New London don't think too much of that. It's a great place, but it's not a place that inspires good poetry. I know how to be a Bostonian. I've paid my taxes and parking tickets.
I am grateful to be able to call New Orleans home. I hope to learn about what it is to live in this Crescent City that survives, improbably, against all odds and carves a niche for itself in a world where the rules are very different from the ones New Orleans observes.