That one drew blood…

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How did I get here?

Today started as a joyful blur. From an early morning takeoff in the frosty northeast to wheels down in the sultry mist, I couldn’t wait to fill my lungs with New Orleans air and feel home vibrate beneath my feet.

Follow the ritual.

First steps, choreographed decades ago, have grown more complex with each visit. Whether it’s an extra block upriver, an unplanned turn to browse a gallery, glimpsing a favorite fountain through iron lace, or stopping to stare at the newest café menu…the potholes never change and every walk ends in the same place.

Café-au-lait in a paper cup is delicious.

Standing on the levee and watching the mighty Mississippi swirl her way to the Gulf, opens history’s treasure chest. Every time I turn back to see the glory of Jackson Square, I take a picture. It’s 2015 and I’ve got a computer full of digital images along a box of snapshots, frayed and worn at the edges. But, the most cherished memories were made with my human eyes. Back when life was innocent—before the trip and the accident. Before the change.

My hands are tingling.

The walk back through town was haphazard and impulsive. Chasing snippets of melody, following whiffs of fragrance down crooked alleys and peeking through stained glass windows…again, it ended where it always does.

My sanctuary.

Stepping through the scrolled gate delivered me from the Quarter’s worship of the preposterous, into a veiled oasis. Gurgling water and flickering candles, delicately powerful enough to soothe monsters.

The flagstones feel like ice under my back.

The trail of blood was a surprise—old and new. Pools of rusty liquid seeping into ground, mingling with the fresh life dripping from my fingertips.

Was I bitten or stung?

Stone goblins spun like drunken puzzles pieces, their cracks and splinters healing as though time was speeding backwards. Vines raced across the walls like warped vipers. A distant clock chimed twice, choked and started ringing at random intervals.

The damn time.

I dragged my watch in front of my eyes long enough to see hands whirling in both directions.

How did I forget the cursed hour?

My courtyard full of flowers exploded in glitter and ash.

Just one hour.

Sapphire blooms danced around my face. Petals baring fangs.

That one that drew blood.

One Endless Note

Usually I agonize over my blog posts to make them perfect, lyrical masterpieces. In these days leading up to the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, all the pretty words have abandoned me.

Should I talk about it at all? Being quiet might be easier…but it feels wrong. I need to say something.

Those scary hours are jumbled in my head, fuzzy memories that still feel like yesterday. I was home in New Jersey, working nights and following the storm on every TV in the Intensive Care Unit. Most of my family was in New Orleans for Tulane move-in and a convention at the Superdome. I fell asleep the next morning relieved that they had all evacuated—caught one of the last planes out or took their rental car and drove east.

I woke to catastrophic images that are still seared in my mind. Precious life, love and history, stolen by the flood.

In the heartbreaking days afterward, I learned a lot about people I thought I knew. Very few “friends” here shared my grief. Some of the stupid comments I heard….

            “Why do you care about a city thousands of miles away? Isn’t everything that flooded a slum anyway? Can’t you just vacation somewhere else? Who builds a city below sea-level?”

And then, the most idiotic comment of them all…

“I think New Orleans needs to go bye-bye.”

In my entire life, I’ve never been so close to punching someone in the face.

Plenty of people shook my faith in human nature, but others lifted and restored it. Our friend Carol, drove a food truck around the parishes for weeks, feeding workers, recovery volunteers, and local residents just trying to survive. If we never told you, Carol, we are so very proud and thankful for your effort.

So, my husband Scott and I aren’t New Orleans residents.  Yet.  We may have fallen in love on vacation—so many do. For Scott it was 40+ years ago—getting up early and ordering coffee at Morning Call for his family. For me it was 20 years ago—whatever was in the air for my first breath, never let go. He wanted to rebuild with his hands. I wished I could help evacuate patients from the hospitals. We didn’t lose our home to the storm, but we felt sickeningly powerless and disconnected. How could we ever give back to a city that’s brought us such joy? Give back enough?

We went back the summer after the storm—before the cruise ships came back—while a lot of the restaurants and shops were still closed. We talked to every person, bought whatever caught our eye–enough to share with everyone at home.  We ate every breakfast at the Old Coffeepot on St. Peter St., because not much else was open and their omelettes are awesome. We searched for the shop that sold ceramic houses I collect and an artist that was my mother-in-law’s favorite. We rejoiced when we found them both.

If we ever complain that “the Quarter is so crowded”, we stop and remember when it was a ghost town and how desperately empty those streets felt without the music. Now, we embrace the crowds and (most of) the foolishness, because the alternative is unthinkable. Every chance we get, we introduce new people to New Orleans, bring them with us to visit and watch their eyes light up when they start to get “it”. That mission will go on forever.

I wrote Monsters and Angels as a distraction for my mind after Sandy caused so much destruction in New Jersey, but I set it in New Orleans.  My characters live there, my heart is there, my visits are more frequent—every few months. When it’s time to leave, Scott needs to pry my fingers off the airplane door so they can close it.

Last week, I heard Trombone Shorty play at a little theater in New Jersey. From the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s first song until the second line that closed the show, I let myself be spirited away. During one amazingly long note Shorty played…it went on for minutes…many, many minutes…it occurred to me. The first time I stepped onto New Orleans soil, I heard that note. Felt it in my soul. It started like a whisper, swelled into a symphony, flickered and almost died once—but it’s growing stronger again, every day.

One stirring, haunting, magically endless note.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So perfect, so tragic…

So Anne Marie, tell me about Monsters and Angels in one sentence.

How about one picture?

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“We don’t choose who we love.”

                        -Sorcha Alden

The Calling

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Even thousands of miles away, hints bombard the senses, every minute of every day.

The burst of fresh coffee’s aroma, and the knowledge that it won’t be perfect.

A wall of air so steamy, it’s worn like soggy paper.

Silent fog, swirling, devouring all in its path without remorse.

Snippets of jazz, riding on a veiled wind.

The fleeting whiff of a long forgotten candle.

Whispers of spirits hidden in the midnight rain.

In her sultry voice, New Orleans is always calling us home.

Getting Away With It

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Empty? Maybe.

Silent? Never.

Hands on the clock crawl to that moment when day gives way to sultry dusk and all souls stir in their tombs, destined for midnight’s wicked frenzy.

This air buzzes with history’s notes—flashy keyboards and wailing horns. Floor boards creak underfoot, worn thin by musicians and their dancers, nobles and their courts.

Dazzling lights of royalty fell dark only once, born again amidst sapphire flame and victory bells.

Every chance I get, I sneak in, close my eyes and remember the devilry and decadence, incense and absinthe. Precious memories of brothers and sisters, fast friends and young lovers, chasing their dreams and tempting fate in the Golden Age.

We got away with all of it…

S