This morning I drove out of the city that’s been my home for the last two years. I pulled away from the converted double shotgun in the Irish Channel with the gigantic banana tree in the front yard, I went along Tchoupitoulas where the river is right there! but you never see it, I successfully navigated onto the I-10 (a feat, I assure you), and I drove out of New Orleans with the Superdome on my right and Central City on my left. The Superdome where I once ate a piece of the world’s largest king cake ever made, and Central City where I learned to say, “How you doin’?”
It’s inevitable that when you live somewhere, and you live there intensely, every corner holds a landmark to something you did, or thought, or someone you were with. And I left all those landmarks today.
I grew into my own in New Orleans. Which is a banal revelation for someone their first few years after college, but it doesn’t make it any less true. I became friends with beautiful, magnificent people who are all incredible agents for justice and change, who challenged me, inspired me, and made me laugh. I had two jobs which I loved and which made me more knowledgeable and more ignorant than I ever would have thought possible. I became, perhaps more tangentially than I would have liked, involved in a synagogue of down-to-earth people who taught me a lot about Jewishness, family, and community. I read a lot of books and I watched too much TV and I ate a lot of food and I spent many glorious evenings outside in soft, heavy New Orleans air, listening to music and swatting at mosquitoes.
Damn, these were good years.
Now, I’ve read the blogs, and this is the part where I ramble on about what a unique city New Orleans is, how singular, how distinctive. How you go down there and you fall in love and you never leave. How the music pulses through the streets beneath the majestic oak trees and weaves a dynamic tapestry of blah blah blah.
I’m not going to do that.
New Orleans is obsessed with itself; it stokes the fires of its own myth with plentiful fuel, and it’s not just done by visitors or blow-ins like myself. Romanticizing about the city is a commonplace activity over drinks, at parades, in waiting rooms, during speeches – everywhere.
(To be fair, I do reserve particular ire for northern transplants who come down here looking for something “authentic” and then excitedly proclaim they’ve found it after they’ve been to a Second Line, drunk a beer outside, and had their first conversation with a poor black person. But that is a different blog post.)
So let me say this. The people I met in New Orleans weren’t any friendlier than people in other places. They weren’t tougher. They weren’t more resilient. They didn’t spout magical nuggets of wisdom as they walked down the street. They didn’t dance better.
They were just people.
And some of them were friendly, and generous, and surprisingly good dancers, and many were indeed able to valiantly rise, again and again, to meet the challenges they faced. And others were unkind, or unjust, and they despised second lines, and they were as plagued by fear and cowardice as humans can be.
New Orleans, like everywhere else, is full of people.
And like every place, it has its own quirks, its own parties, its own songs, its own football team, its own hardships, its own particular cultural fabric.
It feels sacrilegious even to suggest that New Orleans is not sui generis among American cities. But it is, and I feel this deeply, an incredible, incredible city. I found it at the perfect time in my life. It affected me deeply, and it was special to me, and it always will be.
I’m leaving New Orleans with reservations, which mostly manifest as voices in my head shrieking, “Why are you leaving? WHY?? Life in New Orleans has been a blast. Why would you turn your back on this?”
Well, I don’t know. I have an itch. And the itch is irrational, since it’s making me leave a life that I absolutely love and head into what could be a dreadful, painful mistake.
But there it is. I got fidgety. I have to go.