A patchwork bayou landscape, cypress and pine dressed in spanish moss, that sepulchral lace, slid past our plane as we approached the airport. The alabaster smokestacks of big pharma up The River glow orange from the work-lights. As the swamp climbed to meet us, a sense of comfort and consternation both descended upon me. Oh Louisiana, I’ve missed you, but I could never live you.
For the haunting swampscapes that surround the silt-strong river, the whispering oaks stirred by moisture-land winds, and the stately manors built atop the bones of prejudice and intolerance, were my first taste of the America beyond the Pacific Northwest. Here I met the woman I love and wooed her as she wooed me. Here I found my writer’s voice, earned my Bachelor’s, learned to speak my mind without alienating even my allies. Here I met some of my most enduring friends, learned both self-reliance and interdependence, and mastered the arcane art of holding one’s liquor.
While we’re together again, let’s ignore the bad. I’ll forget the sweltering summers, the pearls and polo Ts conformity, the presumption of identical thought. I’ll forget the gunshots near campus at night, and the sirens that left me wakeful and worrying long into the AM. I’ll forget the presumption that I’d wake up one day to right thinkin’, get a stable job, a crew cut, an SUV and a McManse in the ‘burbs. I’ll forgive the delusion that my skin-color determined my opinions, or made me an oppressor with neither my awareness nor consent, especially knowing other phonemes truly got the worse of those cards down here.
When I visit, it’s easy to ignore all that, to focus instead on the subtle mysteries of your cypress-knotted bogs, rather than the logs that’re really gators and the sparrows that’re really mosquitoes. I’m not thigh, knee or even ankle-deep in bayou, I’m just skirting the edge. From my now-tourist’s eyes, I espy the drool-inspiring but palate-scorching cuisine, the raucous jazz, the friendly waves everyone gives a passersby. I admire the wavelets of Pontchartrain as I cross the Causeway Bridge. And I miss what I’ve left behind to return to a gray west coast existence of mountains and rain.
I’ve missed gumbo and jambalaya, and think, where’s better to get some than down here? I’ve missed the sunset over the Lake from the Mandeville waterfront. I’ve missed the LSU Quad’s tan walls and red-tiles roofs and the great oak trees stretching higher than all but the clock tower. I’ve missed The Chimes Cheese Fries dunked in gravy, a sweet Red Woody (graveyard of Lambic Framboise and Abita Red) washing the savory down. A culinary coronary waiting to happen, but do I care? Not a bit. I’ve missed Thai Kitchen’s yellow curry, my favorite when I’d bussed tables there. I’ve missed David Chang’s Koto, the best sushi place in Baton Rouge.
And I’ve missed all my friends. Have I missed them. Despite a large and growing transplant community of Louisianans that know me up in Seattle, you can’t win ’em all. It’ll be good to catch up with my friends too.
And that’s not even talking about that big busy port at the bottom of the boot. New Orleans is too big for one blog, too big for my mind. The bustle, hustle, crime and corruption, the performers and panhandlers, the pecans and pettifores, the flea markets and the flagellation that begins the day after Mardi Gras. That huge, polluted city with the big heart straining against the treacle-like arterial traffic jam. The nights at Hard Rock Cafe, then hitting a concert at House of Blues. Better than Ezra, the last time. The walks along the big river, jazz bellowing from the French Quarter. Beignets and coffee at Cafe Du Monde.
Oh Louisiana, I still love you. Take me back.
For these ten days, at least.