“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” –Mark Twain
On my first full day in New Orleans, I was left alone for most of my day. R had to work, so I woke early (even earlier when I remembered the two-hour time difference) and tried to plan for my time alone in the city. I spent my first hour catching up with my online obligations for my new job and then debated where to wander. I checked (and double checked…or triple checked) that I had the spare keys in my pocket (and that they worked…some things never change) and headed out into the streets. I packed a camera and went to see just what there was to see.
I started out searching for St. Charles to see the historic homes. I stopped at the corner to watch the street car pass and dodged through some traffic. I had big plans. I was going to find a coffee shop, get breakfast, and take in the neighborhood. I walked and gave myself whiplash looking at all the houses. Everything is old and wonderful. Houses are wrapped in cozy porches and balconies. They hide behind twisting wrought iron. Bricks are everywhere and broad, white columns stand tall watch. I could look at those buildings forever. I fell in love with the old, full trees shielding me from the sun and the bright colors splashing relief against the russet bricks. I kept watch for my destination and kept walking. And walking. And walking. I passed schools, towering and stately, and more of the delicious homes. And more.
After a half hour of walking, my feet were sore and the sun left few places to hide from its rays, so I turned to go home. I walked and savored the homes, the beauty of the old neighborhood. I stopped suddenly, overtaken with a sweet aroma: floral notes, melted with a fruity scent. I searched for what the smell could have come from, but could not determine its source. It smelled like a summer day in the South should. I lingered over water meter covers, the quiet beauty of something so mundane. Every street name, tiled into the cement from bygone decades, broadened my smile. Sweating and aching, I came to my final street crossing and looked at what I had missed before: St. Charles was the first intersection I had come to. Frustrated that I had missed the mark by so far, and reaffirming that Charlie Brown in me, I went inside to rest. My feet were blistered and face pink with the midday sun. So I showered, turned on a movie, and relaxed in the beautiful apartment, tiptoeing over the dark, hardwood floors and lounging under the ceiling fan.
R came home late, so we hurried to get cleaned up and head out for the night. We started by meeting two of her friends from school for dinner. I continued to step into a limbo of familiar-new with cajun-mexican food at Juan’s Flying Burrito: jerk chicken nachos. They were delicious and her friends were wonderful. They were funny and sweet and instantly treated me like one of the girls.
After laughter and dinner, we set off for the New Orleans Museum of Art for a night of Shakespeare under the stars. We wandered in, taking our program/fan from the children at the entrance, and got a drink. We spread our blanket on the grass and settled in as R pointed out acquaintances and professors. As A Midsummer Night’s Dream opened, I was more enamored with the experience than the play. We watched the beginning on a grass slope and then moved further into the garden for the bulk of the play. Trees spread overhead, dripping with moss and fairy trinkets, as the action unfolded in the hollow below. As I bored of the story, never one of my favorites, I noticed the moon beginning to rise. It was massive, yellow, magical. R noticed it too and we were transfixed. As the play closed, we followed the fairies around to a pond, where the cast rowed out onto the water to close. It was such a wonderful experience, unique and tactile–theater as it should be. We loaded up the blanket and left for a bar.
My single gripe about New Orleans is that smoking is still allowed in bars. Gross. But we entered and R warned me that it is a “pet-friendly” bar. We found stools and ordered drinks as a small wiener dog ventured across the floor, looking exactly like my own. He scampered off into the dark back room and we met more of her friends from school. They were beautiful, smart, outgoing girls and I felt a benevolent jealousy of her world. They are passionate and driven to make the world a better place, and have more fun than anyone I know. We drank and talked until late and then headed home. Smelly and blistered, my eyes were heavy and ready for some rest.
The play was delightful. It was a remarkable experience, sitting huddled with the crowd, rapt beneath the moon. We shared a magical night, sitting among the statues in the shadow of the museum. The bar was fun, seeing R in her world, her life at its most silly and joyful. I have felt recently, and my stroll through the neighborhood confirmed, that I was born at the wrong time. The cracked sidewalks and bumpy bricks tell a story. The houses are old, have endured and seen, adapted and withstood. I find comfort and peace in the beauty of the old, something that new, state-of-the-art can never bring. The steadfast trees and porch swings beckon me and welcome my soul home. For an hour, those streets were mine, and we both loved it.
“Over hill, over dale,/ Thorough bush, thorough brier,/ Over park, over pale,/ Thorough flood, thorough fire,/ I do wander everywhere.” –William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream