New Orleans, 1998
Written by Calliope Pappadakis   
Wednesday, 15 October 2014 13:10

May New Orleans

“In other places, culture comes down from on high.  In New Orleans, it bubbles up from the streets.” ~Ellis Marsalis

There is an alleyway that runs longer than the width of Jackson Square that sits between the garden of the square and the cathedral behind it.  The ground below our feet is paved with bricks and blacktop.  There are benches that line the wrought iron fence around the square and some fall randomly around the alley.  Facing the cathedral, Bourbon Street and the French Quarter are to the right of the alley and St. Charles Avenue is to the left.  Behind us are the Mississippi River and her boats.  The wooden benches are filled with musicians and their instruments, and a few artists join them with their work covering the impromptu exhibit.

Directly in front of the cathedral, the loudest band gathers the most attention.  The guitar player closes his eyes and moans as he strums, “Oh sweet Jesus, I got the lovesick blues…”  He’s placed the dingy white five-gallon paint bucket between his torn gray tennis shoes.  His big toe hangs out of the left one.  Passersby throw change into the bucket and children excitedly run up and drop in their pennies and nickels, after a glance inside. There is a percussionist banging on the lid of a rusty metal trashcan and a dented tambourine.  Next to him, the saxophone, tuba, trumpet, banjo, and squeeze box lead their musicians into a melody of Dixieland jazz and blues.

It’s mid-April and already the southern humidity is rising off the river and swamps, and drifting through the hazy air. My backpack is sticking to my wet shirt and my hair is clinging onto my neck and face.  I can smell beignets, fried food, horse manure, warm pralines, and a breeze emerging off the muddy Mississippi. Tourists, strapped down with fanny packs, diaper bags, and maps, are snapping photos of the Dixieland bands. We are each wearing beads from our visit with Momo earlier that day.

I am surrendering myself to this moment, wondering where it will take me. PaPa takes out his handkerchief and wipes the sweat from his forehead.  He is holding all six jackets my friends and I brought along for the chilly morning air.  He has a far off look in his eye, gazing past all of the familiar events of the city, looking at another time.  I wonder if he is thinking about Memo or life when he was my age.

By the end of the afternoon, we’ve walked around the entire city, danced in the alley to the beat of an old tambourine, eaten oyster Po’boys, drank warm Miller Lite, and seen more than we wanted to on Bourbon Street.  It’s already dusk and we head back to the country in the green minivan with Mac Rebenack telling us about the “right trip, but the wrong car.”  His words are all too familiar.

It grows dark quickly and the stars come out clearer than I imagined.  I look out the window and feel Kristie’s head on my shoulder.  I see a shooting star and think of Mama.  I close my eyes and consider of how far I’ve come since I left this place years ago.

April 1998