April 4, 2009
They say you can''t go home again. This is probably quite true. But, every once in a while, Chris and I make a journey that is lovely and bittersweet.
We spent last weekend in our first home, New Orleans. The trip was part business and part dining, two nights with an old friend, and a century or two removed from our adopted life.
This is a great time to drive the highways of Mississippi. Along the road, dogwood blossoms sparkle like snow on their frail branches, and grape-shaped clusters of wisteria drip from trees. The greens are softer than in summer, and the breezes.
We almost outran the violent storm that rattled Columbus. Unfortunately, it caught up with us right outside the city, a monsoon, with torrents so heavy windshield wipers were worthless.
In front of our friend''s house, I stepped out of the car into a muddy gutter. A shattered string of Mardi Gras pearls were partially submerged in the muck. "That''s so New Orleans," I thought. Broken beads and broken promises. I guess I can''t expect much more in a world where people fight over plastic that has value for only one day.
The city looks a bit better each time we go. More renovations, more landscaping. Some parts of town seem almost the same as before, the parts where wealthy people live, anyway.
That horrible witch, Katrina, descended, tragically, over three years ago. But, for most of us, the scars have not healed. She will forever be a part of the conversations. The storm has taken on a sacred tone, something spoken of quietly; never even one joke is ever made about her.
Saturday night we ate at Mandina''s, a Canal Street restaurant that probably fed our great-grandparents. A woman from the next table leaned over. "May I have the Crystal hot sauce?" she asked.
That, too, is so "New Orleans," the sort of thing that identifies a local. New Orleanians use Crystal, tourists use Tabasco. Knowing this makes me forever a citizen of "The Big Easy."
I closed my eyes and let the first bite of soft-shell crab melt into my tongue. Eating in that city is a religious experience, like communion.
Chris and I drove around on Sunday. The storms had moved on, leaving behind a perfect day, cool and sunny.
On St. Charles Avenue, trees displayed glistening beads caught in their up-reached branches. Maybe I was wrong about them having such fleeting worth. They were charming, a month after Mardi Gras, although still of no real value.
What was once a grand old funeral home, House of Bultman, is now a Borders Book Store.
We visited our old neighborhood in Gentilly. That area was very hard-hit by flooding from a twice-broken levee. (Thank you, Corps of Engineers.) People are living in about half of the homes on our street. Some structures have been razed, leaving gaps like missing teeth. Some are just empty.
A new family has moved into our old house. They must have liked those black and white striped awnings and the white-stained wooden gate we added. Both were still there.
I had splashed the door to my backyard studio with colors of hot pink and lavender and vivid yellow. It is now covered in plain white paint. Guess they weren''t fond of my kooky tropical colors. They also removed the word "peace," embellished with hearts and curlicues, that I painted on the front steps.
We drove around to some favorite sandwich spots, hungry for more poor boys, and more tastes of this city like no other. Most had not re-opened. However, we had a wonderful meal near the marina. Chris never gets enough of real New Orleans roast beef on French bread, with mayo and debris. I have trouble deciding, so it is an oyster-shrimp combo for me.
While eating, I bit onto something hard. One of my oysters hid a tiny, milky-white pearl. It is about as valuable as the muddy plastic ones. But, it gave me a sense of hope for my first favorite city.
We arrived home Sunday night, exhausted, and much later than we planned. While we were gone, the azaleas in our yard had exploded into a million blossoms of white and watermelon pink.
It was good to come home to my "children" and to Columbus. We missed them both.
Adele Elliott, a New Orleans native, moved to Columbus after Hurricane Katrina. E-mail reaches her at [email protected]
Adele Elliott, a New Orleans native, moved to Columbus after Hurricane Katrina.