Thursday 29 November 2007

Getting mixed up with the boogie

I remember a moment from the short time I lived in New Orleans. It was early August in the French Quarter, a day or so after the hurricane winds brought all the hot torrents of rain to drench us. Those rains sent me into the Marriott Hotel on Canal street to get dry before getting soaked through again. I squelched across the lobby to the ladies, sat under a hand drier for half an hour, then met the rain again, walking almost the full length of Canal street to the St. Charles streetcar which carried me home to Prytania street, more soaking than I have ever been before or since, in clothes or out of them. An evening beer has rarely tasted so good.

By then, I had decided that I was pretty much living in New Orleans. I just couldn't imagine leaving. It was a common and pernicious kind of experience that happened to people when they spent more than a wild weekend in Nola. She sort of seeped into you. It was the magic and the sensuality and the earthy natural energy of the place, mixed with the boogie and the pollution and the swamp magnetism, that made it a very easy place to get stuck in, especially when the humidity was high. It was also incredibly easy to find your way through, once you actually slipped under the skin of Nola.

And right after the heavy rains, it was quiet in the quarter. Summertime was low season, anyway. Even at that, I never really spent much time in the French Quarter, I usually hung out over in the Marigny, or uptown altogether. But this evening I was strolling past Jackson square, along St. Ann street, and there was a man standing on the sidewalk, in under an awning to shelter from the rain, a dark figure on a dark and by then lightly rainy street, and he was singing a tune to the hot mist and the rain and the empty street as I walked through it. And I saw him and listened to his song, and he didn't have a go-cup sitting by his feet, or a cap upturned to catch passing falling change, and he was just standing there, eyes closed, enraptured, singing to the street, the sound of his heart calling out to the air in Nola to meet him there, the sound of the life of Nola meeting him there, the life of Nola inside him, where she dwelled, rightly. And I watched this man, and I felt it, I got it. This was really the only appropriate response to the question of New Orleans. To sing to her, to woo her, to love her in the way she likes, with softness on a hard day, with boogiesounds, with rhythm. And so she comes rushing in.

Cities live inside us, in ways we don't always recognise. Places do that, whether city or wild nature. And cities have character, have spirit, that magnetise us in different ways, bring out different aspects of us, depending on the particular vibe of the particular city. They bring out different activities, too.

I spent January of this year in Barcelona and Berlin. Barcelona was warm and sunny, and I swam in the sea and strolled around in my high heeled boots, wandering through the labyrinths, hanging out in the Pla├žas, kind of entranced, for the most part, and spending my days with a new friend I made on my first evening there. It's always fantastic when you meet a fun chica friend, and in Barcelona, that would be Tina.

And then I went to Berlin, and there was a hurricane on the second day, and it was dark and cold and I wandered the very wide streets and felt the blood of northern europe circulating in me again, and I found it hard to get talking to people and I felt kind of lonely so I bought a notebook and three crayons and made my fun inside that notebook wherever I wandered, in my Barcelona high heeled boots.

I snaked around Europe this year, ended up in New York city on what seemed like a whim that landed me home. That's what this place feels to me. Home. Home is, of course, a moveable feast, when you live the way I have these past few years. But home also feels like staying. Here.

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