31 August 2005

The Man With the Paper Hat

This is my first blog.

I actually created the template a couple of weeks ago at my husband’s suggestion, but have been waiting for something brilliant to strike my brain before I committed to an official post.

Confession: I am one of those people who feels like when I do something, especially something others will see or read, it needs to be excellent or at the very least worthwhile. Okay, it needs to be excellent.

Well, nothing brilliant has come to me, but I feel like this is a good time to write because of what has happened. New Orleans is under water.

I will admit that when I first heard that Hurricane Katrina was heading toward Louisiana last Sunday, my immediate reaction was to fear for the city more than the people. Of course now, as I listen in disbelief at Shepard Smith's report on Fox News, seeing images of all the destruction behind him---people wading through filthy water up to their chests, carrying bags of stolen groceries just fighting to survive--now my concern, my sympathy, has turned to an appropriate place.

But before that reality set in, when the devastation of New Orleans was just a suggestion, I thought first of all my many memories in the land of Café Du Monde and Jackson Square. My husband proposed to me there, under a little tree in the center of Plaza d'Armas park on the most beautiful Sunday morning I can ever remember. St. Louis Cathedral looked over us and the azaleas were bursting with the first blooms of spring. We had just eaten crepes at our favorite bakery, La Madeleine, on the edge of the square. It was such a happy, perfect day.

You know that scene in Jerry MaGuire when Tom Cruise and Renee' Zellweger are standing at the curb next to the U-Haul truck and the Dorothy character is about to take her little son Ray and move to San Diego? Then at the last minute Jerry comes up to her and asks her to marry him and he takes her sunglasses off and her eyes are filled with tears of joy. Well, when my husband proposed it was a million times more sincere and romantic than that...but…

[Just now I paused my writing, having noticed out of the corner of my eye that my husband was in the kitchen draining some hamburger meat and feeling a pressing urge to hop up and make sure he had cooked it sufficiently, as if hamburger meat is difficult to cook. We are preparing dinner for some friends who recently had a baby. Nothing fancy, just spaghetti and crescent rolls, but I want to make sure it’s good and done right. God bless my husband. I really need to relax.]

As I was saying…when my sweet and capable husband proposed to me in New Orleans, it was a bright Sunday morning and I was wearing sunglasses. We were sitting on the grass and he asked me to marry him and I said yes. And he reached up and took off my sunglasses and my eyes were filled up just like Renee' Zellweger’s.

Then we climbed into one of those horse-drawn carriages and rode around the French Quarter and basked in the bliss of our new engagement. And went for coffee at Royal Blend Café’, because every time we go to New Orleans we do more coffee-drinking than anything else. In many ways, it is our city. We’ve been there together only a handful of times for quick weekend visits, but we’ve claimed it as our own.

I already miss those sticky powdered-sugar-laden mugs at Café’ Du Monde, where you can get a heaping plate of beignets for less than $3.00. A man with a little paper hat who might have worked there since 1959 brings them to you. I miss the peculiar but lovable street performers, crazy people who paint their entire bodies metallic silver and stand for hours in the streaming hot sun, imitating the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz for a hatful of pocket change. I miss the jazz, the art galleries, the streetcars, old hotels and quaint little shops, brightly colored beads and moss-flung balconies, even the strange and unidentifiable aromas that float along Bourbon Street. The ones that are a mixture of Gumbo and daiquiris and Lord knows what else.

New Orleans is a city unlike anyplace else in the world. And I know it’s the people who have made it what it is. The people are the history and the sounds and the colors of a place, when I think about it. I wonder if it will ever be the same.