New Orleans: a Personal History in Three Acts

I: August 2008

My relationship with New Orleans began in 2008, because one of my oldest, and dearest friends, Kijai, had moved there in 2007. At the time, I was one year out of college and working at a coffee shop in Chicago. I pulled together the money for a plane ticket, and took a week-long trip to visit Kijai in New Orleans in August.

That was bad planning. August is a terrible time to go to New Orleans. Between the heat and the humidity, I remember spending one afternoon lying lifelessly on my air mattress, trying to cool down.

But at the same time, I fell in love… here was a city like no other. Kijai’s apartment, for example, was a shotgun – rooms stacked one behind the other with relatively high ceilings, to promote natural cooling. Her roommate was Cajun, born and bred an hour and a half southwest of New Orleans on the bayous. She told me how the Acadians — later slurred to Cajuns — were exiled from Canada under British rule due to their refusal to give up their Catholicism “in 1755. I’m not too good with dates, but I remember that one”, and shipped along “like slaves”, never finding a place of acceptance until they reached the bayous of Louisiana. She told me, “in France we lived on the coast of Normandy, and in Canada we lived along the coast. So when we arrived in Louisiana, we felt right at home.”

I love history. I soak up that information. And perhaps what I love most about New Orleans is its mixed, varied history.

II: May 2011

In 2011, I went to New Orleans for the second time. What I really remember of that winter prior to my trip was how long and cold it was. This time, I was graduated from grad school, had returned to Chicago after a year in Spain, and had spent the past several months working at a publishers (at last). I was also broken up with due to that year in Spain (long distance, it turns out, almost never works), making that winter endlessly cold and painful, and so, I went back to New Orleans – back to the warmth, humidity, and Kijai.

It turns out, May is also not a good time to go to New Orleans. When I arrived, it was in the 90s. Another afternoon lying limp on the couch. But once again, I fell in love. New Orleans restored my soul. By the time I returned to Chicago a week later, it was summer, and things had changed.

III: February 2013

This time around, I had to go to New Orleans for one last time, because Kijai might be moving. She’s over New Orleans: over the heat, the bugs, the constant parties, the city life. She wants a quiet farm life in Massachusetts. So I had to go down there for one last visit while she was still there. We sat outside of Velvet, an espresso bar, (a favorite find of mine), drinking lattes as the February sun beamed warmly on our skin, and I said, “it’s the end of an era; maybe the last time we’ll all be in New Orleans together”, and she said, “well, you never know.”

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