Feb 19, 201012:03 PM
Joie d'Eve

Living, loving, laughing, and learning in the new New Orleans

Take Me to the River

I can't imagine not living near the water.

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Beyond the fact that I’m a Virgo, I don’t know much about astrology, but I know enough to know that Virgo is an earth sign. If I knew more, maybe I’d know whether my intense attraction to water was a function of the moon under which I was born or the city where I was raised. Regardless, I –– for as long as I can remember –– have gotten great comfort from water, whether it was the trickle of the Horton Branch Creek on the North Carolina farm where I spent my first three years and quite a few childhood summers or the vastness of Lake Pontchartrain. I’m not a great swimmer, I don’t have the patience to fish, I canoe in circles, and I get a little bit seasick on sailboats, so I’m not sure why the water holds such appeal for me. I just like knowing it’s there, I guess.

Apparently, though, the only thing I know less about than astrology is geography –– because when I went away to college in Missouri, it took me entirely too long to realize that it was a landlocked state. It’s embarrassing to admit it: I mean, I made good grades in high school, got a scholarship to college, did well on my SATs, visited the campus –– and then, after I’d sent in my letter confirming admission, I looked at a map and had a panic attack. “It’s all surrounded by other states!” I told my mom, who looked at me with a combination of curiosity and exasperation as I gestured frantically with the atlas. “There’s no water! I feel claustrophobic just looking at it! It’s right in the middle of the country! The other states are just pressing in on it!”

“It’s the Midwest, baby,” she said as calmly and sweetly as she could, the way you’d talk to a tantruming toddler or a mental patient, both of which I was acting like. “The ‘mid’ part of that is short for ‘middle.’” She waited a few moments and then, unable to help herself, shouted, “How did you not know where Missouri was?!”

And then she took a deep breath; poured us both a half-glass of red wine; sat down with me and the atlas; and showed me that even though Missouri was surrounded by other states, the Mississippi and Missouri rivers still ran through it. “There is still water,” she said. “It’s just different.”

It was certainly different. The weekend I moved into my dorm room, my mom and I drove down to Lake of the Ozarks, a vacation destination about an hour south of Columbia. The lakes there are all man-made and jammed with Jet Skis, powerboats and sunburned old men. Lake of the Ozarks is a great place to go for funnel cake, Nazi memorabilia or a rousing game of Skee-Ball, and it’s even a pretty place to watch a sunset, but it’s not a place that soothes my soul the way water usually does.

After a few months at college, though, my friends Aaron and Whitney and I took an aimless day trip one Saturday afternoon and ended up on the banks of the Missouri River. Long after they’d lost interest, I was still standing at the edge of the water, just staring. It wasn’t Lake Pontchartrain, and I hadn’t forgotten where I was, but a part of me that had been restless for months suddenly felt calmer.

My senior year of high school and freshman year of college, I studied French literature, and one of the first tropes I got sick of was how much is made of the fact that the words for “the sea” –– “la mer” –– and “mother” –– “la mère”–– are homonyms.

“I get it, I get it,” I muttered to my best friend, Kate, who struggled with me through Tristan et Iseult, L’Ecole des Femmes, L’Etranger and Le Petit Prince. “The sea is your mother. It’s very symbolic, French people. Now let’s move on.”

But standing there, looking out across the Missouri, I suddenly felt kind of guilty for being so snarky. Because now, having been away from both water and my mother, I understood –– being so close to all that water made me feel almost as much at home as being with her.

Over the decade I spent in Missouri, many of my favorite memories were made alongside the river: eating the best Thai food that could be found in Central Missouri at a riverside trailer that just said “Thai” in Christmas lights on the side, drinking beers around a bonfire, sharing wine and cheese with friends in the bright-green early spring at the winery that overlooked the river, nursing my daughter at a picnic as the sun set over the bluff.

But the river was also where I went when I was sad: I sought out the quieter parts along its banks when I needed to get away from well-meaning people constantly asking me about New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, when my mom had a cancer scare, after fights with my roommates. And after I lost my first pregnancy at 14 weeks, I spent the day driving along the river, silent tears dripping under my chin, while my mom and husband were back at my house quietly throwing away the Preggie Pops and taking the ultrasound pictures and congratulatory cards off the fridge and stashing the baby clothes that people had already given me.

Even in a landlocked state, water was omnipresent in my life, flowing through all of my memories. Not to overstate the case, but the French were on to something; I never should have doubted the people who invented crème brûlée.

Anywhere that there’s water, there’s an uneasy peace with it: The Missouri was anything but comforting to residents who lost everything in the floods of 1993, and no one here needs to be reminded of how devastating water can be. But despite the risks, I can’t imagine not living near water –– real water, not the garish fakery of the Lake of the Ozarks.

Maybe it’s a Virgo thing, maybe it’s a New Orleans thing, maybe it’s a French thing, maybe it’s just a quirk of my personality. But even if the words for “water” and “home” aren’t remotely the same in any language, that’s exactly what it means to me.
 

Reader Comments:
Feb 19, 2010 02:15 pm
 Posted by  sscarbro

You described--very well-- something I have always felt. Being around the water brings peace and comfort. I can;t really explain why either. Whenever I used to get relaly stressed out in grad school, I would hop in the car at every break and drive to New Orleans.......and make a beeline to the river. It was as if I coudl suddnetly breath so much more calmly and all the stress washed off.

Love your blog. Happy Weekend

Feb 22, 2010 08:49 pm
 Posted by  musephoto

Thank you thank you thank you for your words, and, for sharing your heart as well as your love for home and water. I am in Nashville now (which I think is as landlocked as it gets???!!!). I miss the water most every moment. I lived in Lakeview before Katrina so my visits to Lake Pontchartrain happened almost every day. I often find myself trying to explain to others, who are not as enamored with water, how it soothes my soul. (I am a Virgo too) I appreciate your writings and am happy for your return home. I hope I will be able to return soon, perhaps sometime in 2010?? Thank you for keeping me connected to my city on the water. Peace to you.

Feb 24, 2010 11:43 am
 Posted by  nolainexile

I too am a Virgo and never realized my connection with the water until I ended up in Indianapolis after Katrina. I was so depressed by the surroundings and didn't figure it out until I flew home and burst into tears when I looked out the plane window and saw the lake. When I explained later that I just couldn't deal with being so landlocked, people here tried to make me feel better by taking me to the downtown canals and the White River (I could not believe they seriously considered that a river!) but it wasn't the same at all.

Thanks for making me feel less crazy.

Feb 24, 2010 05:14 pm
 Posted by  Evetoo

I grew up in Wisconsin and now live in Minnesota (and love New Orleans!). I feel the same way about water, having grown up next to Lake Michigan and now living next to the Mississippi and just a couple of hours from Superior, as well as like 10,000 lakes. Water definitely calms me, and I experienced what you described when I attended grad school in South Dakota - thank goodness for the Missouri River. (Did you know it goes there, too?!) Hey, I wonder if you know my daughter, who also graduated from the J-school in Columbia. Her name is Nissa. I'm sending her this link!

Feb 25, 2010 01:05 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

Baby you must have a Cancer moon (and I know I've asked you - oh no, it's Pisces isn't it?). I grew up beside a creek on a freaking island in the Pacific Ocean, and drowning twice makes me hydrophobic (and I don't mean rabid). I will only use water to clean. Give me dirt ANY day and you'll keep this double Virgo happy (as long as I can clean up later). And I do think that we need to be planting okra in your backyard!

-MA

Jul 29, 2010 05:10 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

I know exactly how you feel. I've never felt particularly comfortable in natural bodies of water (irrational fear of sea creatures) but I love being near the water. I drive across the spillway multiple times a week, and on clear, sunny afternoons I have to pull my eyes away from the water and focus on driving. I just love the look of it. Anyway, you put it much more eloquently than I could, but I just had to comment.

Tori.

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Joie d'Eve

Living, loving, laughing, and learning in the new New Orleans

about

Eve is further proof, if any is needed, that New Orleans girls can never escape the city. After living here since the age of 3 and graduating from Ben Franklin High School, Eve moved to Columbia, Mo., where she received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Missouri School of Journalism and became truly, unhealthily obsessed with grammar.

She had originally intended to strike out to New York City and work in the cutthroat magazine industry there, but after Katrina, Eve felt a strong pull to return home, to her roots, her family, her waterlogged and struggling city – and a much more forgiving work atmosphere that would allow her to skip a routine of everyday makeup and size 0 designer label business suits and enjoy the occasional cocktail or three with an absurdly fattening lunch. She moved back home in January 2008 and lives in Mid-City with her two daughters, Ruby and Georgia; her stepson, Elliot; and her husband, Robert Peyton.

Eve blogs about the joys and struggles of living in post-Katrina New Orleans, the unique problems and delights of raising a child in such a diverse and challenging city – including her experiences with the public education system – and her always entertaining and extremely colorful family.

Eve has won numerous writing awards, including the Pirates Alley Faulkner Society Gold Medal, the Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence award for column-writing and Press Club of New Orleans awards for her Editor’s Note in New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles and for this blog, most recently winning the award for "Best Feature Affiliated Blog."

She welcomes comments, advice, empty flattery, recipes, drink invitations and – most especially – grammatical or linguistic debates.

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