After graduating from Tulane University, I moved from The City that Care Forgot to the Holy Land, Israel. I traveled from below sea level to the lowest point on earth, traded cement levees for the Western Wall, replaced the Holy Trinity (for my foreign friends, that’s celery, onion and bells) for hummus, and eventually settled in yet another hot and humid city in the suburbs of Tel Aviv.
While I was abroad, I often caught myself talking about New Orleans. Many of the people I met abroad only knew New Orleans by name: some remembered headlines about Hurricane Katrina, others had heard musings of Mardi Gras or were self proclaimed jazz enthusiasts.
How do you talk about New Orleans to someone who doesn’t know us while trying to sound sane? We define our four seasons by Carnival, crawfish, snoballs and football. We host impromptu dance parties in the streets with brass bands and umbrellas, and you can get drive-thru alcohol in a geaux cup on the same block as an antique cathedral. Once a year, the city shuts down for a week of colossal parades in which we all ditch work to do backflips for heaps of plastic beads and cheer for ephemeral local royalty.
The truth is, I missed the city the way I missed a dear friend. She has, after all, been a part of my family for decades. New Orleans knows my past, my present, and my future, seemingly before I know it myself.
Though I was not raised New Orleans, I never spent more than a few months away. My parents brought me to the city just days after my birth to meet my relatives and receive my Hebrew name at Temple Sinai. As a child, I played Mardi Gras from the balcony at my cousins’ house, yelling “throw me somethin’ mister!” as beads and plush throws rained down upon my brothers and me. I was in high school when Hurricane Katrina sent a tree flying through the house my mother grew up in and submerged my uncle’s home in Lakeview, and I watched my family pick up the pieces. Several years later, I would follow in my grandparents’ footsteps to college, and proudly graduate from their alma mater in a new yet stronger New Orleans.
With all of my history in the city, it should be surprising that my intention was not to stay after my homecoming from Israel. I wanted to get out of my comfort zone and start my career someplace new and ambitious: New Orleans, it seemed, just wasn’t serious enough for that. So, upon my return to the USA, I booked a visit… but only for a week.
When my plane touched down at Louis Armstrong International Airport, I was flooded with a sense of relief. The city embraced me warmly. My heart filled with joy to see the streetcars of St. Charles Avenue rumbling past the beads of Carnivals past hanging on to power lines. My eyes opened wide when I first caught the smell of café au lait wafting through the moss soaked trees. I reveled in the familiarity of opulent antebellum mansions erected around ornate stone mausoleum cities, and laughed with the snoball lady on Plum Street as I sheepishly explained why it had taken me so long to visit her. I spent most of my time reconnecting with professors, friends, and family. In turn, I reconnected with myself.
On my way to visit family one evening, I was caught off-guard by a mid-summer parade thundering down Carrolton Avenue. Traffic came to a halt to make way for the brass band leading the dance troupe and hundreds of gallivanting krewe members marching across the neutral ground. As the sea of sequins, boas and lights cascaded down the avenue in the glow of the fading sunlight, I knew this was my call to come home.
So I digress. I’m going to stay after all, at least for a little while. I missed New Orleans.
Do you know what I mean?