Friday, September 09, 2005

Homage to New Orleans

Here is something I wrote after my visit to New Orleans a decade ago. It seems a fitting homage to the city's artistry, magic, and beauty as well as its contrasts, problems, and conflicts. (Especially telling to me now is that I went UP to the river and had a VIEW from there. Yikes.)


It's early; the shops in the French Quarter aren't open yet. I walk up to the river and along the levee. From up by the river I can look out over the city. It is a misty morning; all is calm. I hear the chugging of a boat as it slowly pushes a large barge around the bend toward the docks. Up here on the levee there are some hunched-over men, haphazardly distributed along the row of benches. They look like they've been up all night and are seeking the smooth calm of the early morning river. A low, soulful saxophone wafts through the mist in soft, mournful tones, and church bells ring in the distance. Somewhere the rattle of a jackhammer. The smoothness of the scene is broken by the quick movements of a black Labrador retriever, cutting down by the water and bringing in some drifiting wood. Eyes follow from the benches. As the lab climbs up the levee an old black man wearing an old hat totters up from his bench to greet the dog. Another man stands at his easel, quietly putting the finishing touches on an oil painting of a steamboat. Unlike the placid scene of morning mist and mournful saxophone in front of us, the river on his easel is turbulent, gray clouds swirling from his canvas. His brush, tipped with bright red paint, outlines the jagged trim on the steamboat. The color vibrates against the gray background like a throbbing blood vessel. The dog barks, the snag of driftwood is thrown down the levee again into the river. The process of recovery begins anew.

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