10/30/2008

Guest post #2- "I'll always be in awe of New Orleans."

Our second guest post comes from my personal friend, Laurie, whose blog Small Red Stool chronicles her life as mom to an 8 year old daughter, Julia, and twins, Charlotte and Ella. Laurie always finds the "strange" in things and her photography finds beauty in the mundane. She writes about a New Orleans that often only locals can love.

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I was born in New Orleans, but my family left soon after my birth for the family ties and safety of Houma. From my Mom's perspective you could safely say that she fled from New Orleans. For her, New Orleans represented her difficult childhood. She had a real New Orleans Irish Channel accent, which gradually faded only to reemerge when she was surrounded by her family. She felt bitter toward the city where she grew up and considering her experience in it, I understand that.

Despite her dislike for New Orleans, she also felt the pull of family and we spent most weekends in New Orleans visiting her mom, her sister, brother, aunts, uncles, and friends. My Dad also had family there, so a good chunk of my free time as a child was spent in New Orleans.
My mom certainly felt relief after leaving, but eventually she developed a fondness for the city that she conveyed to us. We went to Cafe du Monde and Morning Call regularly. We spent lots of time – “On the beach, On the beach, On the Pontchartrain Beach. We'll have fun, We'll have fun, Everyday in the sun!” We hung out with her hard drinking, hard partying relatives. We visited her brother in his tiny, slope ceiling, saggy floored apartment in the French Quarter. We felt like the biggest nerds around her other brother and his family in their cramped, loud townhouse. We hung out with my Dad's relatives in Harvey and on the Westbank. We went to church in beautiful Catholic Churches devoted to making Saints and handing out relics. She told us about the famous French Quarter Duck Lady, who she said was a mean drunk. We played recklessly in my Aunt's little upscale store in Metairie. She showed us pictures of her handsome father in his Navy uniform, of her baby brother who didn't make it out of infancy, of her gorgeous mom before she lost a baby and before her husband left her to care for four children alone.
The place that will always define New Orleans for me is my Grandma’s duplex in the Irish Channel. It was a two story shotgun duplex. Across the street was a former orphanage, next door was a corner store (that place alone has its share of great stories), a few doors down was a smoky, dirty poboy shop that everyone swore by. My grandma owned the duplex and lived on the first floor of one side. After her mother died, she lived there with her giant dog. She was a heavy smoker and the entire place, including the dog, was covered in nicotine.
My Grandma basically lived in one room of the house and everything else was preserved exactly as it was when my mom was young. The front room was filled with heavy, old, gorgeous furniture. There was a piano that emitted a sound like a deep moan when any of the yellow keys were pushed. The stairway to the second floor was so thin, that half of the residents of the city probably couldn’t have made it up them. They were also so low that even my hunched great grandmother had to bend over to walk up them. By the time I visited, they were blocked by stacks of old newspapers. The second floor of that house was an unknown that has stayed in my imagination until this day.

My uncle, who happened to be gay and later died of AIDS, lived for a while on the other side of the duplex. That place was fascinating as well. There was an intricate painting of a pyramid on one of the walls. Within the pyramid were all sorts of images, including that all seeing eye from our currency. Every second I was able to I’d stare at that painting and wonder about who painted it, why they painted it, how long it took, and wonder over the fact that they painted it directly onto the wall. I knew there would soon be someone who didn’t want an all seeing eye in their living room and would paint over it. There was left over furniture on the second floor that had been painted in bright patriotic reds, whites, and blues.Those two sides of the same house, one inhabited by an elderly alcoholic and her big, gentle dog and other vacant, but still bearing the signs of my eclectic uncle, showed me a world which was so foreign and so unlike anything that I knew in my day to day. That house still shows up regularly in my dreams. The idea of lives filled with great family, tragedy, art, parties, friendships, drugs (how else could that crazy painting possibly have been born?) filled my imagination. My own home is filled with relics from that house. A swan neck sofa and bureau from that front room have found a new home here. I have little knickknacks here and there to remind me of that place. In a nutshell, all of the wonder and fascination of that one house on Washington Avenue is New Orleans to me. 
My mom didn't know it, but her portrayal of New Orleans and all the time she and my dad let us spend there as children, created a deep love of the city in me. I idealized New Orleans as a cure to the boredom of a perfectly nice, normal, loving family in a perfectly nice, middle class neighborhood. Little did she know that her descriptions of my grandma's devotion to Dixie Beer, late night card playing parties, and the wild Mardi Gras parties would do nothing more than build a sense of wonder in me. Luckily I still live only 1 hour away from the city.

My husband and I still have friend and family to bring us there. Anytime we need a couple of days away from the kids, New Orleans is the perfect escape. We both idealize living in the city. The reality is that jobs and schools will keep us where we are – comfortable in Baton Rouge. I’ll always be in awe of New Orleans though.

3 comments:

Brian said...

awesome, laurie...

I really envy you people who live in new orleans.

I walked around felicity street saturday morning in the lower garden district - it felt like a dream. I walked around slowly and examined each and every building- the abandonned felicity street methodist church, goregous homes. It's something I only do in new orleans.

Later Gator said...

Thanks Brian. One of the reasons I love photography is that it makes you really stop and look at things - even the things you see everyday, but wouldn't normally notice.

Cara said...

I love it! You also reminded me that I really need to get out my camera and start photographing this amazing city.

I especially like the picture of the fern hanging off the building.