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Goin' Back to New Orleans, Part Five

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One thing this trip shares with every other journey I’ve ever made to New Orleans: I have the feeling I’m leaving too soon, that I had much more to do, to see, to experience. Tuesday night was another trip to that land where all could seem normal for a little while, a dinner with the cinematographer on a movie I just acted in and his New Orleanian costume-designer wife (they got married last year and had their reception at the Maple Leaf Lounge). They’d just done their own trip that afternoon through Lakeview, and at the meal’s beginning she seemed on the verge of tears. But this restaurant, Lilette on Magazine Street, has the full menu and the full wine list, and we had the full NO experience: several people wandering by our table, people that I or she or our other companions at the table knew. And the evening continued at a French Quarter bar, and then at my place, and its conviviality, and sinuously extending time-frame, reminded me of the days and nights that cemented my bond with the city.
Wednesday was another midsummer transplant, a balmy day with morning fog clearing into lazy high clouds. But just driving on an errand to a recording studio in the Bywater neighborhood--spared but not unscathed--one is reminded again: normally the debris on the streets in this city is the detritus of joy, beads and beer cans; now it is sofas and appliances and mattresses and furniture, the detritus of pain.
The studio was open, but lacking electricity. Power had been off since 7 last night, my friend Shawn explained to me, in a mixed mood of disbelief and resignation. It had gone off at 7 the previous week as well. Apparently, according to Shawn, the outage affected the Bywater and Marigny neighborhoods and had to do with flooded underground cables. I never understood electricity, and I don’t intend to start now, but somebody around here does.
My farewell lunch was at the bar of Herbsaint. There were no available tables, the place was jammed to the gills. In this topsy-turvy universe, things that normally bring sighs of impatience or worse--traffic, heavy commercial loads on the radio, a waiting list for a restaurant table--are instead harbingers of hope, signs of the commercial pulse of the city regaining some rhythm.
The waitress handling the bar area told me she couldn’t stay away. She’d gone to Kentucky, come back, planned to pack and move. Instead she’d gone up to Kentucky and retrieved some things and come back down. “It feels right to be here,” she said, before whizzing off to keep up with the frantic pace of orders. Another waiter told me he understands friends moving away, folks who had lost their homes. But he, whose home survived relatively well, said, “This makes me love the city more than ever.” On one side of me, two men from the restaurant business were discussing the merits of wines, and whose collection survived. On the other side, three men were reviewing cost estimates for a hospital rebuilding project, and the differential costs of doing it union and non-union.
Speaking of unions, WWL radio is reporting that a Democratic Congressman from Maryland, Elijah Cummings, is proposing holding the 2008 Dem convention in New Orleans, as the same kind of gesture as the GOP going to NYC last year. The radio hosts noted that, though this is an historically Democratic town, only the Reps have ever held a convention here, the “Read My Lips” conclave of 1988. The reason, one of them alleged, was that the Democratic organizers insisted on more rooms in unionized hotels than the city could provide.
The Continental/Delta terminal at Armstrong International Airport is lively with people. This is the terminal that only recently was the makeshift morgue at the site, but neither eyes nor nostrils can detect anything now except banal, wonderful normal airport life.
I am leaving too soon, but it felt right to be here.