I stood at the Bienville Street Wharf under a heavy post-storm sky. As the gulls swooped and swarmed over the river to claim as their own that which the rains had kicked up, and the wind careened through my hair, I closed my eyes and just…listened.
The greedy gulls, the thwap-slosh-thwap of the river slapping up against the wharf, the tolling of the St. Louis Cathedral bell, and ship sails whipping in the wind. I allowed it all to flood my ears, giving me a sense of Place, of where I was. How happy am I, I thought to myself, to live near the water at last.
The Bicentennial of the War of 1812 kicked off last week, beginning with NOLA Navy Week here in New Orleans. Last Tuesday, nine ships, from all over the world, and which included the Navy, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Operation Sail, rolled in and made berth on the Mississippi river.
Several evenings before, we had received an invitation to go to the Chalmette Battlefield to witness the Baratarians as they fired cannon salute to the ships as they arrived – I hear tell that the Eagle even saluted back! That, in itself, was a shame to miss. But, given my last-minute second job interview late-morning that day, and then the furious rain that shortly followed, we did not make it to the river to watch them sail in and dock. However, once things settled, we did arrive that evening to see, and revel in their presence. I am glad we did – it afforded the ability to see them calmly, in a low-density crowd, before diving into the massive visiting hoard the next day. And it gave me that moment, that moment of stillness and Place, that listening…to the ships, and to New Orleans herself. With my eyes closed, it was 200 years ago, again. What magic.
Ship tours for the afternoon were fairly well over by the time we made it down. No matter, we would be there the next day for all of that. Thus, we ambled by the tall ships, all Barques, and gawked, and geeked out, and jumped up and down a lot.
First, there was the Guayas, from Ecuador.
We eventually bade the fair vessels a “see you tomorrow,” and traded the windy riverside for dinner at Cafe Maspero in the Quarter. After feeding ourselves copious amounts of shrimp, we took a walk around, had a drink. By that time, the first night of SHOOOORE LEAAAVE was in full effect. What a neat thing, to have those sailors in town. The internationalism of it, of passing by uniformed clusters of seamen having a good time and knowing they were from the US, England, Canada, France, Indonesia, and Ecuador, to name a few…that, combined with my earlier eye-closing, and hearing nothing but the toll of the cathedral and the wind in the sails…really gave me a taste of what the old original Port City of New Orleans must have felt like, once upon a time. At least a little.
That’s the thing about this city. Her history is still so tangible, just under the surface. And it doesn’t take too much to find yourself reaching out, able to touch it.
Next: On Board!
Featured Image: Eagle Rigging