This past Friday, I had it in my overly-active mind that it would be a Good Idea to spend 9 hours on foot in the Garden District, wandering the Magazine St. corridor. See, J is working now (YAY!) on ‘Zine St., often needs the car for work, and this thereby renders me stranded in The Room for days at a time. I accomplish a lot of writing and searching and things, during those stretches, but sometimes one feels the need to get out into the world, non? Thus, my Good Idea. Wandering in the June heat. I am awesome. Anyway, I had a couple of opportunities to sit and write as the day progressed, and after pondering how on earth to document this caper, decided to post verbatim what it was that I scribed in Ye Old Spirale that day, whilst also including photos and commentary throughout. The occasional downward spiral of my mood in these journal-type entries is hilarious, in hindsight. Watch out, this is a long-un.
As I write this I am tucked away in the second room at the Community Coffee House on Magazine Street. Iced Chai Latte, water, and croissant at hand, I can’t quit staring at the Stephen Wanger recycled Mardi Gras bead art that lines the walls, all of which celebrates some aspect of the city. Pelicans, magnolias, Fleur de Lis, the ubiquitous daiquiri. What fascinates me the most, though, is the largest piece in the room, an appropriately flashy map of the entire city of New Orleans.
I have never, ever known a city that is just so…recognizable…at first glance: the curving crescent of the river and the way neighborhoods nestle willy-nilly around it. Nothing, NOTHING, runs in a straight line around here. You THINK you’re oriented until some street comes jutting out at you unexpectedly, making you second-guess what the next block actually will be. Which is what happened to me about 20 minutes ago when I decided, while walking down Prytania, to cut up St. Mary back to Magazine. Suddenly, there was Sophie Wright angling at me from God Knows Where and I had this brief lost and agoraphobic moment. “O god, will Magazine actually turn up next or am I suddenly lost at the drop of a hat? Is the street crooked, or am I?” One inevitably survives these things, however.
And now I am sitting here because, although I’ve only been on foot for 30 minutes, from 8:45 to approximately 9:15 a.m., sustenance and cold liquids seemed very suddenly a necessity.
It is dim in here, and cool. The only other occupant in this room is a young student-type, black shorts grey shirt, who is crashed out curled up face down on the booth bench along the far back wall. He periodically jolts to consciousness to check the time on his phone. Works here, waiting for his shift to start? Finished a shift, waiting to go to class? Who knows.
The AC is finally doing its work and I once again feel refreshed and a little more dry. 10 minutes ago, I was sweating like a demon from my 30-minute walk. It was while stepping over broken sidewalk bricks on Constance, rivers of sweat trickling down my back and turning me into a walking fountain (“Quick, throw spare change at me and make a wish!”) that making my way to the coffee shop suddenly became a grand journey to mecca.
I have hopes for today. Today, I am seeking signs: “Help Wanted” and “For Rent,” particularly. I am exposed to the elements until 5:30 this evening, wish me luck.
For now, right this very second, it occurs to me that I am doing precisely that which I have dreamed of doing for years: sitting in the Community Coffee House on Magazine St. in New Orleans, WRITING. It may not be Great Writing, but it’s writing.
The recycled bead art reminds me of Haitian drapo.
Over many things, right now, I am in awe.
Lunchtime. I remember, now, a certain solace that writing provides. It keeps one occupied and assuages the awkwardness of dining out alone. Particularly when one most certainly looks a fright. I am DRENCHED in sweat. The restroom mirror just confirmed my miserable appearance.
(o god this curry chicken salad croissant sandwich thing is fantastic)
I have 5.5 hours to go. I’ve been Uptown and back. It is so hot I could curl up n croak. Thank heaven for eateries, coffee shops. I have walked into a sweaty madness, and thus far it has not yielded a thing. Let’s not ever do this exact thing again, m’kay?
F**k this. Haha.
I think I’ve hit my ceiling. I am back full-circle now, to the Community Coffee House, this time with some sort of awesome Irish Cream frozey coffee thing, and more water. Dripping. Feet screaming. Hips falling out. It is funny, though, that while standing there waiting for my order, a very nice gentleman gave me highest compliments on how cute I look (it’s the purple hat, I know it), despite my drenched red face and hair under my hat that is, still, literally running with sweat. Plop, plop, splash, drip.
I have noticed that this back room, now that it is more inhabited, is the Plugin Room for those folks with laptops. I am now in a space full of students who are busting out their last bits before Summer. I remember that well, and it is comfortable in here.
It is a…panicky feeling. Being alone and hot and hurty and exhausted and out in the World with no place to sit and no easy access to shelter and, most important here, cool air, unless you pay for it. It makes me feel very grateful for what I’ve got. A profound and eye-opening experience today, from that perspective.
But damn. I was so certain SOMETHING would happen today. That magical For Rent sign, that welcome Help Wanted. Not today. This tactic today has been largely ineffective, as there is simply too much ground to cover for someone on foot, in this heat. Out of necessity, my various routes today have been dictated by Where the Shade Is. If a block ahead is swathed in sun, I veer toward another stretch that offers shelter.
(From now, until about the end of September, the “Sunny Side of the Street” is a vastly overrated place.)
So who is to say that I swung down that shady path earlier, and that Sign was actually on the next block and if I’d chosen to endure a stretch of fire, that would have been IT? Who is to say, indeed?
Some good things have come out of today, though. New Orleaniany things. At some point along the way, I decided to wend all the way back up to St. Charles. I’d not yet, because rentals seem to be scarce between Magazine and St. Charles, and the ones that DO exist are usually WELL out of our price range. By that time though, post-lunch, I decided to take a break and wander that direction and just let myself drift for awhile. No charting courses, no thinking, just moving on instinct, and shade comes in battalions up thataway. I last-minute decided to cut up Washington and eventually discovered that I was standing face-to-face with Commander’s Palace. An icon. It made me smile. I had already chippered up considerably, walking those blocks, where the trees take over and it’s all shade and a breeze was passing through. And, of course, finding myself on the corner of Washington and Coliseum meant that the Lafayette Cemetery was RIGHT THERE.
Of course, I took a Lafayette Cemetery break. Simply because I was on foot, in the Garden District, in New Orleans, and…I COULD.
This meant that I did exactly the opposite of what everyone tells you NOT to do down here: wander around the city’s Necropoli all by yourself. No companion, no tour group. Hence, no backup. It was wonderful. Quiet.
I wandered aimlessly, just FEELING the place and enjoying the invisible company. I came upon a crossroads while there, where the two main paths through the cemetery intersect, and stood there awhile. It seemed appropriate.
It goes without saying that I was not dumb about my solitary vigil within the cemetery’s walls. There is a reason why they tell you not to wander these spaces alone. The crypts are tall, the paths winding. There are a ton of nooks and crannies for the bad folk to hide, the better from which to, say, jump out and mug you. Or worse. Being stubborn and independent, but NOT an idiot, I kept the other pairs and groups of roamers in plain sight, or at least plain earshot, the entire time, while still maintaining a moderate amount of distance by which to maintain my self-induced isolation. It worked out just fine. I am here to tell the tale. So there.
Because of those winding, cryptic mazes, in addition to the fact that the cemetery has multiple gated entrances, it is easy for the place to potentially turn one around and cause a very strong sense of disorientation. The gate spits you out, and where are you then?
I was pleased to discover that when I exited through a gate other than the one by which I had entered (backwards, of course, which gained some curious tour-folk glances), I knew exactly where I was. Hurrah for the honing of imbedded internal radar. I was programmed from birth, I think, to live here.
Clouds had started to roll in during that adventure. Alas, it is sunny again, much to my dismay. The sense of well-being and rest that I had obtained prior to my egress from hallowed ground was short-lived. I made it to St. Charles and back, barely, which is what finds me once more perched in a corner at the Community Coffee House.
I’m feeling a little better now. The AC has dried my beet-red face, although my hair is still totally sweat-wet because things just Do Not Dry Here. I have now become proficient at consuming my beverages as Slowly as Possible, in order to maximize my time in this blessedly cool corner. If I milk this for another 30 minutes, I’ll only (only!) have 2 hours left to wander before I can call this madness quits. Here goes nothing!
And, SPLAT. In the car. What a grueling and interesting day, equally full of alternating miseries and joys. At the end of it all, it was worth it. I have confirmed that this really is my neck of the woods, the area where I want to establish a Home. My inner map is further solidified. My purple hat is popular. All is well. I’m fairly certain I have blisters to tend to.