I have been obsessed with the Merry Old Land of Oz since I was a kid. Not too uncommon across generations, really. But my drive to want to BE there, in that childlike world-of-pretend sort of way, that way where you make every recess game another world, where you live it in your thoughts and dreams constantly, didn’t really start until Return to Oz came out in 1985.
I was 8 or 9 years old at that time, well-versed in the beloved musical Wizard of Oz from 1939, but something about the 1985 “sequel” really got my attention. I spent that whole summer hopping across the walking stones in various friends’ front yards, pretending that I was very gingerly crossing the Deadly Desert, that devastating terrain that surrounds Oz to protect it from the outside and rather mundane world. That scene where Dorothy, down in the Nome King’s palace, where she has to touch statues and say “OZ!” in the hopes of rescuing her friends, who had been turned into ornamentation? Fascinated the hell out of me – suddenly inanimate objects took on a life of their own. Who knew just what or who that statue really was? There was one little cat statue of my mom’s, white porcelain filigreed with gold inlay and some color etching, that I was particularly enamored with. At some point, along the way, during one move or another when she was getting rid of stuff, I claimed that cat statue for my own.
It still sits on a shelf near my bed to this day, and it still holds that same essence for me as it did when I was young.
Of course, Labyrinth came out the following year, and I found myself suddenly immersed in THAT world, another alternate plane of existence, another place a young girl could escape to and feel empowered. What really did it for me, though, with both of those stories, was that it made every single encounter and place magical to me. Suddenly, a moment stuck spending the night with my little cousin, who I could not stand because she got all the attention, didn’t seem so bad because hey, I could call on the Goblin King to come take her away any time I wanted to, right? Or, during the days, who knew what amazing and interesting thing I would stumble across at the turn of a corner?
But back to Oz.
Return to Oz got my attention, in hindsight, because it wasn’t a singing and dancing sort of film. It was darker, and therefore much more magnificent and relatable. Tragedy had occurred in that place of dreams. It was more realistic. Oz was broken and devastated and the Yellow Brick Road had potholes.
Is that why, then, I always fancied living here? In this crossroads where magic and reality intertwine? I walk a lot, and 90 percent of that walking is done down Brick Roads of my very own. It’s the nature of the city, the old brick banquettes. That’s how they did things back in the day and these sidewalks still exist, everywhere.
But they don’t look like Wizard of Oz roads. They are not flat and even. The idea of Dorothy dancing and skipping and singing down a Brick Road, yellow or otherwise, is downright laughable given that I have, very trepidatiously, found myself a couple of times wearing low heels a la Ruby Slipper tiptoeing my way along in fear of my very ankle, or neck, or scraped knee.
The terrain is crazy here. The earth below us is watery and unstable. The trees take over and they jostle those bricks around like popcorn. New Orleans Brick Roads are not danceable (unless, maybe, you’re in flat shoes but even if you’re not you dance anyway). They are meant to be revered and respected with, sometimes, a little bit of fear. They are Return to Oz roads: Uprooted and unwieldy through the ravages of nature and time and circumstances.
I was crossing Felicity St. when I had this realization. It was a gorgeous spring day, back when it was warm but not muggy, when one could walk and enjoy instead of trudge and gasp for air while sweating out souls. The sky was slightly overcast, which made the colors of the houses and emerging flowers POP like they do when the the light is grey in contrast. The air smelled like jasmine. It was quiet and serene and…magical.
That was when I looked down and realized I was crossing a Brick Street, reaching a curb and stepping up onto a Brick Sidewalk, and that combined with the colors and the smell instantly transported me to the world of my 8-year-oldness. My world of Oz, of pretending to cross the Deadly Desert and pick lunch barrels from trees. What an absolute moment of pure joy.
But these magical streets here come with a price. I have an acquaintance who has been beating the bricks in the French Quarter for over 20 years, who has incredible foot and ankle issues due to the drastically uneven and unpredictable terrain. I believe it. My mere year and some change stomping around here on a regular schedule, I believe it.
The Dorothy Gale of 1939 made it look easy. Dancing, skipping, hopping and singing all the way down that Yellow Brick Road. In low-heel vintage ruby red shoes, no less. Just think if they were made of silver, as they actually were in the books – NO tread there, to be sure. In reality, despite her physical manifestation of joy and hope, Dorothy’s feet were KILLING her. I know mine are killing me!
But I wouldn’t change a thing, because it doesn’t make these streets any less magical, for all of that.
Featured Image: Felicity Street