New Wil'ins. Nawlins. New Orleans, NOLA or simply, as it is also known, The Big Easy, is a special place that holds some of my most defining life memories. And as flavor-fully as Messy Mya preached, "What happened at the New Wil’ins?" I, too, made my grand reappearance to the place I called home for nearly eleven years of my young life, crowned with Messy Mya's SLAY-tastic, "B****, I'm back by popular demand" attitude in search of the answer I'd wondered about for years: What happened? In particular, what has changed since Hurricane Katrina snatched not only edges and wigs, but the LIVES of thousands of people who hadn't means to flee to safer areas? What happened to the place, the city I grew up dreaming about experiencing as an adult to see if it really is as magical as it appeared to the kid-version of myself? What happened?
Since moving out of Louisiana at the tender age of "I hate the world and everyone in it" and "puberty is the bane of my existence," or rather, thirteen years old, I had not been back since my mother packed my brother and myself up and bused us down to good 'ole STAND YOUR GROUND Florida in the summer of 2004. By this point, Hurricane Katrina's wrath was not even a thought nor did I for see the fact that it would have taken me well over a decade to see some of the people that I grew up with and loved as my dearest and best of friends again. I had no clue that my family would not venture back to the place we called home for, at the time, the majority of my life. However, as life goes, it flows in ways one never suspects. It is then up to us to flow with it or against it — pending, of course what it is we are trying to seek. Naturally, however, I flowed with life, as best I could until finally, the opportunity to visit the place I still, to this day, claim as my home, shown down upon me. Managing to keep in touch with friends from my childhood via the wonders of social media throughout my high school and collegiate years, the plan was set in motion after months of loosely entertaining the idea of a visit. In tow, was my excitement and nervousness as well as my best friend, Jennel. Together, we got in FORMATION, booked our MegaBus seats, and traveled, quite uncomfortably for nearly as long as I hadn't lived in Louisiana down to NOLA. Upon arrival, the familiarity of parts of NOLA set in quickly as the nostalgia of sitting in the back seat of my Dad's BMW as he drove my mom to work came flooding back into the front of my memory. It was during those moments as a kid, that my brother and I got to spend a few fleeting moments in the city without waiting on the fair to come through, Mardi Gras or some big festival. It was, unlike the departure, a bittersweet moment. Fleeting, but for the smallest of moments, it still felt like home. A home away from home.
Unlike in my youth, the city, as I remembered it, seemed so big. So grand. Yet, as our bus began to quickly approach the terminal, I saw the dirt, the grim, the hard times of a city that was still trying to recover from a disaster that reshaped it's face permanently. No longer did the city feel so big. No longer did it seem as grand. Now, it was very much to scale. It's beauty only seen in the eye of the beholder, NOLA was not glamorous. However, the one thing, that remained was the magic. The magic in the air, the architecture, the food, the music and spirit of the city was vibrant and full of a LIFE you can't get just anywhere. Given, I am now a tourist to the city, the magic wasn't hard see since I was not there to see it's fall, it's struggle, and it's slow rise back into grace. It's much harder to see the magic in the place you live day in and day out. But for me, since it had been nearly 12 years since I had left, the city still managed to have a magic quality about it that I cannot attribute to any other city in this nation.
That said, the overall experience exceeded my expectations. I hung out with my childhood best friends from Elementary and Middle School (one of which hosted Jennel and myself for the entire stay - BIG UPs to Ashley for making our trip to NOLA just that more worth it). I bought a fan. Learned the language of the fans — subsequently becoming a lady with savage courting skills (*insert dry sarcasm*). I had gumbo again. Good and Okay. I had GOOD beignets again. I had a little crawfish. I had pralines that blessed every entire inch of my soul. I had a fried shrimp po' boy. I had FRIED CATFISH — of which I had not had in YEARS! I had bread pudding. Dined a fancy restaurant with COURSES – something I haven't done since I studied abroad in Europe. I even, in my adult-womanhood, partook in the open-container "everyone day-drinks" to pre-grame for the French Quarter night life with a frozen hand grenade in tow. Honestly, I was, in my Drake voice, "WAY UP!" I was BLESSED (*insert appropriate Patti Labelle praise break*). It was a well spent long weekend with GOOD food and even BETTER people. I could not have asked for a better re-introduction to a state that I've always held dear to my heart.
So, until next time (as in this coming May), NOLA, you'll be, in my Celine Dion voice, my heart. Always.
Disclaimer: To be very specific, I grew up in the suburbs around NOLA, but I shant be going into that level of detail. As that is a story for another day. Shout out to River Ridge, Louisiana though! Haha! My true home.
:: Post Rationalizing(s)
"Think of all the beauty still left around you and be happy."
― Anne Frank ―