She’s a magical dreamworld floating alone in space, an Atlantis. A bastard child that burst unheralded into existence. Who does she belong to? She doesn’t fly America’s eagle or exhale Caribbean breezes, or even claim France as her mother. She’s hooked a finger around the juiciest bits and pieces of her colonizers. She pocketed France’s sexiness with Spanish spice and Caribbean exoticism and the songs of slaves. Southern hospitality. She’s sucked them into her whirlpool to ferment and mature. She has her own language. On her lips, French words shed their nasal tones and acquire lyrical Creole inflection. Esplan-ahd becomes esplan-aid. FO-berg for Fauborg. And Tchoupitoulas is anyone’s guess.
She shimmies her torso to the constant music of blues and folk and jazz. The notes weave a thick braid, creating her own genre that courses through her veins, her streets. The cracked sidewalks pulsate with the giddiness of a child that refuses to go to sleep. She doesn’t care. She’s the life of the party, filling glasses with bougainvillea-scented water and plates with the bounty bubbling from the delta’s saline embrace. She breathes Abita and oozes garlic butter.
But there’s more to her than just a good time. Behind the dazzling white teeth there’s a quieter side. She unfolds her layers when you really look at her, really get to know her. Tattooed on her soft belly are shotgun shacks abandoned to a cacophony of wild herbs and orange trees. The water that laps at her toes is not always sweet. Sometimes it sucks her under and she’s got to kick her legs quickly, desperately. So she treads on the lapping shores of the Mississippi with an eye that never strays from the horizon. Watchful, waiting like a battered woman who can’t let go. She murmurs I love you, but you scare me.
Yet she can always shake her wild hair dripping with Cajun-scented sweat and laugh. She knows she can’t change—or anticipate—nature. She can forget for a night, for a weekend filled with festivals. She’s got enough distractions; she quivers with art. It fills her streets unbidden, uninvited. Ivy curls upward in dainty strokes around the starched white columns of the Garden District’s porches. The houses in Bywater are painted riotous blues and reds, and errant graffiti reads “YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL” on the side of a red-bricked building. Tremé gave us jazz; you hear its art before you see the metal bodies releasing sounds that haunt you all the way home.
She’s opening the city limits, subsidizing here and there, playing host to recent grads who’ve heard her table is the place to be. They’re replacing those who can’t—who won’t—come back. She’s hot. She’s schmoozing with movie producers and Solange Knowles and Uma Thurman and Brad Pitt. They’ve been lured down by her siren call. She’ll be the star on HBO and CBS and The Food Network, but she’ll be the one with the secret. She’s got something to offer all of them, but she’ll never offer all of herself to any of them.
I’ve tasted her, too. I lost my virginity at sixteen with a crawfish boil and Frenchman Street’s smoky dark clubs where I understood what color-blind meant. We forgot about the black and the white and the brown; in the thrum of the bass, millionaires boogied and rubbed shoulders with homeless musicians who carry their lives on their backs and in their voices. We all felt her music in our bones, and closed our eyes.
I tried to feel all of her, to go beyond drinks-to-go in the Quarter. I rode on bikes over her potholes that could never all be filled because another cracks into existence every day, every storm. Her scars don’t heal. Her smooth, long fingers paint them with ivy, and suddenly they’re beauty marks.
Anna is a sophomore in Ezra Stiles. She spends a lot of time (and most of her disposable income) thinking about food. She’s also the Editor of the Yale Sustainable Food Program’s social media platforms. Send her an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.