My husband and I spent a few days last week in New Orleans.
It was mostly for business, but also to relax in a setting that didn’t require us looking at each other and wondering whose turn it was to take out the trash. One afternoon, while my husband was working, I spent a few hours by myself roaming through the French Quarter.
At one point I even got turned around and a little lost.
I lingered as long as I liked in a second-hand bookstore, strolled in and out of specialty shops, and ended up on the small balcony of our hotel room writing.
The sound of music drifted across the courtyard from the open doors of a nearby building, and the thick South African accents of beautiful young women dipping in the hotel’s heated pool kept me company.
I ruminated about why I love visiting New Orleans. If you have been to New Orleans you know what I mean, or maybe you don’t. You either love it or hate it, there really is no in-between.
The atmosphere is somewhat of a writer’s dream.
It is quite awe inspiring to make conversations in pubs that Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde or William Faulkner also had conversations, or to imagine the footsteps of Anne Rice as she clunked along the same sidewalks giving birth to vampires, or to just feel that maybe Tennessee Williams once felt as inadequate as I do when I sit down and try to put words onto paper.
Phantoms lurk in dark alleyways gruffly whispering their secrets, and each smell, taste, and touch seems to be absorbed into the cobblestone, brick and stucco of the thirteen city blocks.
It is as if mankind took all his playful inhibitions, dumped them into a paint bucket, shook them up and then threw them back onto the streets as easily as the tossing of beads.
But, there is more.
There is a kind of unspoken understanding between darkness and light.
A great paradox of life.
It can be seen in the naming of the streets in the French Quarter. Two streets named after illegitimate sons of Louis XIV King of France, each flanked by streets named after Saints.
One corner may have a voice shouting out how “to be saved,” while another corner has a voice shouting out that no one should be judged.
The homeless, hungry and cold are stepped over by those in warm coats leaving restaurants with full bellies and standing tall in the middle of it all is an elaborate church.
It is a perfect representation of the human soul.
We have darkness, and darkness, somewhere at its core, craves light. So often we think we can place our darkness in-between prayers, we argue about the darkness, we try to avoid it and fill it up with something other than light.
We look to religion and expect that it will lead us, but we still get turned around, hungry and feel homeless.
But, there is more.
I find so many things about New Orleans endearing, and I have been too many times to count. Yet, I still get lost. When I do, I know to look for one landmark, the statue of Christ.
It sits outside the St. Louis Cathedral and is not so big during the day, but at night, a spotlight shines upon it and casts an enormous shadow above the city.
Darkness absorbed by Light, the unspoken understanding and the greatest writer of all stories.
His arms stretch out and welcome all who will come. The Beginning and End and there is, no more.