Home is where?

I was responding to a FaceBook post this morning, in a group about my home town. The group talks about stuff that’s no longer there, not just since Katrina, but since then. People share amazing pictures from the past, some from before my time and some that I remember from childhood like it was yesterday. The city is indefatigable, as are its denisons, but there is still grief over what’s not dere no mo’.

Someone had posted a picture this morning, of a particular intersection, and just noted that stuff was no longer there. I commented that even though it looked the same, the energy was gone, like the guts had been ripped out of the place. That seems to be how I’ve felt when going back there, since Katrina. Yes, the buildings are mostly still there, at least in the tourist areas and the business district, but the energy is very, very different. It feels hollow, and low. The pandemic, of course, hasn’t helped.

New Orleans is a city of energy. Many thing make absolutely no sense. You cannot eat from the streets, like in Disney World; it’s a dirty city. The success of Mardi Gras is measured by the amount of trash picked up, which is usually several hundred tons. It’s always been slightly dirty, and that’s not counting the politics. It’s part of the charm, and part of the ambience. It’s where the music comes from, it’s where the food comes from, it’s where the hospitality comes from. It’s also where the crime comes from, but I suppose you have to take the good with the bad.

Regardless, my comment about the energy drew a response from another group member, who said “The buildings change, but you can’t change the energy.”. Oh, mon contraire, cher. That’s precisely what I’m saying – the building haven’t changed. The energy is different. Very different. Is that a bad thing, or just a different thing? In some respects, it’s a bad thing because some of the change is good, but for the wrong reasons. The gentrification, which happens in many American cities, helped to revitalize a lot of real estate that had been destroyed in the storm, but now…people who grew up in some of those areas can no longer afford to live there. People from other places, with no emotional investment in the city, have moved in. That’s how the energy changes. In other places, investors have acquired properties simply for financial gain, and use them for short term rentals or corporate perks. I’m not sure those arrangements contribute any energy to the spirit of the place whatsoever.

But, I’m a dreamer, a romantic. I respond to the energy of a place, the spirit of the land, the movement of the people and the water and the soil. New Orleans, in particular, has a tremendous subsidence problem. It always has. Our front porch used to sink every year by as much as an inch. That’s what happens when you live below sea level, and we accepted it as just a part of life. The ground was moving, the people were moving, the river was moving. That’s where the energy grabbed you, in the movement. That place has been moving since long before I came along, and it will be moving long after I’ve left this planet.

The Mississippi River has always been a part of my movement. I believe I’ve mentioned fairly recently the Indigo Girls’ song that says “the Mississippi’s mighty, but it starts in Minnesota, at a place where you can walk to with five steps down”. That’s how a lot of things start. The song goes on to say “…and I guess that’s how you started, with a pin prick to my heart”. That is how so many things begin – with a pin prick, with a trickle, with just a tiny blip. With a microscopic bit of DNA in a sperm cell that unites with another microscopic speck of DNA in an egg cell, and 61 years later, there’s me. Ain’t that somethin’?

So, in all this reflection on where I physically come from this time around, I now wonder…what is home? I thought New Orleans was home, and in so many ways it is, and will always be. That’s where my memories live, the ones from the earliest of times, when I was learning how the world worked and what was right and what was wrong. When I was learning what I could count on and what I couldn’t. I suppose some of that is constant, no matter where I go, but the picture in my mind’s eye of those lessons will always look like New Orleans. Always.

I remember when Mardi Gras seemed like a celebration, and not a battlefield. I remember when public transit buses were air-conditioned and the fare was $.10. I remember when our favorite restaurants served a meal for a family of four for less than $10, with a beer or two, and that wasn’t fast food. These were restaurants that were featured on national news and travel guides. Those was da days. I suppose every town has that sort of history, and people my age are reminiscing about how things have changed and how it’s a good thing the previous generation wasn’t around to see how bad things have gotten. I suppose people will be saying those same things about us in another few years.

Places are important. They are important parts of tethering us to the planet. When the places of our memories change, it sometimes feels like a fault line shifting. In California, there are earthquakes that do that, and where you’re standing is suddenly in a new relationship with another part of the planet a few feet to your right. Humans wouldn’t do that, but the Earth does it for us. Left to our own devices, we wouldn’t change one damned thing, and we’d take ownership of where our feet are planted. That’s essentially what we’ve done, but we don’t realize it’s all temporary. Things like earthquakes and volcanoes and hurricanes and tornadoes…those are the great equalizers, I think. The shake things up and we have to cast our lot again. I would contend that our estimation of winning and losing is somewhat narcissistic, based only on our comfort and satisfaction. The planet, though, always wins…on its own terms and in a way we can’t comprehend. But I digress.

Places are important. One of the reasons I wanted to move to this part of the country was my affinity for the Smoky Mountains. I visited them once, in Northern Alabama several years before I decided to come here, and fell in love. I am still in love with them. I love mountains, and find them fascinating and spiritually grounding. When I am driving along a portion of highway in mountainous terrain, and the road snakes through mountains on either side, I feel embraced by the land. I recognize the incredible privilege, however, and offer my gratitude for sacrifice of the rock which suffered the trauma of building that road, of supporting the weight of millions of vehicles traversing its expanse. But, the glory of feeling that solidity and unwavering witness sets my spirit right. There are occasional rockslides, as though mountains and hills need to remind us of where we are, and how small we are. Mother Nature does not take kindly to being ignored.

I live here now, and my stuff is here and my dog is here. But it does not feel quite like home. I came here knowing right from wrong. I came here with at least a sense of who I was, and how things worked. I’ve learned quite a lot since I’ve been here, and I’ve evolved quite a bit, but my foundation was already set. I consider this more where I live, and where my support system reside. I like this place, I feel comfortable here (the low crime rate and less traffic make it a lot easier to live). I have some great memories and experiences to add to my memoir. But it is not home. I feel like it may once have been home, because my spirit rose when I came here, but it’s nothing I consciously remember.

It has been said home is where the heart is. My heart is in Louisiana, in New Orleans, in Lake Charles where I was born, and where I buried my mother. I suppose my heart can multi-task, because I have significant emotional investment here. There are people I have come to love here. My medical support team is here, my emotional support team is here. My dog’s vet is here (and that’s important). But there will always be a large piece of me that is bound to New Orleans, and that’s the part of me that goes the deepest. I think that’s OK, but some days…I grieve that sense of ultimate belonging. I suppose that’s just how it goes.

At this point in my life, when I consider home, I have to consider what happens when I die. I am not sure I really want to be cremated, although it makes so much more sense. And I’ll be dead – what do I care what happens to this conglomeration of flesh and bones that is of no further use to me? And even if I’m cremated, do I want to have my remains back in New Orleans or in Lake Charles or put into a plastic bad and deposited in a land fill? Maybe have somebody spread my ashes over Louisiana and some in the Smokies? Who could I entrust with that task? ACK! OVERLOAD!

I suppose I will go and walk to dog, escaping from this important issue of where to deposit my mortal coil for another span of time. I don’t want to think about it. Just don’t. Yes, I understand that I will have to at some point, but that point is not now. I did my flippin’ taxes, so leave me alone. I bought a new vacuum cleaner and picked up a few ounces of trash in my apartment, so haven’t I done enough for one week??? Don’t make me have to whine. That would be ugly, undignified, and totally unproductive, so let’s just not and say we did. As a card I saw recently says…I’m no longer a crastinator, I’ve gone pro. It’s an art form, and I’m damned good at it.

Home. The Crescent City, made out of soggy land at the bend of the Mississippi on its way to the Gulf of Mexico. City that care forgot, but didn’t forget to care.
A city like no other, can’t be killed, but she’s taking a knee right now.

Published by annzimmerman

I am Louisiana born and bred, now living in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Fortunately for me, I was already living in NC before Hurricane Katrina decimated my beloved New Orleans. An only child, I now feel that I have no personal history since the hurricane destroyed the relics and artifacts of my childhood. As I have always heard, c'est la vie. My Louisiana roots show in my love of good coffee, good food, and good music. My soggy native soil has also shown me that resilience is hard-wired in my consciousness; when the chips are down (or drowned)...bring it on.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: