I've been to New Orleans. At least twice before Katrina. Once when I was in 9th grade or so. Once during college.
I've been to New Orleans. Three times since Katrina. Once briefly before spending time in Biloxi. Once in the muggy middle of summer. And once, just now.
I know her. I've heard her music, echoing through the alleys off Bourbon Street. Past the tourists. Past the locals. Past the voodoo shops and gumbo shops. Down Frenchmen. Beyond the French Quarter.
Her song is sad. When you listen closely, it weighs heavily on your heart. You can't ignore the beauty. You can't stop listening.
She lingers in your mind. The song gets stuck. Like the jingle to a commercial. Like a grade school crush. You'd write her name over and over, with hearts and plus signs. Carved out on Magnolia trees.
I've seen her, but seeing her through their eyes - brings her back again. I can't seem to answer the simple questions right away. Because I've been with her before. But I keep going back. Just wanting to tell her story once more. Wanting people to understand why she cries. Still. Two and a half years later.
Katrina was a bitch. No one questions that. But New Orleans is the most complicated woman in the world. You want to save her, even though she's drowning in her own mess of tears. She never quite learned to swim, but you can blame the Army Corps of Engineers for that. And lousy leaders. Some people say she needs to just drown. You can't save her.
But try telling that to someone who is in love.
New Orleans sways her hips to hip hop, jazz, spoken word, hurricanes, Abita brews, beads, remnants of brothels, rollings sidewalks and lingering notes of legends. She spins in circles when the wind blows. She breathes it in, bursting at her seems.
She is as strong as she is weak. She is falling, slowly, softly. She is full of grace. She is dirty. She is beautiful.