New Orleans' humidity leaves beads of sweat on my nose like early morning dewdrops on flowers. The heat, along with the distant but ubiquitous melodies of jazz, leaves me feeling languid as I stroll the streets of NOLA, the city dubbed “The Big Easy”, and rightfully so. Although the nickname was used by 20th century musicians to describe the ease of finding work, the moniker accurately portrays the carefree, easy-going mood of the city. Nearby, ferries float lazily on the Mississippi River. Musicians play their instruments soulfully on street corners. Street artists create masterpieces using vibrant hues of the rainbow, conversation hum outside the Café du Monde, and the St. Louis Cathedral stands tall and monumental, its silver coned tops catching the sun.
â–º QUARTER FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
I feel like the epitome of a tourist as I furiously snap pictures with my dad’s oversized Canon, as if trying to capture the whole city, with its myriad of sights and sounds, into a memory card with limited space. Yet some things are impossible to document: the smell of coffee and beignets, the strains of blues intermingling with the chatter of tourists and locals, the unique feel of the city due to the entwinement of French elegance and colorful Creole culture. My family meanders leisurely on Bourbon, Royal, and other surrounding streets in the French Quarter. Above us, pastel-colored houses with latticed iron gates boast abundant flowers, foliage, and vines, giving off beauty and charm. To our right, open-air souvenir shops showcase Creole voodoo dolls, alligator heads, brightly-colored blankets, as well as sparkly masks, shot glasses, and jester hats.
As dusk approaches, we see the city become more active and festive. Near the sides of the streets, young boys find ways to attach flattened Coke cans to the soles of their shoes, creating a noisy beat as they dance. The clickety-clacking of these makeshift tap shoes seem to be an introduction for the night to come. Singers, tuba players, musicians inhabit the streets as crowds form depending on their popularity. New Orleans at night reminded me of those flashing neon signs that hang outside stores and restaurants: colorful, bright, inviting people to join in the fun.
My family sits down, letting the vivacious atmosphere encompass us while we rest. An old homeless man lies on a bench near us, his possessions gathered underneath the bench. Live music drifts from nearby pubs and bars. Trees rustle, people laugh, and I feel at peace. A movement in the bushes momentarily wrenches me out of my bliss. I hold my breath as shadows flicker on the nearby wall, exhaling as I realize it’s just the homeless guy. However, his next actions take me by surprise: He begins to dance to the music. It is an odd, shuffling dance, with most of his weight leaning on the cane in his right hand. His movements are jerky, probably from chronic arthritis, and his movements are stiff. Yet it is the most beautiful dance in the world, because without looking at his face, just by just staring at his awkwardly swaying shadow, you can see his passion. He finished dancing on the same note as the accompanying tuba. I was entranced. Here was a person that decided to remain positive and embrace the good parts of life despite the fact that he had every reason not to. That’s something that even I, with a home and a great life, sometimes can’t do.
The 10-hour car ride back home didn’t seem so unendurable. Later, my friends asked me how my trip was. I pondered for a minute and replied, “It was the best.”
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