Archive for August, 2014

2005 Federal Flood – Nine Years Later

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

A quote I heard recently:
“We should be guided by our spirits not our plans.”

Nine years after the great 2005 Federal Flood and where are we now? Wednesday night, I sat at a dinner table with one friend who is moving to Illinois and another who said she would look for work elsewhere. The tragedy cemented people to this city – apathy is helping us wither on the vine.

My pal during the aftermath of the storm was want to say after a few glasses of wine, “We are living in the most interesting city in the world.” And so we were.

Detroit is where it’s at now – I read this in Questlove’s autobiography, saw it in Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive, saw it in 8 Mile on the plane, read about it in the NYT, and saw it again in Searching for Sugarman. The city of Detroit is raw and at rock bottom, go there, it will only go up, start all over again in the new most interesting city in the world.

New Orleans has been invaded by El Lay. What can we do? Who can we call?

This is what my neighborhood looked like right after the storm:


It was surreal – unreal – not real – real.

I had great plans to return to New Orleans after 16 years in California. I moved back May 2005. I had plans to buy a house, to have a child, to be a family and to be near my mother, my family. What I planned and what happened over the next nine years were cosmically mismatched.

My entire self was dashed against the rocks of fate. I was duped by my own planning. I came back to New Orleans and was going to … and then I got lost, found, lost again, found again … . But God laughs while we make plans, right? There was that moment in Trouble the Water, the documentary by the French filmmakers that used footage from a woman in the 9th ward’s handcam. She had stayed and wound up in the attic with the rest of her family. The moment was when this very large African American man who had waded through the water saving people left and right said, “I’ve wondered my whole life why I was born. Why God made me. And until this very moment I didn’t know.”

Plans let us down; our spirits prevail.

I am still guided by my spirit – which is a cloudy navigational tool at times, but seems to always lead me to an interesting place.

I guess I’ll see you next lifetime

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

A friend stopped by for dinner last night as she was getting ready to leave on sabbatical. Before my new roommate had returned with the sushi, she asked, “So, are you dating?” I almost let out a laugh, as in, what kind of question is that? But then I had to remember, she dates. She usually has multiple lovers and so perhaps it is not a question out of the ordinary for her to ask.

I’ve spent my entire life in serial monogamy – I’ve lived with three lovers and married three lovers and had one lover with whom I never lived. The shortest time spent cohabitating was two years and the longest was nearly 16. I have not dated in my life. I had boyfriends in high school, usually for about a year and then we’d break up almost without passing a word between us – as if the relationship just dissolved into the next one. I had a blind date with a Jewish guy who took me to the submarine races (wink wink nudge nudge) when I was in my late teens. I’ve had crushes. I’ve had one night stands with one much older and a couple of much younger lovers. I dated a guy off and on for about a year in 2007. And I was asked and went out with a guy twice in late 2007.

That is the history of my dating life. It ain’t much.

My friends who live up north suggested I go online to date and I thought about what that would look like: SWF, of a certain age, completely bald, with a young son, and in precarious financial condition seeks _____? There was a period of time where I worried that being over 50, having no hair, and having a young child would be a deterrent to dating, but then I realized I don’t even know what dating is. I never have. I marry. I love. I don’t date.

I’ve always been friends with the lovers in my life.

My horoscope the other day said:

Aug 26, 2014
A romantic situation is developing right under your nose. It could be with your current sweetie, but it’s just as likely to be someone new and unexpected — so keep your eyes (and heart) wide open!

The truth is that my heart is wide open. It usually is. Recently, I had a dream where I called an ex and told him that I loved and love and will always love him. I was pouring out this “love” letter to him on the phone and when I woke I wondered why. I told my friend last night about this and she said she had the same connection with an ex of hers as well.

Recently, friends who have fallen in love stopped by and I watched them together – the glow of love drawing a bubble around them. Their love seemed foolish and yet, mysteriously hopeful. This morning when I was walking Stella, I was humming and singing Erykah Badu’s Next Lifetime where she says:

I guess I’ll see you next lifetime
No hard feelings
I guess I’ll see you next lifetime
I’m gon’ be there

It made me think of our conversation last night and the dream I had had. Perhaps it is a divine spark that leads to love at first sight as has happened often in my relationships. You know this person, and you are working through something in this lifetime together, something that began in another lifetime. And perhaps these profound loves of ours are the ones that we have loved over and over in many lifetimes [see: Only Lovers Left Alive by Jim Jarmusch].

My therapist averred profound love emanates from the lover. It doesn’t reside with the beloved, it is within us to have that capacity to love another.

This morning as I rounded the bayou, I wondered if perhaps I have met all my old lovers from other lifetimes and the next one would be someone entirely new. I wondered if my friend who is going through so much hardship with her current relationship is experiencing this – this is the first lifetime she and her love have met and so that is why it is so jarring because they are having to learn about each other from scratch.

I know at this point in my life I’m not going to become a dater. I have too many friends who are experts in the field and not one bit of it appeals to me. If I’m going on a “date” it is because I am interested in you and usually if I am interested in you and you in me, that leads to something else. That sort of thinking is dangerous and scary to a lot of people. They want to test the waters for a while, but my life experience has taught me that you know. And a good friend of mine is want to say that a woman knows if she can be with a man within a second of meeting him. Maybe it’s better to say I’m not dating, but I’m friending and if one of those friends crosses over to a lover, so be it. I’m open, heart and soul.

As for my past loves, I’ll see them next lifetime.


Presto! Wala! Ipso Facto! Bless You!

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

If you stop and notice you see how things fall apart but also how things come together. I keep having these ah ha moments where I’m looking for a long straw to fit my water glass and then all of a sudden I open a drawer and see an old plastic container I never use and lo and behold there is the long straw. Presto!

On Monday, I hit my head not once but three times and the reason that this is disconcerting is not just because it hurt (badly) but it also leaves marks on my blank slate of a canvas head and that hurts worse. But one of those times I had grabbed my grocery list and gone to the grocery and then couldn’t find the list, so I went back out to the truck and searched all around and couldn’t find it and clunk I hit my head. I had to close the door so that I could scream swear words without calling attention to myself. Then I pulled myself together and started walking in the grocery and there, skittering around the wheels of a bike hooked to the bike rack was my familiar handwriting on a piece of paper. Wala!

I need to have my heater fixed and it is expensive, but I can’t go another winter like this last one. In the meantime, a friend needed a place to live for fall semester and so I’ve taken on a boarder. His rent pays for my heater repair. Ipso Facto!

We changed Tin’s carseat to booster chairs and I posted a note on FB to give the full carseats away but no takers, and then I was driving home and an extended Hispanic family was sitting on their stoop with two infants and I stopped asked if they wanted them – “Bless you” – the only English they could speak.

Last night, a friend was talking about how much he hates reading blogs that read like diary entries. Just Hates Them. I said everything except that’s the kind of blog I write, but nothing would assuage his loathing for my kind of blog writing. He said that writing raw was not good. That you should write and then edit later. I said I write and edit at the same time and what had brought this all up is that I had read if you have insomnia and a piece of writing is turning inside your head causing you to get up in the middle of the night that you should just go with it and get up and write. And my experience has been when something is eating at me that way and I get up and write it, readers respond to those posts the most. My friend detests raw and unedited.

I’m writing this to tell you that there are many types of blogs you could be reading right now but this one is often times aimless, themeless, unedited and as my friend categorized it recently, raw. Whatyagonnado?


A Walk With God

Sunday, August 24th, 2014

Stella, my seven-month-old puppy who came into my life when she was seven weeks old is finally old enough to take on long walks. Today, we got all the way to the New Orleans Museum of Art in City Park – a four-mile round trip. The park has always been my cathedral, my place of worship because I am in awe of all things that have roots and fly – and there is plenty of both in this space.

Tina Turner said that God is a way of life, and so it is for me as well. Last night, I was eating at Morton’s with a friend before going to see Kelly Love Jones playing at the House of Blues, and we were talking about a mutual friend who is a bit of a control freak. My friend suggested the reason is that she doesn’t have faith, no belief in powers outside of her own, and so therefore she is overwhelmed by everything and feels the need to reign it in all the time.

I nodded in agreement. For many people I’ve known and loved in my life, God is an outrage, a ridiculous notion befitting the wee ones of the world. But I see God everywhere, in the trees, in the water, and in the ground. God is the cormorant who was stretching its inky dark wings to dry – looking more Gospel than creature. God is the black-crowned night heron who tiptoed across the neutral ground on Jeff Davis. God is the hundreds-of-years-old oak trees that drip Spanish moss. God is the bayou. God is the museum that houses the imaginings of many a man and woman. God is my ability to walk on my own two legs. God is the sun. God is me. God is as Turner said, a way of life, a way of having reverence, a way of being grateful, a way of weighing your light along with your shadows.

In many ways, I feel the bayou and the Magnolia Bridge are no longer mine because I had to give them up when I sold the LaLa and in doing so, I relinquished my attachment to them, my sense of place about them. But I won’t give up the park and the birds. This is still my chapel, my solace, and place of worship.

I don’t know if you are like me and when you love something so dearly you want to share it with those you love. I’ve always enjoyed taking my friends from out of town to my special places here in New Orleans and a walk in the park is usually on the agenda. I remember when a friend came in from out of the country and was disappointed by the park, called it a meadow, and dismissed it. Aghast.

But I have a new someone in my life to share this holy ground with and she is Stella.

I thank God for Stella.


Garden of Desire

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014

Was it Thoreau or Emerson who said the whole world exists in your own backyard? I can’t remember. I was thinking of this when I was sitting on the beach in Andalusia with the hills of Northern Africa not only visible across the ocean, but looking close enough to touch. And yet, some of my Spanish friends have never been. As crazy as that seems, when the 2005 Federal Flood hit New Orleans there were people who left the city who have never been outside of New Orleans in their life. I’m talking eighty years of never visiting another city, much less a different parish.

When the cab driver took us from Zahara back to Cadiz to catch the train to Madrid, he said that he had never been outside of Andalusia. As we were riding parallel to sand and sea and expansive blue sky, he said, “For what?” I thought of the line in Frank Ocean’s Grammy-winning song that asks, “Why see the world, when you’ve got the beach?”

On the plane from Madrid back to the U.S., a man sat to my left who carried on a nonstop conversation with the woman sitting next to him, a stranger before the flight took off, but worn out from his narrative by the end. He told her he went to a sushi restaurant for the first time just that last week. He said he thought the wasabi was guacamole and put a big swath in his mouth and how he had to drink copious amounts of beer to wash it down. The man had some years on him, a white beard and mane that made him look like Colonel Sanders. How is it possible that he was eating sushi for the first time?

So is it true that the whole world is in your backyard? The morning after getting Stella out of the pokey (read: kennel), we went for a long walk and as we walked out the front door, the young man who rides his daughter to school on the handlebars of his bike every morning passed by. He was also wearing his baby on his back in a pack; he zipped by with his dreadlocks flying through the air. It made me smile, to be home, to see this image of a Black man caring for his children while the rest of the country debates whether Michael Brown should have died for a pack of cigars.

Stella and I veered towards the bayou, my old neighborhood, and as we got closer to the water, the houses and landscaping changed dramatically and of course, so did everyone’s skin color. Gone were the Black and Brown faces who are my Spirit House neighbors; on the bayou, most everyone is white. There are two Black people that live on the bayou, and they live in a rented double, next door to each other, and I know both of them. Everything on Bayou St. John is picture perfect, the way I had tried to keep the LaLa, always agonizing over every detail or maintenance that might not pay homage to the architecture of the house, of the bayou, and the neighborhood.

Perhaps this is a white person’s dream, to live life in a picture-perfect magazine image of reality. Perhaps, when I left that neighborhood and that dream, I gave up some of my whiteness. I can only hope. And had I not not just walked a half mile door to door, I would not have believed that the Spirit House could be so close to the LaLa, AND yet be so far.

I miss the gloaming on the bayou, the warm dusk light reflected in the still pool of water that I would see as I began preparing our evening meal. Yet, my soul feels at home in the Spirit House, with the streetcar clanging nearby and Tin’s school going up next door. It’s home. We’re home.

I inherited wanderlust from my father – I grew into a wandering Jew, an explorer and a curious adventurer, but truly I’m a homebody in my bones. I come home weary and changed from travel, yearning for routine and rhythm in my life. Before I went to sleep after 15 hours of traveling, I pulled the weeds out of my garden as my otherwise lush garden had grown ever more lush and spilled out into the sidewalk.

I come from a long line of gardeners and want-to-be gardeners. My grandmother had a verdant green thumb. My aunt has the equivalent of a botanical garden in her large backyard. My mother was always going to plant a garden, and she attempted a few places and I planted some for her, but I’ve had to put down roots each time I’ve stopped – even though I know I am driven by something primitive and corporeal to root myself in each setting, I also feed this winged spirit of mine, which is always poised and ready for flight, never getting too comfortable anywhere.

When Stella and I were on the bayou, as we passed the LaLa, I remember I had told myself I would live in that house till I died. We also passed my neighbor’s house where she did die – too young – a few days after her 50th birthday this year. I felt choked and thick – a tree with rings of growth that has roots gnarled and tangled and leggy and long. Where’s my friend, my soul wondered, too hurt to think of her bright eyes closed, her body’s ashes scattered in so many places by now.

I’ve come to my own place – a respite – burdened by all that I know and all I still long to know.

And for this, I struggle – the desire for home vs. the desire to roam.


The Spirit House the day I bought it:

The Spirit House after I began planting myself:

The Spirit House after I began to blossom here:

What Happened?

Monday, August 18th, 2014

It was like this, two summers ago on the beach of Zahara de los Atunes, the winds from Africa picked up and caused the sand to pelt us all in the face and Tin, then three years old cried out to us all, “What happened??!!??” The winds are called Levante, they come from the east, where the sun rises, and are smokey hot and make the beach miserable when they are strong. No way to get to the cool ocean because the sands are a battleground.

Zahara is a beach community, an ancient fishing village, and not really on many people’s destination list because of the fickle winds – the levante or poniente – the winds from Africa – coming from the east or west – they bring cooler temps than beach life requires and hotter temps than anyone can afford especially without mod cons like air conditioning, much less ceiling fans.

This year, our fifth in Zahara for summer vacation, poniente dominated the weather forecast making the temps and water colder than usual – meaning that I swam less than usual. In this Andalusian village though, the weather was ideal for walking around, hanging out, and sitting and walkie/talkies on the beach with friends.

And it all happened so fast. “What happened?” was coursing through my brain last night when we arrived from our two day trek home, with only a slight airport delay, but included a four-hour train ride from Cadiz to Madrid, where the a/c system broke and we rode with sweat pouring off our body in coaches that had dogs, cats, and whatever anyone else had decided to bring to their summer vacation from Madrid.

“What happened?” was also on my mind when we touched down in New Orleans and I lugged the heavy suitcase up the stairs noticing the jungle that replaced my otherwise lush garden out front. What happened was a continuous loop as I went through mail, bills, news, dirty clothes, sandy flip flops and tried to find my iPhone that I haven’t used in over a month.

I woke this morning at the unnatural hour of 4am and meditated and felt eternally grateful that I woke in my bed, with clean sheets, after a hot shower where the water pelted me rather than dribbled out of a handheld faucet. I woke to my dirty clothes piled in neat color and fabric coded piles to be washed over the course of the next two days. I woke to the mail partially sorted.

I woke to green tea and gluten free granola, my friend’s cookbook finally arrived (Flourless – more on that later). I woke to a feeling like wow, summer happened once again, and I had the good fortune of spending time away, in Spain, with summer friends, with Tin, on the beach, living in Spanish, Andalusian style, a parallel universe to the one that is here for me in New Orleans.

As usual while I stepped out of my life, the world continue to blow up – Iraq, Ukraine, Gaza and Israel, Nigeria, and right here in the U.S. of A. in a place called Ferguson, Missouri. What happened indeed.

I stood in the airport terminal in Atlanta and watched a huge flat screen television show the protests in the streets while Tin danced around under my skirt. Michael Brown. Another boy’s name to add to the growing list of young Black men killed by white police. There are times when you just want to walk off the planet, like Robin Williams did, to escape the pain and destruction that is constantly bearing down on you.

But we had just returned from unplugging and the beach, and our getaway was not meant to last forever, it was a respite, a recharge, and now, SNAP, back to reality. Which means you get up hopeful the next day, that today is a day when the world will get it right.

And as Flower, my Russian friend is want to say, hope dies last.


Summer Snapshot

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

Despite the weather, summer is almost officially over with school starting this coming Monday. And of course, back to work for the adults. But I want to remember all of the summer moments – the slipper towel (as Tin called the towel I put so he wouldn’t slip when he washed off the sand on the terrace), the performances including fab introductions in Spanish and English by him and his two new gal friends who live downstairs (his performance was to dance to Angelique Kidjo singing Voodoo Child), kicking water at each other on the beach, his first boogie board experience (courtesy of Felipe), his dinosaur rock videos watched with Ana, the beautiful vista of bougainvillea and mountain and sea from Ana’s terrace, the beach, Morocco in the distance, fat rice noodles from the Cadiz Asian market cooked with local greens and seafood, books-books-books, Tin’s outfits (good Lord!) and most of all summer friends.

If there was world enough and time this summer snapshot would come readily to mind during any moment of doubt or fear.


Love and Marriage

Friday, August 8th, 2014

I read somewhere that Margaret Atwood said a divorce is like an amputation, you’re less afterwards. That would make me 4/5th the woman I used to be and still I feel like there is so much more of me now than at any other point in my life.

On the way to Spain, I was trying to explain to my son that things had changed. A dear woman had passed from illness and old age, another had separated from her long-time partner (badly), a friend’s prominent restaurant had moved, and that another dear friend would only be there for a small part of our stay. Tin said, “Why do things have to change? I like them the way they are.”

Oh yes, we all like them the way they are until we don’t. A friend’s sister wants to have a baby, but she’s recently divorced and it is neigh impossible to meet, greet, and procreate in a short period of time. It’s been done, but not often.

I’ve had one too many interaction with couples spiraling into an abyss – cheaters, liars, indifference, not to mention the chronically needy. I watch from the peanut gallery – some experience under my belt – and yet perplexed at how appearances mean nothing when it comes to love and marriage (read: any committed relationship).

A few years ago, I read an advice column about a situation that I identified with – the woman who wrote said that she was fairly attractive but that her friend got all the guys. The advice was for her to look at the type of guys her friend got – were they men who would stay, commit, was her friend in a long-term relationship, and was she happy? I cut out the column and put it somewhere – a file folder, my scrapbook, a drawer – I don’t remember where, but I remember what it said.

A dear friend here suffered the worst tragedy imaginable and lost her husband and son in it more than a decade ago. A dear friend here found out her many decades partner was leaving and had another woman, one who was impregnated within months and is now about to have a baby. A friend here was walking down the beach with his new girlfriend as if last year he had not been doing the same with another. It is these moments when you want to turn your back on love, to say it doesn’t exist, to be paranoid about the fact that perhaps you created all those love affairs in your own mind and they did not really happen.

On the same beach, in the same town, are three relationships with husbands and wives and children – families where you see active love, longevity, commitment, support, parenting, kisses, and that special light when one lover looks into his beloved’s eyes. It’s all happening here folks, magic on the beach, and miraculously this is the fifth year in a row I’ve seen these three couples in situ. One of them told me you can overcome anything with a loving partner beside you to support and care for you. That, for her, love is the most important.

When people get married because they think
it’s a long-time love affair,
they’ll be divorced very soon,
because all love affairs end in disappointment.
But marriage is a recognition of a spiritual identity.
– Joseph Campbell

Another tongue

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

Tin’s got a new playmate who is closer to his age than his usual posse here. She lives downstairs and keeps him on his toes especially when her younger cousin is around; Tin absorbs so much Spanish because he is constantly being corralled by these two female chatterboxes (or in the case of the cousin, screamers).

I have been taking my afternoon walks on the beach with friends and it’s amazing to drift in and out of my thoughts in English into a conversation in Spanish. The repetition of words is rhythmic like the waves – “pide, pide, pide” – “barato, barato, barato” – “es buena, es buena, es buena” – rolling waves of words. The woman who spends all her money on clothes and handbags and does not have enough to buy food. The musician husband who has to go to other countries to find work. Children who wont practice their instrument. The great aunt who talks nonstop in a monotonous voice so that everyone around her begins nodding off one by one. Children growing up and not wanting to be at the beach with their parents any longer. Conversations where a multitude of characters come into play and my interest in them waxes and wanes to such a pitch that I dream I am at a dinner table with all of them and decide I have nothing to say.

But the Spanish tongue – clickety clack – is this why the berenjena tastes better here? Or the aceite de oliva de Cordoba is divine? Or the miel de campesino so yummy delicious I could pour it on my hand and just spend the day licking it off?

It’s early in the morning, the madrugada here in Spain, and people are whooping it up outside at the feria. Tin’s seven year old friend had to leave at 11PM to go out to dinner with her parents (what?). And me, the standard bearer of a decent bedtime – I’ve got insomnia despite taking a half of an Atavan to try to sleep.

Another tongue, another time.
It’s all the same, yet different.


The Spot

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

Along with my daily rituals that I look forward to – my two cups of pu ehr and a bowl of gluten free granola with goat’s milk yogurt, the beach with Africa looming on the other side of the blue blue water, heavy lunches with multiple glasses of Verdejo – my new favorite white wine – beach walky talkies with friends near dusk, gin tonics at night and all the reading that happens here – I’ve found something else noteworthy.

My friend had a skiing accident and is laid up downstairs in her brother’s half of the house while her apartment upstairs with its fuchsia sofa and terrace overlooking the sea and mountain is empty – until now – I came here today to work on my book and feel as if I have stolen away into a writer’s Valhalla.

Truly, I have found the SPOT and now I will have to juggle between my vapid beach existence and my desire to write here. Lucky me.