The Big Easy

So I went to New Orleans last weekend and did a little research for the new book.

What can I tell you about my trip? Well, first of all, New Orleans is a completely different town when you are not 21 and drunk. (I spent my 21st birthday puking in a parking lot there, so I know of whence I speak.) On the plus side, I did not smell of vomit or wrap my arm around a friend and say things like, “You’re the besht person in the whole worrrrrld. I LOVE YOU, MAN!!!” I did not announce to strangers that after eating Chinese food, I could fart half the alphabet. I did not have to sit in a smoky bar squinting and sucking in the sides of my terminally Girl Scout-looking cheeks in an attempt to look exotic and mysterious when really, I only ended up looking constipated and nearsighted. I did not put on a faux accent and tell guys I was British/Polish/Yugoslavian/French/Polynesian(a real stretch for anyone who has ever seen me) and that I had come to New Orleans for flight school/to be reunited with my deported family/to have a rare and best-not-discussed surgery/to make a movie/to join the CIA. I did not introduce myself to anyone as Johnny Cat or Savannah Georgia. I did not drink beer and try to throw darts like last time. But I’m sure that bartender has recovered by now.

No, being no longer 21 and drunk is a good thing but makes N.O. a strange city to visit. For one thing, you notice everything: the severe poverty. The seediness, which I found fascinating once but this time mostly depressed me. The busloads of people in polyester going to the casinos. The tiny, dilapidated shacks sandwiched between refurbished law offices. The endless parade of people with name tags who were there for one convention or another. The echoes of the younger me–19 and wandering the French Quarter, trying chicory coffee for the first time before starting a new life in Austin. The 21-year-old me having a birthday and leading a jazz band out onto Bourbon Street while waving an umbrella. The 23-year-old me driving with my friend Laurie from Austin to New Orleans while listening to the Jim Carroll Band’s “All My Friends Who Died” and singing at the top of our lungs; the two of us visiting our friend Mary at Tulane and going dancing. I’m not that girl anymore and that’s okay. I just would have liked to have had coffee with her. I think I was aware of what falls away on the path to making a life. That’s all.

There were things I loved. I loved taking the Canal Street cable car all the way out to the cemetaries and walking around in them. I found a gravestone that read: Mary E. Bray, same initials as my name. Well, my full Southern name. It was fascinating and a little sad, these decaying gravestones bearing the names of the dead and the sentiments of the living–our beloved son; our darling babies–on one side and the buzzing, whizzing cars zooming down the interstate on the other. I loved going shopping on Magazine Street and trying on expensive, 1940’s-style dresses in a shop called Trashy Diva. I loved hanging out with my friend Cheryl and ordering room service and putting on makeup and cute shoes. I loved the food, of course, though I was hampered by my recent allergy to shellfish. (Man, did I want a shrimp Po Boy.) I loved going to hear an amazing jazz-funk band at The Funky Butt, even if the saxophonist brought his mom and I realized with great alarm that I was only a few years younger than she was. Wow. When did THAT happen? And there was this cool Walgreens on Canal that looked like it had been lifted from an Edward Hopper painting. I also loved going for a burger at a total greasy spoon dive with a counter and three tables. There was a college girl puking out front and a schizophrenic with a Tom Waits voice and four teeth who came over to “talk” to me. But I guess I wasn’t his type after all because he went to sit with a friend at the counter and drink coffee.

I think my favorite part may have been coming back from the cemetary. I was sitting on the cable car, watching the people get on and off–the tourists, the college kid with the bike, the working people heading home, the young family, the military dad with his four-year-old daughter, the drunk lady who tried to flirt with the driver–and wondering about their lives. I was watching the scenery roll past: a high school advertising a “decency and order” dance, a McDonalds, the law offices, the shacks, the gas stations and used car lots, the shabbiness and decay that reminded me of a Tennessee Williams play, the attempts at gentrification that weren’t really taking and for that I kind of had to admire that defiant old lady of a city. Anyway, I was listening to my iPod to Simon & Garfunkel singing “America” which is my favorite song to listen to when I feel I am “other.” That I don’t quite belong anywhere and I’m sort of exquisitely sad about it–exquisite because, truth be told, there is something I like about that feeling. It’s like pushing on a loose tooth with your tongue till it pulls, till you feel pain. So you let it alone but eventually you go right back to pushing it because you need to feel it. It was just me and all these people and this city and Paul Simon singing, “Cathy I’m lost I said/Though I knew she was sleeping/I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why…”

So that was New Orleans.

The flight home went through Chicago and was turbulent the whole way, and since I’m one of those people who believes there should be a complimentary valium drip on all flights over forty-five minutes long, I was seriously white-knuckling it. Getting away is always good for the writing, though, I find. It’s like you come home with new eyes. I got the research stuff I needed and all in all, it felt like I’d turned over a blank page in my mind. Now all I have to do is fill it.

12 thoughts on “The Big Easy

  1. Hello

    Hi Libba. Glad to hear that you had a good time. 😉 I am highly anticipating the sequel to your book, and if you’re ever on tour in California, let me know, I’d love to meet you and chit-chat a bit. Good luck writing the book!
    ~Angela

  2. Stunning

    Right there, that journal entry shows your beautiful writing skills. You had me interested and enamored in your words and thoughts of New Orleans. I LOVED “A Great and Terrible Beauty” because of that very reason. Not only does it have a great storyline, voice, and characters, but the very essence that you write in makes it stunning. I am thrilled that the next book is coming out but it seems like so far from now! I know that you’ll write yet another masterpiece and I just want you to know that you have a true talent that I thank you for letting me appreciate and enjoy. I only hope that someday I’ll be able to write like you. Thanks!
    -Angie

  3. I must admit, I have not read your books. A friend recommended you and said “READ HER JOURNAL!” (I was talking to her over the internet at the time you see and she almost killed me for not reading it.) As I read this I made a clear note to myself, though it may not be written on my hand yet …*picks up pen and writes on hand* There we go …anyway I made the note to look for your books. Although at the time I have no money, *goes to get money from last babysitting job* I will make sure that one of the next books I read (I’ve finished about three in two weeks) is one of your books so that I might read an actual book of yours instead of just your journal. …Maybe I should finish this up. …Nope still got class time left …looks like I’m surfing the web for book titles.

    >^.^< Victoria

  4. I was so excited when your website took me to LJ, my favourite site next to Fanfiction.com and IMDb. This was my next stop anyways for i am in need of an update to my own journals. I’m a seventeen year old girl who sits at home all day watching Star Trek and RPing with my fellow computer nerds, waiting for my best friend to get home from school so we can RP over Stargate. My mom keeps telling me i need to get a job and that McDonald’s is hiring but something within me cries, “No dear God! Stay away from that house of sin!”. I wish i could just sell all of the short stories i write at night, but most are fanfic and i’m guessing if i sit out on the street corner trying to sell something again people might get the wrong idea. Again. I could try to sell the ugly handbags i have been sewing, i could even start my own handbag company. I can see it now, “The Ugly Bag Factory”. That may be misleading however since they aren’t made in a factory but in my mom’s crappy 70’s decor apartment. Alas, it seems McDonald’s calls my name, puts me under its trance and tries to kidnap my soul to power its clock tower. But i digress.

    I hear rumor A Great And Terrible Beauty is the first part of a trilogy. Just a rumor of course. Just a lone piece of cheese on a bunless Gardenburger. I’m not really sure what i meant by that but if you squint while reading it everything becomes clear. I struggle with the internal desire to read more of Gemma’s adventure and to leave it at that, as to give me more leeway for my fics. But of course if another book is written i will not be able to contain myself. I will have to walk up to the library and check it out. even possibly reading it. Well now that i am in agony due to the immense number of Martian cats crawling on my internal organs i must take my leave of thee, oh infamous Livejournal. But i shall return to read more of the life of Libba Bray.

    FIN

  5. Vicci yo

    Vicci, thy library doest not have books with which to check out? Myne dost, but i owe the scoundrels fifteen shekels para una libro i didst not lose, but they claimest i hath lost. Bastardos.

  6. I live in New Orleans!! And while it may be diffrent if your over 21, it’s also diffrent if your under it. That’s so EXCITING that you book is going to be placed here!! I love your writing!!! Did you ride the st. charles street car? Because if you did, you might have passed my school (which is over 200…ish years old) it might be only 100, who knows! I just know it’s old and it used to be a boring school, that there are a lot of hiding places to hide things (like outside the dinig hall and that panal in my french class room) and also that the back stairs form Ron’s art class is where girls during the bording school years would walk down to meet there dates at the ‘dating door’ where a nun was stationed as chaperone. it’s quite fasinating…Theres also the legend of the bum who lives in the attic…but thats another story. I’m going on quite a bit. Sorry about that…I jsut had about 4 cans of Barq’s root beer…I’m a bit hyped.

  7. new orleans

    I was just reading back some of your old entries when this one caught my eye. As a person who adores New Orleans, who has family blood that races through my veins and the crescent city, holding roots in it for over a hundred years, I love to hear other people’s experiences with the city. I’m so sorry that you had such a depressing time on this visit (two years ago….) The poverty and the crime are there, I’m not going to deny that. Post-Katrina, it’s only gotten worse. But there is something in the community and the strength of the city that overcomes it all, one snowball at a time.

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