“Nouvelle Nouvelle”, Metropolitan Series, No. 96

22 Oct

The South has always haunted me, and rightfully so because it’s where I grew up. The dreams taste bittersweet and sludge through my electric metropolitan brain like slow molasses covering the Earth. While I walk through the city blocks of Chicago, flashes of kudzu and humid nights rise up into my swimming dreams like steam erupting from potholes in the empty city streets of my head. These reveries of the South do not carry the concrete visions of Atlanta nor the banjo twangs of Athens. They whisper memories of Spanish moss caught in the tangles of lonely street lights and jazz of Savannah, Georgia… they silently sputter a cough into my ear of jittering flashbacks of Charleston, South Carolina’s soft ocean… they briefly mention a quaint memory of soft architecture of Mobile, Alabama. All of these cities are whispering sisters eating at the table of southern life, and yet.. in these memories, none of them sit as boldly in their chair as New Orleans.

New Orleans does not whisper in my ear, but croons from a far. She is a blues singer covered in the soft historical darkness of cigarette smoke and perfume. She is flashy on the outside, covered in the beads that are thrown off her balcony to the people who drunkenly visit her. She is a coquette who winks and carries the smirk that curves like the twisting veins of a french horn. To tourists she is a natural bon vivant, but to those that live within her… know that beyond the cash and crowds of lotus eaters, she carries the weight of her own history.

I drove through New Orleans by way of Atlanta to Houston back in 2006. My ultimate goal was Houston, Austin, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco and finally to my new home out in the rainy metropolis of Seattle, Washington. I had a ford escort, $500 in my bank account, and a months worth of time to kill. Katrina had devastated the landscape, and even after her brawl with New Orleans, the storms still came. The sun was beginning to set as I arrived, and on the left of the highway the dark end of summer thunderheads billowed into an arc over the highway.. almost creating this vision of me traveling through a tunnel of bruised clouds.

It was the first time in my life that I ever saw lightning strike across the shiny lemon dime of the sun.

As I arrived into New Orleans the wind began to pick up with small spattering gales of wind and rain. I had parked at a gas station and began to search for hotels via the ones I had written down in my notebook. Everything was booked, and when I ran inside to ask the gas station attendant why, he simply looked up at me like I was an idiot and said “Well where else are they going to go?”… and I suddenly understood what he mean’t. Everything was booked because the people had lost their homes..

I hopped back in the car and drove around the city for a bit. I expected it to be a ghost town but that wasn’t the case whatsoever. The city looked dark and lonely, but the lights wavered sadly in each window that I passed. It looked like the tourist pamphlet I carried, but as if the tourist pamphlet was waterlogged and all the ink from the pictures of the festive buildings were bleeding out into obscurity. I quickly headed out and crossed the Texas border, in where every insect imaginable seemed to pummel my windshield like flying water balloons of disgust. I finally arrived in Houston and laid my tired head against a friends pillow and slept.

I remember my dreams that night, which consisted of me repeating the same drive over and over again through the streets of that city. It was never ending, and every time I woke up and fell back asleep… BAM! There I would be again, driving endlessly into street corners that would begin again. Everything led back to square one.

10 years later and out in Athens, GA I sought to complete the 2nd to last piece of the Metropolitan Series. It was here where I would relive those memories, and despite that I only visited 10 streets of that magnificent city… I fell headfirst into researching everything I could about that damaged but majestic blues singing sibling of the south.

This piece is called “Nouvelle Nouvelle”, and goes over the districts, streets, and parks of New Orleans. Inside Mickey’s face holds some of Louisiana’s famous phrases as well as a bit of Creole words in the mix. This resides as No. 9 in the “Metropolitan” series and No. 96 in the TENxTENxTEN collection.

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