Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Love Song to New Orleans

I have had these tiles stashed away in a cabinet in my house for the past ten years.  They were an impulse purchase I made while I was in a salvage store in New Orleans, and we have never found the place to use them in our home here. 

My best guess is that they were part of an installation - somewhere in the city - of tiles by Enrique Alferez, a Mexican-born artist who worked in New Orleans for decades (there is a lovely installation of his statues in the New Orleans' City Park). 

The tiles are lovely reproductions of Maya pieces, and were carefully chipped out of their original location, and then sold as architectural salvage.  New Orleans has a lot of that, with beautiful historic homes that are continually undergoing remodeling, meaning that you can get stellar, hand-crafted pieces that have been saved from the wreckage. Much of the renovation debris is not salvageable.  Termites take their toll, moisture gets where it isn't supposed to get, and the house deteriorates.  Renovations mean tearing stuff out. 

And some pieces don't fit in the scheme of the new renovation, and are left behind or sold after being torn out from their original location.  These tiles were from a tearing-stuff-out effort.  The end result of that effort was treasure for me.

In a perfect world, the areas where you are tearing stuff out gets re-used.  We faced the bar in our house with doors we removed.  We repurposed bricks, hand-sawn face boards and red pine studs.  We took the cypress column off the porch, refinished it, and put it on the corner of the bar.

But sometimes you just have to throw it all out.

Kathe and I are undertaking a combination of the two right now - both the re-using and the throwing stuff away.  And I am shocked at how hard it is to throw the stuff away.

Two weeks ago, I accepted a job at the Corps of Engineers offices in Vicksburg.  It is a promotion, and I will be working with people that I grew to like quite a lot when I worked there last year.  The move will be a permanent one, and Kathe and I are going to sell our house and move there later this month.  It is an exciting change, and a challenge for us both.  And it is a challenge fraught with emotion.

I moved to New Orleans in 1997.  Kathe has been here since 1979.  We have had our roots here for a long time; both of us have lived here longer than we have lived anywhere else for our entire lives.  It is home. 

We love New Orleans.  We love the food, the music, the culture, the people.  We love the history, and the sense of belonging to something bigger.  Like the honey fungus (cool description here), the city of New Orleans is an enormous organism, and the rhythms, the music, the food are all shared across the organism. Don't believe me?  Stop at any corner on the neutral ground during Carnival season and comment on the delicious smells of meat on the grill.  You will be fed and 'watered' and serenaded and danced with.

The crime, not so much.  Although the past year was not the worst, in terms of murders, the crime rate was far too high, and there are too many people dying.  The infrastructure of the city is deteriorating at an alarming rate, and money is being spent on things that I do not believe should be a priority. The rate of poverty is high, and the education system still has a looooong way to go. 

And the potholes.

But I love the city.  I love that there is music everywhere; that music is really seen as a way out of the cycle of poverty, because it has been done.  I love that we celebrate food, and that culinary arts are seen as a way out of poverty (check out the incredible work done in the past two decades at Cafe Reconcile, if you don't believe me.)

I am not sure that the small town of Vicksburg will have the same sense of community. 

But I am so excited.  The real estate prices alone are worth the move - we will be able to afford a historic home with bedrooms enough to actually host friends and family who come to town. Vicksburg has a delightful musical heritage, with the full history of the Mississippi Delta blues centered right there. 

Still, I am sad.  I got a farewell note yesterday from a friend, who mentioned a couple of memories. And sitting in my dining room, I was surprised to find tears streaming down my face.  I have been tamping down the emotions, reminding myself of the opportunities ahead.  And as I have begun saying farewells, to people who have attended my Sunday school classes, who have been my friends at work or in my neighborhood, those who have become my family by proxy, and those who have listened/suffered through my banjo playing when I led services at Lambeth House, I have been focused on the things that lie ahead.  All the while reassuring these people that I love, that I am coming back, that it is only a few hours away, that I still love the things about New Orleans that drew me here in the first place.

I manage to get those statements past the lump in my throat.  With the long practice of taking deep breaths, I make declarative statements.  I speak of the good things to come. 

Meanwhile, I try to figure out if this tearing out of my life here - the chipping of the grout that has tied me to this place for so long now  - will allow me to remove my tiles and salvage some of the things I love from this home.  Whether I will be able to carry those pieces of my life from this home, as I go to make another.

And get re-purposed in the process.