I believe the beautiful and the repugnant are on display every hour of every day, everywhere. It's all in the eye of the beholder -- and which direction s/he is facing. Between my natural proclivity for melancholy and hyper-sensitive nature, it's all I can do some days to find the silver lining that adorns every dark cloud. Once I find it, the world is a wonderful place and I am, once again, God's Favorite Daughter.
Sometimes, through no conscious effort, I find myself in paradise. I am suffused with an awareness of the miracle of life, the richness and wonder of human endeavor... I feel lucky and strong and hopeful. Smile and song enliven my lips. My posture is perfect. I feel blessed.
Earth Day 2009 was almost such an experience. The weather was gorgeous in New Orleans. I put on a favorite dress, grabbed some reading material and bicycled up to catch the streetcar, on my way to the French Quarter to work for/with the Crazy Lady I love. En route, I read the most recent issue of Oxford American and discovered Arthur Rickydoc Flowers' powerful article, "Race Man". Such great writing! In a magical fantasy world, my mind would have melded with my closest friends' in the moment, to allow them the enoyable privilege of consuming this work. And I would have been embracing the friend who gave me the magazine. And I would have been pregnant with Flowers' child.
Strolling along Dauphine, I thought, I love New Orleans best when I'm out of my apartment. The smells and sounds and sights of this city give me everything. The complaints and worries and stressors that tie me in knots at home disappear when I'm on the streets of New Orleans.
Things were lively at the Crazy Lady's flat: her toy chihuahuas had puppies on Easter and on Earth Day the puppies were up and about. A boy and girl, they were too cute for words as they waddled and rolled around the floor. Almost made me wish I had a dog.
On the return trip, I would have to say I sashayed down Dauphine. I thought, Yeah, that's where that song comes from. Sashaying is the natural gait on Daupine when the weather is beautiful. Approaching Canal, I noticed a trio of men two blocks ahead. Two of them were smoking cigarettes. The third was watching me. Although he was staring unabashedly, I was flattered rather than annoyed. As I drew nearer, I thought, This old dress still works and That guy looks like Dan Akroyd.
Well, it was Dan Akroyd. When I was within a few feet of the trio, Dan said "Gentlemen, make some space here for one of New Orleans' beauties," and smiled and bowed as I passed. I smiled back and said "Thank you. You look like that guy..." And then he smiled. "Dan..." I said. "Yes," he said. He introduced the other two and then said "Yes, I'm Danny."
I was delighted. "Well, give me a hug!" I said, since I didn't have a camera. "Gladly," he said.
"What are y'all up to? Here for JazzFest?"
"No, we're here to build some houses but we'll be gone before JazzFest."
"Well, thanks for the houses and come back again!"
Turning onto Canal, I stopped at a stand displaying African jewelry. I was drawn by the sun reflecting on the brass and copper bracelets. The vendor was a beautiful dread-locked man wearing a bright multi-colored shirt and floppy hat. I thought of my old friend, Ramu... "Hello, Queen", he greeted me. I ended up buying a bracelet and a toe ring. He slipped the ring on my toe and kissed my hand.
As I said, life is always better for me on the streets of New Orleans.
It was a great day. But not the "paradise" I'm talking about. If I had to describe the difference, I'd say the paradise days are more spiritual...
Yesterday on Royal Street was spiritual.
The sun had been high and strong as I made my way to the Crazy Lady's. On the return trip, though, clouds moved in and a brisk wind snapped my skirt against my legs as I walked toward Canal. Dark clouds loomed in the western sky and it looked like rain. A man stopped me and asked for spare change "to help a brother get something to eat." I gave him a dollar. "And, Sister, keep me in your prayers," he said as he walked away.
I turned onto Royal. A block down I noticed how still the street was. Lots of pedestrian traffic but the space felt separate, apart, like....like the interior of a cathedral. People were talking quietly as they walked. Their conversation and the wind formed a muted backdrop for the music I began to notice in the foreground. It was ethereal and moved like liquid gold in the air. At the time, it even seemed to emit a fragrance, like wisteria or a light, exotic jasmine.
A block on, I discovered the source of the sound. A young man and woman were seated on chairs in the center of the street. The gaps in my memory of the event are strange to me now. I remember their backs were to me as I approached.....and he was playing but she was not....his hair was beautiful: dark, thick, shiny, waves of hair falling to his shoulders...a jar for tips on the pavement in front of them.
I stopped to roll a cigarette and listen to the music. By now I was positioned to see their faces but the music was so beautiful, I could not look at them. It seemed sacrilegious to look directly into their faces. I finished rolling my cigarette and dug in my bag for a lighter. As I lit the cigarette, the first drops of rain began to fall. This was music I might hear in a subway station in San Francisco -- not on the street in New Orleans. The sound had transformed the street, the people, my sense of the city.
As I pulled money from my purse, a raindrop extinguished my cigarette. I was now fully in the Paradise Experience and read the snuffing of my cigarette as a sign. I walked to the jar and dropped three bills into it, making eye contact and smiling at the musician. He smiled and nodded and I walked away, feeling like the Dali Lama had just touched my forehead.
I was blocks away, waiting on St. Charles for the streetcar, when I realized I had no idea what instrument he was playing. There was no time to walk back. The rain had stopped but the wind was still lashing the hem of my dress around my calves.
It's the next day and I still feel that music caressing my life. Perhaps next week I'll ask at some of the stores in that block, try to find out who those people were. Or at least what instrument the guy was playing.