Song of the City and the River

In the heart of the night, In the cool falling rain, There’s a full moon in sight, Shining down on the Ponchartrain, And the river she rises, Just like she use to do, She’s so full of surprises, She reminds me of you, In the heart of the night Down in New Orleans. -Paul Cotton

I was born in the city of New Orléans or maybe the proper wording is, ‘the city was born in me.’ For biology and geography do not always equate to the affections one may have with this city by the Mississippi River. However, this is the only hypothesis that offers any explanation to why a person born far from this storied land experiences an acute scene of being ‘one’ with the area while others born into it leave; never to return.

There is a love, hate relationship with the city and its environment and the rest of the world. If ask my place of birth, eyes will light up with enthusiasm or withdraw in contempt. Both the interest and scorn associated with the amount of decadence and corruption New Orléans is infamous for. But this is only part of the story, as there exist a multitude of reasons to love or hate this place I call home and the clues lie within the cadence of the various personalities and the history that makes up this hallowed ground and how they unite into one symphony.

To get the full gist of my birth city, one needs to understand the character of the populace influenced by the geography of the area. How the passing of time from one generation to the next along with the constant ebbing and surging issuing forth from the Mississippi River through the centuries have affected the ethos of the culture, a culture rich in the hardships and miracles of life and the ability to say yes to living and to dying. The city is synonymous with the river and in many ways one born or moved to the environs of southeast Louisiana is forever influenced by the river and its lore. Hardly a day goes by that its force is not felt in one situation or another.

There exist a tug of war within my heart when I moved away years ago that never quite subsides. To stay can leave a person without direction wandering aimlessly in a desolate wasteland of his or her own making. To leave can haunt your soul, for a part of you is gone, never to return the same. Whether you stay or leave, a balance is required and the ability to pay homage to the mighty river and its city is of necessity. When I moved away I soon came to appreciate and love my place of birth all the while knowing I could never have stayed or could I ever move back. We each needed distance from each other, so in time we’d learn to love and respect one another.

There are many gods and demons in this land, and each one must be dealt a hand and given its due. They intersect, sometimes in harmony, other times in hostility. They come from every direction; from the Catholic Church to Voodoo rituals passed on from Haitian immigrants and influenced by each subsequent nationality that has come to call this land home; Spanish, French, English, Irish, Creole, Cajun, Native American, African, German and so on. So we light our candles, make the sign of the cross in front of every church, and buy our voodoo dolls… we dress up for Mardi Gras, go to confession on Ash Wednesday, fast for the 40 days of Lent and do it all over again after Easter, all to live in an uneasy peace with ourselves.

The French explorer, La Salle claimed the river and the land drained by its waters for France in 1682. The land named Louisiana after King Louis XIV while the river retained the French pronunciation of the Native American word, Misi sipi meaning “big water”, a dialect of the Algonquin language group comprising such tribes as the Ojibwa, Fox, Cheyenne, Cree and the Algonquin. The Lakota referred to the river as the “Grandfather of all Rivers”.

For La Salle, the Native Americans, and all who have seen the river and sense its greatness as it meanders down from Lake Itasca in Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, some 2,340 miles, one is easily humbled by its grandeur. In numeric terms, it is staggering. If you judge the distance to the headwaters of its longest tributary, the Missouri River, the distance is 5,970 miles. At its birth, the river is twelve feet in width and only one and a half feet deep, a mere child; and as it gathers age on its long trek south the river is 3000 to 5000 feet wide with a depth of nine to twelve feet; a venerable respected elder.

About 593,000 cubic feet of water discharged every second, the sixth largest expulsion of water in the world. With its numerous tributaries, comprising other predominate rivers as the Illinois, Missouri, Ohio and the Arkansas rivers, about 1,150,000 square miles of land drained, the largest in North America as far as land mass concerned and the third largest in the world.

This consensus of water is a spiritual one, the godhead of waters. Orthodox, secular, and metaphysical, it knows no prejudice to any creed or dogma. Hence the nicknames, Father of Waters or Old Man River…..

When I was younger, many nights I sat by the levee staring out at the expanse of water down from the crescent in the river across from Jackson Square. Sometimes I would ride the Algiers ferry over to the west bank. In my imagination, I saw the entanglement of river, land and city reminding me of the big and little dipper and the North Star. The river is Ursa Major, the Missouri and Ohio Rivers are Alfa and Beta, the Gulf of Mexico is Ursa Minor and the shining jewel of New Orléans, Polaris. It became a constellation, always there to guide me wherever I lay my hat.

©jc2019-9…. Image by Pixabay

Fire Of Joy,‘feu de joie, St. James Parish

Whenever I find myself in the environs of Baton Rouge on Christmas Eve, I head south on a little excursion on River Road following the levee on the east bank of the Mississippi River towards New Orleans. My destination is St.James Parish, some 20 to 30 miles upriver from New Orleans. St.James Parish is home to the communities of Lutcher, Gramercy, and Paulina. I’ve spent a lot of time in this area during my college years, so this is a special place for me. Continue reading Fire Of Joy,‘feu de joie, St. James Parish

Home

In reality, the house was rather small. But it’s enormous in accordance with the memories of my youth as it was the first house I actually remember calling home. Things always seem bigger and grander when the past is taken in by reminiscence under the disguise of myth. Continue reading Home

Antoine Fats Domino

You have to just stop and raise your hands to the sky and wonder what’s going on? A few weeks ago we lost Tom Petty and now it’s personal, someone from home. Many thought Katrina got to him at his home in the lower ninth ward, but he is rescued… thank God he didn’t go down in that way. Continue reading Antoine Fats Domino

In The Heart Of The Night

In the city of my birth,
On the third floor of Beckham’s Book Shop,
Surrounded by stacks of books I can only dream of reading every title,
Falling asleep on this worn out couch,
The musty smell making me dizzy.

They call it ‘the city that time forgot’ and continues to forget as we saw with Katrina,
Or the ‘crescent city’ for the bend in the river which Bienville saw as strategic,
Many nights I walked that same bend along the railroad tracks by the river’s edge,
Drinking hot beer procured from the abandoned Jax Brewery,
Oblivious to the rich history I was born into.

Wandering these streets of the French Quarters,
Past the painters, fortune tellers and street musicians trying to make a dollar,
I find myself in St. Louis Cathedral staring at the stained glass,
The pipe organ playing Bach while someone is blowing a horn in Pirates Alley,
Both melding into a complexed whole, as candles from the altar, burn our sins away.

So many nights strolling down Bourbon Street in a haze,
How many ghosts have crossed my path this night,
Dripping in the humid air of summer is like breathing thru syrup,
Or the damp cold of winter cutting you to the bone.

Growing up we’d take the Algiers Ferry across the river to the West Bank,
When night falls on a full moon you can see the city’s horizon shimmering on the water,                                                                                                                          

I think we only leave home so we can love it all the more.
It is then I understand this longing I feel for my city by the river,
You never really get over it, just strike an uneven peace between the heart
and head.

©jc2017-9

*Photo courtesy of Pixabay

December in New Orleans

stocksnap_x7mzjn39sm_optOne of my fondest memories of Christmas as a child was riding in the backseat of a Ford station wagon along Canal Street in downtown New Orleans. The radio playing holiday classics in the background while watching the display of Christmas bells outside the front of D.H. Holmes Department Store. I’m not sure, but I seem to remember the bells moving back Continue reading December in New Orleans

Fire of Joy, ‘feu de joie’

Whenever I find myself in the environs of Baton Rouge on Christmas bonfiresStoryEve, I head south on a little excursion on River Road following the levee on the east bank of the Mississippi River towards New Orleans. My destination is St.James Parish, some 20 to 30 miles upriver from New Orleans. St.James Parish is home to the communities of Lutcher, Gramercy, and Paulina. I’ve spent a lot of time in this area during my college years, so this is a special place for me.

Even before I get to my final stop I look up toward the top of the levee and see wooden structures shaped like a pyramid, some 20 to 30 feet in height. The cross beams in the structure giving it the appearance of a ladder. Other neighboring parishes, Ascension and St.John the Baptist also have these wooden edifices, but none hold to this tradition as passionate as St.James Parish, counting at least 100 such structures built and all will soon be set ablaze to guide Papa Noel, on his annual Christmas Eve run to deliver presents to all who are children at heart. Continue reading Fire of Joy, ‘feu de joie’

Quote8

JohnHeld_Tales_of_the_Jazz_Age_1922publicdomainSome people were born to sit by a river. Some get struck by lightning. Some have an ear for music. Some are artists. Some swim. Some know buttons. Some know Shakespeare. Some are mothers. And some people, dance.                                                   -Benjamin Button

“For w479px-Leather_shank_button_up_close-creative-commonshat it’s worth: it’s never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. There’s no time limit, stop whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing. We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it. And I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people with a different point of view. I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the courage to start all over again.”                                                                                                                   -Benjamin Button
Continue reading Quote8