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A Continual Farewell March 20, 2009

Posted by Mark Folse in 504, Bloggers, Debrisville, Federal Flood, je me souviens, levee, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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But I still hear them walking in the trees: not speaking.
Waiting here, away from the terrifying weaponry, out of
the halls of vapor and light, beyond holland into the
hills, I have come to

– the last lines of Samuel R. Delaney’s Dhalgren

this, not an end but like Delaney’s circular last and first lines in the novel both an end and a beginning. Maitri of Vatul Blog and Loki of Humid City (and their respective spouses) are both bound for Ohio, that place famously derided by Lafcadio Hearn in comparison to New Orleans.

It is an end to the counting of day’s since 8-29-05 by Maitri but many more beginnings–new jobs, houses, friends, challenges. It is a continuity of things that will not change: HumidCity.com, or an abiding love of New Orleans. Listen to their own words:

Maitri: “It’s hard to fathom leaving New Orleans, its wonderful culture, color, cuisine and craziness, and all of you, my amazing friends and blogger buddies here. Without you guys, the Exile would have been truly unbearable and, on our return, we made something good together. New Orleans is my love. I died a little when I told some of you…that we’re leaving.”

Loki (long ago and from a context that makes it bitter sweet); “The pull of one’s roots is strong. The call of generations of Blancs, Monroes, Williamses, Martins and other blood relations is loud and persistent in my mind. This is my home…”

George and Maitri will be remembered for many things, not the least of which is the crazy amount of energy they both bring to life here in a place famous for its insouciance. Listening to D talk about Maitri’s (and his) adventures in Krewe du Vieux, I felt like they were personally putting on a parade for us all to share. The loss of their intensity is a grievous blow but to live here is to learn to roll with the punches.

It is hard to see them leave, to see anyone leave New Orleans, but the pull of life’s demands–jobs, families, spouses–is irresistible. It led me to spend years living in places that seem strange to other Orleanians, small town Minnesota and Fargo, N.D. in the howling cold winters. I know from my own experience that life leads us where it will, to places never imagined, but also that the mark this city leaves on us all is indelible, that wherever we go we carry the city with us.

While in Fargo some music professors at a local university who had a traditional Dixie Land band put on a Mardi Gras festival. A local caterer managed very creditable red beans, we spent one of the funniest moments of my life as the leader tried to teach hundreds of Scandinavians how to clap on the downbeat, and we ended with a second line parade. A local radio personality whose station sponsored the event led us and not very far down the path he handed the decorated umbrella to me and said, here, you lead. You look like you know how to do this. It was one of the happiest moments of my life in the North.

I know that as sad as the parting will be for the strange band of NOLA bloggers it is not the end of New Orleans in the aggregate or the individual. Immigrant Maitri and old line Creole Loki are like us all deeply imprinted by this place, and will carry it with them wherever they go. Their leaving does not dilute the city but expands the franchise. They will go to their separate corners of Ohio and teach the Buckeyes how to cook and to eat, how to drink and to dance, how to live and be happy, how to turn sack cloth and ashes into a costume and parade.

~~~

Dhalgen ends on a circular note, the words above wrapping around to the opening lines below:

to wound the autumnal city.
So howled out for the world to give him a name.
The in-dark answered with wind.

I am continually drawn to the bizarre tale of Dhalgren as an analogue for life in postdiluvian New Orleans. Our city seems afflicted with a madness we cannot diagnose and still it pulls at our heart, whether we struggle mightily against it or simply immerse ourselves in its slow, wild life, drinking deep at the happy delirium to drown the noise of dementia. As it was in the time of Hearn New Orleans can be bleak and beautiful all in the same frame.

I am not Delaney’s Kid: nameless and lost, answered with wind. This city is a maze and every step in takes me closer to something that calls to me, unfolds a fractally perfect pattern I could find no where else. I do not know if I will find a bright treasure or the Minotaur and madness at the center. I many never reach the center. Perhaps New Orleans like Dhalgren is a puzzle never meant to be solved, and that the entire point of it. I know I am called to stay, and judge no one else by that measure.

My journey is not through but into the city and when I lay dying in New Orleans the worth of the journey will not be what we saved (and how do you “save” a city, a thing that by definition is at once permanent–at least on the scale of a single lifetime–and yet constantly changes as much as this place has since 1957). The measure of the journey will be the people I met in and about and because of this place, the noisy crowd of NOLA bloggers I once described this way: “We’re not paragons, of virtue or anything else. We’re as dysfunctional a band as any mid-career high school class, mad as bats as often as not, cranky as an Ash Wednesday hangover and drunk 24-7 on the elixir of New Orleans.”

It will not matter where these friends are tomorrow (or tomorrow or tomorrow). From the first meeting of bloggers at Fahy’s and the first Geek Dinner to this last Mardi Gras and the farewell parties yet to begin: we’ll always have New Orleans.

To Maitri and D and Loki and Alexis, all I can say is this, the words ground control in Houston once spoke to a famous Buckeye named John Glenn: God speed.

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