Do You Know What It Means?

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans
And miss it each night and day
I know I'm not wrong, the feeling's getting stronger
The longer I stay away

Miss the moss-covered vines, tall sugar pines
Where mockingbirds used to sing
I'd love to see that old lazy Mississippi
Hurrying into Spring

I've never actually been to New Orleans except in my imagination. I've read books like crazy that take place there – Anne Rice's books, of course – but the work of others, as well. If it's possible to long for a place you've never been, to feel like a city you've only seen in books and movies is somehow home, well, the city of jazz and zydeco has called to me for as long as I can remember.

It's the music that does it. Jazz isn't always the kickiest of styles, but it speaks directly to my soul with an honesty and a kind of nakedness that other music doesn't seem to offer, at least, not with visceral poignance. Jazz and blues, with their tendency toward improvisation, and their brutally emotional lyrics, get me through the darkest hours of my life. It's hard to remain sad when Billie Holiday or Louis Armstrong, or even Harry Connick, Jr., are crooning about wine and relationships.

Zydeco is a much more recent ship on my musical horizon, but like it's older brothers, it's deeply rooted in story. I think that's why I like all three forms of music. They're not just empty words, they're oral history, and perfect scenes. You can taste the flavor of the region in every stanza.

The moonlight on the bayou
A Creole tune that fills the air
I dream about magnolias in bloom
And I'm wishin I was there

Everything I've ever read about New Orleans talks about the light in certain parts of the city as being sort of greenish grey. If you've never lived in an old neighborhood, the kind where the trees are ancient, and the houses are all slightly different from one another, and there's a leafy canopy over the center of the road, you might never have seen that kind of light. You get it, sometimes, in places like the Rosegarden District in San Jose, CA, on overcast days. It's a soft light that lends a misty patina to everything it touches, and walking in it is not unlike being steeped in sepia and posing in a picture.

On days when the light was like that, I'd walk into a favorite cafe, and sip a mocha, and read a thick novel, spending hours inside myself. I always wanted to experience the real thing. I hope that when the levees are rebuilt and the city is drained, there's some of that left.

Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans
When that's where you left your heart
And there's one thing more, I miss the one I care for
More than I miss New Orleans3

I wrote, several months ago, that the ideal way to spend my 35th birthday was to sip cafe au lait and eat beignets at Cafe Du Monde, but I let myself be talked out of it. “The weather will suck,” they said. “Wait til fall, when it's nicer.” So I waited, and I shouldn't have.

I've been glued to CNN for the past few days, watching the damage from Katrina mounting, watching water pour into New Orleans. My thoughts are with the people of Lousiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida, of course, but a piece of my heart cries for the city of New Orleans as well.

Way down yonder in New Orleans
In the land of the dreamy scenes
There's a garden of Eden…you know what I mean

Amy of BeautyJoyFood has asked all her blogbuddies to write about New Orleans in some fashion, and post the link you see at the top of the entry. So this entry is at her behest, but it's dedicated to two amazing women from OpenDiary: RebelBelle, who is safe at home, but soggy, in Alabama, and Cobalt, who is one of the many evacuees from New Orleans.

1, 2, & 3) “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?,” by Louis Alter and Eddie DeLange.
4) “Way Down Yonder in New Orleans,” by Henry Creamer and J. Turner Layton.

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