Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"Every Southern belle is a Mississippi queen..."

When I was about 19 – nearly so, or just-turned 19 – I went with my roommate Janis to New York City for the first time. We drove to Connecticut, and then took a train into the city. I still remember stepping out of Grand Central Station and onto the sidewalk, and into that feeling of being in a city that was completely alive. It was one of those amazing, “Look out, world, I’m ready for anything!” kinds of feelings.

I spent most of last week in New Orleans, for the Special Libraries Association annual conference (Sunday through Wednesday), and the second annual National Transportation Knowledge Network (NTKN) meeting (Thursday). I had a hard time sleeping most every night, yet I rarely felt tired during the day. It seemed that I’d fallen under the city’s spell without realizing it. In New York, half my lifetime ago, I was charged up and ready to experience “the city that never sleeps.” In New Orleans, I wasn’t thinking of anything extraordinary, just hoping for safe travel, an informative conference, and some time to catch up with librarian friends and colleagues. (Well, I also hoped to visit at least one bookstore, since I hadn’t gotten to any on my first Louisiana trip, to Baton Rouge in October 2008.)

It was during my relaxing, on-my-own Wednesday evening that I realized I’d been “infected.” Back in my hotel room after the SLA Closing General Session, trying to decide where to have dinner and what else to do, I called Dauphine Street Books to find out how late they were open. I walked over there and was able to browse for about half an hour –- after simply staring around me for the first couple minutes, overwhelmed with the volume of books in the place. I ended up buying three books, including one that had been on my wish list for about two years, Almost No Memory by Lydia Davis. I’ll save the details of my New Orleans book buying spree for another post, but I’ll say here that I left Dauphine Street Books a very happy camper.

I didn’t realize until early Wednesday afternoon that there was an IHOP only a block from my hotel. Basically every time I left the hotel, I went south toward the Marriott, to get the shuttle to the Convention Center. Riding in the taxi on Wednesday, after a relaxing morning in my hotel room, I actually looked at things around me, instead of just checking my schedule or stressing about running late. I noticed the IHOP before the taxi made the U-turn to go south. I thought of how something soft like pancakes would be wonderful and satisfying, after several days of eating foods that were hard on my still-sore mouth, and tiring my jaw. (It had been four weeks since I’d gotten my wisdom teeth pulled, and yes, I could tell that things still weren’t quite right.) IHOP was right near the corner of Dauphine and Canal, and I happily got a table for one. I glanced at my three new books, but spent most of my time skimming my copy of NCHRP Report 643, Implementing Transportation Knowledge Networks, and marking the passages I liked.

I think I heard some of the music from outside while I was inside eating, but now, a week later, I’m not sure if I’m recalling it correctly. Once outside, I couldn’t help hearing it – very loud, and right there on the corner of Canal and Bourbon Street, between IHOP and my hotel. I stopped to watch and listen with a crowd of dozens of other people, including a good number dancing. There were no voices, just an incessant, irresistible beat, and horns and saxophones breathing pure elation. I stood there about five minutes, soaking it in. And then the players started to sing – or to chant – something like, “If you don’t worry ‘bout me / Then I won’t worry ‘bout you,” and then, “If you don’t f*** with me / Then I won’t f*** with you.” Yup, it still sounded great to me!

Soon, I crossed Bourbon Street and headed toward my hotel. I felt a dopey smile on my face, following an evening of new books, a satisfying (and reasonably priced) supper, and a small sea of incredible music.

I’ve since learned, searching YouTube, that the musicians I heard are called the To Be Continued (or TBC) Brass Band. Tonight, I found part of that same performance, from the evening of June 16, posted on YouTube. It’s fairly short, less than three minutes, and includes the vocals – and that’s great, I like them! – but I wish it were longer, with a couple more minutes of music before the singing. I’m a wordy person, I love lyrics, but it was the beat and rhythm that kept me standing there, hypnotized, before any word was sung.

I stopped in a souvenir and music store in the airport, before getting my plane on Thursday. I looked through the CDs, and wanted to ask the cashier who was singing overhead, but she was talking on the phone the whole time I was in there. I remembered how much my dad loved jazz, and wished I could tell him about the music of New Orleans. When I was young, I enjoyed some of my parents’ music, but I hadn’t warmed to jazz, I didn’t hear it very often. “Da, the airport is named after Louis Armstrong, and music is the spirit of the city. You would have loved this place.”



(To learn more about why the TBC Brass Band was swearing in this performance, read this piece.)

1 comment:

Valerie said...

hi Marie! What a great experience - and you've captured it beautifully with your writing. Thank you for sharing such a lovely memory.