Unearthing a Voice from June 2010 – Louisiana Stories

By:  Analyn Revilla

Nearly six months since Bruno died, I want time to stand still.  Everything of his still remains as it was the day he died.  Now I know that scene in the movies when the camera takes the audience into the bedroom of the departed, and in the past I wondered what it was all about.  Now I know.

I was reminiscing about Bruno’s 50th birthday in 2015.  For his gift, I offered him a trip in to one of my favourite cities, New Orleans.  I am resurfacing something I wrote to a friend in an email.  I was digging up emails with “New Orleans” as part of another project related to trips with Bruno and came upon “Louisiana Stories”.  Back in June 2010 I travelled to New Orleans to investigate what was happening to the city after Katrina and what had been the recent BP Oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.

I read the stories and was surprised at my writing voice then.  I kinda miss that voice just as much as I miss Bruno’s voice with that heavy French accent.  New Orleans and the surrounding towns and cities has many ghosts and where time simply stands still…

I got back from my trip last night.  One day you’ll find your way to that great city with its deep roots and soul.  I’ve been sending you a couple of updates via phone.  I’m writing to you in retrospect after some of the experiences have sunk into my bones.

It’s easy to meet folks and strike up a conversation with locals.

Monday Afternoon –

They have a special way of listening and responding to you.  I stopped at a mechanic’s garage to ask for directions in Gretna (just south of the city on the other side of the Mississippi.)  An old man sitting at door of the opened bay door watched me get out of the car.  His eyes were soft and brown, his skin wrinkled and dark like a purple prune.  The whites of his eyes were yellow and stood out like embers glowing from a soft flame.  I was in the presence of a saint, and perhaps he was, after all the things he’d endured as a black man in the deep south.

He spoke while his hands rested on the cane between his legs.  He’s imagining the pawn shop as he describes how I can find it.  “There’s a seafood place across the street… It’s on Van Kempf.”  We exchanged few words, but we shared so many thoughts in between.  I’ve met this soul before, perhaps he is knowing of the suffering we all endure, and he reaches out with his grace… I know.  I know.  It’s alright.

Sunday night –

One of Jonathan’s homeboys told him about this new hookah bar, so my housemates and I see what it’s about.  We get out of the parked car in an alley in the French Quarter and walk to non-descript warehouse door.  At the lobby three young black men welcome us.  One of them has shiny shoulder length braids.  He pointed up the stairs and we go on up to find the booze bar to the left and the hookah bar to the right.  Low couches and tables all around with burning scented hookahs.  It’s crowded enough that Jonathan asks a couple if they wouldn’t mind if we shared their space.  While Jonathan gets our hookahs the couple introduces themselves as Paris and Shanikah.  They offer Josh and me tokes from their hookah.

Later, we now have three hookahs at the table.  We’re smoking, chilling, and getting to know one another.  Paris is funny and quite good looking.  It’s their second date, and she looks goddess like in her turquoise dress.  She wants to dance, but Paris doesn’t.  I guess he might get offended if she asked either Josh or Jonathan to dance so she asks me.  We do the salsa, and she’s teaching me most of the steps.  She’s a teacher from Boston.  She likes it here in New Orleans, but the challenge as a teacher is to motivate the kids.  But once she found that once she gains the student’s trust that they’ll do anything for her.  I thought about it then said… “When you believe in them then they are inspired to do.”  “Yes!” she agreed whole-heartedly.

Wednesday morning –

I got three hours of sleep before the alarm went off at 4:30 am.  I wanted to watch the sunrise over the Mississippi delta, but I got there late.  The nose of the rental car faced due south in Venice at around 8 am.  (I had left the city around 5:00 and drove around somewhat lost which I didn’t mind because I was exploring to find the I-10 West / I-90 West.  I finally walked into a Starbucks in the Garden District to get coffee and ask for directions at 5:30 am.  I’d been wandering for about 1/2 hour looking for the onramp to freeway.)

LA 23 into Venice goes from a two lane highway to a single road that forks into little harbors.  The road is level with the water and the long-necked birds are extensions of graceful water plants.  They sway gently with the breezes.  The waters out here are still protected from the oil spill I am happy to find out.

I spoke to a few locals to hear about their laments about the BP oil spill.  As one local put it “They cut off our right hand, and now they want to cut off our left hand.”  He refers to the moratorium on the oil wells.  Everyone is waiting to get out and work on the clean up.  Every tool is commissioned to help out: trucks, boats, helicopters, oil spill separators.  Right now most of the effort is to put out booms or pick them up.  It is literally ant work.  Helicopter trails dot the skies as they carry booms one-by-one to the Deepwater Well, and return boom-less ready to pick up another.

I got back into the car and headed north on LA 23.  On the way I stop at Buras where hurricane Katrina began in 2005.  I to get some oyster gumbo, but “Camp’s” had closed after the hurricane.  The firehall station where I got married a long time ago is replaced by a modern red brick building.  The JP’s office had transferred to Port Sulphur, just north of Buras.  The only place to get something good to is “Black Velvet”.  I stopped by at 10 but they didn’t open till 11.  I smelled the bacon fat cooking which is a key ingredient in the gumbo.  “Nothing’s ready yet,” was the answer from the waitress, “I’m sorry.”

Before leaving Los Angeles, someone had told me everything happens for a reason, and I remembered this as I drove the lazy road back to New Orleans.  I thought of my blessing to have had the opportunity to go back and revisit a place that was the birth of many pains.  I discovered there wasn’t any pain anymore when I retraced steps to the past.  This is the grace of this place.  I look to the side to catch the name of a road “Grace Harbor”.  I think it’s another sign that I’m going in the right direction.  I’m approaching Home Place, a small town that dots the LA 23.

Before crossing the bridge back to the city I stopped at Gretna again to pay a visit to the saint, but he wasn’t around.  I asked the man there if he could give the old man these fresh peaches and Creole tomatoes I picked up on the way.  He looked at me funny and grateful.  I told him, how the old man “made an impression on me”, and that I wanted to see him again and say “thanks.”  I found the pawn shop and got what I was looking for.  I bought an old guitar.  It was beat up but its sound resonated deeply like an old soul, and I felt kinship with.

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