“America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans. Everywhere else is Cleveland.” Tennessee Williams
My only child was married in New Orleans on the eve of 2014. As my husband and I walked out in the French Quarter that Saturday morning, rain splashing on the cobblestones and dripping on our heads from the wrought-iron balconies, I was glad of the opportunity to make the journey on foot, like a pilgrim. So many colorful epochs converge in the streetscapes of the Vieux Carre and call to you across the centuries, that you can’t help but be drawn back into memory as you make your way down St. Anne to Chartres, past the cathedral and up St. Peters Street beyond Preservation Hall. You peer into courtyards where a light glows in a window, where a busboy leans to take a smoke. You glance into shops where the smell of chocolate and hot caramel rolls up from a marble slab.
|French Quarter courtyard|
In these streets there is the same sea-reflected light that shines upon the steep Pacific city of your youth. There is the same sense of risks taken, of lives uprooted and re-imagined, of people pushing themselves to the bare-knuckled edge of possibility. You can’t help but think of your own wedding, so long ago but always so immediate. Fear and joy are snarled in your throat. Someone is pinning freesias in your hair and the scent makes you dizzy. People you trust express doubts, his family sends their regrets. The risk seems immense -- it yawns like a cavern without a bridge. But then your lover’s face in the doorway settles everything, and there is a floor beneath your feet. It isn’t until much later that you comprehend the significance of what you've learned: that life is all about the leaps.
|A mule waits beside the Mississippi|
Thirty-one years later we are walking to our daughter’s wedding. My husband wears the linen cap he bought at a shop on Royal Street the night before. It suits his tan suit surprisingly well, his lavender shirt and pocket square. I tell him he looks ready to walk onstage in a production of My Fair Lady playing Eliza’s father, Alfred Doolittle, the Cockney dustman who sings “Get Me to the Church on Time.” A hawker at a Bourbon Street strip club confirms me in this when he calls out as we pass, “You well turned out, man! You got Nawlins style!”
|Noisette rose in Jackson Square|
Now a friend whisks me up the cramped stairs to a room lit by a dazzling chandelier. Girls’ laughter echoes off the walls; the windows are open to the balcony and I hear the swish of tires in the rain.
|St. Louis Cathedral|
A woman stands with her back to me, the ivory lace and long train appearing to be natural extensions of her, as if they are the plumage of a slim and luminous bird. It’s not until I see her face reflected in the pier glass on the opposite wall that I recognize my child. I think of that phrase, ‘gilding the lily.’ And then there’s music sounding in the stairwell. We are all rushing. There is so much happiness. There are cupcakes.
Life is all about the leaps.