January 16, 2006

Now is the time, O Best Beloveds, to discuss a throwaway line from the first paragraph of my opening email of this third installment of Big Cancer Fun. As some of you well know, the city of New Orleans looms large in Steve’s and my personal narrative; our first major trip together was to Jazz Fest, we got accidentally engaged there, we were married just three hours away in Cajun country and returned to the city to honeymoon. Along the way, we were gifted with some extraordinary friendships that are as meaningful to us as the place itself. And though we long toyed with the idea of buying a house, I swear we only introduced Tim and Leslie because we thought they would enjoy having dinner together; that they got married and ended up with one house too many was an unforeseen bonus. That Nettie, Diana and Dave wanted to buy the house with us was a blessing with a cream sauce on top. Now we were all together in our New Orleans philia, and what’s more, we could walk to Jazz Fest, and at the end of a New Orleans day, we could sit on our porch in the balmy air and think “Nowhere but here.”

And we still think that, two and a half years after buying that house, even after August 28th, and subsequent events. Our intrepid home-owning group went down to NOLA at the end of Sept, before we were officially permitted to do so, so we could see how our house did (short version: about like everyone else’s that wasn’t outright destroyed, which is to say, messy, but repairable) and, more to the point, see our city. I wrote some exhausted and sometimes not terribly coherent emails during that visit, which I attach here in one document if you want details on the state of the house, and the state of the city during that twilight in between time. (Many of you have read these already. It is rather long, so don’t feel obligated.)

I am bringing all this up now because Nettie and I are going to New Orleans on Thursday, to try to move along the repairs, so that I can do some on-site work for Frommer’s and so we can again see our city. It is not a trip we are anticipating with unmixed emotions, which is an unfamiliar and unsettling sensation. Regular readers of Cancer Chick know that more than once I’ve been sustained by thoughts of NOLA during my treatment; the first time around, it was only the promise of Jazz Fest, which landed at the end of chemo, that got me through chemo the first time. The city fixes what is broken in me; like Antaeos, I draw strength from touching it. But now, the city itself is broken. And I can’t ask it for what it can’t give. I don’t mean to claim the suffering of others as my own; what was experienced by New Orleanians is a catastrophe, and for once, the use of the word is not hyperbole. What they have endured and continue to endure is unimaginable in modern day America.

But, as I said to Nicole shortly after Katrina, I am pretty much always thinking about New Orleans, the way other people think about Jesus. This may be a lesson in not putting such emphasis on material things, but even the serenely adjusted among us who have fully accepted the constancy of change and that nothing is real except impermanence probably rarely apply that concept to an entire city, and certainly don’t expect it to be realized within their immediate lifetimes. That a whole place, and with it, a unique culture and way of life, can change dramatically, that it can, in certain parts, pass away, is not something we carry with us as possibility, not even here in Los Angeles, home to the always-immanent Big One. Each day, we read about hopeful signs of return and renewal in New Orleans, but nearly each day, we read about something else that is gone, is lost, has changed, and it’s a constant sucker punch, a sharp upper cut to the solar plexus, to the spot where we carry our most beloveds, to continuity and with it, identity.

I’m afraid this reads more melodramatic than I intended. So. Nettie and I are going to NOLA on Thursday, my chemo off week, to see and to eat, to write checks and hang drywall, to plead with roofers and hug our beloveds, to bear witness to the Lower 9th Ward, and be grateful for the higher ground of Esplanade Ridge. I have a bloody nose most mornings, my legs hurt nearly all the time, and I get cold really easily because I have no hair. I’m done with two chemo rounds, out of six, unless Dr. Waisman decides to add more. We are going to find Kermit, or ReBirth, or the Jazz Vipers, and dance to one third finished. There will be food porn.

Everything is sweeter when when viewed from a certain double shotgun in Bayou St. John,