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  • Some feelings are well worn, shared by many before you, verging on cliché—and they’re still true. I’ve got an instinctual resistance to falling into these little ruts of human sentiment, usually grasping for the original, the unsaid. Sometimes, it’s a useless battle.

    Sometimes, you just miss New Orleans.
  • It’s a city that seems to drive some of us to heartfelt declarations, passionate descriptions that sound as if they were inspired by a lover or ancestor, someone who’d gotten deeply under our skin or began deep in our bloodline. Even relative newcomers talk about the place feeling oddly familiar, like a suspended state of emotional déjà vu… As if you *know* this place you couldn’t possibly know as a New England-raised Californian, a longtime New Yorker, a rambler from somewhere vaguely Eastern European, judging from the accent. And yet, I remember my first few hours in New Orleans, driving around the streets of the Bywater and the Treme, and feeling a surprising sense of homecoming. It may have taken years for me to actually move to the city, but when I did, spontaneously and uncertain about the future, I was absorbed so quickly that I had no questions about the correctness of that first feeling. This is my place, I practically declared, no matter if it’s of choosing or by birth.

    And it took me in, as if the feeling was mutual. Whether it was the neighbor who provided me with cocktails and grilled venison sausages on her father’s deck hours after meeting me, or the gentleman on the corner of Press and St. Claude who instructed me about the power of saying a consistent “Good Morning” to any and all I encountered. Whether it was the good-natured argument over the Quarter’s best Bloody Mary with the guy on the barstool next to me at Coop’s, or the dusk bike ride home, dodging potholes, the sporadic scent of night-blooming jasmine making me ebullient. Whether it was the moment I realized I needed no occasion to wear a costume, or the one I realized that whenever I needed the medicine of live music, I could find it in this city, any time of the day or night.

    I have been grateful almost daily. Each time I get on the I-10 West at North Claiborne and drive up the ramp to the point where the cityscape comes into view, the tall buildings of the Central Business District with the French Quarter arrayed before it, the Crescent City Connection reaching out over the Mississippi River to one side, I’m inclined to give a small “whoop” of appreciation. Sometimes I do, out loud. This place has taught me not to keep such celebrations internal.
  • When it came time for me to drive back north to the small Massachusetts town that’s long been home, I felt a kind of mourning. Not that there’s anything wrong with lush hills and corn and tobacco fields of this New England valley; they are as lovely as they ever were. My community has taken me back in with all the affection and home-baked cupcakes a girl could ask for. But there aren’t Sunday parades here, no wandering with one’s drink out of the bar into the humid night, no citywide obsession with crawfish, no random teenagers playing in a brass band on the street corner. There is also no nation-leading murder rate, no daily encounters with extreme poverty, and a hell of a lot fewer beat-up roads. But I even miss those things, the hardships and the deterioration that make me want to *do* something. They inspire the reporter in me, the one who wants to bear up New Orleans’ stories, like they were both a burden and a gift. It is so comfortable in this small Massachusetts town. That kind of comfort can be lulling as much as reassuring. And I want, it seems, to be shaken up. Regularly. With all the joy and heartbreak that brings.

    So, for these months of separation, New Orleans, I embrace the clichés. I dig up Louis Armstrong singing about what it means, because now I know, too.
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