Posted by: chptr37 | 04/09/2009

Pg. 8: Texas to Louisiana

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Alas, poor Yorick! Even he gets a bit of bling in New Orleans.

Stats:

  • Miles Today: 178
  • Miles Total: 3437
  • From/To: Beaumont, Texas to New Orleans, LA
  • Slept: Hotel St. Marie
  • Soundtrack: Korn and Amy Lee, Freak on a Leash
  • Best Thing: The skinny-hipped, big-piped woman in the bar down the street from the hotel, singing in a gritty, southern, rockability voice. Her band was pretty awesome too.
  • Worst Thing: I. am. tired. of. being. in. the. car. 
  • Quote of the Day: “Baby, is there anything in particular you want to hear?” said by the above-mentioned singer as she leaned into me in the dark and loud and smoky bar, one hand cupping my ear, the other resting on my thigh.

*

There’s no place else in the world that looks and feels like the non-developed American South. It’s not something that’s easily replicated, and most places wouldn’t want to. Yet, it has an appeal that’s all its own: swamps and swamp creatures, everything green and brown and taking its slow, sweet time. The people and the animals seem alike to me—sweet and smiling, come closer, dear, with big big teeth that they may or may not use on you.

And then smack in the middle of Louisiana is another culture all its own: New Orleans. French. Cajun. American. Southern. International. Very international: Every time I walk down Bourbon Street in NO, I am reminded of Amsterdam. City of beauty and creativity and freedom and choice and sensuality and sexuality. All tainted by humans’ inability to not turn into complete fools when given the opportunity for all of those things.

Strolling down Bourbon Street, being hawked and gawked at, being offered boobs and beer and beads, I remember my first time here. Getting ready for a road trip from NO to Minnesota, I arrived in NO in the middle of the night, met the eight guys I’d be traveling with, drank too much too fast on Bourbon Street and then got relegated to the floor in the corner of the hotel room because there was no other place to sleep. (And, yes, oddly, I’m saying all of that with a great deal of fondness for both the experience and my fantastic travel companions).

This is years later, my third time here, and so different. Not the city, despite Katrina and the passage of time, the city feels the same to an outsider. But it’s me that’s different. I have little patience with the selling, with the eyeballs that trace my body as I go by, with the 3-for-1 drinks, the neon lights. I’m tired, too, of all the masks. The ones for sale in every store. The ones on faces. The ones that you can’t see. The ones that the dancers and the sellers and the tourists wear. Blank or excited. Empty or gaudy.

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with masks. Most bother me in a way that I can’t quite articulate. The recreated carnival masks seem cheesy and chintzy, although I’m sure the real ones are not. The phantom of the opera mask just makes me feel tired. So many masks take away features, smooth out the wrinkles and scars and laugh lines.

It seems to me that the best masks do more than just hide something about the wearer; They add something additional. A new personality. A highlighted element of an existing personality trait. A scary side, a friendly side, a funny or sad side. The animalistic side. The rabbit mask from Donnie Darko scares the crap out of me in that delicious, shiver-inducing way. So does the scarecrow mask from Batman Begins. I saw an exhibit of actors’ masks at the Coliseum last year that caught my attention for a good hour, and I wandered among them with my mouth mostly open, marveling at the expressions and emotions intricately carved in each one. I want a mask to give me something, not just take it away. To do more than hide an element or a cheek or an eye.

And, yet, I hide behind my own masks. Don’t we all? Depending on who we are with, or how we are feeling, or what we want to portray or hide. The human creature is the ultimate mask-maker. We mold ourselves into something horrible or beautiful with a simple ease that rivals even the ancient mask-makers in Italy.

Here, in this city of masks, I find myself wanting to drop mine, to reveal something of myself that I would prefer to hide, to let the neon lights wash along me and illuminate me. Uncover me. Not to make me tabula rosa, but to expose me for all that I am. And nothing more.

Far and fast, s.

*

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Me, Unmasked, in New Orleans.

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Responses

  1. Hmmm. Now you have me thinking about masks.

  2. Well put. I am a little freaked by masks as well.

  3. Ahhh… look at you – the wind in your hair, gazing out at the world sans mask channeling Syrr I kid, I kid.

    You’ve come a long way baby. Just remember that and enjoy the journey.

    I so heart you
    ❤ ❤ ❤

  4. Ero: Ooh, I hope you write something about masks. I would love to read it.

    Stacy: -laughs- You know what scares me more than masks are those animal costumes, like Chuck E. Cheese.

    Annie: Oh, yeah! I am channeling Syrr there, aren’t I? Good catch 🙂


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