I know I can’t really see the world. I have put my own boots on the ground in 27 countries. There are hundreds more to go, not to mention all the stuff in my own country I haven’t seen yet. It is hopeless. Lately I have found my self trending towards a kindler and gentler and more achievable goal. I am starting to see the virtues of going back. New plan: why not learn in depth rather than always rushing to a new place I haven’t seen yet? It could be a sign of getting more elder (that verboten Road Scholar word). Or maybe just wiser: there is real pleasure in coming back and learning new things about an old place that you increasingly make your own. Whichever, I have just found myself signing up for my third Road Scholar program in Louisiana in six months. How weird is this?
I am a proud East Coaster. Why this fascination with Louisiana? It probably helps that I first saw New Orleans forty years ago, as a 23 year old, in love and smitten with life. That was when coffee at Café du Monde came in china cups and beignets had a more delicate application of confectioner’s sugar. Pete Fountain still played on Bourbon Street. A real person with fishnet stockings swung in and out of a window above a strip joint. I was newly a grownup (or so I thought) and fell in love with this magical city which my 23 year old husband and I felt we owned. I visited New Orleans a few times over ensuing decades for professional meetings and conventions. Best “work” visit: a clever colleague finagled a wholly unnecessary professional visit for us both (from Pittsburgh) in order to go to a Lena Horne concert.
When I got free (aka retired) it is no surprise that I perused the Road Scholar website to see what I could do in New Orleans. There was a program on the history and culture of New Orleans. I signed up. Less the romantic and more the lifelong learner, it seemed time to actually learn something about the magic city. I saw where the levees broke during Katrina, flooding the city. I learned about complex racial Creole history, and about how surprisingly entwined the history of New Orleans and the history of Canada are. I learned about the writers, and started reading Faulkner. I became an eldergroupie of a clarinetist named Tom Fischer who plays at Fritzel’s bar. Afterwards, I stayed interested in jazz, which I had never liked much before, and came back two months later for the French Quarter Music Festival. I won’t regale you with superlatives; check the website and the reviews, or just sign up. If you feel the way I do about New Orleans it shouldn’t take much convincing. My third Road Scholar program in October will be to Lafayette in Southwest Louisiana, to learn about the Cajun culture, the oiled birds, the vulnerability of the wetlands to hurricanes, the fishing industry.
Road Scholar programs in New Orleans are burgeoning since recovery from Katirna. Why? New Orleans, I believe, has not just recovered from Katrina; it has become an enlarged presence in the heart of America because of Katrina. There was the horror of the superdome, which got everybody to peer closely at this city and see what we had, what we almost lost and still could lose. There was soon the American Experience program “New Orleans”, exploring both the Katrina aftermath and the city’s unique racial history. There was the HBO series “Treme” on the rebuilding of a flooded African American neighborhood. (Both are now available on DVD). And there was the Super Bowl, the symbolic phoenix of a new “America’s team” and of America’s new favorite place. These cultural gifts came from Katrina. They magnified and provided perspective upon previous cultural icons like The Big Easy, and the Ken Burns Jazz series, and the National Park Service Jazz Heritage park at the French Market, which seemed unheralded before Katrina.
So now that I better perceive my old special place of magic and dreams, I plan to keep coming back to learn to love it better. Road Scholar has a lot of other programs including a rumored upcoming Caribbean cruise emphasizing Caribbean links to New Orleans, and of course, Mardi gras which I haven’t ever been to (yet.) My travel aspirations — to see the world — are shrinking. Through growth, it seems.