Category Archives: New Orleans

Time, love, and inspiration from/in New Orleans

Tiene Sabor

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Today is one of those New Orleans summer days where friends are plentiful, clouds are voluminous, where there is sunshine and at the same time rain, and where it is 11:30am on a Saturday and WWOZ is playing “Tiene Sabor.”

During my 12 years in this city that song has been a constant every Saturday morning.  Somehow the same sense of excitement and happiness surfaces within me as it did the first time I heard it.

Yolanda Estrada was like a shaman guide of music for my friends and I during our early New Orleans years.  Yolanda’s voice will breach the music to tell us about salsa in the city, what music she’ll play that day, and other topics.  Every Saturday her soothing voice would fill our house and prepare us for some magical New Orleans day.

I’m not going to lie, this has been a difficult year.  Majority of the time I have been in a hopelessness that I attribute to witnessing the injustices of the refugee crisis, and feeling like I have absolutely no control, ability, or voice to help any one.  However, the past couple weeks have begun to lighten my spirit…slowly, but surely.

Maybe because I know that soon I’ll be back in Thessaloniki and continuing to help in every way I can.  Maybe simply because I heard “Tiene Sabor” this morning after having a few days with these incredible women I met 12 years ago…12 years ago when we only needed to hear Yolanda Estrada’s voice to feel grateful, comforted, and hopeful.

This is for New Orleans and the incredible people it has brought and continues to bring into my life.

Tiene sabor.

The flavor of New Orleans is a feeling that I feel so lucky to have tasted.

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New Orleans, I’m Coming Home

I’ve been in New Orleans for almost two weeks now. Jazz Fest is over and tomorrow I start working back at Sobou.

Back to reality.

However, even with all the previous anticipation for this time to come, I am finding myself really happy. Maybe it’s because of the weather and smells the summer brings. Maybe it is because I’ve been living up Jazz Fest the past two weekends, or maybe because of the reunion with my family and friends in this beautiful city…I think this elation could be a mix of all those things.

This was one of the first times I returned from an adventure and realized that no matter how many places I fall in love with around the world, New Orleans will always be my home.

I mean, I guess my love for New Orleans is pretty obvious. I spend a large amount of time telling my friends from around the world just how AWESOME and SPECIAL New Orleans is. So, of course I’m happy to be back!

As many people know who live or have lived in New Orleans, this city gives the effect of an emotional rollercoaster. The highs, the lows, the in-betweens are all amplified a thousand fold. For my 10 years here, I’ve tried to understand ‘why’ but there really is no straight answer.

It’s the moon, it’s the weather, it’s the booze, it’s the swamp, it’s the bayou, it’s because the city is below sea level, it’s the ghosts, history, voodoo, food, and/or music. There are so many possible explanations.

So, even in the midst of writing this, whatever that New Orleans magic is, is giving me a twinge of longing for the people and places I spent the last two months visiting.

I think most people are used to having the typical milestones in life. Whether it is to buy a house, get married, or have a baby, to smaller life events like going to the Mardi Gras for the first time or Jazz Fest or whatever story a “New Orleans visit” provides for you to tell for the rest of your life.

However, when you LIVE here, when this is home, and story after story, event after event, even tragedy after tragedy is happening constantly, there is no respite. There is no time to process the joys and sorrows because once one epiphany or ecstatic moment or heartbreak is over; the next one has already begun and the city gets you wrapped up in ‘the moment’ AGAIN.

Right, so the ramble above comes down to THE MOMENT. It is all we have. And New Orleans can be a big reminder of that fact.

Several months ago I remember saying to my friend Erin,

“Oh I miss him so much! I miss that place and those people over there. What am I to do?!”

Erin said, “Well, enjoy the longing.”

“What?”

“Just enjoy that feeling. The longing. The pining. Try to enjoy it.”

I don’t think I have been able to really practice that until now. Until now, when the past two months I had been preparing for since last September have already come and gone. I’m back in New Orleans, again I am longing, again I am pining, but it is ok.

It is GOOD.

Joni Mitchell’s song, “California” is a great example describing what I’m feeling.  If the title and chorus were changed to New Orleans, it would be perfect.

Thanks New Orleans for always taking me as I am.

California by Joni Mitchell

Sitting in a park in Paris France
Reading the news and it sure looks bad
They won’t give peace a chance
That was just a dream some of us had
Still a lot of lands to see
But I wouldn’t want to stay here
It’s too old and cold and settled in its ways here
Oh but California
 
California I’m coming home
I’m going to see the folks I dig
I’ll even kiss a Sunset pig
California I’m coming home
 
I met a redneck on a Grecian isle
Who did the goat dance very well
He gave me back my smile
But he kept my camera to sell
Oh the rogue the red red rogue
He cooked good omelettes and stews
And I might have stayed on with him there
But my heart cried out for you California
 
Oh California I’m coming home
Oh make me feel good rock ‘n’ roll band
I’m your biggest fan
California I’m coming home
 
Oh it gets so lonely
When you’re walking
And the streets are full of strangers
All the news of home you read
Just gives you the blues
Just gives you the blues
 
So I bought me a ticket
Back on a plane to Spain
Went to a party down a red dirt road
There were lots of pretty people there
Reading Rolling Stone reading Vogue
They said “How long can you hang around?”
I said a week maybe two
Just until my skin turns brown
Then I’m going home to California
 
California I’m coming home
Oh will you take me as I am
Strung out on another man
California I’m coming home
Oh it gets so lonely
When you’re walking
And the streets are full of strangers
All the news of home you read
More about the war
And the bloody changes
Oh will you take me as I am?
Will you take me as I am?

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Where Y’At?

Over Christmas, I went on a cruise to the Bahamas.  The trip had been a plan in the making for the past two years.  My grandfather’s girlfriend, Pat, had organized the itinerary and invited all 28 family members to join.  Amazingly, this was kept a secret, and for my grandfather’s 90th birthday, we all showed up in Miami where we definitely surprised him.

Not only was it a great way to celebrate my Papa, but it was also a really wonderful thing to spend time with this side of my family.  There were cousins there who the last I saw had been a foot shorter than me, whereas now, they are at least a foot taller than me.  The best part was rediscovering everyone’s new passions, plans, interests, and personalities.  Family is family, and all I can say is that I’m so grateful to have them!

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So yes, it’s been a long time since I have written here.  That does not mean that nothing has been happening, or that my life has been lacking of adventures.  In complete honesty, I’m lazy, and have been turning all my focus and attention on saving money for the next….the next….well, who knows what?

This time in New Orleans has been as per usual, a type of emotional roller coaster.  However, I’m sure that it is not only New Orleans causing this life evaluation, but even more so the fact that I will be 29 in a couple of weeks….ya think??!!

September and October (and some of November) gave me a lot of time for personal insight.  Especially with the aid of my dear friend, Erin, who seems to always be there to aid in hashing out the typical ‘what are we doing with life/love/happiness/potential’ questions.  This inner work made for an interesting and somewhat reclusive Autumn.  New Orleans can only allow for a little of this exclusivity before it has to impose on your daily life….

For example:

I had some rowdy Cubans neighbors (sadly, they moved away this week) who were never too shy to chat.  Especially when they discovered that we would speak with them in Spanish.  Almost once a week, I find a magazine on my front porch that is titled, “Latina.”  This magazine includes all the new and hot make up tips, fashion, and dating advice in the Latina world….very interesting stuff.

One of the regular friends, who came to the Cubans house several days a week, drove a scooter.  Granted, it wasn’t his scooter that made his presence known from within our walls, but his booming and raspy voice.  I would wake up to hear him yelling about some debate with the neighbors on their porch.

“La bandera! La bandera!!!!”

There was always something he was passionately arguing about with his buddies.

It has only been a week since they moved out, but I miss them dearly.  Especially now that I am left with our other neighbor whose house was in between the Cubans and mine.

Now, the other neighbor, he is a very kind man.  We exchange pleasantries every time we see each other but then, in the night, maybe once or twice a week, I will hear a sound coming from the house that I have only been able to convince myself has to be someone having some sort of night terrors.

At the moment, my friend, Ali, has been living with me, after Erin left for Key West.  Ali and I will be in the living room talking, and all the sudden, this horrific noise will come from the house next door.  Like someone is having trouble breathing….it is BIZARRE.

Other ways New Orleans has been forcing its company into my life in ways I cannot ignore:

  1. Floras- Floras Café has been a safe haven for me for many years.  I always seem to find some sort of inspiration there.  Whether it be from an intellectual conversation with the owner, Ali, that always ends in an invite to dinner or escape from the cold or a great place to write, Floras always seems to provide me with some sort of inspiring experience.
  1. Little Maker- Little Maker is a band that I discovered because my dear friend Becca is the violin player in the group.  They play every Thursday and Sunday.  OK, truly, truly, I love them.  After so long in New Orleans, and trust me, LOVING New Orleans music, especially brass bands, Little Maker is something different.  No matter if it is a new song I’ve never heard, the sound and style always give me a sense of nostalgia of…of….I’m not sure what?  Summer days?  Sitting by the bayou or Lake Pontchartrain?  Sailing on boat?  Haha, all I can say is that seeing and listening to Little Maker makes me feel SO DAMN GOOD.

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  1. Sobou- My job.  I’ve been working at Sobou (a restaurant in the French Quarter) since September.  It has been really awesome.  Incredibly supportive, amazing food, awesome co-workers.  What else to say?  It makes me happy working there when I think of all the experiences that have stayed in my mind from past visits to New Orleans, where we would go to a restaurant and have…AN EXPERIENCE!  Haha, I mean, where else do you go to eat, and have AN EXPERIENCE.  Not only because the food is awesome, but because the staff is real, the ambience is made for it, and when all of those things come together, it is…well….an experience you don’t forget.  One of the most beautiful and important parts of NEW ORLEANS! Right?

Just a couple of pics of some awesome co-workers…

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So, New Orleans.  I guess all of life is a roller coaster of growth, emotion, and so on.  My time here has been very beneficial.  I do have plans to travel soon, but for now, I am soaking up the little time I have left in this beautiful and strange place.

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The Sunny Side of The Street

After many kilometers, many hours on buses through South America, and even a month in Greece and France I have made it to New Orleans.  I am subletting a house in Treme with my dearest friend, Erin.  Ultimately the plan for now is to find a job, work until I save a sufficient amount of money, and hopefully within that time decide on a new adventure.

However, even the New Orleans weather has proved to be an example to the way I have found my life to be.  Only moments ago the sun was shining, Gulf Coast clouds were rolling by and within seconds came thunder, lightning, and a torrential downpour of rain.

Who knows what the future will bring?

It only takes seconds to significantly change!

This moment though, seems to be exactly how I imagined it.  Enjoying a delicious coffee, keeping the doors open to enjoy the rain, WWOZ playing on the radio, the neighbors shouting, “Damn son!  That’s some rain!” and of course the company of someone who really knows what it means…(to miss New Orleans?)

Even with this symbolic pleasure of the rain I am having some difficulty adjusting to The Big Easy.  Although I am fully aware and keep in mind a mantra of, “this too shall pass” the first step is always the hardest.  

New Orleans has changed, I have changed, and I have a trepidation that I will never be able to see the city as I once did.  My resolution for this is to change my expectations because I have A LOT of expectations of my New Orleans.

I decided that I am going to take every lesson I learned from traveling to new places and apply it here.  The story can no longer be, “Oh yes, I went to Loyola, lived here for 5 years, and then off and on for these past 5 years.”  It simply has to be, “I live here now.”

In the meantime, during my transition, be prepared for some travel stories, great photos, and a new Map!

Below is the view from my window…how New Orleans is that?!

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Before Sunset

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Bangkok rooftop view
419999_708202240075_2144163877_n The window to our room in the hostel The Overstay

 

I stormed out of the sweltering room and quickly descended the four floors of stairs.  I slowed down only to avoid slipping in a puddle of water that sat at the bottom of the steps of the first floor.  The dark and smoky essence of the entryway, that consisted of several couches, pool tables, and a full bar with several bar stools, was a relief from the heat on the upper levels.  However, I was too upset to stop and enjoy the cave-like room and briskly made my way across to the front door.

Once I opened the door, the heat of the city hit my face like a ton of bricks.  Reminiscent of New Orleans summers-where it is hard to find any sort of relief from the humidity-filled my mind.  However it was short-lived because after a few moments I realized there was absolutely no wind.  No breeze blowing, not even the slightest waft of hot air that would make you smile on a New Orleans summer day.  I struggled with the thought of returning to the cool cave and ordering a cold beer to quell my frustrations but instead I ran into a friendly face.

“Can I help you?” a British boy asked.

“How do I get into the city?”

“Well, just go down on the corner there and get on bus number 203.  It’ll take you right across the bridge and into Bangkok proper.  I’m Patrick, a manager here.  See you later!”

I smiled, thanked him, and walked to the corner to wait for the bus.  Within seconds, 203 pulled over and I boarded.  Luckily I found a seat and paid something equivalent to fifty cents for the ride.

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I enjoyed sitting on the bus with the air blowing on my face from an open window.  I watched the traffic and contemplated riding the bus until the last stop.  However, I decided to get off where it seemed the majority was exiting the bus.  I had no plan or agenda or even a map.  So I just walked.  I found a narrow street that looked like a small alleyway.  Food stalls and open-air restaurants lined the street procuring some of the most amazing smells.   I noticed a very tall man, a foreigner, possibly an American walking my way.

I have to explain that after a long time of being in a place where you physically look very different from everyone else, and on the extremely rare occasion when you run into another foreigner, it is hard not to feel as if you know them or recognize them.  Those features, more similar to your own, have a strange familiarity and even though those features have not been present in a long time you still remember them.

We locked eyes as we passed each other-like every time I passed another Westerner-and tried to conjure some sort of recognition.  However, like every other time, I had never seen this person in my life.  So I continued walking and quickly went back to breathing in the heavenly smells surrounding me.

I chose a restaurant that sat directly on the river.  I took a seat at a table by the water and watched massive fish nibble away at leftovers floating on the surface.  Boats rowed, drove, and paddled by.  The city runs in an organized chaos.  After a few moments of reflective dazing I looked around the restaurant and noticed the same Westerner I passed on the street eating at a table across the room.  At this point, I didn’t think much of it.  It is common, not only when you are traveling, to see the same person in one day.  I went back to dazing and watching the fish in the canal.  When I looked up he had left.

I paid for my meal and continued exploring the area.  Patrick, the manager from the hostel, showed me how to get to the infamous KohSan road and so I started making my way in that direction.  I walked a few blocks toward the traffic circle where I made my way to the crossroad.  As I was walking to the light, I again saw the same Westerner walking from the other direction.  We met at the crosswalk and looked at each other with a smirk.

“Hi,” I said.

“Hey,” he said.

The next thing I knew I was walking with Mark; a guy from Mid-West America who was living in China, teaching English, and in Bangkok for vacation.  He was heading towards the train that would take him back to his hostel.  From his map it seemed far away, so we decided it would be more interesting if we walked there together.  Talking to strangers instantly appeared to come natural to him.

Almost immediately we ran into a hawker who was trying to sell us something.  These situations are always a little awkward for me.  However, it seemed Mark was used to it more than I was.  Somehow he made a whole joke of the situation without being insulting, awkward, or exhibiting any usual tourist qualities.  In the end, the hawker pointed us in the direction of our destination.  We continued walking and talked about pretty much everything under the sun.  There wasn’t really enough time to remember that this was a complete and total stranger I literally met on the street.  Neither of us were in a hurry so we slowly strolled along the canals walking into places every now and then to double check that we were heading in the right direction.

We continued walking and talking until the sun disappeared and we ran into more hawkers selling rides in rickshaws.

“I’ll take you anywhere for good price.  Where do you want to go?”

Mark stopped, put his hand on the man’s shoulder and said,

“We want to go to your house.”

The man furrowed his brow in confusion.

“We want to go to your house.  Is your wife a good cook?  I’m hungry!  Will she cook us a good meal?”

The man looked at him and slowly began to smile.  A light went on in his eyes and he understood.  He laughed and wagged his finger at Mark in a way that translated, “Ah, so you’re a wise guy.”

We all laughed and Mark and I continued our way down the street.

“That was hilarious,” I said.

“You should see the faces in China when I answer them in Mandarin.  No one ever expects that.”

I looked up at the tall, dark haired, Caucasian man next to me, and thought, “Yea, I can see how that would surprise them.”

Soon after, we finally found the road that would take us both home.  Mark was going left and I was going right.  I am uncertain of the exact amount of time that passed but I’m fairly sure it had to have been at least 4 or 5 hours.  Somehow, in what seemed like no time at all, I had walked with this stranger around half of Bangkok.  It was a feeling of complete elation to have been able to make such a genuine friend in a short amount of time.

We exchanged information, said our goodbyes, and walked our separate ways.

On my walk back to the hostel I reflected on this new friendship.  I smiled to myself and thought, this is exactly what they teach us NOT to do.  Talk to strangers on the street that is.  However, I overcame that initial fear and went with my gut feeling to trust this person.

It had been a while since I had been a participant in such a spontaneous and instantaneous connection (almost as random as the story in New Orleans with the guys I met on the street who became my dearest friends throughout college.)  Mark and I had laughed and talked like we had known each other for years.

On my way back to the hostel, with no certainty of where I was or which way I was going, I looked around and noticed that the Bangkok nightlife had come out in full force.  Although even in the chaos, I did not feel nervous or threatened.  Somehow, with Mark’s help, I had made Bangkok a familiar place.  Whereas only some hours earlier the city had been overwhelming.

I found myself back at the crosswalk where Mark and I had started our tour.  Across the street I saw a pizza place hiding behind the overpass.  It had been months since I had eaten a pizza.  It certainly was not a commodity in Mongolia or China.  I had to have some.

While I was walking to my bus stop, I was carrying the large pizza box and eating a slice.  This must have been a very interesting sight.  Little foreign girl, fingers dripping with grease, walking and eating pizza in a dingy corner of Bangkok, Thailand.  However, it didn’t seem that strange.  I looked around and saw several people laying in the park.  Some were giving massages to people who were laying on cardboard boxes and others were loitering around eating or drinking unidentifiable things.  What was like Mardi Gras for me seemed a normal night for a local.

I was completely oblivious to my status and I did not care how I looked.  I just walked eating my pizza and thinking about the wonderful day I had.

Now it is Mardi Gras time.  Where no matter where you are in this magical city, there are strangers to meet who have the capacity of becoming some of the greatest friends one can find in a life time.  We all have the opportunity to share these extraordinary experiences together.  So let’s celebrate!

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Happy Mardi Gras everybody!

Let’s have some adventures this Carnival week!!!

Laissez les bon temps rouler!

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NolaVie

Check out my article in NolaVie-a section from NOLA.com-about traveling the world while keeping the New Orleans soul.

http://nolavie.com/finding-the-new-orleans-love-on-a-global-trek-19881/

 

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Do Whatcha Wanna

A LOT of questions lately.  I am hoping I can clear some things up today.

Why haven’t I hit the road again?

I felt a strong desire to spend the holidays with my family.  The most efficient way to do that was to continue working and saving at The Libertine Bar.

The three months I intended on staying in Dallas became 5.  I’ll admit that there were other reasons besides money and family as to why I stuck around.  I never expected to make the wonderful friends I did this summer but because of them my time there was very fulfilling.

Why did I leave Dallas?

I still plan to travel!  I still am keeping this life style going.  I am being more present and making choices that only postpone far away traveling however, I am still living the indefinite adventure.

Why am I in New Orleans?

I wanted to have quality time with my family and friends who live here.  I’ve been traveling off and on for the past 3 years now.  Within that time I have only been able to briefly visit New Orleans.  I spent a significant part of my life here and have been eager to rekindled my relationship with the magical city.  Everyone who comes to New Orleans knows what I mean.  It is magical and magical things happen here.  So why not continue my goal of ‘have fun, make money’ where I can live rent free, continue saving, and spend time with people I love.

Yes, I have to get a new job and I have to make new friends.  I have to get used to the changes that have happened in this place and deal with the unending flow of tourists.  However, I have some old friends who were in New Orleans with me years ago and their support and willingness to reminisce as well as show me a ‘new’ New Orleans is a huge jump start.

Within the week, I will have my PediCab license and will be working with Bike Taxi Unlimited.  I will be toting around tourists and locals alike through the French Quarter, Marigny, and the rest of New Orleans.

One of the most difficult things about the way I travel is how much I miss my family.  With all of us being scattered over the country, the holidays are the only time everyone commits to getting together.  Since I missed last year, I made the choice that I would stay this year.

Not to say that the last holidays were bad.  For Thanksgiving last year, I was on Olkhon island on Lake Baikal in Russia.  Our Thanksgiving consisted of cured fish, potatoes, meatballs, and 3 in 1 coffee.  We were in a beautiful place with some of the most generous people.  A lot to be thankful for.

When I was in New York, I realized the importance of quality time with the people you love.  That is why I came down here.  One thing that keeps me confident about continuing to travel and do what I do is that no matter how much time goes by without seeing these people our friendship never falters.  In Dallas, there were people I had not seen in years and once we reunited it seemed as if only a few days had gone by since we last saw each other.  This is what I am ultimately grateful for.  The love between friends reminiscent of the love within family for it never diminishes.

Of course we change and people change but love and memory stay constant.  So, I am once again choosing to be present and unafraid of change.  I’ll never forget The Libertine and the wonderful people there.  I’ll never forget the amazing times I had in Dallas.  Just as I haven’t forgotten about New Orleans and have come back knowing that there are new adventures to be had here.  I’m only lucky enough that my family lives here too.

I still plan to travel far away and as of now that time looks like after Mardi Gras.  New Orleans is a catapult for the next big adventure and more than that it holds all new discoveries in itself.    I’m still not certain about any details after my time here but that’s how I like it.  I am available and up for anything.

Down here they say, “Do whatcha wanna.”

I plan to do just that.

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San Fermin in Nueva Orleans

The Running of the Bulls.

Wait a second!  Roller Derby Girl Bulls with wiffle bats?!

¿Por que no?

There was excitement, costumes, smiles, laughs, and wagons!

And let me tell you…

Those bulls hit hard!

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