The last two weeks have been exhausting. My day job has an annual meeting/conference that I am intimately involved in making sure goes off well. This year it was held in New Orleans. Although I spent 90% of my time in the conference hotel I did get out and about for a couple of hours this past weekend. The last time I was in New Orleans I remember it being a bit rough, but in my brief foray into the French Quarter I saw things that made that roughness feel gentle.
While the music and the joy of the French Quarter are still there and vibrant as ever, underneath it all there is a desperation, and although that aspect has always been a thrumming engine behind much of the creativity, it was riding closer to the surface than I remember previously. With the continuing ripples of Katrina still lapping its shores and the reverberations of the financial collapse still shimmering in the air, it should be no surprise, I guess.
Of all the experiences this trip, the beignets at Cafe du Monde and seeing some good friends, it will be the rough, bruised face of a young homeless woman I saw from a distance that will stay with me. She seemed, in that moment, to be so close to giving up, but as she bent down and picked up her child she took on a look of determination. And I think that maybe she, above all else, really captured the essence of New Orleans for me.