Sunday, January 25, 2009

New Orleans, LA: The Big Easy

Miles since last blog: 11.8
Miles Total: 1796


I'm here in the Big Easy habitating on the couch of three turkish doctoral students. One of them, the husband of my official host, is M. M is a photography enthusiast who is working on nanopores and experimenting with proteins and ion flows to ultimately build the technology that could cure AIDS among many other diseases. I've shortened his explanation a bit, but I doubt you'll mind. For me however, it was a thrill to listen to. My favorite part of teaching English in the Math/Physics Department of Charles University in Prague was always oral exams at the end of the semester when I got to grill students all about their Theses in their respective areas and learn all sorts of things. I'm a total science dork if you can't tell. Some of my favorite books are an old Quantum Physics text and 'Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Number' in which the history of the number is traced through the ages.

Nanotechnology is particularly fascinating to me, but as always with CSers, eventually talk turned lovingly to travel. He told me about a place in Spain which is the definition of peace with multiple religions intermingling, he had once seen a muslim man making artful and decorative arabic writings and selling them off the front of a cathedral. He talked of an English couple who had sold everything and bought two bikes and were riding to Australia when they met a friend of his. All their money was in the bank and inaccessible, they were surviving strictly off the roads good fortune and bits of labor along the way.

M suggested a local institution called Camellia's Grille for lunch and as usual in cultural matters, I trusted my host. After a short wait I was seated. The servers were in white shirts with the sleeves rolled up and black bow ties. I was greeted by a man with an old faded tattoo on his forearm that was impossible to make out because of the bleed over the years and the romantic in me said that it was an old military mark. He had slicked back hair, a name tag that said 'Cesar' and a face that looks like a blunter version of James Dean's had he lived long enough to have had some hard years and some good ones. I almost expected him to call me 'Mac.'

Camellia's smelled like bacon and looked like the 50's with pink wall paper and a marble top bar where people were being served 'freezes.' When they took your order they said, "Regular or Unleaded" instead of 'regular or diet" and where they would rip the wrapper off the front end of the straw for your drink and hand it to you with the same reverence and purposefulness as a cub scout wound hand you a knife in it's sheath. "This is life," the little guy in the back of my head said. He used to just sit in the back among all the arguing parts of my personality and once in a while yell, "ADVENTURE!" but these day he seems pretty happy.

I was enchanted with the people on my trip and I was mesmerized by the places. I was so caught up in the ambiance that I ordered a hot apple pie and a vanilla freeze and started talking with the college kids at the counter next to me. Now I'm sitting listening to two of my hosts speak in their language and it sounds beautiful, the sound of a foreign language is one that I missed. I've thought a lot about the people I've met too. About My friends in Philly, about Pinky and her family, about Free, and about James "don't call me JIm" Alex in Ocean Springs who shares a love of comic books and horror flicks, and many others including Mike and Jessi who I stayed with in Pearlington and volunteered with. Mike was excited about the prospect of a cross country bike trip when I left and I heard that Jessi is thinking about teaching English overseas. My Mom was inspired by the video and by them in turn and was weighing volunteering around the world as a back up plan in case the economy doesn't pick back up. This is life.

It's heresy as a mathematician but more and more I stumble somewhere and think, "this feels like fate." It's 'trail magic' in the words of one couch surfer in Ocean Springs. And it feels like that, magic, I mean. As if I was walking on some golden path where things worked out and it never rained while I was walking, and it hasn't in over 1500 miles now, in the winter. I feel alive, bursting with life, I'm not the kind of guy that would say something like, "it makes my heart sing," but it does.

Of course there are things that I miss. Waking up on a late sleepy weekend morning with a good woman and taking the short walk through and old city to the one place in town with a good breakfast springs to mind. School springs to mind. But I've found something amazing here and wherever I go and I would be foolish to stop. This is life. Every second we have the choice to keep going or to stop living it. It's easy to stop living it, it doesn't even require you to stop living, it just takes your fear overcoming your strength.

I realize now that even after I am done walking I can't stop, it would be foolish. The life I am living is incredible and unbelievable even within it and it is one that is begging to be lived. My life is fantastic though I am not, I'm just lucky enough to have walked along it. When I am finished I'll be in $18k worth of debt, mostly from mistakes I made early on, and though I don't know how I will fix that, I know I won't stop because of it either. When I am done walking there will still be thousands of places to go and millions of people to meet and it would be an insult to the life I've been given to stop merely because of such a foolish and terrestrial thing as money. This is life, and it is mine. I hope it a disease infecting the people I meet along the way to ride across country, volunteer, move to a foreign country, go back to school, or just to splurge on a dinner you deserve.


Update: Just got back from the FRench Quarter where we had beignets and hot chocolate at an outdoor cafe, Cafe du Monde and then headed over to the Spotted Dog Bar for a couple of Jazz bands, awesome.


Kneece said...

I love the Camelia Grill!!!!!!!! And of course Cafe du Monde! Nothing compares to those beignets! You're making me so sad that I couldn't be there to show it all to you! :( But I'm so happy that you're enjoying it! I love that place! It's magical!

Coach J said...

Now THIS is writing. Your voice is coming in loud and clear. thanks for sharing.