Saturday, November 10, 2007

My "New Orleans Experience"

A week ago Saturday I photographed a wonderful wedding! I'm excited to share Suzi & Gregg's images, but since I'm still in Texas, that will have to wait a couple of days. I left on Sunday to go to New Orleans for one of my many photography conferences, which was just wonderful!

It was so awesome to meet a few of my good friends (who I'd spoken to by phone and email, but never gotten to hug)! It was also a lot of fun to make new friends and get to spend time with friends I'd made earlier in the year. The conferences are always a great mix of hanging out, learning, and fun photoshoots. Hopefully I'll have some images up from the photoshoot I attended soon. :)

This past week was also my first ever trip to New Orleans, and I loved it! That's my kind of much color, people everywhere, just a total celebration of life and friendship! I hope to get to go back sometime soon. We drank on Bourbon St, ate hot wings, had a couple amazing night time photoshoots, and listened to really inspiring presentations...but my favorite "New Orleans Experience" happened Wednesday night.

It was late afternoon, and I had just decided to cut my time in Nola short so that I could swing by Texas to visit my family, who I hadn't seen since Christmas. After springing the news on my parents I started to get a little emotional, so I decided to take a walk. I walked to an internet cafe a few blocks off, and just got all of the teariness out of my system along the way. The people I met on the streets were so kind and available to help with anything. I spent some time catching up on my email, printing directions for my drive to Texas, and finally looked up and realized I'd allowed the city to grow dark.

Walking back to the hotel, I took a path a few blocks off the main strip to avoid the crowd. The people I passed weren't tourists, they were locals hanging out at lesser known cafes and bars. I walked a few blocks and began to come up on a corner where a man and a woman were singning. This was the first live music I'd heard on the streets, and it really hit me that in a town so known for it's music, I'd really not heard any.

The woman was likely in her 30s, the man in his 50s. The were singing some old blues song that I didn't recognize, and I glanced at a totally empty tip box as I walked by. Having just come from the ATM, I had knew I had 20s, but I stopped and searched till I found a single dollar bill to toss in.

She said thank you, and I escaped a few steps before he reached forward and said "wait a minute, we oughta sing you a special song....what do you want to hear?" he listed blues and jazz musicians I was embarrasingly unfamiliar with, so I asked him to pick his favorite. Even hidden behind huge dark sunglasses, I could tell his eyes were looking more in my general direction than at me.

I didn't recognize the first song, but they were incredible. I danced along as best I could... just me dancing to the music of a couple of street performers on a corner. And I thought "this is the New Orleans experience I want to have".

That song finished and they immediately moved in to "Ain't Too Proud to Beg" by the Temptations. The man began to show me how to clap, and gently asked for my hands and started swinging me around so gracefully. I'm not a very good follower, because I never trust the lead dancer enough....but I was twirled in and out and moved side to side, just like a grandfather would teach a granddaughter how to dance. It was so much fun!

The whole time I began to notice the little things you couldn't easily tell in the dim light. How tattered their clothes were, but clean and pressed. When he'd re-adjust his glasses, you could faintly see the damage to his eyes, the white that had overcome them. The wear on their shoes. I was reminded of how incredibly difficult the previous years must have been for these two, and how so many people would have stopped singing. And I squeezed this man's hands tight in mine, and felt so humbled and amazed to have been in the very spot I was dancing.

When they started the next song, I regrettably had to make an apologetic exit. I couldn't stay and dance all night, alone on a dark street corner. I hastily pulled a 20 out of my purse, handed it to the lady, gave a hug to the man, and turned away...feeling a slight sense of satisfaction in my donation.

Then I heard, ever so faintly, the woman say to the blind man "it's a 20". It was the sound of quiet relief in her voice that struck me. I thought of the song "King of New Orleans" and the line "probably make 20 dollars 'fore the weekends over", and I was overcome by how rediculously small that was to me, and how incredibly important it was to them.

And I wept the rest of the way back.

Of all the things I'll remember about New Orleans...that was the most powerful, that was the most perspective changing.

The next day I hopped in a rental and made my way home to see my family! It's been a really wonderful visit over the past couple of days, and I can't wait to be back at Christmas. I'll be flying back to California tomorrow night, and everything should be back to normal by Monday. If you're waiting to hear back from me, just hang in for another day!