Retracing the French Quarter

I found myself in the CBD (Central Business District) the other day without my bike, so I walked around the French Quarter, knowing I rarely go there. I stopped by a store that sold 1950s dresses and other rockabilly accessories. I browsed around, knowing I probably would not purchase anything. I even looked at the sales section so I wouldn’t feel guilty, but there was nothing worth buying. Everything appeared in drab colors except for a pair of baby blue, glittery cat sunglasses, but the pointy ending at the end stuck out too far.


moonshine nettle

I bought a dress from here a while ago, which had not seen the light of day in several months. The sales girl approached me, and asked if I was looking for anything in particular. Her orange hair was pushed back by a headband. Every once in a while, she would ask if I needed help or had any questions. I tried to disappear by the section of sunglasses. I felt pressured to buy something, but that was how the game went. Other people walked in so she flocked to them. I didn’t feel pressured to take any of the clothing pieces seriously. Eventually, I grew tired of pretending, and I thanked the girl and said bye. As I was leaving, I noticed a song playing; it was coming from the stereo just outside the store. Just as it appeared on my phone, the sales girl came out and rolled the stereo back inside. She was no longer smiling or happy as when she first approached me. The was “Put Your Head On My Shoulder,” by Paul Anka.

I kept walking down Decatur St., and turned on Bienville St. I thought, if I had one of those colorful dresses stamped with ice cream cones, life would be so much better. I walked by the giant parking space near the river, then Jax, then the common stores: H&M, Urban Outfitter, etc. I quickly walked by, as I hated going to into those stores with countless of racks and customers, making never-ending lines. I kept walking past Jackson Square, wondering what other people saw when they visited the French Quarter. What did my friends and family see? I overheard a Spanish lady telling someone “Mira esa calle pequeña,” (look at that small street) and she pointed to a quiet narrow, empty street, where the houses were painted in hues of dark reds and soft pinks with decorative, lacy black balconies and vines falling on the side. Many of the images in front of me passed along, without giving me much thought. I walked by Molly’s, down to the thrift stores.




The thrift store where I had once bought a blanket was closed. A sign on the door said, closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. I never knew when any of these places closed. The messy thrift store across the street was open, so I crossed the street, and a guy who was sitting by the gates of the Old Mint building, started saying something in my direction. “You look young—way out of my league, but maybe my friend could talk to you.” I don’t know who he was referring to, as I saw no one else on that street. He was severely toasted, sweaty and drunk, almost as if he had been sitting out in the sun for too long.

I walked into the messiness, seeing as how it was the only one thrift store open. I browsed quickly. There wasn’t anything worthwhile, and everything seemed devoid of color or the whimsicality that I had come expect from this store. Perhaps it was me, but some sections were empty. Had they forgotten to replenish? I reminded myself that I came here for a top hat. Still, I tried on a shirt and a large skirt, clearly intended for a bigger person. I browsed through the costume section, knowing I would not be getting anything. I was senselessly killing time. I found a hair clip, a small bow adorned with a pattered fabric that resembled textiles I had seen from Mexico or Guatemala. I picked up different colored bows, eventually finding a small green one. I used the same mirror I had used when I tried on the articles of clothes. I picked up a bit of my hair, clipped it to the right side, and tilted my head slightly. I decided to take it with me.


girl on Royal St


Over at the store counter, I flicked through a stack of old photos, possibly from the 80s or 90s of yellow Mardi Gras Indians, little kids, parents, and some guys walking out of a theater. It felt odd browsing through the photos of strangers; they were private and distant memories. Black, white families from the old New Orleans: weddings, babies being carried, friends gathered in a living room. I found a set of small photos that had a rare cut of paper. They were small, maybe 4×3 and the edges were jagged. They depicted a castle and its surroundings. Each one had a different part of the entire scenery: a lake, a bridge, a view from afar towards the castle, and finally the castle up close, or perhaps I saw them in reverse. They were numbered on the bottom, but it was almost hard to see. I realized, I didn’t care much for castles, and put it down. I wondered if it was possible to re-create the look of the black & white hue, along with the soft, thick paper and its jagged edges.

Poem: La Corneille


It springs up from a fence

And its friends are on the

Grass, pecking

This one flies down

I keep walking

It digs me with its call

To something known

The scene carries its meaning

In the black birds

Like the morning when

They lined up on the wire

Leaving at the first of morning

The emptiness of a muddy afternoon

it calls to fill

the day with premonitions


Next stop: Utica Ave, Brooklyn

Photo: therealdeal
Photo: therealdeal

After work I took the train to Utica Ave for a travel writing class. I wasn’t sure what neighborhood it fell under. Normally, I don’t travel far into Brooklyn. A friend invited me, and she lives in Bed-Stuy, about 10 minutes away. Getting out of the train everything was of a similar dullness. The cloudy weather didn’t help. No bright colors emerged,  or maybe I was walking too fast, not noticing anything. I took the express train to get there quicker, but I was still a couple of blocks back from Nowhere Studios, where the event was starting soon.

Gray blocks lay out in front with random stores on the left. Some had bright lights and dramatic names— none I remember.

The brown brick buildings rose far up ahead, and around it neat grass. It covered an extended amount of land; I had forgotten about the stores and thought about an industrial complex.
Utica Avenue of the 1920s, emulates the feeling of never-ending blocks (though not the same place I was walking through). Photo: staticflickr

The sun had not fully descended and people were still going about their daily rituals of walking, smoking, buying food and driving around. I walked near a park where a group of men crowded around a table. I wasn’t sure what they were doing; maybe playing a game.

There was a whiff of marijuana in the air.

I kept walking and the blocks stretched like the dreams of never- ending blocks when you’re lost. I felt slightly out of place with my pink flats and my relaxed bear tote bag. Suddenly I was not old New York. I was the new kid, yet I’ve been living in New York City for most of my life. It stirs me to feel vulnerable in a strange neighborhood.

Up ahead a man popped his head out of a moving car to say, “You’re looking fine today!” I’m wasn’t  sure that was directed at me, but  there was no one else behind me.

Finally I got close to a main avenue with commercial blocks and busy traffic. I didn’t feel so alone. I made a turn and kept going. I almost decided to make a right on Atlantic Ave, but then realized it was the wrong way. I was waiting at the light to cross, when I saw a familiar girl holding a blue bike. I tapped her shoulder and in the process startled her. I’m always awkward at saying hello. She answered in small giggles.

Sunday Afternoon in the West Village

“Like the creatures of the forest and the sea, I love to lose myself for a while.”
 —Friedrich Nietzsche

Some Sundays past we received unlikely spring weather in New York City. It was suddenly 50 degrees, and people were driving fast, birds were chipper, and the sky was welcoming. Sunday is my day to relax, do minor errands, write, meditate or run. I think of this day as sacred, although I don’t always follow that thought. I often find myself writing airy, peaceful poems about Sunday.

I wanted to wander around, now that the weather is warming up. I’ve been cooped up, and I don’t mean just in my house, but also mentally, hardly exploring my surroundings, relying on my cellphone. Though I carry a book on the train, I find myself getting distracted by text messages, online articles, or looking at Google maps for no reason. I think back to my younger days when had no phone or carried a simple one for phone calls. I was free to roam, to think, and find solutions.

I headed to the West Village for the French Cinema Festival at the IFC. I took a book, and my laptop to write after the movie was done.  By the time I got to the train, my cellphone died; it had slipped my mind to charge it, and maybe for good reason. At first I was bummed, then I felt silly for thinking I should miss my phone. At least now I could fully observe people on the train or read uninterrupted.

Once I got to the theater, I saw a line outside. Surely this meant it was sold out. And it was so. The lady in the booth said the next showing would be at 6:30 pm. It was only 3 pm. I felt no inspiration to watch the next movie. I came for the movie titled, La French, a detective story and a prelude to the American film, The French Connection. If that was unavailable, I’d find my own mystery. I kept walking.

I walked to the side streets looking for a quiet place to drink coffee and write. People were spilling out of restaurants, laughing with friends or holding hands with their romantic other. Sometimes a family of tourists walked in duck formation. I was alone with my thoughts. It suddenly dawned on me: it was brunch hour. The last of the brunchers were leaving with full stomachs and cured hangovers. I wanted to avoid crowded streets and fall into empty street pockets. I had not ventured around here in years, especially not in the daytime. People were wearing leather jackets, sunglasses, running in shorts, and smiling. Their happiness was contagious. We were all cooped up like chickens, and at the first light of spring we flocked to the streets.

In a way I was a tourist myself, discovering the West Village through new eyes. I used to visit my favorite Manhattan neighborhoods, discovering historic streets, and finding new things to do. Now I was mostly in Queens, Brooklyn or the Bronx. The West Village was always special to me. Its jazzy bars, old-school bodegas, cobblestones, cute street names such as Cornelia, Charles, and Jane Street, made everything small— a sort of hobbit town. Poets and writers once called this place home, including Henry James, Edgar Allan Poe, E.E. Cummings, John Cheever, Jack Kerouac, and Mark Twain, among others. This time around many sights were new and slightly out-of-place, with a few exceptions. Exceptions that still make this an NYC neighborhood.

I took notes of some old neighborhood spots as possible stops in the future. I continued walking,  greeting the city without a phone in hand, searching for a place and recalling memories.  Brunch ruled, and I couldn’t find a coffee shop for me; most of them were crowded and noisy. Did everyone just abandon Sunday for brunch? I walked by a possible cafe, and looked beyond the clear glass. A group of friends were pointing accusing fingers at each other. They appeared to be on the defensive. I avoided the next place called prodigy coffee. This whole side was starting to creep on my skin, so I walked quickly passed the aviator-walking-girls, shopping galore, and pricey soap shops. I ventured to Greenwich St. only to get lost.

From there, it got quieter.  The day was progressing. I assumed people had fled before the wind started.  The streets came and went, the faces trailed behind, and cars fled with no destination.  I was ready to give up searching for a coffee shop, and settle for whatever I found in the next minute. How long had I been walking? I’m not sure how many turns I took, before I realized I was on Hudson Street. Across the street I saw a tiny place with low lights, on the shabbier side, covered by a faded, red veranda. Inside were small chairs and tables, and a couple of people. I missed the name altogether and went in.

I  was a thirsty woman, asking for a cappuccino and a croissant with butter. The guy attending was nice and quietly courteous. I sat down in the back and started to write. I took notice of my surroundings, and suddenly I felt happy. The music was wispy, something french was playing, and maybe I heard Bjork. People were quietly working away on their laptops and reading books. A guy next to me ate alone. As I worked away, I noticed the guy near me leave. A new one took his place sometime later. This one was rummaging through a few books and jotting notes on a journal. The barista brought me my cappuccino and croissant.

Behind me I could hear the lady and the boy who came in after me. She was setting up for coffee and food, and the boy in a mousy voice, asked questions about the things his mind found curious. “When I get older, do I have to work?” —”Can I work anywhere?” He said. The barista brought their order.  The lady told the boy, “say thank you,” so the boy, though reluctantly, pranced over to the front, and said —”Thank you.” Sometime later the little boy asked the barista, “Do you need help?”  To which he smiled and replied —”No it’s ok.”

Later, a man took their place and typed diligently for the rest of the time. How long had I been sitting here with my cappuccino yet unfinished? I did not mind the noises. I accepted them and made them part of my afternoon. A few more people came in and sat by the front. Somehow the springy, soft music, the off-white walls, the curtains and the dimming light outside, kept everything inside secluded.

All those turns I took, led me here. I had to backtrack once or twice when I went too far uptown or west. Sometimes I saw the same streets. Was I walking in circles? The beautiful part was that I  led myself here. I took in the sights and sounds, even if some of them were not to my liking but they were still part of my walk, and made the ending that much richer. I forgot how relaxing it was to walk and walk with no clear destination, just a curious mind.

Recently my thoughts have been running wild. Walking allows me to  slow down to a dreamy pace. After a while hardly did thoughts come rushing, instead they passed, just as people left me to settle to the silence of the day. Walking is meditation: the ongoing streets, wrong turns, warm glances, right turns, surprises, and colorful sights. After the walk and sitting in a café for hours, I felt refreshed, light with the quickness of my feet, as I walked through the night to get home. I need more long walks, hours of writing in quiet places and the company of strange faces. I want new days of my own with minimal planning where I am free to discover the present.