Young gymnast practices in Jackson Square Park, New Orleans.
Yesterday, on my final trip into the French Quarter, some gymnasts were practicing on the lawn in Jackson Square Park right in front of the Andrew Jackson statue with the oldest cathedral in America, St. Louis Cathedral, as a back drop. These young men's prowess as different coaches stopped by to spot and encourage them, was awe-inspiring, especially for these old bones who used to do a lot more than they are capable of today. In the background a large jazz band was playing impromptu in front of the Cabildo and the barge horns from the Mississippi River blended right in. Take all that and throw in azaleas, orange blossoms, and the smell of Cajun food wafting through the crystal clear air, and it was the New Orleans I never expected to experience. Earlier I had heard a young woman walking by with a group and yelling repeatedly, "This is a journal moment." "Yeah, I agree," I told myself. I caught the trolley back up St. Charles St. to pack and to walk out later for eight blocks to try a restaurant that had been recommended for my final meal in a city known for its cuisine.
After dinner was when I fell for New Orleans--and wished I had had the agility of the young men I had seen in the park. Because the city is old and huge old trees with gnarled roots are everywhere, the city's sidewalks are notoriously uneven. I was alone carrying my take out box on Maple St. which was also sans much street lighting--and next thing I knew I was laying flat on the sidewalk, food strewn everywhere, shoes and books askew. At my age you lay there and make sure you are alive; then you start wiggling body parts to see if they are broken. Legs and feet moved, head and face were miraculously unscathed, palms were embedded with gravel and bleeding, wrists and shoulders were wrenched, but my breasts and rib cage took the brunt of the fall. God, how I hurt--but did I cry? No; I have grown very, very stoic as the years have passed. No one was around; I gingerly picked myself up, checked to see if my clothing was ripped or I was bleeding through anywhere, and cautiously walked the three blocks to the Sav On and bought a candy bar. Only sugar was going to get me through this. Once in my room, I undressed to assess the damage and my left breast, which has a partial mastectomy and lymphectomy, and is a mass of scar tissue from radiation, was like a huge Rohrshak ink blot--not just bruised, but literally black. Far from home, I debated what to do. An emergency room was only a few blocks away, but there was no way I wanted to go there and take the risk of being admitted. I'm pretty brave, but not that brave. Instead, I packed my suitcase shaking like a leaf, packed myself in ice, took ibuprofen and wished with all my heart and soul that my long dead momma was there to comfort me. And then, if you can believe, I redressed, walked over to Loyola and checked my e-mail. I was either in shock or my Internet addiction has grown serious.
Today I flew across country and it was one of the most uncomfortable flights I've ever had, but you know what? I'm so grateful--down on my knees grateful because it could have been ever so much worse. And will I ever forget New Orleans? Not with with the finale of my trip ending with a bang not a whimper. My doc was long gone when I got home tonight, but I called my doc son in Washington state and he asked several questions and said to see my doc in the morning just to be sure nothing is broken, but doubts that it is. I can breath deeply which probably means no broken ribs.
For the first time in all my years of traveling alone, I'm second-guessing whether it is a good thing for a woman of a certain age to be walking around at night alone. But, after I get a good night's sleep tonight and the aches and pains begin to recede, I'll forget all that I suppose. And I'll remember eating beignets, listening to jazz bands, and watching those young men In Jackson Park fly through the air like angels. And I'll certainly never forget how hard I fell for New Orleans.