Hurricane in New Orleans
He was on an aisle seat, and when the hostess passed by, he asked for another orange juice, then he lowered his head again, and resumed writing his article on the last demonstration against the tax raise. The juice arrived while he was writing about the French families’ choked cry. He had always liked writing. Having always an opinion, expressing his own view, enticing the reader to follow the most complex political and economic events, this was his challenge.
Although on holiday by six hours, he wanted to write that story anyway. He had arranged it with the paper’s editor: he would have sent the story as soon as he got to New York.
What had she forgotten? Certainly something important, as usual. She didn’t have time to check things over. The hell with it! If something was missing, she could always buy it!
She got down to the front door, got into the taxi waiting for her, and dived into a Babel of a New York morning. Traffic? She had never seen such a jam before! How that year had gone by fast… It seemed she had lived a lifetime in New York… She had settled in quickly, she felt at home, and her work colleagues had become her friends. On Saturdays they would go out for dinner, on Sundays it was the stadium, to see the Yankees play. To think of it, she was almost sorry she was going on a holiday, but she was happy to see Théo again. They had split quite a bit before… She couldn’t remember the day, but the reason, yes, that she remembered… He was infantile, irresponsible. But an very good friend at that!
He had finished the story, only a couple of data were missing. He would have checked them out on the Internet as soon as he landed. He closed the laptop and started watching a film that he knew by heart… the usual screwball American comedy…. But it was too funny… His child-side fault…. What had made his relationship with Ambre fail.
He had believed in that relationship, but hadn’t put in the necessary effort. He wanted to keep living his own way. He loved his work, parties with his friends, and he liked wood carving. Everything else was not of his concern, he lived in his own world. But in the last year, everything had changed. He had to take care of the bills, of the mortgage, of the relationship between the editor-in-chief and his colleagues…And he suddenly realized that his friends had grown up and parties were fewer. Two of them had married, another one had had an important promotion, and Mathis – his friend since childhood – had become a father. That had been a hard blow. Suddenly had felt “old” and his 32nd year had arrived like a wipe out for a surfer.
A long line of cars on the highway to the airport. She couldn’t stay all that time without doing anything. She like her work as an event organizer. There was always a thousand things to do, so many little tassels to fit in the puzzle. The most exciting experience had been the wedding of a surgeon who had requested an extravagant celebration… Almost fit for a surgery room! That’s when she met Gus. She had contacted him through his web page, after her customary florist was unavailable.
And so they had worked elbow to elbow for a week. He was fun, full of jokes, and never failed to point out her strong French accent. One evening they had met to decide the bride’s bouquet and the flowers to be placed at the entrance of the roofgarden of the restaurant. They had discussed the color for hours, because the client wanted everything absolutely white, like a hospital. Gus instead wanted to place some color here and there, also because finding so many white flowers, in that season, wasn’t easy. Then they debated about the centerpiece and by that time it was 8.30 in the evening. He had proposed to eat Mexican, she wanted sushi, and they ended up having hummus in the East Village. The next morning she had waken up with Gus, in her bed. They passed the following weekend in his apartment, in Brooklyn. But after the surgeon’s wedding, they lost sight of each other, both to engrossed in new work projects.
He was landing. Shortly, he would have seen her. He had so many things to tell her. They had had little chance to talk in the last week. He had been busy following the new financial bill, while she was organizing a meeting.
Usually they called each other often during the week, they had remained good friends, despite the fact they were living in two different continents. He often miscalculated the time zone, and would regularly wake her up in the middle of the night. Once in a while they would share their sentimental stories. Over the last year, he had been with at least four different girls, and every time he would tell her that he had finally found the right one. He had even gone to live with one of them, but it lasted only three months. The problem was that after a while he no longer knew what to talk about. He had lots of interests… art exhibits, books, music, wood, movies… but usually he would end up with girl friends interested only in shopping, the gym and disco’s. Talking with Ambre was a bit like talking with himself. At times while pursuing different paths, they would reach the same conclusion. That’s why when he asked her: “Shall we do something during the Carnival?” she answered “I was just thinking about it…”, and after a simultaneous pause they crossed out London, Nice, Koln, Rio de Janeiro and Venice… To then blurt out in unison: “New Orleans?” while bursting out laughing.
He undid his seat belt, picked up his luggage and deplaned. He couldn’t wait to hug her.
She had just arrived at the airport. She checked in and went to the security control. It always made her anxious…. She was afraid the metal detector would ring… She didn’t like to attract attention… And she didn’t like opening the cabin baggage for an inspection. She always got ready ahead of time with her laptop in her hand, shoes unlaced, and she’d never wear rings, earrings or necklaces when she travelled.
She passed security without anything ringing this time as well, and while she was putting her laptop back into its compartment, she heard one of the security posts rings. She thought about that poor guy. She put her shoes back on and it was then that her glance fell on the boy who had been stopped at the security control, and burst out laughing. It was him, as usual…. He always succeeded in attracting attention. She saw him take the ring off his thumb… She just couldn’t fathom why he wore that ring. Then he took off his belt and his chain and took a handful of coins from his pocket… He passed through security again and again it rang… he didn’t know what to take off any more… He got frisked by policeman, and finally they let him through. She had stood there enjoying the scene… It was too funny to see how he was trying to gather his things quickly, while everyone was hurrying past him, knocking into him… Finally, his jacket on his arm, the chain in one hand and the laptop in the other, with the backpack sliding off his shoulder, he ran to check the billboard…. He passed in front of Amber without seeing her. It was she who yelled at him “Gate 21!”
She was behind him, but he recognized her voice. He whirls around and runs back. Tries to hug her despite all the impediments. But she can’t stop laughing.
They reach the gate two hours ahead of time.
He starts telling her about the retrospective exhibition of Helmut Newton, that irreverent and absurd black and white, so sensual in those gray nuances… And in a flight of fancy, they find themselves talking about the latest literary case …. They laugh over it…. After all, they come from Paris… Erotism was born there…
“Lady Chatterley’s Lover… there’s a really erotic novel” Ambre retorts immediately.
“How about Valentina?” presses Théo.
And together blurt out “Louise Brooks!”
In that instant their flight is called and Théo forgets to send his article.
The golden lily, the plantations, the cuisine and the bistro’s, the quarter downtown, everything speaks French in New Orleans. They reach their hotel. It’s a few steps from Bourbon St. The room opens onto an inside courtyard, the beds are too soft, the bathroom tiny, and the air conditioning doesn’t work… They look at each other and burst out laughing… This is the real New Orleans style… They both hate luxury hotels, where they are forced to go for work. They hastily undo their bags, but they don’t know where to put things. They give up.
They go out armed with camera and videocamera, they turn the corner and no longer know where to point their lenses… The feast is all over… in the streets, where people are dancing, on the balconies from which people throw beads, , in the cafe’s and pubs where jazz is played. Everywhere the “hurricane” is the drink.
They weave their way through the last overcrowded tract, holding hands so as not to lose each other. They reach Canal St. and pick a strategic place from which to watch the parade.
They take pictures of people as they wait for the floats, make friends with a middle-aged couple, Théo goes to buy fried chicken wings at a stand nearby. Then arrive the first police cars, the firemen’s truck, the military. The band and jazz are accompanied by a hurricane of colors that hits them like the rain of beads being thrown from the floats. They take pictures, wave their arms about to catch the gadgets and scream along with everyone else “I’m here!”
Théo gets hit in the head by two umbrella’s…. They throw even those from the floats! But he keeps on clicking photos, he can’t afford to miss anything…. Click… Click… Click and then realizes he can’t do it all. He puts his camera away. Ambre too stops shooting … All they want to do is enjoy the atmosphere without the unreal mediation of the displays.
The carnival is a revival celebration by the people who refused to be annihilated by Katrina, or to be drowned by the oil spill. It’s at the same time the renewed welcome, after two centuries, to the Grand Duke Alex Romanoff Alexandrovitch and in his honor, once again, green, purple and gold are fused together as symbols of faith, justice and power.
But while the schools’ majorettes are parading, a tropical storm starts raging. The parade stops and within seconds everyone is hit by the incessant violence of the water, which spares no one. The parade is suspended, people try to find shelter, but water is everywhere. Thèo grabs Ambre’s hand, and both run laughing under the deluge, with their colored beads… It’s as though the rain washed off their past regrets and insults … Drenched, they enter a restaurant, shedding water… A waiter hands them a towel so they can at least dry their face… Their shoes are inundated and they feel they are walking in water rather than in a restaurant hall…. They sit at a table and order two po’ boys and two beers. While eating bread and fried shrimp, they challenge each other “After thunder comes rain”, “Singing in the rain” and “Shoot, it even rained at night!”
The rain stopped as suddenly as it had started. Thèo and Ambre are walking along a Bourbon St. that’s beginning to come alive again. People pour back onto the streets, ready to resume the feast. A group of Drag Queens laugh and dance, joking among themselves. One, a tall one with an angular face, squeezed in a white two-piece, unvoluntarily clashes Thèo. She begs pardon, and then invites them to dance. The rhythm is contagious, and the wet shoes are no longer a problem.
On their way back to the hotel, in the middle of the night, they sip a take-away “Ramos Fizz” and keep talking of Dixieland. Once in their room, they dry themselves, go each in his own bed, and turn off the light. But neither of them sleeps.
“Well, what shall we do?” Thèo asks in the dark.
Ambre gets up from her bed and goes into Thèo’s. She takes the initiative and they let each other be transported by the high spirits that by now have taken hold of them. They make love as though it were a feast, experimenting things they had never done before.
Then they remain eyes in the eyes, in a silent dialogue. Until Ambre understands that the time has come to tell him.
Thèo laughs “Already?”
Ambre looks at him in earnest.
“Gus?” says Thèo looking at the ceiling.
There’s no answer from Ambre, and he understands anyway.
“What do you want to do now?”
“Keep it!” says Ambre drily. Thèo doesn’t think a moment, and says instinctively, but with a convinction that leaves no room for doubt: “Well then, there will be two of us keeping him!”