Friday, January 18, 2013

Sunday in the Park with Elton

            On a recent visit to my hometown of New Orleans, I decided to visit City Park and view the new additions and upgrades since Hurricane Katrina gave it such a brutal beating. Also, since I found some old photos of my grandparents enjoying City Park at the beginning of the 20th century, I wanted to find and photograph those old landmarks and compare.
            City Park and its 1,300 acres has indeed received a much-needed facelift and it appears improvements are continuing. There’s a gondola ride now, Storyland from my youth appears almost brand new and the Morning Call coffee shop, which offers beignets and chicory coffee, has opened in the old Casino building. I also took in the New Orleans Museum of Art, which is undergoing renovation but still offering great exhibits such as “Lifelike,” an exhibit of oversized, lifelike art pieces on view until Feb. 3, 2013. Since the weather is usually mild and sunny in December, I took in the expansive sculpture garden where I had fun shooting interesting views of the pieces and following a swan around who wasn’t scared of people.
            But as I was looking for the bridge that my grandmother climbed as a young woman, back in the days when she was courting my dapper grandfather who looked damn good in a fedora, I met Elton. He saw me shooting photos of the old stone bridge over the lagoon and called me over.
            “Did you see this tree?” he asked me, pointing to an old live oak leaning precariously to the left and covered in Spanish moss. “You need to take a photo of that.”
            He was right and I did just that. Then he asked me what I was doing on this lovely December day in City Park. After I explained that I was documenting places my grandparents visited, he mentioned that he was sort of doing the same. Since Katrina, he had been living in different places but decided it was time to return to his hometown of New Orleans. He recalled some of those places, including visiting California’s ancient grove of redwoods, which explained his admiration of the live oak. I remarked at how much I loved trees as well, and we decided to stroll the lagoon together, enjoying the massive oak trees and the beautiful day.

             I found my grandparents’ bridge, called the Angele Langeles Memorial Bridge built about 1902. I also spotted the stone lions outside the pavilion, where my grandmother, sister and cousin posed for a photo. The pavilion is used for special events.

            I could tell Elton was a bit anxious about his return to New Orleans. I could relate, being a boomeranger myself. Natives may leave the city but always seem to return. Blame it on the awesome food culture, Mardi Gras or the music, but it’s hard living anywhere else. There’s no place like New Orleans.
            However, it’s not always easy to come back after living elsewhere. The pace of Otherwhere America is sometimes faster and more sophisticated, the lifestyles more progressive and hip. You can argue either way on whether that’s a good thing or bad, but it’s always been a struggle for me to balance the great attributes of New Orleans with its faults, one of the reasons why I live in neighboring Lafayette. I can visit anytime I want, and when I do, like today, the city beams with a new light. It works for me.
            It was getting late so Elton and I parted ways. I took a photo of Elton by one of the lions, wondering if my grandchildren might one day come looking for the City Park landmarks Mawmaw (me) wrote about in her blog. I wonder, too, if Elton will stumble upon this blog in his new life. My hope is that City Park’s features, much like New Orleans natives such as Elton and me, will continue to survive in an ever-changing environment.

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