Landing

SA: As we descend, through the window of the plane, it appears there is more water than land. I find I am uncertain of appropriate terms for water, whether we are looking out on lakes, rivers or pools, and whether the distinctions between water and land are settled or shifting. On this, my first experience of landing in New Orleans, I am achingly aware of water.

Later, walking along Bourbon Street, I feel I am out of place here, out of step with the tempo of the street. There are bars that open onto the street and we begin to need to weave around the people gathered at doors, moving from pavement to the road. During Mardi Gras, Patrick explains, the street can be full. At such times, walking becomes a  slow art, each step hard won. We meet friends of Patrick’s at the end of a narrow bar. It is reassuring to meet with people who live in this city, who knows its ways. They reflect on their selection of this place, and their sense that we might need somewhere in which to orient ourselves. We order Sazeracks, a drink that is of this city. The taste of aniseed is stronger than I’d anticipated, although it will be a day or so before I admit this.

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PD: The last half hour of the ten hour flight follows the Mississippi before turning east to fly in to New Orleans across part of Lake Pontchartrain. Coming in to land, water is everywhere.

I find it almost impossible to sleep on planes and I’m weary from the flight. My skin feels slightly greasy from the recycled air and my body feels heavy from sitting for so long. The pilot and a crew member smile and nod goodbye and it’s a relief to be stepping through the door of the plane into a wall of warmth and humidity from the Louisiana evening.

Walking down the long corridor towards immigration, I’m aware of a school party chattering and of the mixture of excitement, fatigue, and nervousness that seems to spread among the passengers. The flight crew press their way through the crowd to join a dedicated line and I wish I’d remembered to dress in a BA uniform.

The line switches back on itself a few times. A wall mounted television plays a single ‘welcome to New Orleans’ tourist advert on loop that marks out the time maddeningly. As we get closer to the front of the queue we are able to see the border control operation unfold ahead and I’m struck by the differences in the guards’ behaviour between the domestic and international lines. I see a performance of racial profiling.

The taxi driver pretends to know where our apartment is but it’s evident from his hurried phone call that he doesn’t. I wonder what language he is speaking.

It’s a relief to take a short walk and the city feels familiar although it is strange to occupy the ‘insider’ role as I point out places and landmarks I remember to Stuart. Bourbon Street bustles with life and intoxication, tackiness and colour. The sweet-sour of the Sazerack’s orange liquid hits my tongue and feels like a hammer blow. The time difference catches up with me on the first sip.

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