Last weekend I went to a Welcome Home party for one of my organization's clients. She lives far east of new Orleans proper in a small town called Poydras. To get there you have to follow the River downstream through the city, past all fixtures of urbanity to a long stretch of road beneath a canopy of ancient oaks covered in Spanish moss.
I have not yet seen the River, just evidence. Every day I drive over the Industrial Canal to get to work. On the way to the Welcome Home party I couldn't see over the levees, but I could see freighters sitting like titans in what looked like the middle of a tree spotted field.
At the party I talked with the homeowner's niece. She studies the effects of the oil spill on the local fishing and shrimping industry for a nearby university. Fishing and shrimping are the only industries worth the name in Poydras and the surrounding communities. It's been that way for generations. The homeowner’s niece said that her father and grandfather had been shrimpers.
"Do you live in Poydras?" I asked.
"Not far. One of my cousins lives in the next town over in Violet -- he'll be here in about an hour. My other cousin lives in Chalmette and our mother lives up the street."
She enumerated a few more family members within walking distance. One of my coworkers, a New Orleanian, said that she'd been born a few streets away.
My parents' siblings are scattered across the country and their children across the world. Most of us live in the Midwest, but no one lives down the street from a blood relation. It occurred to me that this was an expectation, or at least not an unusual occurrence, to leave home and find a new one Somewhere Else.
I told this to the homeowner's niece. She nodded. "It's a big deal when someone moves away. It's just not something you do. Not something I'd ever do."
"People came to the Midwest to get away from people. For one reason or another," I said. "Maybe wanderlust has just been passed down through the blood."
"Maybe," she said.
"That's why I'm here, at least."
Last night I went to a friend's place and didn't leave until late at night. Biking back I became disconcerted, unsure if I was heading in the right direction. People say that the only way to find your way in New Orleans is figure out where you are in relation to the River. The River is always east in Iowa. Beyond that, I couldn't figure out any possible way that the River could be useful.
I decided to leave it to trust. Between muscle memory and landmarks I found my way home following neither the directions I was given nor my typical route. The city is starting to take shape in my head.