Monday, February 28, 2011

If we're dying, it's a celebration: A letter to the editor

This letter to the editor was published in the Times Picayune.
"Once again our mouths are foaming because we can't take it when some "outsider" (at Newsweek, no less) recites facts about New Orleans.

The Newsweek article didn't slam New Orleans for its lack of new industry, an inability to attract Fortune 500 companies, or a lack of professional opportunities. The survey cited facts about population decline and a lack of young people.

Ranting and raving about this just reinforces stereotypes: We are 20 years behind the times; we can't face our own problems; we are a city full of incompetent characters, our best days are behind us.

Perhaps the key is to accept the facts and embrace them. Truth is, the rest of America isn't exactly prospering.

To be a dying city in a dying country actually makes us a loss leader for once. And nobody lives while dying as well as we do. Our food, our family, our joy of life have made us one of the happiest people in America -- even in the face of disaster.

I live in a place where my family and friends know how to live. Perhaps America should come here to see how to enjoy dying. We'll show them a jazz funeral.

Morgan Molthrop
New Orleans

Thank you Morgan.

Also see this article "City gets a mixed bag of publicity"
Saturday February 19, 2011 By Michelle Krupa Staff writer

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Chapter 39 - Teachers and Initiation

It was the middle of May and Nola was struggling. Owen... Her student Owen... her friend Owen... her boyfriend as far as Owen's crew and family were concerned... and because he kept asking her to stay she had slept in his bed after the May Day Ritual... Owen, was messing with her head.

It was too much fun being with him. It was too easy, too relaxed, too natural. And then she smiled at herself because very few people would think the reason for their relationship was natural. She was writing an email to her teacher as a mind dump to help her sort out what was going on in her head and to provide enough background to get some help on what to do next. Owen was effectively acting as High Priest to her 3rd Degree Priestess. It was high time he was initiated. He hadn't even thought to ask about initiation. He was just learning and practicing and very happy about all of it. But considering the level to which they were taking the rituals it only seemed right to initiate him. The sooner, the better. One of the problems was that he was far too comfortable with her. Part of the initiation ritual was about using fear to open up the initiate. She was having a hard time imagining herself making Owen nervous or uncomfortable. The ritual might have to be modified. As she thought about it, she mentally asked the Grigori for help unsettling him just enough to open him up for the initiation. They heard her. She pressed send on the email and waited for a reply.

But she kept thinking about her student. She had asked for someone who she could fully practice the rituals and the universe had given her Owen. She should just be grateful and not complain. But Owen... Owen would creep into her thoughts at the oddest moments. She had been married for 17 years. She had been in love with her husband for at least 7 of those years, 10 if you counted the 3 before they got married. Even when he had broken her heart and made her miserable she had been in love with him. But for the last 10 years she had been in and out of love with him. She loved him. But in love? In love had been harder. Sometimes much harder. And now... It's hard to be in love with someone you can't fully trust with your heart. She had passed through a stage of being angry with James. She had passed through a stage of just not caring what he did or thought. She had moved to a state of numb acceptance with no real expectations for their relationship. What would be, would be. For awhile he had moved in and out of OK with the status quo of their marriage to upset with her for the status of their relationship. Then it was as if some light bulb had come on and he decided to be in love with her again. This Nola, who had held on to being in love and loving James for so long, found more than a little ironic because it was so out of sync with where she was. It was as if the universe had turned the tables. James wanted more from their relationship but was too content, too reluctant, too lazy, that might not be fair, too much in his own head, to take it to the next level and at every turn Owen seemed like he was upping the ante beyond the student teacher relationship. She sighed and asked herself who she was kidding. Owen was just being as thorough with and committed to his studies as he was with ever other aspect of his life. There was nothing special going on here. The fact that her marriage was good but less than perfect was, well, it was what it was. And Meana looked at Bellaria as if "What the..!!!' Nola had been doing so well. Bellaria shrugged as if to say, 'What more do you want me to do? I can help lead her to water. You have to make her drink.' And if Grigori could stamp their foot Meana did.

The answering eMail came back from her teacher. Her teacher was impressed with the fact that they were so consistently and completely doing the rituals and agreed that, given his level of participation and development and the fact that he wasn't a kid, taking him to 1st degree was OK. Stregheria didn't have the standard requirement of a year and a day. Most students took much longer than a year to get to first. Some never made it. Adjusting the 1st degree initiation was an option as long as key elements were maintained. Doing the initiation with more than one person was always best but her teacher was in the middle of a big move and couldn't come to New Orleans. Owen going to her teacher wasn't an option either because she was in the middle of a big move from one state to another and into a house that needed significant renovations. Too bad Owen wasn't working in Minnesota.

Her teacher was glad that Nola finally had someone to share the rituals. She knew how hard it was when there were no other Streghe around and she knew how Nola, how they both, cherished the chances she had to be in ritual with other Streghe. So initiating Owen made sense and she supported it.

And Nola thought, Good. Perhaps initiation was the way to get the teaching back on track. Not that it was really off track. It was just too… too… personal. But No, that wasn’t right. It was too… interwoven with how they were living their lives. And she heard Bellaria say, “And why is this bad?” Because I have a life I’m trying to maintain. Maintaining my actual life and Owen’s pretend life is too difficult. It’s not being his teacher. It's the rest of it. And she heard Meana say, "There are other options."
And she thought, "Yes, I can finish his training and stop pretending."
And Bellaria and Meana both shook their heads. And Tago counseled "Patience" again.

She would have to find out if initiation was what Owen wanted. This week was the time to ask.

Settrano couldn't be happier. Owen was on cloud nine and planning a pool party. He wanted to have all the guys and their dates over to celebrate the new pool and the addition of landscaping to their business. He had a few key clients he was inviting as well. No Lawnmower Landscaping had picked up 2 new jobs this week. His life was good. His business was good. Having Nola in his life was too much fun. And it was time to celebrate. He had picked the date for the party and just needed to confirm that Nola could be there. He could do that tomorrow when he saw her.

Nola pulled into the driveway and shut off the truck. Owen was on the phone inside making plans for his party and didn’t realize she was there. She got out and wondered around the garden looking at the plants and making sure there were no issues. Everything looked good. She ended up by the fountain. It was the soothing place she had envisioned it being. It tended to shade in the evening because of how the sun set. It felt like it had been there forever. It fit with the house. She was glad Owen had gone with a simple edged approach. It fit better with the working class neighborhood and the age of the house. She was sitting on the broad bench edge looking in the fountain. Was that a fish? No 2 fish! He had gotten 2 koi. Fun.

Owen had seen her truck and came out to find her, knowing that the garden always called. She was so wrapped up in the new fish he was able to sneak up on her.
“Like them?”
“Oh!” and because he had surprised her she was a bit breathless. “Yes.”
And he put his arms around her. “Your heart is beating fast.”
“You startled me just a bit.”
“Oh I thought it was me.”
And she smiled at him wryly. “You are charming, but…”
“Oh” and he grabbed his heart in mock dismay, “after such a successful dinner.”
She laughed, “I’m assuming that your family had a good time and that all is well with mom.”
“Oh yes. Stella and Ryan get it and are considering letting Eric come and work with me. Probably not this summer. He has basketball camp. He wants to make the varsity team as a freshman. But I’m hopeful about next summer.”
“I’m glad.”
“And my mom has relaxed significantly. She’s convinced I’m happy and since I have a female in my life, she’s content to let me stay here without undue grief.”
Nola laughed, “Happy to help.” And then changed the subject, “When
did you get the koi?”
“We got them last Friday. Eric picked them out and was responsible for the official release. It’s a good thing he’s gone home. I thought they were going to be fed to death.”
She laughed again, “They are fun to watch. And I hear they can be trained to come and take food from your hands. They can have unique personalities.”
“We’re talking about fish.”
“Yes, I know.”
“Training fish?”
“Well you’re trainable, student. Why wouldn’t nature’s other creatures be trainable? You should try it.”
“You are comparing me to a fish?”
She laughed again, “I reminding you that you are only a part of the Web of Life.”
And he laughed, “Yes, Yoda.”
And she laughed because it was not the first time someone had called her Yoda.

She smiled and thought this is as good a time as any to talk about initiation. “Owen, have you thought about being initiated?”
“Oh you’re changing the subject?”
“Well not really. I’m talking about your training. Have you thought about being initiated?”
“Sure. But I figured I needed a year and a day.”
“Stregheria doesn’t have the year and a day rule.”
“Really?” And he did sound very interested.
“Initiation can be done if the student wants it and the teacher thinks the student is ready.”
“Well, if I need to go on the record officially, I want it.”
“Well, as your teacher and, considering your level of participation, I think that you are ready.”
“Yes. If you agree I was planning on initiating you to first the next full moon.”
“Yes if it is ok with you.”
“Absolutely!” and he pulled her into a hug and said, “Come on let’s go inside and celebrate with a toast.”
“Owen….” but his enthusiasm was impossible. He took her by the hand and headed down the path, into the kitchen and opened the Prosecco.
She prepared herself as he poured.
He handed her a glass and said, “To first degree initiation!” and then clinked her glass and they took sips. He completely forgot about the kiss and she smiled at him as he said, “So what do I have to do?”
“Have you read the dedication rite in the manual?”
“Well you need to find some rue, which can be difficult as it is hard to grow down here. And then you should do the dedication rite on the Sunday before the Full Moon. I really should have had you do it earlier.”
“I did my dedication in my backyard in August. The mosquitoes were impossible. We had a small wading pool for Jamie and after the rite I slipped into the pool to stop the mosquitoes from eating my bare flesh right off my bones. Getting into the pool caused ripples in the water but I stayed still for a while and the surface calmed. There was this incredibly bright white light reflecting in the pool. At first I thought it was a street or house light. I tried moving around to the adjust the brightness of the light. Then because I was listening for the universe’s response to my dedication, I was still again, which isn’t always easy for me. I realized the bright light was the moon reflecting in the pool. What I realized then was that I needed to learn to be still and listen. In the process of trying to get rid of the interference of the world, the non-existent street light, I had disturbed the water and had to be still again so that I could listen and hear the answer in the reflection of the moon. It’s been a theme for me through out my experience as a Strega.”
And he was entranced and intrigued by the story and wondered what his would be like. Then he realized that he had Prosecco and that he had broken tradition and kissed her. She was still remembering her own dedication and unprepared.
“Whew. You really shouldn’t do that when I’m not ready. I thought you had forgotten.”
He smiled "I had for a minute. But you were so … I don’t even know… I hope my dedication is a good as yours seemed to be.”
And what could she do but smile at that, “Me too.”
He beamed back, “Just how hard is it to get rue?”
“Hard. But you should spend some time trying to track it down. Perhaps there is somewhere in your yard it can be successfully grown. I’ve only had luck with it once. It does not like our summer heat.”
“Oh. Can I do it without the rue?”
“I don’t recommend it.”
“Oh, so it’s like a test.”
“Well I don’t think it was intended to be, but it can be. It has been for others.”
“Well, what if I can’t get the rue?”
“Do you want to be initiated?”
“Get the rue.” And she smiled at him because she had already requested that her teacher send some from her upper MidWest garden where rue grew like a weed. It was literally in the mail. She could drop it at his house sometime on Sunday. A little bit of fear would be good for the process.

“But what….” and she put her finger on his lips. “You’ll figure it out.”
“But that’s….” and she put her finger back on his lips. “I know this isn’t a typically pagan saying but, have a little faith.”
“You’re serious.”
“Yes. Yes I am.”
“Ok.” And his brain started buzzing with all the people he now knew that provided landscaping and he began to make a mental list of who he needed to talk to. She just smiled and sipped her Prosecco and then she said. “You want to make a list or some phone calls?”
And he looked at her as if she had read his mind. “How did?... Yes.”
“Go ahead. I’m going to wander around and look at your library shelves.”
He smiled walked with her to the library and then bee lined it for his office. He came out to find her not in the library but out by the koi.

She smiled at him. “I found the fish food. I thought I’d give training a try. The one with only the orange spot on its head seems to be getting the hang of it. Watch.” And she moved her hand over the pond and the one fish followed it. When she dropped the pellet into the fountain the fish gobbled it up.”
“Fish training.” And he shook his head because it did seem like the fish understood the reward process.
“Well is your rue secured?”
“No, but I have options in play. We’ll see.”
She nodded. “You also have to figure out what your initiate circle name will be.”
“But I like Owen and its link to the tradition.”
She smiled, “Well, I do too, but it is traditional to have a circle name. Is there some animal or herb or concept or stone or even color that has always seemed aligned with you?”
“A color?”
“Well sometimes the color is a color and a stone name like Jet or Amber or Carnelian. Sometimes the names of animals are combined with herbs or stone names. People get creative. Often Latinized names of animals are used. Italian names have been used as well. You’ll have to think about it.”
“Another test?”
“Well not for most pagans. Lot’s of folks have names that they have used in the past. But I admit it was a bit of a test for me.”
“Really why?”
“Because I had always been happy with my name and being me. I never wanted to be anyone else. It was hard to say that I was committing myself to something and then to do it under a different name. But the name I chose was right for me. My 3rd degree initiation proved that.”
“Really?” and he looked at her expectantly.
And she smiled at him as she said, “No, I am not going to tell you the story. But I will tell you that if you choose something to which you have always had a natural alignment it will be fine. And if you decide you want to change your circle name you can. But don’t choose arbitrarily. Spend some time thinking about it.”
“Ok.” And he sat there before he said, “You are sure loading me up with things to do aren’t you?”
And she nodded. “It is your initiation. I think that’s fair. You’ll need the other items as well: Ivy, salt, water, wine.”
“Well salt and water and wine shouldn’t be too hard. But I don’t know about ivy.”
And she smiled. “You’ll figure that out too. I was in Wisconsin when I was initiated and was sent out to find ivy in a place I'd never been before in my life. I ended up driving around and pulling it off a brick fence in front of some stranger's house. It works out.”
“Ok, so rue, a circle name, ivy. Anything else?”
“No, I can take care of the rest. I’ll see you on Monday.” And she brushed off her hands and got ready to leave.
“Wait, you just got here!”
“You have things to do and think about. I will be back on Monday.” And he saw that she had her purse in her hand and that she was determined but, damn it, she wasn’t supposed to be leaving. He took her arm, “Nola, please stay a little longer.”
“No, Owen. I am leaving. You’ll be fine. Think about what we’ve talked about. Prepare. I’ll be back on Monday.” and she looked down at his hand and he released her arm. She ran her hand on his cheek because his face looked more like big disappointed man face rather than a 10 year old. And she kissed his cheek and said, “I promise.” And turned and walked quickly to her truck leaving him standing at the fountain.

“She promised, son.”
“Yes I heard her.”
“You have things to do and think about to get ready. You’re being initiated.”
“Yes.” And he perked up a bit. “Yes I am.” Then his shoulders slumped again. “But she wasn’t supposed to leave so soon.” And he got up and went back into the library.
“Why not? Do you have her on some kind of timer? Did she agree to spend all evening with you once a week or to teach you? Are you sure you aren’t thinking of her like a toy?”
“Now Pop, that’s not right! And you know it. Nola is not a toy. She’s a warm, loving, wonderful woman. I know she’s not a toy.”
“I see. And she has free will too. Just like you. And if she isn’t a toy she can come and she can go. She didn’t ask you for anything. She is preparing to give you initiation. Yet you mope. What is the problem?”
“Damn it! I don’t know.” And he stomped back through the kitchen out the back door. Pulled his clothes off and dove into the pool. 30 minutes of laps later he was trudging up the stairs to shower. As he stepped and grabbed the soap he remembered his birthday and there she was back in his head again.
“Why do you think that it, son?”
“Because the sex is great and I’d be an idiot not to think about it.”
“Well that’s one reason.” And Papa Eric looked with dismay at Bellaria.
He quickly soaped up and rinsed off. He went back downstairs to make dinner and ate it in silence. As he sat he thought about a circle name and found himself thinking about Nola’s circle name. And the perfect circle name came to him. He went to his office and used Google to look up the Italian form and he smiled at its similarity to his own. Bellaria smiled knowing it would give Nola more than a little bit to think about. She nodded to Tago who nodded and smiled to Papa Eric. Patience.

It was Sunday and he couldn’t find the damn rue. He had one last chance and was taking a ride to a nursery on the West Bank. The rue had arrived from her teacher late Friday afternoon in the mail. Nola had opened it and made sure that there were snips of rue for Owen’s dedication. She had also potted the root balls in the hope that she could get some started in Owen’s yard. It just felt like the right time to drop it off at Owen’s so she told Jamie where she was going and drove to Owen’s and was relieved to see his truck wasn’t there. She left the rue on the doorknob of the kitchen door and just to be on the safe side she put the potted plants next to the front door near some other potted plants. She figured that he would panic and call if he couldn’t find any. So far, no call. Perhaps he had already found the rue. But she also knew that he was taking this as a test and wouldn’t want to give up until he had no other choice.

She drove off before Owen started crossing the bridge back from the West Bank. He had failed. He was going to have to call her and say he couldn’t find the rue. He pulled into his driveway and moped to the kitchen door. What was that on the door knob? He opened the package it had a Wisconsin return address. Rue. He looked around and said out loud, “That woman." How did she do that? She sent me on a wild goose chase when she had the damn stuff on its way all along. Then he smiled as he realized that she had made certain he had what he needed to complete the dedication ritual.

It was after 11PM. The moon was up high in the sky. Owen was in his backyard naked and he had the book with the ritual and the things he needed including the rue. He was now worried that he wouldn't hear the appropriate response. Dogs barking happened often enough and he figured he could sit outside in the pool or jacuzzi all night if he needed. He completed the dedication and slipped into the pool. He looked for the moon's reflection, found it and waited. The night was quiet, he had been sitting for about 15 minutes it was quiet when he heard a strange clop, clop, clop from the street. What was that noise? It sounded like a French Quarter carriage. They usually weren't in the Marigny or the ByWater. Clop, Clop, Clop. "'Yup!" and a bit faster clop, clop, clop and then a horse neighed.
"Well there you go, son. You got your answer."
And a dog barked at the horse. "2 for one, pop." And he smiled and relaxed.

Nola was planning on doing the initiation outside. She thought that changing up the location would help shake him up a little bit. There was a round table on the back porch that she could move outside. And she thought being near the pool could also add a bit of fear to the process. Her plan was to have him wait in the downstairs bathroom until she was ready. She figured that changing into her robe and setting up and casting the circle would take no more than 30 minutes. By this time he should be good and impatient which she hoped would also increase his anxiety. The fact that he was so comfortable with her was something she was trying to work around. She arrived in his driveway on Monday a little after 9PM.

As soon as she pulled in he opened the backdoor. He was smiling.
As she got out she said, "I take that smile as an indication that the dedication ritual went well."
"Yes, it did. Thank you for the rue. How did you know when I wouldn't be here?"
"Witchy wiles." And he gave her a hug. "That was sneaky."
"Well I wanted to make sure that you had what you needed. There are also some potted plants on your front porch that I need you to keep watered until I figure out where to try them in your garden. I'm thinking that since rue is a God plant that they might grow better here at your house."
"On the front porch? I didn't see that."
"I dropped them there yesterday. Can you keep them watered for me?"
"How did I miss them?"
"Well they are tucked behind the other large pots."
"Definitely sneaky."
She smiled, "They were well watered, as long as they are watered with the other pot plants until I can get them in the ground they'll be OK."
"OK." And he waved toward the kitchen door.
"So tell me about your dedication, what did you hear? A dog bark?"
"Yes" and he smiled again "after the horse neighed a dog barked at it."
"A horse?"
And he laughed, "Cool, huh? A French Quarter carriage must have been going down my street. I heard the clop of his hooves. The driver was urging the horse along and the horse neighed and the dog barked at it."
"Well... I guess we can count that. But technically those are mules."
"Aw! Come on. What's the chance that anything would neigh in a city neighborhood in this century?"
And she laughed because she was kidding, "Slim I admit. You can definitely count both."
"So I'm cleared for initiation?"
"Well what do I do?"
"You go into your downstairs bathroom, get undressed, dim the lights and wait for me until come and get you."
"You're locking me in the bathroom."
"Is that possible? Can I lock you in the bathroom?" she said teasingly.
"From the outside? No."
"So I'm not locking you in the bathroom. But if you come out before I come in to get you.... No initiation."
"Well unless the house is on fire. You can come out if the house is on fire."
"Owen I have things to do to set up the circle and prepare for your initiation. Typically this is not done at the initiate's home. So it makes set up a bit easier. There are also typically other initiates around to help. I'm doing the best I can under the circumstances and what I really need is for you to cooperate."
"Ok." And he sighed, "That sounds reasonable. But why can't I wait in the upstairs bathroom. That is where we have the altar and your Harry Potter box?"
"You can't because I say you can't. You're going to stay in the downstairs bathroom until I come and get you. Ok?"
"Ok. Here." And she dug a small bag out of her purse and 4 small ritual items. You'll need these."
"What are these for?"
"I'll tell you after initiation. Now get in there, get undressed, dim the lights and wait. OK?"
"But first I need to get my robe from the closet."
"Wait, you get to wear a robe and I don't?"
"Well...." And she waited and watched as he tried to figure out what to say then decided to say nothing. She smiled, grabbed her robe and then he stepped into the bathroom and she started to close the door.
"How long will I be in here?"
"Until I come and get you." And she closed the door.

She went outside to the porch and moved the table to the patio. The moon was perfect. Then she slipped upstairs as quietly as possible and brought down the ritual box. She changed into her robe in the kitchen, then did the Rite of Union to settle down before she set the altar. She was glad that Owen was keeping his ritual blade in the ritual box. She would need the extra blade it to open the circle to get out and let him in. She set up the altar and made sure she had what she needed inside the circle and then slipped back to the kitchen to make sure the path was clear to the back patio. She cast the circle and then cut it open and closed it behind her and went to get Owen.

When she got him out of the bathroom he was definitely appropriately anxious. Doing the ritual outside helped a great deal. She could tell that he had not expected this. The initiation went well. She knew from previous rituals and his experience casting the circle that the Grigori had already accepted him. His circle name was a surprise. She'd have to ask him why he chose it and if he had intentionally aligned it with hers.

He was in the bathroom getting dressed and she was slipping into her street clothes in the kitchen. She would let him pick the circle items up after she left. He was coming out of the bathroom as she was folding her robe. "Well how do you feel?"
"Glad that it's over. I had no idea what to expect."
"Well it's kind of designed that way."
"I thought you were going to toss me in the pool."
"Well... it was an option, but I thought better of it. I didn't see any reason to risk drowning you." she teased again.
"Thanks." And he smiled knowing she was kidding.

"What made you choose that particular circle name?"
"You like it?"
"Well… yes, but what drove you to choose it?"
"Well you said to choose something that I've always had a natural alignment with and I thought about the number of times folks had commented on my animal like form," and he smiled and she smiled because she liked his burliness "and then I thought about your circle name and I liked the way they fit together."
And she nodded. "It suits you."
"Can you pick up the ritual items outside for me?"
"Sure.... Wait... you're leaving?"
"Because, I came to initiate you. You are definitely initiated. My work here is done."
"But it's early."
And she laughed "It's after 11PM and I have to go to work tomorrow. You are just spoiled because most of the time I end up staying until 1AM. "
"But...." and he couldn't think of anything to say.
"You'll figure it out eventually, son."
And he thought, "You are not helping, pop!"
"Congratulations." And she kissed him on the cheek and he hugged her and said, "I don't want you to leave yet."
"You'll survive until next time. See you soon."
"She has to leave, son."
And knowing that she would be back on Thursday he said the only thing he could, "Ok, see you Thursday."

Monday, February 14, 2011

Lip Service

New Orleans Cred
by Chris Rose

What's in a kiss? History tells us it is the mark of love, faith, friendship, respect — even betrayal.

  So: What's that got to do with anything?

  This: I think I speak for many non-natives of New Orleans when I suggest the longer we stay here, the more we look for affirmation that this is where we fit in, this is where we belong, this is where ... we are from.

  Yes, even after 25 years here. And that alone is one of the great things about this town: how she continues, over the decades, to reveal herself to you, how she continues to amaze and delight. (OK, frustrate and madden at times, too — but that's not today's story.)

  New Orleans cred manifests itself in many ways, from the obvious to the sublime: When you hang your first Mardi Gras beads over your rear view mirror; when you finally grow comfortable ordering a sandwich "dressed"; for that matter, when you stop calling it a sandwich.

  You think purple, green and gold actually look good together. In fact, due to the unyielding force of cultural brainwashing, you begin to identify the color yellow as gold. And purple comes in two shades: K&B purple ... and not.

  Other ways: You learn how to pronounce Natchitoches, Picayune, Soileau and Oubre. You stop using your automobile turn signals. Your male cab driver calls you "babe." You think Angus Lind is funny. (OK, this one takes a long time, but it happens. Eventually.)

  The longer you're here, the more subtle the indications become. I had one of those the other day. It was a kiss that gave me a touch of reaffirmation, a notion that I am not only "from" New Orleans, but "of" New Orleans.

  Yes, after 25 years, it still matters.

  I had an encounter that began with a buss on the cheek and, when it was over, as I drove away from the incident, I laughed out loud about it, all alone in my car. ("Another sign of New Orleans-ness?").

  Maybe I make this out to be more than it was. In fact, as I tell you the story, it seems very anticlimactic; it was such a small, teeny-tiny thing, a non-event, unspectacular, lacking drama and mystery. I kissed my mail carrier.

  Well, she's not actually my mail carrier anymore. Michelle is my former mail carrier, from many, many years ago, pre-storm and all that.

  I hadn't seen her in ages. She was always so kind, always filled with cheer, always asking about my kids, always delivering not just mail, but a pleasant interlude no matter the weather or anything else.

  So, when I saw her walking down a street a few neighborhoods over from mine, I hit the brake, rolled down the window and called her name. I got out of the car and we walked up to each other and kissed each other on the cheek and proceeded to make small fusses over each other.

  Like I said, not a lot to it, really. Other than this:

  I have lived in two other places, Wisconsin and Maryland, and I cannot for the life of me ever imagine walking up to a mail carrier and planting a wet one on her (or his!) cheek. The act seems to violate so many tenets of personal space, propriety and all the other social restrictions folks in other places burden themselves with but which we tend to casually disregard in these parts.

  In review, perhaps I am wont to read too much into things. But, in many ways, it is my job.

  For the past quarter century, one of my primary means of employment has been to write love letters to New Orleans. The primary means to do this, is to overstate the implications of almost everything — the slightest of local gestures, colloquialisms and traditions — and blow them into metaphors that speak to the wondrous, peerless, unparalleled uniqueness of this town.

  I'll be the first to admit: It can be toxically overwrought, cloying to the point of ennui. Does everything — everything — that happens around here have to speak to cultural significance? More to the point: Can't a kiss just be a kiss?

  Well ... no, in fact, it can't. And maybe I'm blowing this brief incident completely out of proportion, once again getting myself all caught up in the New Orleans self-love thing. Maybe I am reading too much into a kiss.

History tells me I wouldn't be the first to do such a thing.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Link - February in Ancient Rome

See La Vecchia Credenza On Line Feburary in Ancient Rome

FEBRUARY IS UPON US, birth month of great presidents and martyrs, and for lovers around the world, the month of Saint Valentine’s Day. While births of martyrs and presidents may be mere coincidence of time, not so the celebration of love. To explicate the matter, one must search to the very foundations of ancient Rome. When Rome was first founded, wild and bloodthirsty wolves roamed the woods around the city. They often attacked and mauled and even devoured Roman citizens. With characteristic ingenuity, the Romans begged the god Lupercus to keep the wolves away. Lupercus was the god of the wolves, so he was expected to have some influence on their behavior.

This tale begins when Numitor, king of the city of Alba Longa, was ousted by his brother, Amulius. Numitor had a daughter, Rhea Silvia. His wicked brother had her made a vestal virgin to prevent her bearing any offspring with a right to the throne. Mars, the god of war, had his way with her anyway, and she bore twin sons, Romulus and Remus. Afraid of these half-god twins, Amulius cast them into the flooded Tiber River in a basket and set them adrift. They were found by a mother wolf who suckled and nurtured them as her own pups. Later they were found and raised by shepherds, who were grateful for the seeming immunity to wolf attacks on their flocks and the resulting fecundity of the sheep. The shepherds rightly gave thanks to the god Lupercus, protctor of flocks against wolves.

Still later, Romulus and Remus led a shepherd revolt against Amulius and slew him, restoring the throne to their grandfather. They then decided to build their own city, but Romulus quarreled with his brother over petty issues regarding the size of the walls, and killed him in the resulting fight. Thus the city was named Rome over the remaining twin.

As a rite of spring and the oncoming fertility brought to all of nature, the early Romans chose February 15th as a proper day to honor Lupercus, Faunus, and other gods and goddesses of fertility and protection. The ritual was named Lupercalia and involved two naked young men slaughtering a dog (symbolic wolf?) and a goat.

In addition to the blood sacrifice, vestal virgins affixed cakes of grain from the previous year’s harvest to the very fig tree believed to be the spot where Romulus and Remus were suckled by the she-wolf. The naked young men were ritually smeared with the blood of sacrifice, then wiped clean with milk-drenched wool. Our symbolic Romulus and Remus then donned loincloths made from the skins and ran about the altar and into the city. The young women of the city proffered their flesh to the young men as they passed, for which they were lightly lashed with goatskin flails made from the sacrificial goat. These whips were named “februa”, and give us the name of our current month. The lashing ostensibly promoted great fertility among the women and it was a joyous moment when the goatskin struck their flesh.

As the years passed and The Roman Empire adopted Christianity, the Pope, in 494 AD transformed Lupercalia into the feast of the Purification of The Virgin Mary, trying to water down the still immensely popular holiday with Christian virtue.

In another of early Christianity’s veiled attempts to embrace the flesh, a certain Saint Valentine was lionized, having his day tied to the former Lupercalia by establishing it the day before, on February 14th. There are three equally likely candidates for the honor of being the original saint, who was either deeply in love with one of his female converts, or very compassionate towards young lovers at a time when such latitude for anything sexual was vehemently forbidden by the church.

In any event, the supernatural fertility of The Virgin Mary and the terrestrial fertility of young lovers around the Christian world are now inextricably linked by having their feast days so joined. So, share some goat’s milk along with the chocolate as you woo your lover on Valentine’s Day.

…and maybe howl like a wolf and give them a few lashes while you’re at it.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Link - An Ancient Etruscan Love Spell

See La Vecchia Credenza On Line An Ancient Etruscan Love Spell

Some people will do anything for love. Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ died for it. Wars have been fought in its name, kingdoms have been won or lost on its account, and many a family has been either blessed or cursed because of a union of love. The ancient Etruscans certainly went through a lot of trouble to find that perfect mate. Last night, I had dinner with a couple who have been unbelievably happy together for as long as I’ve known them. After almost thirty years, they still behave like newlyweds and have shown a bond of trust and caring that is seldom seen these days. When I had the opportunity, I asked if they had a secret.

The happy gentleman said the secret was to be lucky enough to find a woman as kind, loving and courageous as his wife, which he simply attributed to chance. His wife remained silent (at least until I got her alone while her husband was hailing a taxi).

I repeated my question to her alone this time, hoping to hear something really juicy – perhaps a tale of a wild and twisted affair with an exotic bohemian paramour, much like Harold Pinter wrote about in his extraordinary play, “The Lover”. Instead, she said she would email me in the morning with her secret which she has been silent about since she discovered it.

Early this morning, the email arrived. “The secret” was an ancient Etruscan spell designed to attract the perfect mate, which had been updated first in the 18th century and later in the early 20th by her own grandmother. She swears that this ‘love spell’ really worked, and has never shared it with anyone, including her husband. Today, I share it with you.

The origins of this love spell are obscure, but there is a litany in archaic Italian of which I have provided an English translation. It is a ritual that requires a bit of effort and a lot of herbal materials as well as a profound belief in its success. Otherwise (according to my friend), its nothing more than empty words. The materials can be obtained readily in any food store, herb market or metaphysical supply store.

The courage to actually do this? Thats up to you….


Frankincense incense (stick or resin)

Herbal Mixture:

3 parts lavender

3 parts damiana

3 parts patchouly

1 part Dragon’s blood resin

13 gardenia petals

4 parts red clover

3 Saw Palmetto Berries

3 parts peppermint

3 parts Rue

13 drops of your favorite perfume

Mortar and Pestle (for grinding herbs)

Small red drawstring bag or square of red fabric with red thread or cord


Prepare space to work in by making sure the area is clean and the floors swept. Meditate on power, success and love, and begin by slowly grinding the herbs in a clockwise movement in the mortar and pestle. Do not add the oils at this time. Stirring the herbs in a clockwise direction with your finger, slowly add the oil mixture until it is well blended. Hold the bowl in your hand and enchant with the words:

Diana, bella Diana!

Che tanto bella e buona siei,

E tanto ti e piacere

Ti ho fatto,

Anche a te di fare al amore,

Dunque spero che anche in questa cosa

Tu mi voglia aiutare,

E se tu vorrai

Tutto tu portrai,

Se questa grazia mi vorrai fare:

Chiamerai tua figlia Aradia,

Al letto della bella fanciulla

La mandera Aradia,

La fanciulla in una canina cinertira,

Alla camera mia la mandera,

Ma entrate in camera mia,

Non sara piu una canina,

Ma tornera una bella fanciulla,

Bella cane era prima,

E cosi potro fare al amore

A mio piacimento,

Come a me piacera.

Quando mi saro divertito

A mi piacere diro.

“Per volere della Fata Diana,

E di sua figlia Aradia,

Torna una canina

Come tu ere prima!”


Diana, beautiful Diana

Who art indeed as good as beautiful

By all the worship I have given thee

and all the joy of love which thou hast known

I do implore thee aid me in my love!

What thou wilt is true

Thou canst ever do

And if the grace I seek thou’ll grant to me,

Then call, I pray, thy daughter Aradia,

and send her to the bedside of the man/woman

And give that man/woman the likeness of a dog

and make him/her then come to me in my room

but when he/she once has entered it, I pray

that he/she may re-assume her human form

as beautiful as ever he/she was before

and may I then make love to him/her until

our souls with joy are fully satisfied

Then by the aid of the great Faery Queen

and of her daughter, fair Aradia

may he/she be turned into a dog again

and then to human form as once before

Draw a bath, and light fresh incense. Place the herbal/oil mixture into the red bag, or tie it up in the red cloth spuare. Submerge it into the bath water, and let it steep while you inhale the incense and focus on your desire. Enter the bath slowly, feeling the tingling of the bath on your entire body as you do. Take a deep breath, filling your lungs to capacity, and submerge yourself completely under the water. While underwater, exhale all of the air completely out of your lungs, and visualize any obstacles in the way of your success with this spell leaving your body with the air. Do this three times. Let the water run out of the tub while you are lying in it, and do not get out until all of the water has drained. Let your body dry naturally; do not use a towel. When your body is completely dry, dress yourself and apply your favorite fragrance that was used in the herbal mixture. Leave your home and go out for the evening. Within 28 days, you will have attracted attract the perfect lover.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Chapter 38 – Passing

Owen was dressed and ready and had the Prosecco cooling fridge. He was wearing the suit that had been retailored for his mom’s birthday celebration and he had to admit he looked good. His family had spent the day hanging out at his new pool but he had taken them back to their French Quarter hotel to dress for dinner. He and Nola were meeting them in the Quarter for 7PM. He smiled again as he thought back to Nola's initial response to his dinner invitation and the idea of being presented so his family would assume she was his girlfriend. Few people could even begin to fathom their actual relationship. The Grigori knew that neither Nola nor Owen fully understood it themselves. She was right when she said that walking this path had opened him up to himself. He felt he'd learned more about what made him happy and how to be comfortable in his own skin in the last 6 months than he had in the previous 40+ years. And Settrano smiled at Tago who nodded in acknowledgment that not everyone needed the same guide.

Owen knew that Nola still wasn't sure about the idea and was going to do everything he could to keep it as light and as comfortable as possible for her. He thought back on the conversation that he'd had with Dad & Ryan and Eric as they were shooting hoops in the back yard the day before.
"Ok, I need to let you on a little secret, just for us guys. You can NOT tell Mom or Stella. They'll find out tomorrow at dinner."
Eric's eyebrows shot up. Jack looked at Ryan and they both thought 'uh oh'.
"Ah come on. This is a good. It's going to make mom" and he threw the ball to Eric "your grandmom happy."
Jack said, "Ok I'll bite. You know part of the reason for the visit is that your mom's been worried about you. So what kind of secret do you have that will make her happy?"
Ryan said, "You're getting married."
"What!? No." And Jack grabbed his chest in mock horror and amazement.
Eric laughed at them as Owen said. "I'm bringing a date with me to dinner tomorrow, a woman I've been seeing regularly for about 6 months. This basketball court was her idea."
"Damn." said Ryan and then looked at Eric as if to say don't tell your mother.
"Well, that's some secret, son."

Nola was irritated and stressed. The hazard assessment on the unit had run late. She was a part of the field team to work follow ups and today was the day for those follow ups. She was walking back to her truck in a hard hat, steel toe shoes and a fire retardant jumpsuit. She was going to be cutting it really close. She should be getting ready for dinner with Owen’s family. She shook her head and wondered again how she had let herself get talked in this. She still wasn’t sure it was a good idea. She had her clothes and backpack in the truck. Her plan had been to use the shower facilities at work and save herself the hour it would take to run home, shower and change. She was due at Owen’s in 15 minutes dressed and ready. She could probably make it there in 15 minutes. The ByWater was closer than her Carrollton home. But dressed and ready would take about 20 more minutes as long as ‘ready’ excluded dry hair. She tossed her hard hat into the back seat and grabbed her cell phone off the charger. She had to wait until she was off refinery grounds to use it. So she cued up Owen’s number before starting the engine and swiped out of the facility. As soon as she hit the public street she pushed the button to call him

He answered on the first ring. “Hello, babe.”
Nola pulled the phone away from her ear, raised her eyebrows and then put it back, “Babe?”
“Just practicing.”
He heard her sigh, “Owen I’m calling to let you know I’m running a little late. I’ll be there in about 15 minutes, maybe 10 as long as I don’t catch the bridge.”
“Ok, I’ll see you then. You should see how good I clean up.”
She hated to talk on the phone and drive in city traffic, especially since she was speeding just a bit, and he seemed like he was in a playful mood, so she decided to cut it short. “See you very soon.”
“Ok babe, see ya.” and she could hear him grin.
She said, still irritated but smiling despite herself, “Bye…, babe.”
Settrano smiled at Bellaria and Meana, completely pleased with the plan that Tago had agreed to allow to play out.

Babe. What have I gotten myself into? Why did I let him talk me into this? But while she had only met his mom once at the airport her intuition told her he was right. If he had a woman on his arm, his mom would be happier and more relaxed about his being in New Orleans. Owen had promised that it would be Ok because his brother Ryan and his wife Stella and Eric were in town with his mom Abby and his dad Jack. Simon and Lisa had stayed at home because Lisa was very pregnant. Nola mentally practiced the all the names again. Owen had promised that he would ensure that he sat on one side of her and Eric sat on the other. He said Ryan and his dad and Eric were in on keeping Abby at bay. The men knew Owen was bringing a date but they were going to surprise Abby. That way Abby wouldn't have time to work up a series of questions for her. What a comforting thought. The guys weren’t in on the whole story. They really thought Owen had a girlfriend. But they knew how Abby could pepper them with questions and understood exactly what Owen wanted and why. He said they were comrades in arms. She sure hoped so.

Nola pulled into the driveway in 9 minutes. She was out of the truck in a flash and getting out of her steel toes when Owen came out of the kitchen door.
“What the…..”
“I know. I’m sorry. I didn’t have any control over the schedule. I swear I can be ready in 20 minutes.” She tossed the steel toes into the back seat and unzipped the jumpsuit,
His eyebrows went up not knowing what was underneath. She stepped out of the jumpsuit wearing a simple camisole and light pants. She tossed the jumpsuit in with the rest and grabbed her dress and backpack and bolted for the door in her sock feet.
Owen just shook his head and followed her in and closed the door she had left open when she dashed in. There was no way any woman on the planet was going to be ready for dinner in 20 minutes, especially not one who had just pulled off steel toed shoes. She was already in the downstairs bathroom and he heard the shower turn on. He checked the clock in the kitchen. It was 6:15PM. Owen called Ryan and let him know that they would meet them at the restaurant instead of the hotel, then poured a glass of Prosecco for the wait.

Nola was out of her clothes in a flash. She hung the dress on the back of the door and turned on the water in the shower. She dumped the contents of the backpack into a heap on the floor and made sure there were 2 towels available on the rack. She grabbed the larger zip lock bag and dumped its contents onto the floor of the shower, quickly grabbing her toothbrush and toothpaste out of the pile and then she stepped into the shower. She took a quick deep breath as the cold water hit her and then adjusted the temperature. She brushed her teeth while standing under shower letting the water beat down on the top of her head to get her hair and body wet. She finished brushing her teeth and grabbed the shampoo from the floor of the tub, squeezed some in her hand, dropped the bottle to the floor and lathered up her hair. She shampooed and rinsed quickly. She scooped up the conditioner, squirted some in her hand and worked it over the ends and then rinsed it. She grabbed the body scrub squirted in some grapefruit scented bath soap and lathered up to get the grit of the refinery off of her. She grabbed her razor off of the floor and while she was all soapy ran it quickly over her legs and underarms. She made sure that all the conditioner was out of her hair and then she grabbed the presoaped face cloth and washed her face. She took a deep breath and stood letting the shower beat on her for a minute, mentally asking for the Old Ones to help her bend time and for Umbrea goddess of shadows and enchantment to give her the ability to enchant and hide in the shadows, before she grabbed the removable shower head and made sure that all the soap was gone. She turned off the shower and grabbed one of the towels and wrapped it around her head to let it soak the water out of her hair. She reached into the shower and scooped out the toiletries and dumped them onto the bathroom rug to dry. She dried off with the other towel, well mostly and found a smaller zip lock that acted as her makeup bag. She grabbed the Oil of Olay smoothed it on her face. She used the natural deodorant stone on her still wet underarms until the salts dried them. She did a few light strategically placed spritz of Jill Sander no. 4 parfum. She took the towel off her head and rewrapped it putting the drier part against her head and twisting the now wet part up and flipping it back over her head. She put a few dabs of makeup under her eyes and around her face and smoothed it around on her freshly moisturized face. She barely swiped some pale purple shimmer over her eyes and then lightly powdered her face with a small brush. She grabbed the toiletries from the bathroom rug and shoved them back into the large zip lock bag and tossed it toward her backpack. She took the towel off her head and worked at getting her hair as dry as she could. She flipped her hair back and grabbed her comb and combed her hair into place. She squirted some foam mouse into her palm and then with her other hand worked it in strategically around her temples and made sure the swoop of hair on the right side of her face would stay in place, she worked the rest of the stuff from her palm into the back of her hair to help keep those curls in place. She swiped over her hair with a comb again. Her hair was still wet but she knew that it would dry well. She never used a blow dryer. She took another look at her makeup, dabbed here and there, decided to lightly line her eyes and then went over her face once more with the makeup brush.
From the floor near the backpack she grabbed fresh underwear and put it on and then dropped the deep purple dress over her head. She made sure the loose ruched waistline was straight on her and adjusted the v-neck crossover neckline and straightened the shoulders. She put on her mascara last, then some lip moisturizer, realizing she had left her purse in her truck. The lipstick would have to wait. She swept the makeup into the small zip lock and returned both zip locks to the backpack and shoved in her dirty clothes on top. She grabbed the half slip from the floor and slipped it on under her dress. Then she slid into her shoes, turned to ensure the back of the dress was flowing Ok and that the slip was properly in place, fingered her hair a bit to loosen up the mouse and checked the pearl earrings she had put in that morning. The last thing she did was pull a multistrand of pearls, with a large quartz tear drop clipped on to them, out of the front zipper pocket of the backpack. She put the necklace on and then took another deep breath, called on Umbrea again before she opened the bathroom door with the backpack in her hand.

Owen turned the barstool around and looked up thinking there is no way that could be the bathroom door. Nola dropped her backpack outside the bathroom door and walked into the kitchen and said “I need about 15 more minutes before my hair is dry enough to look like I didn’t just step out of a shower but once I grab my purse from my truck and put on some lipstick I’m ready.” Owen’s jaw dropped open as he saw the clock. It said 6:33. She had done it in 18 minutes. “Damn woman! 18 minutes! How did you do that!?”
“When pushed I can bend time.” And she mentally thanked the Grigori.
Then he really looked at her and said, “Wow and I thought I cleaned up good. You look fabulous. Even with your not quite dry hair.”
He handed her his glass of Prosecco and she gratefully took a sip before realizing it was Prosecco. Owen was smiling and moving in for a kiss. It was after all tradition. He grabbed her waist and pulled her close and kissed her like a new girlfriend should be kissed. As he pulled away slightly he said, “You smell good too.”
“Thanks” and then she said, “Are you really sure this is a good idea?” And he kissed her again. “Owen stop. You’re making my head spin.”
He smiled and said, “Isn’t that what a boyfriend is supposed to do? Then he noticed the necklace. "Well that's quite a rock."
"It's just quartz, with a bit of amethyst wash in it and some purple rutile crystals."
"Geology lesson, huh?" and he grinned at her before he said, "Pearls can be so conservative. That quartz is not. The combination is perfect for you and this evening.
Then seeing that she was having second thoughts said, “Let’s go, we’re meeting them at the restaurant instead of the hotel. At this point we might even beat them there.”

As he pulled out of the driveway, Nola asked, “Owen, if asked, what did I get you for your birthday? Since we can’t really tell the truth about that, can we? And if I were to try and think of a present for you I have no idea what I’d get you. Shame on me but it’s true."
He smiled and acknowledged that she had a point. “Hmmm, hadn’t thought about that. For my birthday, I asked you to paint a picture for my bedroom and you’re still working on it.”
“Oh, no pressure.”
And he laughed. “But it sounds good.”
Then he said, “Oh I've been meaning to tell you that I didn’t tell my dad that he already met you at the Allentown airport back in November.”
She sighed, and said, “OK, Anything else I should know?”
“Hmmm, Oh Eric’s birthday is the same day as mine. He just turned 14.”
She nodded, “Anything else?”
“Nope, that’s pretty much it. We’re all just winging the rest. I’m hoping that pulling this off is something else you can do without thinking about it.”
She smiled, laughed lightly and sighed, “Well, I’ll see what I can do.”

As they drove downtown Nola thought about her necklace. The pearls had once belonged to her friend Dana who became Polly. And she thought about how she had become Nola to Owen. The one thing Polly had not been was conservative. Polly was a serious Norse Witch and they had shared the same birthday one year apart. She missed DanaPolly. The last time they had spoken was when Polly called to say she was leaving to go to the Czech Republic and that had been 4 years ago. The quartz was a piece she had picked up in the Denver Airport. James had broken her heart and she had met a guy while at a training class in Denver. They had such a good time together during the week of the class that they had stayed in touch and he had flown her back for a week of skiing and sex in a cabin in the woods. She smiled remembering it. The quartz piece was something she had purchased for herself, because it made her happy and because she couldn't walk away from it and leave it there in the Denver Airport.

In 15 minutes Owen was parked in the garage around the corner from the restaurant. Nola checked her makeup in the truck mirror as Owen grabbed his jacket from the backseat then walked around to open her door. Nola fluffed her still not quite dry hair one last time. She had been so rushed and keyed up that she really hadn’t looked at him. When he opened the door, like the gentleman he always was, and she took his hand to step down out of the truck she caught the fit of his pants and the way the shirt stretched across his chest and the jacket accentuated his shoulders. She looked up at him and smiled, bushed her other hand slowly down his tie, leaned into him, brushed his ear with her lips and said and in smoky smiling voice, “You look really good in that suit…. Babe.”
He reached around her waist, nuzzled her neck and said, “Keep that up and we’ll miss dinner.”
At that she pressed herself closer against him bared more of her neck as she said softly in his ear, “What ever you say.”
He pulled her even closer and kissed her like he was going to haul her off to bed, and she gave totally into it. Tago finally nudged him and he realized they were in a parking garage. He said wistfully, “That was not fair. But it’s too late to get out of this. And you promised.”
She sighed, “You can’t blame a girl for trying.”
He laughed and hooked her arm and headed to the restaurant.

Eric was walking down the sidewalk slightly ahead of everyone else so he saw his Uncle Owen round the corner with a lady in a purple dress. He stopped and looked to his dad, nodded toward Owen and did a low whistle. Ryan nudged his dad, whose eyebrows raised in appreciation before he said, “Owen could always pick ‘em and he’s always preferred shapely over skinny. It’s cute how she fits under his arm.” Abby & Stella were walking more slowly behind them, window shopping and chatting. They caught up with the men wondering what had stopped them. Jack nodded toward Owen who was smiling and talking to Nola. And the whole family smiled collectively.

Owen looked away from Nola and spotted his family down the street. He squeezed her against his side and said, “Here we go.”
She squeezed her hand against arm and said, “It was a good thing I was busy today and late. I haven’t had time to be scared, until now.”
He said, “I’ll protect you.” And then they both laughed.

They meet at the door of the restaurant and went in together. They had to wait at the bar for a few minutes and Owen took this time to officially introduce Nola to everyone in the group, starting with his parents. “Nola, these are my parents, Jack and Abby.” Nola, used to the corporate world, put her hand out to shake Jack’s hand. Jack caught on and put his hand out and said, as he smiled Owen’s smile at her, “Hello Nola.
“Hello again Jack. I don’t know if you remember or not but we met at the Allentown airport back in November.”
And that was when Abby said, “Hello Nola. I’m glad to see I was right.”
“Hello Abby.” And then, as if it were girl talk, Nola said, “What were you right about?”
“Oh I can tell when my son has a twinkle in his eye. I knew something was in the air in November.” Then turning to Owen she said, “So that’s why you changed your flight.”
“Mom you’re amazing. I can’t keep anything from you. You know things before I do.” Then turning to his brother and family said, “Nola and I met on the flight I took home for Mom’s birthday party last year and we also returned to New Orleans on the same flight." Then he smoothly segued into, “Nola this is my brother Ryan, his wife Stella and their son Eric.”
Nola thinking that this was going to be a very interesting evening nodded to the group of 3 saying, “Hello, I hope you're having a good time in New Orleans.” And she put out her hand to Eric, “Happy Birthday, a few days late.” And he shook her hand and his mom and dad smiled.

They were quickly moved to their table. Jack moved Abby to one side of the table and pulled out her chair and sat down at one end. Owen moved Nola to the opposite side of the table pulled out her chair and sat her down in the middle seat and then took the seat next to his father and across from his mom. On cue Eric slid into the seat next to Nola. Ryan pulled out the chair next to Abby for Stella and then took a seat at the other end of the table. And Nola smiled as she thought, Nicely done. I’m on one side and the women who will grill me are on the other.

As Eric sat down he noticed that Nola’s hair was still a little wet and being a kid commented. “Nola, your hair is wet.”
Nola took it stride, “Yes it is. I was at work until around 6PM. But I managed to clean up before dinner.”
The waiter came and handed out the menus, told them about the specials and took their drink orders.
Abby then asked, “Where do you work?”
“A refinery, a few minutes outside of town in St. Bernard Parish. Then seeing that the whole table looked a little incredulous added, “It’s only a few minutes from Owen’s house, so it didn’t take me long to get there.”
The rest of the family was wrapping their brain around that fact that she worked at a refinery when Abby said, “I’m pretty sure you didn’t go to work at a refinery looking like that.”
And Nola wondered if there was something wrong with her dress and did a mental comparison between her dress and Stella’s before she relaxed.
And Owen jumped in. “No, she didn’t. When she pulled into my driveway around 6:15PM she was wearing a protective jumpsuit and steel toe shoes.”
Now the family looked even more incredulous and Ryan said, “No way.”
Owen countered with, “I wouldn’t believe it either if I hadn’t seen it for myself. It was amazing. I think Nola’s turned the downstairs bathroom into a time machine.”
Abby and Stella glanced at each with looks that said, ‘Not possible.’ And the men silently wondered why it wasn’t possible all the time for their women.
Eric, trying to do his best in the adult conversation asked, “What do you do in a jumpsuit at a refinery?”
“Well I don’t wear a jumpsuit every day, most of the time I work in an office on site. I’m responsible for a team of people who manage the technical engineering documentation the refinery is required to maintain to run the plant safely and keep OSHA and EPA happy. I rarely have to go in the field. It was a bit of bad timing to have to today. I’m glad we didn’t keep you all waiting.”
Jack asked, “Oh so you’re an engineer?”
Nola answered, “No, a geologist by training.” And to satisfy their quizzical looks gave them the short story about the arch her career had taken so she could stay in New Orleans.
Stella commented, “So you’re as committed to New Orleans as Owen.”
“Well I’m a native. This is my home. Before Katrina, New Orleans had the largest population people in the US who were still living in the city where they were born.”
Abby said, “Really?
“Yes. It was part of what made the PostKatrina experience so horrible. Large families and extended families were impacted making it harder for family and friends to help each other. In some ways the same thing that caused me to adjust my career to stay in New Orleans is what cushioned some of those affected by the aftermath of the storm. People who had moved to cities in other states because of their jobs were able to take in family and friends. But it was still devastating.”
The waiter returned to take their orders. After he left Ryan said, “Owen took us on a tour of the city.”
Stella said, “I really had no idea how large an area was impacted until I saw it myself.” And everyone around the table nodded in agreement.
Nola said seriously, “It can be hard to fathom even for those of us who lived through it.”
Ryan nodded and said, “In some places you can’t tell that anything was ever wrong. In others it looks almost like it happened yesterday and then there are areas where you can see recovery in action but it’s incomplete.”
Nola laughed and said, “Yes and the recovery now seems like it has every major street under construction.” And wanting to move the talk away from the chance that she’d be asked to tell her Katrina story said, “What have you done on your visit, other than the Devastation Tour?”
Eric piped in with, “We went to the Aquarium. The big tank is my favorite. The otters are fun and the penguins are messier than I imagined.” And Abby smiled at her grandson as the salads and appetizers were served.
In an attempt to keep the conversation light while feeding his mom tidbits about ‘his girlfriend’ Owen commented to the table but mostly to Eric and Ryan, “Nola is a big Star Trek fan.”
Eric said, “Really? Cool. Who’s your favorite character?”
Nola thought for a minute and then answered him seriously. “Well in ‘The Original Series’, Spock. In ‘The Next Generation’, definitely Guinan. In ‘Deep Space Nine’ it’s a bit harder to choose so I have to pick, Kira and followed by Jadzia Dax, and you’ve got to love Quark. I do wish that Kai Opaka had lasted longer. She was a lot like Guinan. In Voyager it’s close, but I’d have to say Janeway followed closely by Seven. In Enterprise, definitely Trip.”
Eric was impressed that she had responded with someone from every series. He figured he’d like anyone who would think to put in a basketball court. But now he really liked Nola. Ryan was impressed too and said, “Wow you are a fan.”
He knew everyone in his family knew a little about the Star Trek universe because of his and especially because of Eric’s fascination. But he caught himself thinking out loud “Interesting…” and commenting for the rest of them but especially his mom, “Mom you’ll find this very interesting. If I were to translate the characters Nola choose into something about her personality I’d say that she loves logic and science: Spock, Dax, Seven, Janeway. Is philosophical and a bit mysterious, Guinan, Opaka. Is tough and a fighter and a leader with hidden strong emotions: Kira and Janeway. Appreciates fun and a man who can fix things – Trip and I guess even Quark. She’s perfect for Owen.”
Nola knew that she’d be on display but she hadn’t expected this. As Owen listened to Ryan and watched his mom he was amazed at how well Nola was described. He wasn’t sure he could have done a better job of it himself. The waiter interrupted to refill their wine and water glasses and after Nola took a sip of wine she smiled and excused herself from the table.
Owen rose slightly to get her chair and she said, “I’ll be right back.”
After she left Jack said, “Well Owen, how well does that describe Nola?”
And Owen said, “to a T. Very good Ryan.”
Ryan smiled, winked at Eric and said “Star Trek has the answer to almost every question.”
Stella rolled her eyes and smiled at both of her men.
Abby asked, “So Owen, is she perfect for you?”
Owen responded, “Pretty close mom, pretty close.”

Nola was in the ladies room, asking herself again why she let herself be talked into this. She needed a minute and also figured it was as good a time as any to give the family time to talk about her with out her being in the room. As she re-fluffed her now almost dry hair, straightened her dress and touched up her lipstick she looked at herself in the mirror and told herself mentally, Too late to back out now, and did her best to be calm and centered and sent a silent plead to Umbrea again before she returned to the table.

The rest of the dinner went well. The conversation flowed. Nola asked about the hotel business. Jack indicated that May was kind of an in between time for them, not the busy winter season or the height of summer and therefore a good time to take a break. Nola asked what he thought about climate change and the potential impact on the business, not realizing that this was one of Jack’s favorite topics. Nola was asked where she lived and talked about her neighborhood and her PostKatrina recovery activist activities. When Nola mentioned that New Orleans had lost 50% of its urban tree canopy and that one of the things her neighborhood was doing was planting trees, Stella mentally noted the Hike for KaTREEna organization that provided the trees so that she could make a donation when they got back. Owen knowing that both Abby and Stella were avid gardeners mentioned that his new permaculture landscaping was Nola’s design and the girls talked gardening. By the time the dessert was done and evening was over they were relaxed and realizing just how much they had enjoyed each other’s company.

The ladies excused themselves to the rest room. Stella commented that Eric had worn himself out in the pool and that they should get back to the hotel. Abby agreed. Before they let the restroom, Stella, touched Nola’s arm and said, “Nola it was a real pleasure to meet you.” and gave her a hug, before nodding to Abby and opening the door so Abby could walk out, leaving Nola speechless.

The 2 groups parted ways outside the restaurant, Owen promising to pick them up for breakfast at his house. As they rounded the corner Owen said, “Well that’s one more thing you can do without thinking about it. Jack was the first to fall. Well after Ryan and Eric and your list of Star Trek characters. I know that Stella likes you. And you even impressed Abby. I was so smart to keep you a secret until dinner. Mom was caught off guard and less prepared to question you. I think that Eric and Ryan and Dad did a nice job of deflecting Abby and keeping it light. But you managed to keep the conversation flowing so that she didn’t have to question you much. Very nicely done.”
And as he ran on, Nola realized just how pent up he had been and smiled at him as he released his energy. “You're welcome.”
After he opened the door of the truck for her and but before she sat down, he made sure her gave her a proper girlfriend kiss. “Thank you, very, very much.”

As Abby and Jack walked arm in arm behind Ryan and his family, Jack said, “Well?”
“He’s happy Jack. For the first time in his life he is content and really happy. You know that’s all I’ve ever really wanted.”
And he squeezed her arm and said lovingly, “Yes, I do know that.”

Owen drove them home lost in his own thoughts. Nola was glad it was over and looking forward to escaping home. She didn't even need to go back into Owen's house because she had dropped her backpack in her truck when she grabbed her purse. He tried to talk her to coming in but she wiggled out of it saying she had to go to work tomorrow. As he watched her drive away his grandfather said, "Well you two are definitely naturals. Too bad it's not real."
"But it is real."
"Yes, son and no."