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People of NOLA

When I saw more than an empty Bourbon street

By Oleksandr MatvyeyevPublished 7 months ago 17 min read
There is no place like NOLA

I remember when I arrived at NOLA the first place, where I stopped was near the French Quarter where I met my host Xavier. He was neither old nor young man with a bald head, lean body, and cautious eyes. When he showed me my room I was in awe. It was the most comfortable place I have seen so far. I even had my TV. He made me feel very welcome. He was comfortable to host me and looking at how neat his house was you would guess he ran an Airbnb. He later told me he even built a separate entrance just for himself so the guest could feel alone and he could remain in the comfort of his place. Once, a couple of girls wanted to allure him to their room after a fun night out in NOLA but he refused. He was rather particularly professional about endeavors like that. I respected that about him. I took a shower to relax after a really hot day riding along the Mississippi River. Xavier prepared a Charcuterie board with figs, cheese, and meat to go with beer and invited his neighbor Anton to join us, which Anton gladly accepted. We waited for him on a porch, where X told me a bit about himself and his experience of leaving France and living in the US. He even told me how he was proposed to by his last girlfriend. I’ve never met anyone like that before. He refused her proposal. I asked him, “Why?” He told me he was afraid that one day they may have a fight and she would say:” You only married me cuz you wanted documents!” His eyes looked into the distance remembering that episode. Somehow It felt like he came back to it from time to time wondering. He’s also told me about him wanting to go on a long bicycle tour, similar to my experience. I got excited and told him that he better get ready and go. He sat there and said: “Someday.” I was slightly shocked. I nearly forgot how people can talk themselves out of anything until that moment. The garage door of the house across the street started opening up. Then we saw Anton pulling in his old white SUV. When he came out of his car he told us he would be back after he took a shower. Anton was a young lawyer, whose dad raised him by sending him to a law school, which gave him the life he lives now. He sat next to me and told us about his day at a court and his client who was getting a divorce. He came across as pretty open and talkative and likes to paint in his spare time, showing us some of his works over a beer. He had an eye. X invited me to a dinner at his friend’s house the next day. At the time it could seem mundane, while to me such an invitation felt simply special and exciting. I was honored and looked forward to it. I didn’t say anything about X procrastinating his dreams, I simply felt like it wasn’t my place to keep pushing him. He had to do it himself.

The next day after a little ride through one of the most lively cities in the US I saw some unpopular things. Houses and streets were still damaged after the infamous hurricane Katrina. Some streets still had five-foot-tall weeds sticking out of the asphalt, some houses were pretty scarred, and some people were too. When I was turning the corner I saw a homeless guy who had no arm and no eye. I decided to go back and I thought I had seen enough for one day. Later in the evening when me and X arrived at his friend’s place I was cautious because the pandemic never left. Even though I was confident it would be alright, considering that I barely saw any people and this was my first more social city. We knocked on the door and waited. NOLA does look like a vampire town during the night. French architecture, wooden houses, empty streets, dim lights. Gerard opened the door to let us in. He was making pizzas from scratch, it was amazing. I was introduced to everybody, while kids were chasing each other and giggling occasionally being caught by their parents or relatives. A classical family house party. I told them about my crazy decision to ride across the US just because I felt like it and all the unexpected challenges that came along with it. In exchange, they told me about their move to the US and the differences they had to face. It was quite exciting to meet somebody from a country like France and with so much in common. We were getting along easily. Maybe because we were all kinds of homesick under one roof, not feeling alone anymore, sharing how bizarre this country is and our experience of living here. And of course the pandemic. G told me how you may live in a nice house around here and two blocks away there would be a fatal shooting happening in the middle of the day, while I once saw an NYPD car parked outside our apartment building. Later I found out there was an execution that took place. Then G showed me his photographs. He had a good camera and a decent talent for landscape and outdoor photography. He said he wasn’t the best at it and that he didn’t believe in it. I tried to lift his spirits by telling him that all he needed was to believe in himself and keep going. Or at least keep going. His beautiful wife S. said he wouldn’t listen even to her when she’s been telling him the same thing. It was funny for me to discover how the closest person was on his side, supporting him, he had a talent and all he had to do was listen and take action, but he was simply holding himself back. I had a rush to push him even further but I didn’t do it. Maybe because we didn’t know each other that long and I was shy, so I gave it up and stayed quiet.

Later that night after all the delicious food was devoured and all the refreshing beers and soothing wine were drank, after playing around with kids and talking about life over cigarettes the party was approaching its rightful end. (I looked at it differently). I was mind-blown by how normal it all felt and how much I’d missed it. I was thinking about how grateful I was for this warm and exciting experience. I realized and learned more in-depth what this trip was truly about. People, my relationship with them, my endless desire of wanting them to be the best versions of themselves, and seeing who or what can stop them. It is fascinating because once you engage and you are honest it will become very clear who I talk to and what they want and what they need in their lives.

I also felt sad because I didn’t push them hard enough to not only feel excited about their dream but to simply do it or at least make steps towards it. Maybe it was my fault maybe I was too hard on myself and I was there only as a witness, maybe both. I expected so much even though I understood pretty well that my expectations were the reasons why it hurt to see good people that I was so lucky to meet not living to their fullest potential. I also understood clearly that it was their own choice. Before my departure, I was invited to see a life street concert which would happen the next day. I accepted the offer and me and Xavier went back to his house.

The next day after I gathered my things I went on to make another new encounter with my next host. His name was Chuck.

He lived in a different part of the city which I knew nothing about, so it was another promise of an adventure, one of many more to come. When I arrived at what I thought was the spot all I saw was an empty lot. At first, I thought it was a joke and not a very funny one, but after I asked people who lived in the area I realized I was standing next to the desired destination all this time. So I waited. Chuck’s house had an interesting design that consisted of two independent parts, that were divided by a wall. As if it was purposefully built for two families. There was a boat in the front yard, its sail was all tucked in and ready to go on a day trip to a bay. I patiently waited for my host.

In about fifteen minutes Chuck arrived in his blue Mercedes Sprinter. He showed me his place, my room, a mattress leaning against the wall, a shower with about a hundred soap bars, a spacious living room that turns into a kitchen, and a couple of banana trees outside. An outdoor shower particularly caught my attention. After all the introductions Chuck trusted me with a key to his cozy abode and left to finish his errands. He offered me to join him the next day at the local bike shop where he volunteers/works every morning to mid-afternoon.

One of the many faces of New Orleans

Firstly, I decided to try an outdoor shower that Chuck’s built and hung outside for a bit before heading out to Bourbon Street and then to a street concert with X’s friends after that. I felt rather calm in C’s house but it was time to leave. There was not much to say about Bourbon Sreet because there was simply not one living soul there, another confirmation of how people may make the city and not the other way around. Without them, there was Bourbon Street. At least I did see beautiful French architecture and colorful houses.

Simply NOLA

I continued pedaling to my next rendezvous. Everyone was slowly pulling into the sound of whimsical piano music. A girl named Sophie was there too, we met at the party the day before and so was Xavier. Earlier Xavier told me that she asked him for my number and intended to invite me to her place for dinner. They both worked at the same school and X was known to help all the newcomers to settle. Playful sounds of street piano cheered everybody up making us dance along with the tune to match the energy at a safe distance from each other. I smiled as I just witnessed another truly bizarre yet heartwarming memory being made in front of my eyes. After the concert the piano, being in the bed of a truck, simply drove off, and after a brief chat with Sophie and others, I got tired and went to Chuck’s place.

The next day I joined Chuck at the bike shop and ran a few errands helping him with kids at a farm, where he met his girlfriend Phoebe. On my way to the bike shop, I witnessed through my eyes how multilayered NOLA truly is. Vibrant designs covered walls painted in screaming colors, and some of them even had murals (I will just show pictures, I am lazy or dumb or maybe it is boring). When I arrived at the bike shop I felt like (a dystopian movie set)I’d never been in a ghetto until that moment. It felt a bit strange. A kid on a bicycle tried to pull me over by yapping like a young pup, who had lots of energy and needed to exercise his assumed power before he knew of the concept of consequences. He barely looked like a ten-year-old. It was a bizarre moment. When I came, I was offered lots of choices. It was a heaven for bicycle parts for $1, truly volunteer work, filled with instruments, and run by one or two people at the time. I chose two pedals and C gladly demonstrated to me how to change them. In the afternoon we closed the shop and went to pick up pumpkins for the farm at a grocery store. I felt excited about the next thing I knew nothing about. It was a real adventure. On our way to the farm, we stopped at a store. Chuck wanted to check something. It was a dumpster. A man of about sixty years old wearing a Vietnam veteran baseball cap was digging into when we came there. Suddenly I realized where all the abundance of food in Chuck’s kitchen came from. I decided to help Chuck but I didn’t want to jump into a dumpster. Not that I judge him or anything. We split all the goods, if one can call it that, and went back to his Sprinter. I asked if I could take a picture of that man and he politely refused. It was shocking to my eyes to see a veteran doing that. I didn’t know what to make of that experience. Sometimes it is what is, plain and simple.

When we came to the farm C introduced me to Kira, a young woman in charge of the farm Phoebe, Chuck’s girlfriend and Kira’s first assistant, and the horse trainer Susan. After we unloaded all the pumpkins and placed them Kira took me on a tour. She showed me chickens and geese, and we petted the ponies and saw two beautiful horses. They also had a stray dog named Chester, but above all, I liked their pigs. Until then I had seen pigs before, I even made a blood sausage when I was a kid, but never thought of pigs as attractive animals. They had two of them left, one small and the other one big, she also said that they had to shoot the third one cuz it was violent and bit one of the farm’s visitors or at least tried to. They pulled it up by its feet, so it would feel more disabled and shot it in the head. Graphic picture, I thought to myself. Then we went to see their cow. She just got a new roll of hay but there was a problem with the rope that held it was made out of plastic and needed to be cut off. I gladly pulled out my knife and gave it to Kira. She hopped over the fence like it was her second nature and I followed. They also had a giant turtle in there and bees. In the evening we planned to go to a Halloween-themed party in the same area where C lived.

A pony at Kira's farm

I was curious and excited about the party that night. We took our bicycles to get there since it was about ten or fifteen minutes away. Upon our arrival after meeting our host Mark and being taken to his handmade fireplace, I noticed somebody taking a nap on an old couch while holding an axe. He was wearing black and white clown makeup. Mark introduced us to his tired friend. I sat next to him and realized it was just a doll. The makeup and the distance made him very realistic, even a bit ominous. For some reason, I didn’t feel too scared. I was hungry and asked Mark if I could cook some pasta while everyone else was preparing for the party and more guests began joining our circus. He also has traveled the world on his bicycle and had to come back from cycling through Israel during the pandemic. He told me he was taken for a local due to his beard, so he could calmly absorb everything without any interruptions. He understood my hunger and showed me the kitchen. Then he went to prepare for the party. I found pasta and started cooking while looking out the window. I could see the whole yard and a balcony and let me tell you, It was getting wild. Instead of Munching on bags of chips and guacamole, we had oysters from an iced bucket that one of the girls brought with her. There wasn't even that much booze around but everybody seemed to have a lot of fun. I honestly could not explain everybody else's behavior. Live music playing on the outside balcony by multiple people, some dressed in costumes, some weren’t. Mark and other people who live there would take shifts on drums and guitar to keep the funky tunes going. Mark would casually come out for his turn to play drums in his vintage dress from the eighteenth century. He played drums pretty well.

Me and the notorious masked man

More people came to join the party wearing Mardi Gras costumes or Halloween costumes. One girl even brought a lightsaber and started spinning it in the dark creating an illusion of a rainbow Circle made out of neon light. My host Chuck had to go back home to change his clothing to a costume while I was left alone. Lots of people brought dogs and by the time it was getting darker, about twelve pooches running around trying to fornicate with each other. It started to look more chaotic like a spinning carousel that goes around taking its guests on a wild trip. There was a guy who was dressed as an animal like a bear or something started throwing oyster shells at our host Mark. He was throwing them back and then he threw a gigantic teddy bear over the balcony at the oyster guy. I guess he wanted it to stop. People were dancing everywhere, even on the roofs. My host just came back dressed like a duck with a dick swinging between his legs and overall it was really strange I felt like I took drugs without taking them. Meanwhile, somehow I started feeling lonely and out of place, and after about an hour of talking to people who were dressed in their Mardi Gras costumes which I liked, I decided to go back and sleep. I learned from all this experience that I didn't have a circle of people with me that I wanted to be with at that moment and even though I was open and had some fun, I felt strange and lonely. I needed some time alone to face it. I'm glad to have experienced that. I wouldn't change a thing about it.

Girl spinning her staff and shining

The next day I was going to Sophie’s place for dinner, but before that, I had to run a few errands and plan my trip. After all, my visit to NOLA was coming to an end. Planning took a while time flew by fast. I found myself on my way to Sophie’s house and decided to stop by and have a cup of coffee. I finished my coffee and hopped on my bike. When I arrived I found her casually standing on the balcony, smoking her cigarette and patiently waiting for me. I locked my bike to her fence for the night and began climbing a spiral staircase up to the second floor where her apartment was. I think I knew what could happen and probably what would happen. “You are here! Come inside.” She invited me to follow her.

When I was inside I realized she had no plan of what to prepare for dinner. She liked to improvise. “I always improvise, even at my job”. She was a French teacher for kids, so of course, she improvised. We drank wine and she shared her passion for politics, it was her hobby. “Everything is politics, even the way you have sex!” - she said with a naughty smile. Later after the dinner was served and a couple of glasses of wine our debate made its way to her bedroom to advance each other’s political views more deeply. I only wished she banned smoking.

Down by the Bourbon St

Early the next morning I unlocked my bicycle, said goodbye to Sophie, and left. It was time to leave NOLA. I already packed, so all I had to do was pick up my panniers and leave. I was hoping Chuck would be there to say goodbye. Right before my departure, he came with his girlfriend. He had a lit grin on his face, he was a bit more relaxed than usual and we took a few pictures together. I wish him to be happy and I hope it’ll all work out between the two of them. They looked like a potentially good couple. I appreciated his trust and all the good fun times. Chuck struck me as someone a bit hard on himself, and unconventional(I saw him go by the dumpsters to pick up food that just expired, I even helped him a bit once. It was an otherworldly/surreal experience and I hope I would never have to do that. I also met a Vietnam war veteran at the same place who was also there gathering food at the dumpster-I don’t know if it should go here or if it can). I found him crazy fun, because who shows up at the party in a costume of a duck wearing nothing beneath his belt line but his birth suit? He told me he never had dreams, only short-term goals.

Famous quote by one of my favorite playwrights Tennessee Williams

On my way out of NOLA, I thought about how exciting and interesting this place might have been if not for the Pandemic. I knew I didn’t see much of the famous Jazz scene except for a few street performers and it’s alright. It was a great example of how people make the city what it is and how the city reminds them of who and where they are. I decided to stop at Adam’s house in a smaller town before I could go to Baton Rouge the next day. He and his family gladly accepted my sudden visit. H his wife, an amazing cook, prepared a delicious homemade meal. She used to be a chef before she decided to stay home and raise their kids. They also showed me a movie where Adam was playing a part, that was filmed in Louisiana. The next day he told me about a place where I could always see gators. I took his advice and I did see an alligator. It was my first one so far (I had no clue it would be the only too).

When I made it through the hot day and met Mark we decided to have a cookout once again.

Here is Mark’s infamous cheese and pepper recipe:

Take a solid piece of feta cheese, cut it in half, add olive oil, garlic, and parsley, and put in an oven-proof dish. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, then put the dish inside for twenty minutes. Charr pepper around for 3-5 minutes, put it in a bowl, add garlic and salt, then cover it and let it self cook for three minutes. After that peel the skin off and serve. It was nice to have conversations about what guests he had between my visits, what kind of music he listened to, what books he read(s) what adventures he had sailed for, and what is still awaiting him. M. talked about time, that was slipping away by a decade and he has noticed how much it scared him. I could see in his eyes, how much he wanted to go. He is brave enough and I hope he can do it, I hope his sail will unfurl once again. I wouldn’t him to waste his time.

On my way out of Baton Rouge

That night I couldn’t sleep much. I could hear my fear echoing: “He gotta go out there, on an adventure. Otherwise he doesn’t have much time left to enjoy life and it’s unfortunately fair.” (Honestly, I don’t know if I even want this part, it is my observation. I just don’t feel it is needed).

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About the Creator

Oleksandr Matvyeyev

Hello

I am an actor and a writer. I began to write since the pandemic began back in March of notorious 2020. I've crossed the South of the US on my bicycle and went home to Ukraine for 4 months. I have a lot to say, so let's begin.

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    Oleksandr MatvyeyevWritten by Oleksandr Matvyeyev

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