There are times when you just have to verify the memory. When you venture out into a dark night, guided by your heart, with an assist from a mobile GPS, to see if reality measures up.
That is why, at 9:43 p.m., I have wandered the dimly lit streets of New Orleans to find my way to Café du Monde. It’s why I’m sitting at a table in the courtyard, sipping a café au lait and thinking about life.
When I was a child, my parents brought the family to New Orleans. I remember walking down Bourbon Street, my mother anxiously herding her children to make sure we didn’t wander, my father reveling in the lively atmosphere, the sounds of jazz, and the smells of good food. And, I remember stopping at Café du Monde, where I may actually have had my first cup of coffee, laced heavily with milk.
There is conversation all around, but I’m back in time, listening to my family ooh and ah over the beignets. The bustle around me is exactly as I remembered it; conversation is going on everywhere. I can easily block it out, or tune in for snatches here and there.
$2.39 and a generous tip has bought me space to reflect. The chairs are black vinyl, well used. The tables are hard plastic—the fool’s gold of marble. The fans overhead are giving off a hint of fragrant air, stirred by memories and lifting my hair the way it’s only done in movies.
And, yet, it’s real. And I sit here doing what I love best . . . putting unfettered words together into a story. Letting my pen flow without stopping think about whom it might offend, or—worse—what it might reveal.
Then, as in any real life, reality intrudes. Six boisterous men sit down next to my quiet and shove it aside. They talk of Katrina, and of the oil spill—common topics for visitors to New Orleans these days. And I think about perception, and I think about change.
They are the thoughts of a mind focused on itself, willing to allow random thoughts to have their say. And they are saying: This is a place worth celebrating. Worth keeping. Worth honoring.
Some stories have a plot and a purpose. Some are just reflections. Café du Monde is a place for both. It hasn’t changed over the years. The waiters still wear starched white aprons and hats. The gift bags are pre-prepared for the eager tourist who somehow thinks she can recreate the experience at home.
Café du Monde, in spite of hurricanes, floods, and explosions at sea, is consistent. It’s a place where life happens, and reality is affirmed.
I brush the powdered sugar from my jeans and savor the last of my café au lait. I return to routine, walking back through the streets of New Orleans to my hotel.
And I plan my return to Café du Monde.
Inspired? Try making your own beignets and coffee.