I love visiting New Orleans. If you’ve been there, you know why. Also, if you know Grace, you know why.
She picked me up from the downtown bus station four months ago when I was on my way through for the first time. Back in September, on that journey that had allowed me no more than a few hours in any one location since leaving California by thumb, I ended up staying in New Orleans for a full six days. I made home on Grace’s couch, played her guitar in the evenings, and went to cafes while she was at work. One day she brought me into her 1st grade classroom and I had the beautiful opportunity to meet her kids. Ms. Nixon asked me to breakdance at the end of the day, and one of the kids came up to me when it was over—“Mr. Korn! You must be famous!” “Why??” “Cuz you a breakdancer!”
This time, a New Orleans routine falls into place immediately. While Grace is at school, I ride the street car to Magazine Street and wander from café to café, writing and working and talking to people. I meet her and Bobby when she gets home, and we talk about our days and cook dinner. She makes me that salad with strawberries and candied walnuts that I’ve been dreaming about since my last time here. We almost start a kitchen fire, twice, by charring two separate batches of nuts, though the third time they come out perfect.
Liz and Cat happen to be in town for the week, and we sit in Café Du Monde sipping café au laits, devouring beignets, and discussing writing and life and travel as we lick powdered sugar off our fingers. Bobby makes pizza that night after Grace and I get home, and I stay up late playing her classical guitar on the couch.
There’s something about this city. Like last time, the days fly by, and I’ve been here almost a week before I even realize it. During my time in the cafes (my favorites: Rue de la Course and CC’s Community Coffee House), I work extensively on submitting my Semester at Sea writing to different agents and publishing houses. It’s slow, wildly tedious work: I spend a day perusing over a hundred different presses and agencies, continuing to search for the perfect match for my project. Hours and hours glued to my computer screen, and only maybe one in ten or one in twenty are even worth submitting to. In the evening, Bobby cooks salmon and couscous while Grace works on lesson plans and I continue researching and submitting. Sometimes it’s hard to feel like I’m getting anywhere. I go to an online fortune cookie website and imagine that I will find deep truth and guidance in whatever message I am presented with, because I am ready to receive it. I click with high expectations. My fortune: “You are the guiding star of his existence.” Great. I feel better already.
It’s been almost two years since my time in Cambodia. I still remember the way the color crept from the sky as I walked through a narrow maze of streets towards the Palm Tree Orphanage in the humid Phnom Penh twilight. A gate up ahead flew open as I approached, and a cloud of children burst through. They ran towards me, shrieking with laughter, and suddenly I was being hugged from all sides by a dozen tiny bodies that all craved physical affection.
Several months later, in a rural Nepali village, walking past the school, derailing academic discipline simply with our presence, seated beside Joe on upturned logs and suddenly surrounded by dozens and dozens of children who had never before seen white faces, after the initial trepidation was shattered, a resounding chorus of “Namaste!” “Namaste!” “Namaste!” Tiny hands thrust towards mine for the shaking, they stared at us in rapt fascination as we sipped coke from glass bottles.
This chilly New Orleans morning, I prepare to meet Grace and her class at the children’s museum. I don’t think I ever went on field trips this cool. I step around the corner just as the bus is unloading, and the kids catch sight of me—“Mr. Korn!” “Mr. Korn!” “Mr. Korn!” And suddenly I am swarmed by a 1st grade classroom, a dozen kids who have not forgotten me, tiny arms and legs wrapped around me as we try to usher them into the museum.
There you have it. My three most memorable travel experiences involving children: Cambodia, Nepal…and New Orleans.