My mother and niece just left after a wonderful week together. For my mother, it was a return to places she’d visited as a child, customs, music and food she’d been raised with. For my teenage niece, Elle, it was a return to a place she had almost no memory of, a place she’d last visited at 3 years old. For me, it was a dream come true, sharing my love for my new home and this great city with people I love. I said a while back that I realized this was my mother’s old stomping grounds before it was a place I fell for, now I got to stomp alongside her – and pay it forward to the next generation.
I was supposed to do a day of work before they arrived, but they got to see firsthand why it’s hard for me to commit to schedules. After our last pre-flight phone call, I got called to work later in the day. We had to cancel plans to go across the lake and visit with Mom’s sister and decided instead to spend the day in the French Quarter.
We walked Decatur, looked at the mighty Mississippi, and window shopped all the way down to the French Market, the oldest public market in the United States.
We visited Jackson Square then had a yummy lunch at the same place I’d taken my dad and brother last month, Muriel’s.
We sat in the enclosed courtyard, surrounded by sunlight and hanging plants eating traditional dishes like etouffee and pecan crusted fish. Afterward, we took a tour of an historic home, the 1850 House. Built in 1850 by the Baroness Micaela Almonester de Pontalba, the house illustrates middle class life in the pre-Civil War era.
The power was out on the third floor, but we made do, illuminated things with our cell phones, laughed about it. Beyond the lifestyle differences and formality of daily life as well as the beautiful glass-encased wall hanging made of human hair, I think the highest impact moment for Elle was when she saw a portrait of Rebecca, a slave girl who worked in the home. Rebecca looked a lot like my niece – fair haired, pale skinned and teenaged. Elle had to comment, “She looks white.” I’d love to tell her that people are no longer for sale, that we don’t decide people’s fates anymore based on their bloodlines, that the predudices that led us to allow slavery in a free country are a thing of the past. Life isn’t fair in ways Elle is only beginning to understand, complicated in ways she’s only beginning to see. Even slavery isn’t as simple as black and white.
Afterward, we had beignets and hot chocolate at Cafe du Monde. That alone seemed reason enough for Elle to fall in love with this town. If you doubt the power of the beignet, I can only say – more for us!
We three generations each had our own version of the day. For Mom, it was like a reunion, for Elle, like a first date with someone exotic, and for me it was like bringing someone home to meet the family.
Then it was time for me to go to work. Luckily, the set was in my neighborhood, so we all headed back together. I only have a couple lines in this film, but Mom asked me to see if they could visit the set. I’m not in the habit of disappointing my mother, so I asked the director and to my delight, he asked if they’d like to be IN the movie as background. My mother has visited a set before, Elle too, when she was a toddler. But, I’ve never gotten to work with family before. It was a great experience. The owner of the home, an avid art collector, was very kind to my family and they spent much of the evening together. We met lots of interesting and friendly people, including the woman who plays Steve Zahn’s mother on Treme. And my family got to see how much of my job is about patience and waiting and finding your own source of energy.
They say film is forever. Now, instead of a postcard, we have this moment on film to commemorate the first day of what became an extraordinary week.