Saturday, December 4, 2010

Exotic Port Cities Rising from the Ashes-Buried Truths, St. Luke's, and a new dawn

I readily admit that I am an unabashed Beatles fan. As a wee child, I thought they were the hottest blokes to walk. As a New Orleans native, I also am a fan of exotic port cities that have lost their former glory and now exist in a surreal zone where a poignant history, gorgeous architecture, and proud culture intermingle. In recent years, my own life has followed this pattern of loss and renewal. In August, 2005, I was teaching in a school I loved surrounded by people I respected and who respected me. I was on a fast track to promotion when Katrina ended my complacent existence. My school was closed, and I found another teaching job that is less than fulfilling. Two years ago, I suffered another great loss when my mother died. I find solace in writing, but a part of me was still lost. My life was in flux, and in danger of losing myself, I decided to take a journey. Being a Beatles fan and a lover of port cities, I made my way to Liverpool.

I first made my way to Liverpool in December of 2009, but the journey was marred by terrible weather and a too-short visit. This year, I sojourned to Liverpool in November. The weather was beautiful and the people as friendly as I'd remembered. On my previous visit, I'd taken a cursory tour of all Beatles haunts and of the city itself. This time, I would explore the town more fully and find many similarities between my hometown and Liverpool.

The National Trust tour of John Lennon's home and Paul McCartney's home was like time traveling into a forgotten Britain and in many ways the America my parents remembered. My parents were like many of their British counterparts. They didn't come from wealthy families. Like Paul McCartney, they grew up with a coal fire in the grate. The rooms in Sir Paul's boyhood council house were small and sparse. My parents also grew up in Depression era New Orleans at a time when money was scarce and even basic goods were hard to find. Sir Paul still calls himself the "scruff from Speke." My dad was a scruff from Mid City in New Orleans, and while he may not have made it as big as Sir Paul, my dad rose from very humble roots to have a lot more than he once did. When Paul McCartney received his knighthood, he thanked the people of his native city for making him what he was. My parents also were products of a working class city that instilled them with values and work ethic. (Yes, I know that people think we all walk around with Mardi Gras cups filled with whiskey most days, but the working stiffs in this city go to a job every day and make precious little. Another thing we have in common with Liddypool). Streets comprised of cobbled stones reminded me of the French Quarter in all its history and decadence.

I think what most struck me about Liverpool is that it could resurrect itself from the ashes. As a port city, Liverpool suffered untold damage during WWII. German bombs devastated its port and dock. I was reminded of the war at every turn, and perhaps the most poignant reminder was St. Luke's Church. To most Liverpudlians, the building is simply called "the bombed out church." St Luke's was once a working parish before the war, but bombs took its roof. Now, the structure stands as a testament to what war can do to a city. From a distance, the church appears to be totally intact, but a look inside reveals that flora and fauna have overtaken the sanctuary. Though no longer a church, the building stands as a testament to nature's ability to resurrect what was dormant and defeated. A building once buried in rubble now symbolizes the resurrection and rebirth of nature's wildness.

In New Orleans, we, too, have memorials to Katrina and rebuilt homes. We will always remember those lost to us, but we also have risen from the devastation of disaster. Most people have rebuilt or elected to move on. Many were reborn and renewed in the wake of devastating loss. When I wrote Buried Truths, I wanted to show that people could rebuild their lives in the wake of personal loss. Heather and Wesley's journey to find themselves and each other began in their youth, but they suffer many setbacks and must make many detours before they really find the path to fulfillment. They lost each other as teenagers only to find each other as adults. They, like their city, rose from the ashes. I also think that I, like my city, am rising from the ashes.

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