Have you felt bored, isolated, and stressed over the past eight months? Of course you have. The pandemic has affected us all, and even before it, we had been living in a world filled to the brim with uncertainty and tension. I get it. I understand. Yet if I hear another person excessively complain about how they just can't take this any longer (specifically COVID-19 and the resulting restrictions), I will scream. Certainly, you get a pass and are allowed to rant and cry if trapped in a hospital bed, a nursing home, or are truly isolated from family and friends due to lack of transportation or physical handicaps. But if you possess the ability to walk out your door and bus, bike, or drive, then I have a suggestion: Visit the magic portals within our city that will take you far from your cares and woes.
New Orleans City Park is magical realism. You enter this 1,300-acre urban sanctuary for nature, with parts domesticated for human activities, parts groomed for aesthetics that sing the praises of the physical world, and areas where wild creatures thrive. Need to be transported from the maddening mundane? Then just stroll under trees that have endured for centuries or see how thoughtfully humans can showcase flora in the Botanical Gardens. Visit the New Orleans Museum of Art (no excuses—it's free to Louisiana residents every Wednesday) and observe art through the ages, B.C. to today. Standing mere inches from brilliant works created by men and women reminds us that, as a species, we do possess qualities that might counter much of the evil and indifference we witness daily.
Perhaps you lean more towards physically connecting with nature. Then try tennis, golf, paddle-boating, or horseback riding and see if these activities provided by City Park don't loosen the stress. Exercise really does release endorphins that alter your mood (google it). Also consider loosening City Park's stress—due to COVID-19, they are suffering financially and need donations. Oh, while in this vicinity, consider kayaking on Bayou St. John (book ahead online with Kayakitiyat.com).
Magic and enchantment flourish throughout New Orleans. In fact, I'll share a little secret: They exist freely without limit, without boundaries; every town has them—if you are willing to look and then enter those portals. Sometimes while on a walk, I will take that different street and discover the most amazing treasures. Little portals open with your imagination. They are to be found in the architecture of an old home, someone's garden, bits of art and sculpture tucked here and there among the trees and flowers, a clutch of chickens darting about, an old man walking his dog and eager to have a small conversation.
If you miss traveling and need an escape, then use your imagination and throw your sense of humor into high gear. Recently, we took a friend to the hospital for an outpatient procedure and pretended that the lobby was a hotel and we were waiting for our rooms to be ready for check-in. The arm bands issued at the hospital entrance had a label that said Jacksonville, Fl. So, we imagined that we were in Florida and that somehow, the Bloody Marys we had apparently consumed during our flight there blurred some of the details of how, when, and why. We just rolled with it until our friend was discharged and then resumed our reality at Ochsner and opted to drive home rather than fly that imagined plane. But hey, we had fun lounging in the "lobby" and ordering cocktails adorned with silly umbrellas (PJ's Coffee) and reading our novels. Travel made cheap.
This pandemic and its earlier lockdown brought out the imaginations of many people. My favorite one was the reimagined Jazz Fest. This Virtual Festing in Place via WWOZ radio was brilliant. I actually felt some of the verve and magic that being at Jazz Fest under normal situations gives to me. I wore my official Jazz Fest dress and carried my transistor radio everywhere I walked, while my porch radio continuously broadcasted music to sidewalk strollers. It was a symbolic ritual that allowed Jazz Festers around the globe to tune in and relive past recordings/tapings of the Jazz & Heritage Festival going back decades. Thank you, WWOZ.
As acknowledged earlier in this column, there are many folks who have been forced to stay home, even as restrictions have lessened. Some elders, those in nursing homes, and others with higher-risk health do not have the luxury of "getting out and about." And so, with this in mind, consider reaching out by mail or telephone to those folks. Also remember that we are all touched in many ways by this disaster, be it our health, financial stability, or peace of mind—so reach out to old friends and renew, refresh, and reboot these relationships. We all could find at least one person we've lost touch with and rekindle a friendship. And find that neighbor in need of a kindness and/or contact a nursing home and see about becoming a pen pal. Loneliness is a wicked thing, and sometimes just knowing that a letter or email is waiting for you or having a friendly voice to laugh with over the phone can lift both you and that other person equally.
So, no excuses. There is magic waiting for you, and it's just a phone call away or as simple as a walk in the park. And better yet, you can be that magic and make someone's day.